92 – Your Inner Compass

Buddhist teachings are always pointing inward. When we put these teachings into practice, we are learning to look inside ourselves and to understand ourselves a little bit better than before. In this episode, I will discuss an experience I had last week where I ended up having to trust my own inner compass over the advice of my GPS.

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 92. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about your inner compass. Keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use this information to be a better whatever you already are. In this podcast episode, I wanted to share an experience I had last week while traveling. This concept of the inner compass, I think, fits really well with Buddhism in general. I was traveling last week, attending a fly-in, which is a get-together of pilots who want to fly together. I had already spent one week in Arizona training a new class or a new group of paramotor pilots, so I had five new students, and I was teaching them how to fly. Right after that event, I went with my twin brother, and we met up at this fly-in south of Maricopa in Arizona.

The location where we were meeting to fly was way out in the middle of the desert. It was like 20 miles of driving through dirt roads to arrive at this airport where we were training. I noticed I had this experience while we were driving out there. I had my GPS navigating for me, and I had been using the GPS every day prior to going to this fly-in just to get from the Airbnb that I had rented to the airport where I was training the students. It’s eight days of training, and on about the fourth or fifth day, it occurred to me that every morning, I would still, I would do the same thing. I would punch in the airport to the Airbnb just to help navigate my way out of the residential area and onto the road and to make sure I wouldn’t miss the turn to arrive at the airport.

I thought, “How interesting that after four days, I still don’t really know my way. I just trust the GPS to tell me every day how to get home and how to get to the airport.” I kind of had this in my mind, and I thought, “I wonder why the more time that I spend depending on something like the GPS, the less skilled I am at trusting my own navigational skills and my own instinct.” It occurred to me that, in some ways, my ability to navigate becomes weaker or lazier, I’m not sure what the right word is, by depending so much on this GPS. That was the frame of mind that I had in my head as I was navigating at the end of this training session now to go meet these people in the middle of the desert to spend a few days flying.

On our way out there, I was leading my specific group, because we were all meeting there at different times. I have a truck that does not have four-wheel drive, and I’m pulling a trailer full of paramotors, and I’m just following the GPS navigation, and I notice that at one point, the GPS said to turn here. I kind of slowed down. Again, these are all dirt roads. I looked down that road, and I analyzed for a moment the ability that I had to go down that road, and I realized, “There’s no way. I’m going to get stuck if I try to go down that road,” knowing that I don’t have four-wheel drive, knowing that I’m hauling a heavy trailer. I kept going straight, and the GPS tries to reroute you, and then it says, “Okay, now turn on this road.” No, that didn’t work either. It was a combination of following what the GPS was telling me to do and using my common sense and my ability to analyze what my vehicle is capable of to keep finding the appropriate path until I made my way to the airport.

It worked. I finally got there, and when I got there, I noticed it was very common for other people to share their story of how they got there. Some people were routed going the south way, and they got stuck. There were several people who got stuck on the way. I had this thought, and again, correlating this to Buddhist teachings and to my own personal Buddhist practice, and it occurred to me that when we rely on an external source to navigate us, like a GPS, in a way, we become less skilled at using our own internal compass to navigate us. Again, this is like extreme examples. Right? The majority of the time, the GPS is right, but knowing that it’s not right all the time allowed me, at one point, to question the GPS and say, “No, I don’t think I’m going to turn down that road where someone else did turn, and they got stuck, and it took them an hour to dig them out.” A lot of people had that problem. They just followed the instructions, and it didn’t work for them.

I thought, like on a spiritual level, I feel like Buddhism is an introspective practice that’s trying to get us to be better at navigating on our own. Again, using an extreme example, right, we have the GPS. It’s super convenient, but how much more skilled is someone who doesn’t need a GPS? They can just look outside, and they can tell you which way is north, and south, and east, and west, and they can navigate using the stars, or they can navigate, I don’t know, feeling the winds or however people do that. Right? I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. That’s kind of like what Buddhism is trying to accomplish with us in a spiritual sense, to be able to rely on your own navigation skills to be able to look around and know which way to go without relying on some external source that’s telling you, ‘Turn here. Don’t turn there. Do this. Don’t do that.'” I really liked correlating that idea in my mind.

Now, I have had the experience of just trusting a GPS, a spiritual GPS system that, for many years of my life, made it very easy. It just told me, “Do this. Don’t do that. Turn here. Don’t turn there,” and it worked really well. It wasn’t until the circumstances had changed, just like in my car … Right? Now, had I been in a four-wheel drive vehicle, in a Jeep for example, and not towing a trailer, I would have just followed that GPS, and it never would have occurred to me to question the GPS, but I was self-aware enough to know, “My vehicle cannot handle what this is telling me to do.”

I correlated that to my own experience, and my life circumstances had changed to the point where the spiritual GPS that was saying, “This is the right path for you,” I looked down that and thought, “This does not seem like the right path for me.” I want to be clear on the definition of “right” here, not … It’s still the right path for someone. Someone with four-wheel drive, sure, take that road, but it was not the right path for me and where I was at that specific phase of my life, and still am.

That’s a process that I continually work on for myself where I don’t use the GPS anymore, the spiritual GPS. I’ve navigated now using an entirely different system, which is my inner compass that’s telling me, “This is the path. This is where you should be. This is a more skillful way to navigate this path that you’re on,” but it’s not about being the right path. It’s about being the skillful path for me.

I’ve made this connection before, I think, in other podcast episodes where someone may be on one path, and you look at them and you say, “Yeah, okay, they’ve got a backpack. They’re carrying water in that backpack. They’ve got hiking boots and hiking poles. Yep, that is the right path for you.” Then you look at that path, and you look down at yourself, and you realize, “Well, I’m wearing flip-flops. I’m wearing shorts,” whatever else, and think, “Okay, well, that’s not the skillful path for me to take. I’m going to stay on this other path that’s more flat or has a handrail,” or whatever it is.

I think that’s a lot of what Buddhism is trying to instill in us. The introspective nature of the practice is for you to be able to look and to constantly make this assessment, “Is this the skillful path for me,” and Buddhism included. This is why I would tell some people, “No, Buddhism is not the right path for you, or any other ideology. This might not be the right path for you, but it might very well be the right path for you.”

Instead of entertaining that as, “Which is the right one,” what if we entertained this whole concept of, “Which is the skillful one for you? Not just for you in general, but for you right now?” Because what may have been a skillful path a year ago is no longer a skillful path today, or what may be, or maybe was a skillful path today, you’ll find yourself in a few months saying, “This perhaps isn’t the most skillful path, and now I’m going to reevaluate another path that may be more appropriate.”

How much more healthy would it be if we entertained these big concepts like paths, and spiritual paths, in the context of space and time, here and now, what works today is what matters, and not make these things feel permanent. “That path has always worked. It should continue to work,” or, “This path doesn’t work right now. It will never work.” Maybe it will work in a year, but it doesn’t right now.

Again, I cannot overemphasize the fact that even Buddhism is included in this. This path is not for everyone, and when I encounter people who say, “Oh, I’m really enjoying all this, and I’m sitting here, meditating, but it’s so hard, and I’m really struggling with this,” it’s like, well, then, why are you doing it? If you don’t … If you struggle with sitting and meditating, try to not sit and meditate. Do something else. You don’t have to be doing what everyone else on this path is doing.

I wanted to correlate those ideas, and correlate it with another experience I had while on this same trip. I mentioned that someone had been stuck there for an hour. Well, before that story, when I first arrived at the airport, and when I was meeting with all the other pilots, I had one pilot come up to me to talk to me about an experience he had. He said, “Hey, did you encounter anyone on your way in here?” I said, “No. It was going slow on dirt roads, but I didn’t see anyone,” and he said, “Well, I came the south way.” I had come in the north way. He came in that south way that was kind of difficult to navigate, and the roads were washed out at several points.

He says, “I’m driving along, and I realize I’m not going to be able to keep going, I might get stuck. Then, out of the blue, this young Hispanic kid shows up on a four-wheeler,” and this is what I thought was interesting. Right away, he says, “Sometimes, people like that show up, and they’re trying to distract you so that they can steal from you. Sure enough, right then, he grabs his phone, and he’s putting it in my face and saying stuff. I don’t know what he’s saying, because he doesn’t speak English, and he’s just holding his phone in my face, saying, ‘No work, no work.'”

“Of course, I’m paying close attention to him, to his other hand, because I’m expecting him to, by sleight of hand, show me his phone, and meanwhile, his other hand was going to reach in the back of my truck and steal something from me, so I finally said, ‘No, no, no, no. Go away,’ and he did. He went away, and I turned around, and I found another way to the airport. I just thought it was strange and wondered if anyone else encountered this guy who’s out in the desert, who could be trying to steal our stuff.”

As he’s telling me this story, in my head, I’m thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound right.” It’s not like you have random people in the desert on four-wheelers, and that’s where they go steal stuff, but I let him tell me the story. When it was all over, that was the end of that, and he left, and I thought, “Huh. It’s interesting how we tend to see what we’re looking for.” He was expecting that, if this person fits his description in his head of a criminal, or a scary person, then of course, that’s what he was looking for.

This is the best part of the story. About 30 minutes later, another pilot came, and he said, “Oh, man, I was stuck out in the desert for hours, and it started raining, and out of the blue, this young Hispanic guy shows up on a four-wheeler. He’s got his phone, and he’s saying stuff, and then I realize what he’s saying in Spanish, the phone is translating to English, so I looked at his phone and read the message, and it said something like, ‘I can help.'” He’s like, “I was really confused, and before I knew it, this kid was under my truck, digging with a shovel, and he spent an hour digging me out of this sand trap that I had pulled into.”

“It was raining, and he didn’t have a raincoat. He didn’t care. He was just there digging me out, and sure enough … Oh, he tied a rope to my truck and used his four-wheeler to help pull me out, and come to find out, this … He’s a ranch hand for one of the local ranches that has goats, and he kept trying to say, ‘Goats,’ and explain what he does. Long story short, I got out of there, and I’m just so thankful that this random guy came out of the blue and was willing to help me.”

I was laughing as he was telling me this story, because I was just thinking, “The other guy who had just come had a whole different story. It’s very likely it has to have been the same kid, Hispanic kid on a four-wheeler out in the middle of a desert with a phone.” Again, it got me thinking along the lines of this concept that we tend to see what we look for, and one person in that experience was looking for a crook, and he saw a crook. He saw this kid trying to do sleight of hand. The other one was looking, I guess he wasn’t really looking for anything, but he wasn’t looking for a crook, and he didn’t see a crook. He saw a savior who came to dig him out of the dirt. It was the same guy, and …

Now, and I don’t want to highlight this story just because like the right way was to look for the good in people. That’s not what I’m saying. This very well could have been the opposite, too, that you see this good-natured person, and, “I’m just going to trust them,” and they really do steal from you, and you didn’t see it, because you were looking for the goodness and didn’t see the red flag that they were a crook or something like that. It could have been backwards. Right? That’s not what I’m saying.

All I’m trying to get at is that we do have the tendency to see what we’re looking for, and I think this is why there’s … There’s an expression that I like in Buddhism that often says, “What you are looking for is who is looking.” That, to me, is a really profound expression that goes with this whole concept of the inner compass. It’s like the thing you’re using to try to navigate, or to try to see, in reality, what you’re looking for is the thing that’s doing the looking.

That, to me, is a fascinating concept. It’s like you want to understand how the compass works, study a compass. You want to understand the way that you see the world? It’s not by studying the world. It’s by studying you, yourself, the way that you see. All of this, to me, wraps up really nicely with almost every other Buddhist teaching where at the end of the day, what we’re trying to accomplish is to have a greater sense of awareness about ourselves, about the way that we perceive the world. Why do I see it the way that I see it? Why do I feel the way that I feel, and say what I say, and do what I do? I’m constantly trying to put this into practice in my own life in moments when I can catch myself, experiencing emotions, especially strong emotions.

Just yesterday, I was noticing how much more impatient I was feeling with my kids. I catch myself in those moments, and I don’t feel a sense of guilt or badness for being an impatient dad. Everyone feels that at some point, but what I did notice right away is, “Why am I so much more reactive than normal?” I took a moment to put myself in a timeout, and I went and sat down in the room, and first of all, I thought, “I’m just going to sit with this discomfort, because I’m feeling really irritated.” I noticed right away that I was irritated about being irritated, so I sat with the irritation. The longer I sat with it, the more understanding that arose where I noticed, “Okay, I just got home from a really long trip.” I had spent 12 hours driving. It was a stressful drive, because I hit several pockets of snow, and I had slid off of the road once and had to be pulled back onto the road.

A lot had happened in those previous 12 hours, and I was more reactive than normal, but I was able to identify all of that and sit with those emotions for a moment and then sit with the impatience I was feeling. It didn’t make the impatience go away, but it made me more capable of sitting with that emotion and not having to react. I think that’s what this is getting at with this concept of the inner compass. It’s introspective. It’s about switching the, or flipping the switch, so to speak, of, I’m looking outside of myself at something to tell me what to do, what not to do, where to go, when to be there, all of that, and instead putting up a mirror where you essentially look to learn inward, and you discover that inner compass.

I’ve talked about this concept of faith before in the Buddhist context, where it’s not that we have faith in something, like the Buddha, or in meditation, or prayer beads, or your meditation cushion, whatever that thing is. It’s not about that. The faith that we talk about, often, in the Buddhist context is the faith that you have in your ability. Using, again, this inner compass, it’s like the difference of saying, “I have faith in my GPS system. It’s never going to get me lost.” For some religions, that’s exactly how that is. Right? The GPS system may be some form of revelation, or it may be a set of scriptures or whatever it is, or, I don’t know, a preacher or a whatever.

Buddhism is trying to take that and say, from our perspective, what we’re trying to develop is faith in our own ability to navigate, that if I’m out there, and I don’t have a GPS, or maybe I do, and I decide that this doesn’t look right, I’m trusting my instinct that said, “You know what? GPS says, ‘Turn here,’ but I’m saying, ‘No, don’t turn here,'” and my faith is in me, my ability to make that decision. Could I be wrong sometimes? Absolutely. Could the GPS be wrong sometimes? Absolutely, but what I have faith in is in my ability, even my ability to have made the wrong turn and gotten stuck. I have faith in my ability to get unstuck by going and finding help or eventually digging myself out, or anything along those lines.

That’s what I wanted to present, this concept of the inner compass from a Buddhist standpoint, developing faith in your ability to find your way, whether that means that with time, you become good at navigating with the stars, or you can orient yourself by looking at your landscape, mountains are to the north, valley is to the east, or whatever, versus relying exclusively on some external source like the GPS, because while the GPS may be highly accurate and maybe, for some people in some circumstances, they’ll never, ever need to question it because they live in a place where the signal’s always accurate and the GPS is always updated, but heaven forbid you ever find yourself in a circumstance where the GPS doesn’t know what to do. Some people might be totally lost and completely incapable of questioning the GPS, or much less, doing the opposite of what the GPS is telling you to do.

That’s where I think Buddhist practice is coming in and saying, “What if you had faith in your ability to call that shot and to say, ‘Yeah, I’m following the GPS because I trust myself, not because I trust the GPS,’ or, ‘I’m not following the GPS, because I trust myself.'” I just wanted to share some of those thoughts. All of that really resonated well for me this past week as I was traveling and thinking about GPS systems and my own inner compass. As always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism in general and some of these concepts, you can find them in several books, including my books, which you can read about on noahrasheta.com. If you enjoyed this specific podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, and if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, visit secularbuddhism.com. You can click the Donate button there. That’s all I have now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

91 – The Three Poisons

The three poisons of hatred, greed, and ignorance, can be thought of as the root source from which all unskillful actions arise. In this podcast episode, I will discuss the Buddhist teaching of the three poisons and how we can use this teaching to develop a more skilfull relationship with the greed, hatred, and ignorance we encounter in our own lives.

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[00:00] Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 91. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about the three poisons.

[00:12] Keep in mind that one does not need to become a Buddhist in order to benefit from Buddhist teachings and concepts. The goal of these ideas is to help you to befriend who you already are. In a lot of classical Buddhist depictions of the wheel of Samsara, some of you may have seen this, if you know the symbol of Buddhism is a wheel with eight spokes. The spokes represent the eightfold path. And often in the middle of this depiction it’ll show three different animals, usually a pig, a rooster, and a snake. These three animals represent the three poisons.

[01:01] So, I wanted to talk about the three poisons. This is a common teaching in Buddhism, the three poisons. But, I want to unravel this a little bit and talk a little bit about the words that we use to describe this. Because poison, I don’t know about you, but usually when I think of poison, I’m thinking of something that you consume and it kills you. I think most people would probably think, “Oh, well, this isn’t … I don’t need to be concerned about a poison in my life because I’m not dying. I’m not dead. So, obviously I haven’t had the poison.” So, I think that it can make it a little bit more difficult to really identify with this teaching because most of us don’t go around thinking, “Oh, I’m being poisoned right now.”

[01:51] So, the word that’s used to describe the three poisons is actually a word that can be translated also to unskillful. We talk about this word unskillful a lot in Buddhist teachings and this seems to fit better than, to me, for poison. Because then what you’re talking about is that these three unskillful things, or these roots of unskillfulness, are the root from which all unskillful or harmful actions spring forward.

[02:27] So talking about it in this context, what we’re talking about is these three, let’s call them …. Well, instead of thinking of poison in a sense of something that kills you, think of poison of something that’s causing unnecessary discomfort or pain in your life. And if you think about it in that context, then I think this all makes a little bit more sense. So what it’s trying to get at is the understanding that greed, hatred, and ignorance … Those are commonly referred to as the three poisons. Greed, hatred, and ignorance are often the source of a lot of discomfort, and pain, and unnecessary suffering. So, let’s explore this a little bit.

[03:13] I like to think about the analogy of imagine yourself on a giant hamster wheel. And there you are, and you’re running, and running, and running, just like a hamster does. We have these three unskillful mental conditioning things going on. So, think of ignorance is essentially running on the hamster wheel and not realizing that the reality of all things. The reality is you’re on a hamster wheel and it goes nowhere. You don’t realize that. That to me is a good way to visualize ignorance.

[03:52] Then we have greed or desire. This is, again, on the hamster wheel is that you’re running towards something. What are you running towards? You think that you’re finally going to get to the thing you’re running towards. That’s greed. Then on the flip side of it, there’s the hate, which is also aversion. It’s essentially you’re running from the thing that you think that, “Man, if it ever catches up to me, then life is going to be bad.” So here we are on this hamster wheel of life running towards the things that we think are going to fix everything, running away from the things that we think are going to ruin everything, and then there’s ignorance, which is realizing you can’t ever reach what you’re trying to get after and you can’t ever get away from the thing you’re trying to get away from. That’s the ignorance part is you’re on a hamster wheel. You’re just running.

[04:47] Now, I like to think of this in terms of, what are some of the things that we run towards? It can be a prestige, fame, fortune. There are so many things that we run towards. I often joke about this with a good friend of mine, Kevin. We’ve had this inside joke for years where when something happens in life like, “Hey, I just got a new car,” or, “I just got a new job,” we always joke about this with each other and say, “Now I can finally be happy.” It’s been an inside joke for years because what we’re joking about is recognizing you don’t ever finally you can be happy. You’re always chasing after whatever the next thing is, and it’s always … It’s been our inside joke for a long time.

[05:35] So whatever that thing is that you’re like, “Oh, now life is going to be good,” if you really believe that, that’s the ignorance part again. It’s realizing, no, you’re on a hamster wheel. It doesn’t stop. And sure, you may be content for a little bit, but then you’re going to be chasing after the next thing and the next thing.

[05:52] And then again, on the flip side of that, what are the things that we run away from? A lot of them. We’re running away from feeling pain, from feeling embarrassed, from looking … being unliked. We’re running away from discomfort in the sense of like losing a job, or ending a relationship, or … There’s so many things that we run from and we think, “Man, if that thing never happens to be, then life will be good.” And some of them are the big things, like not wanting to lose a family member or a loved one. Now, I think deep down we all know that’s unavoidable and at some point we’re all going to contend with that, the loss of a family member or a loved one. But, we still seem to be running on this treadmill pretending like it’ll never happen if we can just run fast enough, hard enough.

[06:43] So again, getting back to these three things, I want to talk about them each a little bit. So, it’s understood in Buddhism that as long as our thoughts, our words, and our actions are conditioned by these three … I’m going to call them the three poisons because that’s what everyone calls them. But again, keep in mind what they are and what they mean. So when our thoughts, words, and actions are conditioned by the three poisons, they’re essentially going to generate harmful actions and reactions that are caused on ourselves and others. So, we try to combat these things with following the full path and trying to see life clearly as it really is, trying to see reality as it is.

[07:37] So let’s start with the first one, ignorance. Again, this is not … Ignorance has a negative connotation, and sometimes we think someone who’s ignorant is someone … I don’t know. We looked down on ignorance. But really, what it’s getting to here is not knowing. That’s all it is. And there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. If you don’t know that you don’t know, then you’re just going through life thinking everything’s good, right?

[08:07] So what I think is helpful for with this understanding of ignorance is, first of all, realizing we’re all ignorant. All of us. If you ever reached the point where you’re thinking, “Man, I’m glad I’m not ignorant anymore,” be careful because you don’t know the things that you don’t know. And if there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know, then you’re always ignorant, right? And we’re all caught up in that. There are certainly levels, but to think even the smartest …

[08:39] I don’t know. Let’s just take another animal, for example, a lower intelligence animal, if it’s even appropriate to word it that way. The smartest chicken, to think, “Wow, I’m smarter than all these other chickens,” but compare that thing to a higher intelligence, like a dog, or a dolphin, or a human, it’s just not comparable. But for some reason we think humans, here we are at the very top, so the smartest human now there you go. That’s the very top. But it’s not. It’s just the very top of what we know intelligence to be. But, imagine a scale that goes from a chicken to a human. Now, imagine that same scale from a human to something to intelligence at that same scale higher. Then we’re nothing again.

[09:29] So anyway, what I want to get at with that is that when we’re talking about ignorance, it’s essentially a form of blindness. It’s not being able to see things as they really are. This is specifically in the context of space and time. In the context of space and time, we are bound by where we are in space and time, and that is here and now. And if I’m here, I cannot see what it’s like to be there because I’ll never be there. Wherever I am, it’s here. And the same with time, right? I cannot know what it’s going to be like then because it’s always now.

[10:09] So, that’s what’s being implied here with ignorance is that we can only see from the unique position in space and time where we each are. And know there’s no possible way to not know, to not be able to see beyond here and now because that’s just where we are. We’re here now. We’re not there and then. We cannot be there. We make approximations, but we’re blinded in terms of space and time. So, think of it that way.

[10:43] So, there’s a sense of ignorance when it comes to seeing reality as it is because how can I see reality as it is if I’m bound in space and time to here and now? So, this ignorance manifests as a belief that things are fixed, and that things are permanent. And that if I know what it’s like here, I must know what it’s like there. And if I know what it’s like now, I know what it’s going to be like forever. That is a big complication. This is, in Buddhism, it’s like, well, this is a problem because what happens then is you start to feel this tendency. It gives rise to this belief and a permanent sense of self, the me that is separate from everything else, the me that is ongoing and permanent that will transcend, and that causes a lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. It’s also what gives rise to the next two poisons, which are hate and greed. If I perceived myself to be fixed and permanent, then it becomes of paramount importance for me to get the things that I need and to avoid the things that I don’t want, right? So, greed and hatred arise out of this.

[12:03] Let’s talk about hatred first. Again, I think it’s helpful to think of hatred in the context of aversion. These are the things that we’re running away from. Hatred or aversion arises from ignorance because we don’t see the interconnectedness of all things. Instead, we experience ourselves as being apart from something, so we’re running away from something as if that’s not a part of us. When we see ourselves as separate from everything else, then we start judging things to be either desirable and I want more of that or undesirable and I want to avoid that. That’s where the aversion comes in. It also manifests in … You know, if you’re thinking of the hamster wheel again as the analogy, if you’re running towards something, anything that gets in the way of you getting the thing that you want, that aversion arises and you become aggressive to that circumstance or the person, whatever it is that’s getting in between you and the thing that you want.

[13:10] So, how do we work with this hatred, this aversion towards the things that we don’t want? Don’t think of this in terms of eliminating hatred. It’s not that. These things arise naturally because of how we are. So rather than thinking, “I want to eradicate aversion,” think of it in terms of, “How can I change the relationship I have with the aversion I have to the things that I feel aversion towards?” To me, that can be really helpful.

[13:44] An example I always give, I know that may sound silly to some people, but I have a terrible fear of snakes. I’ve tried many things to get rid of the fear but none of it has really worked. I get this. I can grasp it intellectually that it’s unreasonable, so what I’ve worked with is changing the relationship that I have with the aversion or with the fear. On a recent family trip we were in Morocco. And if you go to Marrakesh in the main square, they have snake charmers there. They play their little flutes and all these snakes are there. It was really difficult for me to go and stand there and watch, but I was able to do it. My daughter wanted to have one of the snakes put on her neck, and she did. I took pictures and I stood right next to her. It was a really big deal for me keeping my composure.

[14:39] But, it’s not that I’ve worked to eliminate the hatred. I tried that for a long time. What I’ve worked to do is to change the relationship I have with the fear. I’ve befriended the fear in the sense of the fears there. I feel it, and it’s not going away, at least … I mean, it might on its own and I won’t know how that happened. But, so when I experience it, I recognized, “Okay, here’s this fear. It’s okay to feel this. It’s all right,” and I’m used to the feeling now. So, all of the sensations, the physical sensations are there, like the hair standing up on the back of my neck and my stomach feels like it gets into this tight little pit. And I’m okay with all these feelings. I expect them. That’s what it’s going to be like, and it will feel like this until we walk away. But meanwhile, we’re here and I’m still able to function in spite of what I’m feeling.

[15:35] So, imagine this in the sense of other things, other forms of aversion. It could be something like if you get jealous when your friends or people that you know get something that you want. That may be a natural feeling that arises that instead of thinking, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel this way,” what you’re recognizing is, “Okay, this is how I feel. It’s natural that this arises. I may not fully understand why this arises.” But rather than trying to get rid of that feeling, change the relationship you have with the feeling. “Okay, here’s that feeling again. I’m going to sit with this feeling, and I’m going to become more comfortable with it,” so changing the relationship that you have with it.

[16:20] I think it’s common for us to feel aversion or hatred towards the things that frighten us or that seem to pose a threat to us. And the antidote to hatred is a loving-kindness. So again, it’s not loving-kindness towards … I’ll use the snake as an example. Well, I don’t know if that’s a good example because I recognize that I have no ill will towards the snake itself. So, but it’s not loving-kindness towards the snake that I’m thinking. It’s loving-kindness towards my fear of the snake, if that makes any sense.

[16:57] Imagine again the example of when you feel angry that a friend got a promotion and you didn’t. Instead of thinking, “Oh, I should love this friend. I should love this friend,” that may be fake and it’s not really doing anything for you. But what you can do is say, “Loving kindness towards the feeling of aversion I’m having right now.” Play with that and see how that feels. Because what you may find is a sense of self-compassion that arises and then a sense of compassion that spreads out from you and the feeling of aversion that you have to the person that you’re feeling the aversion towards or the circumstance that you’re feeling the aversion towards and it kind of spreads out from there.

[17:35] So let’s move on to greed or desire. Now we’re on the hamster wheel. We’re running. What is it that we’re running towards? In Buddhist teachings, geed often refers to the desire or the attraction we have to something that we think is going to gratify us or make us somehow better or greater. This is the thing, again, that once we finally get it’s like, “Okay, now life is going to be good. Now I can finally be happy.” So, this greed or desire, it can take a lot of different forms. A good example of this, again, is wanting to acquire things that elevate our status. It may be wanting the certain outfit that makes me look this certain way because then it’ll make me feel liked and popular, but it could be having the right title at work so people will respect me. It could be having enough money that people will deem me as successful, and respect me, and want to be my friend. So again, it’s that thing that we’re chasing after that we think if we could just finally get this, then life is going to be good.

[18:41] The problem with it is that it often puts us at odds with other people because it’s like we’re in this competition of trying to, “I’m trying to get this, and you’re trying to get that. Let’s see who gets it first.” And it makes it seem like life is a competition when in reality it’s not. Life isn’t a race. It isn’t a test. We’re not competing against each other. We’re just here experiencing what it is to be alive and we turn it into something that it’s not when we do this.

[19:12] Having the strong sense of desire to run towards the thing that we think that we want can often put us in a position where we’re okay with manipulating and exploiting others because we’re trying to make sure that we get what we want to make ourselves feel more secure by obtaining the thing that we thought that we needed. Ultimately, this, ironically, makes us more and more isolated and it gives a stronger and stronger sensation of separation from others.

[19:42] So, the antidote to greed or desire in Buddhist teachings is generosity. The idea of generosity isn’t just, “Oh, give your stuff away.” It’s recognizing that if there’s no permanent fixed self, what is this thing that I want? I think this is evident with in family relationships, especially parents and children. When a parent gives to a child, whether it’s their time, or energy, or actual resources like the food that you worked hard to earn your money to buy, you don’t think of it as, “Oh, here’s this … ” You know, it’s this … You don’t think of it as this big deal. It’s like, “Of course I’m giving to my kids,” because we understand there’s no separation between us and them. We view our kids as part of us.

[20:44] Now, imagine extending that same sense of interconnectedness or interdependence to other people and to other living beings. In a lot of these Buddhist practices, that’s exactly what you’re trying to do, is extend it from the sense of self, realizing the illusion of self. You can see this in immediate family and friends, and then extend it out from there to acquaintances, strangers, people you don’t like and ultimately all living beings. But what’s, what’s essentially happening there, what you’re trying to accomplish is seeing reality as it is, is seeing all things as interdependent and all things as connected. When you really start to see it that way it starts to change the relationship that you have with yourself and with other people. And that is the antidote to this greed or desire.

[21:37] It’s like, well, if there’s one cake in the room and there’s four of us, and I’m just thinking, “I want that cake for me,” it would be approaching us and saying, “Hey, let’s split this. Let’s all enjoy this cake.” I don’t know if that’s the best example. That’s a very simplified example, but that … With that example, that may seem very obvious, like, “Well yeah, that’s what I would do,” but we don’t do that with a lot of things with, with time, with energy, with pursuing something at all costs. It’s like, “I have to have that, not you.”

[22:11] Now, imagine being able to be in the workplace and you’re aspiring to this position that you want, but having the ability to look around and say, “Oh, you know what? So-and-so actually might be better for that than me.” I mean, who does that, right? But imagine being able to do that, to think, “Well, the greater good for the company is so-and-so should have that position. They would be better at that than me. I should probably be doing this thing and this thing over here. I would be best at that.” What if we all thought that way?

[22:41] Now again, that would obviously have its own complications because we all think differently. And you might be thinking, “Oh, so-and-so might be best for that,” and they might be thinking, “Oh, no. So-and-so’s best for that.” So, I’m not saying that’s the solution. I’m just saying imagine being able to see things a little bit differently like that where it’s not always you, you, you, me, me, me. That’s essentially what we’re trying to combat with this sense of desire or greed.

[23:09] Now for me, it’s been helpful in my own life to joke with it. Like I said, I have this inside joke with my friend. I catch myself. I mean, part of what makes it funny is that there is a tinge of really feeling that when you get something. It’s like, “Oh, now things are going to be good,” and then I catch myself in that moment and I make a joke of it. I’m like, “How funny to think that now I can finally be happy.” But somewhere inside, that stems from an actual real feeling that was saying, “Okay, now you can relax a bit. Things are going to be good because you finally got this.” So, I like to catch it, kind of mock it a little bit and then laugh.

[23:47] Again, the point here isn’t to eradicate that feeling and say, “Okay, well I’m going to become numb and I’m not going to feel any happiness when I obtained these new things.” That’s not the point. That’s not natural. I don’t think that’s helpful for you or for anyone else. But to try to see it as it really is and say, “Okay, now that I’ve achieved this or I’ve obtained that do I have the sense of, ‘Okay, now life is finally good?'” If I catch that in me, for me, that’s an invitation to pause and reflect on that. Why do I feel this way? Why did I think that this would be the thing that changes everything?

[24:20] And even if I recognize, “Well, it does change things for a little bit because today things are a little bit easier than they were yesterday because of this or that,” that’s fine. But do I feel a sense of permanence? Do I feel that sense of clinging that’s like, “I would have done anything to make this happen”? If so, I really try to analyze that. Why did it feel that way? What am I thinking I’m after? Why am I after it? What would happen if I finally get it? Then what? I’m trying to understand myself in the context of all of this.

[24:48] So if I could wrap this up with the three poisons, what I would say is, like with all these teachings, the whole point of understanding this is having a tool to understand myself better. I want to understand what are the things that I’m chasing after? What are the things that I’m running away from? And in what way am I ignorant about how that mindset is causing me and the people that I love or people around me, unnecessary suffering? And that’s it. That’s my whole approach with this teaching of the three poisons.

[25:23] So, my invitation to you would be the same. It would be make this an introspective practice where you analyze and you understand in yourself what the things are that you’re chasing after and what the things are that you’re running away from and why. What would happen if that thing finally caught up to you? You lost your job, for example. I have a friend who’s going through a really difficult time right now. One of his big anxieties or fears that he’s encountering is this aversion towards losing his business. That’s obviously something I’ve gone through and I understand. I had all those same feelings, so I was able to say, “Well, what helped me in that time was just ask yourself, ‘Okay, so what if I do? If this thing that I’ve been running from finally does catch up to me, then what?’ And play with that a little bit.”

[26:15] Again, all from the context of just understanding yourself. Why am I so scared of this? Why am I running from this? If this thing finally catches me, then what happens? That’s been a really helpful tool for me to experiment within my head. If this thing that I fear finally catches up to me, then what? Often, you’ll find that it’s not as bad as you thought it was.

[26:40] And similarly, the thing that you’re chasing after, working with that introspectively, you’ll often find it’s probably not as good as you thought it was going to be. Yeah, you got the thing you wanted. Now what? So what? Play with that and see what happens. Again, this is all to help, not to change the feelings and say, “I don’t want to feel desire. I don’t want to feel aversion.” It’s to change the relationship you have with the things that you desire and the things that you feel aversion towards all the while minimizing the ignorance a little bit because everyday you’re understanding yourself a little bit better and the context of being interdependent and not separate or independent, and also in terms of being impermanent and constantly changing instead of thinking that it’s fixed and things are always this way.

[27:30] So, that’s all I wanted to share on this topic. Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, and mindfulness, and these topics from a very general standpoint, there are several good books out there. I like recommending mine. Secular Buddhism is one book. No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners is another one, which is now available on Audible. So, Secular Buddhism and No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners are both available in paperback, Audible audio book version, and also a PDF or digital, like for your Kindle. Then, there’s The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, which is a great way to practice some of this stuff, introspection.

[28:11] And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. You can join our online community on secularbuddhism.com/community. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

90 – Ultimate Authority

The ultimate authority in your life is YOU. If you’re familiar with the Kalama Sutta, you’re aware of the teaching to analyze things against your own experience and to be cautious about relying on external sources for authority. Knowing this, why do we still care so much about external authority? In this podcast episode, I will talk about the idea of ultimate authority.

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[00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is Episode Number 90. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the ultimate authority.

[00:12] I think this is an interesting topic to bring up because I usually start the podcast with this snippet of advice where I say keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better what already you are. I’ve mentioned this quote roughly 90 times, once per episode, and I’ve mentioned it on several different occasions. It was recently brought to my attention that this isn’t actually a verifiable quote by the Dalai Lama. I did a little investigating and research and someone shared some links to some articles and when I first heard this, I came across this quote while reading a book by Gerald Benedict. He has it quoted in his book, a book called Buddhist Wisdom, and it has the phrase just like I’ve always used it with the quotations.

[01:13] Naturally I assumed if it’s in a book and it’s got quotes, it’s the right quote and that if you search for it online you’ll find the same thing. Dozens of people have used this quote, including myself and including Robert Wright in his book Why Buddhism is True. A lot of us have used this quote because we really like the message, but apparently the actual quote can’t be found anywhere. It does look like there is a source for where this quote to this thought originated and that’s from a book called Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris, and in that book it’s relating an interfaith dialogue that happened a few years before she wrote the book. Here’s how it’s worded, I’ll read it to you.

[02:01] This is coming from her book where she’s saying, quote, “A young man I know was stunned when he went to Thailand and tried to join a Buddhist monastery. ‘Go back home and become a Christian monk first’, they told him, ‘Learn your own tradition.’ At a interreligious conference of Buddhist and Christian monastics held not long ago at a Trappist monastery, a reporter asked the Dalai Lama what he would say to Americans who want to become Buddhists, and his reply was, ‘Don’t bother’, he said. ‘Learn from Buddhism if that is good for you, but do it as a Christian, a Jew, or whatever you are and be a good friend to us.'” Closed quote.

[02:43] All of that comes from Kathleen Norris’ book, so it seems logical that what happened is somebody read this and then took the context of the implication of what was being discussed here, cleaned it up into a quote that we’ve all heard now which is, “Don’t become a Buddhist” … Or, “Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Yes, that is the essence of what’s being shared, but no, that’s not the exact quote.

[03:14] I thought it was really fascinating to encounter this information and to realize, “Wow, if we’re living in a day and age where the Dalai Lama is still alive, it shouldn’t be difficult to have quotes verified when they’re attributed to him in the technology age that we live in”, and yet here we are and look how easy an idea … Which I must admit, I think the idea is still accurate in what’s being depicted, but it’s no longer … It’s not accurate to depict it as an exact word-for-word quote. That’s what I’ve done and a lot of us have done. What I thought when I encountered all of this is, “Man, if we do this today in this day and age with someone who’s still alive like the Dalai Lama, what hope do we have of trusting anything that was written long ago and attributed to someone like the Buddha?”

[04:11] On the Fake Buddha Quotes site it has this quote. I’m sure some of you have heard this, but it says, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who said it. No matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” This is a quote often attributed to the Buddha, and again, there’s no verifiable source that that is a Buddha quote or a quote by the Buddha.

[04:36] Now, there is the Kalama Sutta, and I’ve quoted from there in the past that you can read on Access to Insight and the actual translation that they use for the Kalama Sutta says, “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by Scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought. This contemplative is our teacher. When you know for yourselves that these qualities are skillful, these qualities are blameless, these qualities are praised by the wise, these qualities when carried out lead to welfare and to happiness, then you should enter and remain of them.”

[05:19] Now, so the gist of what’s being said in that quote in the actual translation does imply this idea of don’t believe something just because you read it somewhere. The sentiment translates, the exact words don’t. Now, here’s the irony for me. Even if you take the translated text that is supposedly the authority, you’re still stuck with the problem of, how do we know that was even translated properly? Anybody who speaks two languages knows that you can take an idea and a concept and translate from one language to another and if you do it based on the words, you’re not gonna get the … Generally, you won’t get the right meaning. If you do it based on the right meaning or trying to teach the … Trying to convey the message, you may use the wrong words.

[06:08] I experience that all the time. I speak English and Spanish and I encounter this just in my day-to-day communication trying to take one idea from one language to another. Well, imagine the teachings that we’re reading that come from any source of Buddhist Scriptures or any form of teachings, these are all translations of translations of translations and often times before they were ever written down, they were conveyed from person to person to person as oral traditions, as stories.

[06:41] This is why I’m generally really cautious to share something and say, “Oh, here’s what the Buddha taught”, because how on Earth could we know? All we know is what someone says that someone says the Buddha taught. How many renditions of that have been tweaked by someone trying to clarify what they believe the previous person sharing it probably meant? Even if it’s with good intent, you’re still stuck with a general idea that maybe did make it over, but definitely not word for word or an original to any of the teachings of the Buddha and probably any of his early followers.

[07:22] With that said, what I wanted to get at in this specific podcast episode is this topic of authority. I think realizing this about the quotes I think it’s a fascinating moment to bring up what I think is a very common way of thinking in Buddhism, which is, “Well, where does this authority come from?” If you read something and you agree with it, do you believe it because someone wrote it? The whole sentiment of the Dalai Lama’s quote, most of us who read that and like it, we like it because the Dalai Lama said it.

[07:59] What if we had been using that quote and it was like, “Who said this? Joe Schmoe who lives on the corner.” We’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know then. If Joe Schmoe said it, I don’t know.” If the Dalai Lama said it, “Oh, okay, now I’m paying a little bit more attention.” Isn’t it interesting that we do that? The words seem to be more powerful or more important depending on who said them. This is the irony. I think Buddhism would want to flip that on us and say, “Why are we doing that? Why are we thinking that there’s any more power to what the sentiment of the quote is just because we thought it was said by the Dalai Lama rather than someone else?”

[08:41] This has had me thinking for days now how natural it is for us to do this, to want to seek to some form of authority. It’s an easy thing to do because then I don’t have to spend the time to be introspective and decide, how does this work for me? I can just go off of the authority of, “Well, I trust that he knows what he’s doing, so if he says it, then I’m good.” I encounter this all the time when I’m talking about Buddhist teachings and concepts. People will always want to follow up, either by email or in a workshop or something with, “Well, what does Buddhism say about this? Or what does Buddhism … What does it do about this or that?” I always find that interesting that there’s this appeal to authority. It’s like, “Hey, tell me what I should be doing if I want to do this the right way, the Buddhist way.”

[09:34] If you browse on the internet, you’ll find countless articles that kind of do the same thing. The Buddhist approach to this, or the Buddhist understanding of this or that. It’s like, first of all, there isn’t a Buddhist approach to this or to that because there’s no single collective Buddhism, so that’s something to keep in mind. The second one, I’ve mentioned this before, is why would we want to appeal to some authority … Whether it be the Buddha or the Dalai Lama or somebody who speaks on behalf of Buddhism … To tell us, “Oh, this is how it is?” “Okay, well, now that you said that, I’m gonna go off of that.”

[10:15] Authority comes from within, it comes from us. I think this is the radical realization that the Buddha had at the moment of enlightenment according to how I understand all these stories when I hear about them and read them. The Buddha had this moment where he realized he was the source of it all. He was the source of the authority, and we can have that same experience. Suddenly to have that moment of realization that what I think, what I say, and what I do, that’s the only thing that matters to me. Suddenly I don’t need to depend on, “Well, what would the Buddha say? What would the Buddha do?” It becomes more about, “What would I do? What would I say? Why am I saying this? Why am I thinking this? Why am I doing this?” You are the ultimate source of authority.

[11:06] Now, when I first started exploring this concept of I guess you could say trusting yourself, for me to try to trust myself … The way this unfolded for me, I was a theistic believer and I remember suddenly thinking, “Well, wait. How do I know there’s a God?” Well, because I trust the people who told me that there’s a God. That made me realize, “Well, then who do I really have faith in? I don’t have faith in God, I have faith in the people who have told me about God.” I continued to explore that line of thought and I realized, “No, I don’t have faith in them, either, I have faith in myself for … In my ability to trust that what these people are saying is true.” Ultimately, it all came back to me again. It’s like, “I have faith in myself and my ability to discern that these people are speaking truth and I trust them and therefore what they say is true, which is there is a God and this is what that God wants of you.”

[12:08] That became a problematic thought for me in my head. I thought, “Well, wait a second. There’s nothing noble in that. All it is is I trust myself so well that for me to tell myself that, ‘Yes, these guys are telling me the truth’, that’s me trusting me. How is that anything more than that?” That line of thought kind of became problematic and that’s part of what started my transition away from wanting to believe in some form of external agent that was acting upon me for good or for bad. I thought, “Well, if all of this stems from trusting myself anyway, why not find a tradition that focuses on that aspect of it? The ability to look inward and to trust myself?” That’s kind of the turmoil that I went through as I was going through a transition in my belief and in my faith.

[13:09] I just wanted to turn inward and say, “Well, why do I trust the things that I trust? Why do I believe the things that I believe?” That form or introspection worked really well with Buddhism and with the approach that Buddhism takes to a lot of these concepts where it’s not about an external source, it’s all about understanding yourself. I think this is a good time to emphasize that again, that this path … The path of being more mindful and the path of becoming the better whatever you are implies that this is you and there’s no one else responsible for any of this.

[13:48] The ultimate authority in your journey of self-understanding, of enlightenment, whatever you want to call this, it’s you. You are the ultimate source. Nobody can come and tell you, “Hey, here’s the truth.” I mean, they could, but there’s no … That does nothing for you. What does everything for you is you understanding you and understanding why you believe the things you believe, why you don’t believe the things you don’t believe. Why you say the things you say and do the things you do and on and on and on. Where you become the ultimate authority.

[14:26] In future podcast episodes, I’ll probably still reference this sentiment, not quite as this quote. I’m gonna kind of rethink it and rephrase it. You’ll probably hear it in future podcast episodes as, “Keep in mind the advice to blah, blah, blah.” I don’t know how I’m gonna work with this, I just … I don’t want to convey that this is a quote when it is not, but I do think it’s appropriate to say, “Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice that we don’t need to become Buddhists.” He said, “You can be a Christian, you can be a Jew, you can become a … You can be whatever you are and still benefit from these teachings. The teachings that come from Buddhism.”

[15:08] I think, again, the advice is still spot on. I really enjoy everything that’s conveyed in that message and I would still certainly stick to that with everything that we talked about here in this podcast, but I did want to at least make you aware that that is not a word-for-word quote and furthermore, hopefully that makes you even more skeptical of anything that anyone’s gonna tell you is a quote. Even if they do and you think, “Oh, I really like that, especially because so and so said it”, that’s a really good opportunity to pause and say, “Why does it matter so much to me that so and so said it?” Whoever that so and so is, the Buddha, Jesus, whatever your authority goes to. Ask yourself, why does that matter so much? Why does the authority have to go there when I understand that I am the ultimate source of my authority? You’re the one that decides what you believe and that gives you the ultimate power.

[16:06] That’s what I wanted to discuss in this short podcast episode, the ultimate authority. It’s you and hopefully as you continue to learn and listen to and hear about Buddhist teachings and concepts, keep in mind that at the end of the day, none of this means anything if it doesn’t mean something to you. If it doesn’t do something to help you understand you, yourself better. That’s what I wanted to share.

[16:33] Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can always check out my books, Secular Buddhism, No Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners, and The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. Those are all three available on noahrasheta.com. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. You can always join the online community, secularbuddhism.com/community. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the “Donate” button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.

[17:13] Thank you and until next time.

89 – Killing the Buddha

There is a famous quote in the Zen tradition that says “If you meet the Buddha, kill him”. This quote is attributed to Linji a prominent zen master. What does it mean? How can this teaching help us in our day to day lives as we seek to be less habitually reactive? In this episode, I will discuss this koan and dig deeper to see if we can all apply this teaching to our own lives.

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 88. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about killing the Buddha.

As always, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. There’s a famous quote in the Zen tradition that says, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” This quote is attributed to Lin Chi, a prominent Zen master, and the expression is often considered a koan, and if you’ll recall, I’ve talked about Koans in the past. A koan is somewhat of a riddle or a paradoxical question or a statement or story that is meant to confuse the listener out of their state of habitual reactivity.

So, the idea behind the koan is to present a question or a statement that cannot be understood with the intellect and much less answered with the intellect. And you can imagine this one doing exactly that if you are a Buddhist or a practitioner of Buddhism, especially in older times where Buddhism was very intertwined at this point with the culture in Asia or wherever you may be living in this case with Lin Chi, you know, imagine telling a group of monks who venerate and are trying to emulate the Buddha’s example in everything that they do, to suddenly be told this expression, if you meet the Buddha, kill him.

Now, Lin Chi was known for his way of teaching the dharma was, this is typical of his teachings. He would say something that would really make your head turn. And that’s the point of this expression. Now, this specific koan has caught on and in the West and western Buddhism and it’s been interpreted in many different ways by various teachers and practitioners. And one of the interpretations that I want to share is actually from Sam Harris, in a 2006 essay called “Killing the Buddha.”

Sam Harris, who many of you know is an author, a neuroscientist, and he’s the host of the Waking Up podcast, he had this to say about the koan. He said, “The ninth century Buddhist Lin Chi is supposed to have said, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.’ Like much of zen teaching, this seems too cute by half, but it makes a valuable point. To turn the Buddha into a religious fetish is to miss the essence of what he taught. In considering what Buddhism can offer the world in the 21st century. I propose that we take Lin Chi’s admonishment rather seriously. As of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism.”

So, that is the interpretation by Sam Harris, someone that I admire a lot of the work that he does. And I think there’s a lot of truth to what he’s saying, but I don’t think that’s enough. It’s beyond that. As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism is accurate. But I would also say as students of any ideology, we should dispense with that ideology. So it’d be accurate to also say as students of atheism, we should dispense with atheism, or of students of Christ or followers of Christ, we should dispense with Christianity or any expression along those lines, I think gets closer to what Lin Chi trying to accomplish with this koan, with this statement.

Now, another thought that we can explore here with this comes from the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In this book he says, “Zen master will say, ‘Kill the Buddha. Kill the Buddha, if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha because you should resume your own Buddha nature.'” So in this sense, kill the Buddha. The Buddha exists somewhere else. It’s like saying, if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. In other words, if you encounter the concept of Buddha and discovered a separate from yourself, then you are living in a delusion. You’re living in the dichotomy, in the world of dichotomy. And if you’ve studied Buddhism or studied a lot of these concepts, you’ll know that the whole idea of separation is a delusion because of interdependence.

So in this sense, the phrase killing the Buddha, it’s often used to mean rejecting all religious doctrine and I think this certainly goes along the lines of what Lin Chi was probably wanting his students to understand. But I think it goes further. I think it goes beyond a conceptual understanding of the Buddha’s teaching because it’s about having an intimate, intuitive realization of the experiential understanding. So, in that sense of we’re conceptualizing it, then we’re not understanding it experientially.

But this applies to anything. Any conceptual understanding, whether it be kill the Buddha or killing the Buddha, it’s always going to fall short of what the experiential understanding of that concept would be. And I think that’s what Lin Chi was trying to accomplish with this quote, to conceptualize non-duality or to conceptualize Buddha nature or the idea of what a Buddha is, is not the same thing as having an experiential understanding of what a Buddha is.

And as a rule of thumb in the zen tradition especially, if you can grasp it intellectually, then you’re not quite there yet. You haven’t understood it the way that it’s meant to be understood, which is experientially.

So I want to correlate this a little bit more into just our day to day lives. This is a koan that I really enjoy and I like to think of it as ideas, not necessarily kill the Buddha, but think of this concept of kill the idea, kill the idea of the Buddha, and this is why I want to correlate this to ideas. If you think about this, nothing unites us or separates us more than ideas, whether these be societal views, financial ideas, political, especially political or religious ideas. Ideas have the power to unite us and separate us more than anything else.

And ideas are powerful. They can be useful certainly, but they can also be dangerous because at the end of the day, the ideas are not real. They may lead to reality, but they are not the same thing. They are essentially the finger pointing to the moon, but they will never be the moon.

So, when you think about this, the conceptual world versus the real world, you know, one example that I like to think of often is with the idea of flying. I like to paraglide and paramotor and I belong to Facebook forums and groups where people talk about paramotoring. Now as you can imagine, I know you’ll be shocked to hear this, Facebook is a horrible conceptual world where we’re all living in these delusions and fight about everything. And it’s so fascinating to me how a group of flying enthusiasts, all they do is they fight.

They fight about whatever you post. If you posted this, this is wrong. You did this. That’s right. This is wrong. This is the right brand. This is the wrong brand. You’ll die if you fly that kind of wing. It’s almost as if you joined a group that was talking about religion. It’s like if there was a Facebook group that says, “Hey, this is a Facebook group for people who are enthusiasts of life, so come talk about your life doctrine or your life ideology,” and you know, that would be chaos. You’d have people in there pertaining to several different ideologies all debating and fighting each other all the time. And that’s what it feels like sometimes in these paramotoring groups because people get so attached to their specific brand of a wing or brand of a motor or a specific instructor. Or you can fight about almost anything these days on Facebook.

So, I like to imagine that it’s the same way with everything. For me, the idea of killing the Buddha serves as a reminder that the idea is always conceptual and never the real thing. You know, for me, if I meet the Buddha on the road, I would want to ask, “Well, what does that mean? How did I decide that I met a Buddha? What makes this person a Buddha?” Because whatever those ideas and concepts are in my mind that a paint that picture in my head that says, “Oh, there’s a Buddha,” well, those ideas and those concepts, those are intellectual. They’re not experiential.

And I’ve noticed this, again, going back to the paramotor group. In the group, it can be hostile and crazy and chaotic, but you leave the group and go out and actually do the real thing, you go to fly, you meet up with people from the most diverse backgrounds, people far left on the political spectrum far right on the political spectrum. And guess what? When we’re there, nobody talks about it. Everyone’s experiencing flight and everyone cares about the other person taking off safely, flying safely. And when we land, we all talk about what we saw and the experience of flying. And it’s honestly like you’re on a whole different universe than the universe that we were on in the conceptual land of Facebook and talking about flying. So, it’s like the conceptual world of talking about flying versus the real world of actually flying.

And I think about that often, that how this is with everything, anything that’s conceptual gets muddied up fast. But the moment you’re in the experiential world, it seems like we connect easier and now we’re experiencing together and we don’t necessarily argue and fight about it because we’re not caught in our conceptual world anymore.

And I feel that everyone in everything that we meet, we’re encountering this. You’re meeting people just as they are, where they are, doing the things that you’re doing. And I like to pause and ask, is there, when I encounter a concept, I look and I see, is there aversion? Is there aversion to this idea or concept? Is there a craving or clinging to it? I like this idea. To me, that’s the invitation in the expression, kill the Buddha. How am I meeting the things that I meet, the experiences that I am experiencing, the people that I’m meeting, the circumstances that are unfolding in my life. When I meet them in that moment, am I caught in the experiential world of just feeling it and experiencing it? Or am I often finding myself in the conceptual world, where I have ideas about what I’m meeting? This should be this way, this shouldn’t be that way, this could be this way. You know?

And again, I’m not saying that the ideas are bad. I think ideas are great. If I go back to flying, the whole reason that we’re flying is because someone conceptualized the idea of flying and followed that all the way until they were able to accomplish flight. So, I’m not saying that ideas are a bad thing here in the same way that meeting a Buddha isn’t a bad thing. But the invitation to kill the Buddha is a direct invitation to pause and say, “Wait a second, what do you see? And how does that compare to what you think you see?” Because those may not be the same thing.

And to me, that’s the difference between talking about flying and just going and flying. You know, what if I was able to convert this same mental disposition or attitude into the difference of talking about living and just living? I think most of us would recognize there’s a very big difference between the two when I’m talking about living and I’m just out living. Those are not the same thing.

And I think in my opinion, again, this is just my opinion, that’s what Lin Chi was trying to get at with this expression. I can just imagine in a room full of people who were highly devout Buddhists, monks, trying to emulate every aspect of the Buddha’s life, what would that have done to them in that moment to have their teacher say, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

It would force them to say, “Whoa, wait a second. What on earth are you talking about? I thought we wanted to be him. Follow him. Ask him questions,” you know? And that’s exactly what he trying to accomplish is pause for a second. This may not be what you think it is. So, my invitation for you with this podcast episode this week is to think about this koan.

Think about the expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” and see what comes up for you in your own life. How can you apply this idea and relate related to the ideas in general? What does it mean to you to kill the Buddha and think about the things that are meaningful and precious to you that you know, what if someone turned around and said, “Yeah, that thing that means so much to you? If you see it, kill it.” What would that do to you? What would that make you think? And then see if you can try to understand or correlate that a little bit with what Lin Chi was trying to accomplish as a zen teacher, as a Buddhist teacher, trying to get you to snap out of that conceptual world for a moment and to snap back into the experiential world.

Again, I like to imagine that in that moment these monks hearing this expression felt something. They felt something, probably a really strong emotion in that moment. And there’s that invitation. What did you just feel when you heard that, you know? Lin Chi was, that’s what he was trying to do. Get them to feel for a moment. This is what you feel. This is real. The idea you had in your mind a second ago? That’s not real. I just imagine that’s what he was trying to do.

So, think about that this week. Speaking of a Buddha. If you meet the Buddha on the road, I’m actually on the road right now. I’m traveling and I’m recording this podcast episode in the middle of my travels. My family all went upstairs to have dinner and I told him, give me about 15 minutes, I’m going to record a podcast episode and then I’ll meet you guys for dinner.

So I’m going to probably have a window of two weeks before my next podcast. I’ve been trying to do these weekly. But since I’m on the road trying to find Internet, it’s a little harder for me to be consistent with the weekly thing, but I get home in a week. Well, a week and a half. So, I may miss the next Sunday window when I normally try to upload these, but you can count on more consistency once I get back. So maybe just plan on the next one being two weeks from now, just for me, to be safe and not promise something I can’t deliver.

But again, thank you guys for listening, as always. It’s a fun process for me to share my thoughts and to know that people all over the world are listening in and hearing these concepts and these ideas. And again, these are the ideas. These are not real. The invitation is to go out and jump back into the experiential world for a moment and really experienced being alive.

In podcasts like these, I think we run the very problem that Lin Chi was trying to get at. You know, we’re talking about life and this isn’t about talking about life. It’s about living life and that happen happens when you turn off the podcast and you’re back out in your day to day living. So that’s where I hope that these concepts are beneficial and helpful to you.

If you want to learn more about Buddhism in general, of course you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism, the first one, my second book, No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners and my newest book, the Five Minute Mindfulness Journal. You can learn about all of those by visiting NoahRasheta.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, and you can always join our online community by visiting SecularBuddhism.com/community. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit SecularBuddhism.com and click on the donate button. And that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you. Until next time.

88 – Radical Okayness

What is the state of radical okayness? There is a very clear message that seems to permeate through many of the Buddha’s teachings, that is, the importance of getting to know yourself, knowing your own mind. I believe that when we learn to look past our own stories and narratives we have about ourselves, others, and life, we begin to experience a state of radical okayness.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 88. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about the concept of radical okayness, or in other words, the idea of getting to know yourself. Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

Now, I first encountered the expression radical okayness when I was attending the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship. A weekly gathering in Salt Lake City ran by friend Christopher. He was giving a Dharma talking, he used this concept of radical okayness, and I remember it really stood out to me. I thought I was a really cool expression that really gets at the heart of what Buddhism is trying to accomplish in so many of its teachings. We always talk about the middle way in Buddhism and I like to think that in the middle of, on the spectrum of, “Wow life is great and that’s what I’m chasing after.” Or, “Oh man, life is really crappy right now. I don’t like this.” Right in the middle, there’s just okay. Life is okay. And what a radical shift it is to go from chasing after the extremes, right? Chasing to get to one extreme or fighting hard to avoid letting that other extreme get close to us.

Our habitual mode is to desire more of what we think we want and to feel aversion, or to push away, that which we think we don’t want. But to be okay with things just as they are when they’re good and when they’re bad, that to me is the essence of radical okayness. Radical in the sense that that’s not normal. Most people are caught in the game chasing after one and fighting off the other, but what a radical shift in perspective to be okay and to stop playing that game. Just thinking, when it’s good it’s good to now enjoy it. When it’s bad, it’s fine. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I can also enjoy it. That’s a radical thing for me.

So I wanna dig into this a little bit more. There’s a very clear message that seems to permeate through many of the Buddhist teachings. That is the importance of getting to know yourself, knowing your own mind. I wanna correlate this with this concept of radical okayness. So the Buddhist teachings are primarily concerned with understanding suffering and the elimination of what we would call self-inflicted or unnecessary suffering.

I’ve mentioned this before in podcast episodes the parable of the two arrows. Common Buddhist teaching meant to help us to understand the nature of what we could say is natural suffering, the first arrow, versus self-inflicted suffering, the suffering that we bring on ourselves, which is the second arrow. The Buddha understood that the source of this unnecessary suffering was to be discovered within.

So think about this for a moment. What are the things that generally cause us mental anguish or discomfort? For you specifically, the things that cause you mental anguish or discomfort. Perhaps it’s the fear of death, that’s a big one likely rooted in the fear of uncertainty. Not knowing what comes next. The fear of just not knowing or not having control over how life is unfolding. When we feel anguish or stress or worry or anxiety, these are all mental states and they arise in the mind and they reside in the mind while we’re experiencing them.

But this is also how the pleasant mental states work. When we’re in love or we look up at the night sky and we contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and our smallness in this place. Or you smell a flower, or you watch a sunset, or you look into the eyes of your newborn child that you’re meeting for the first time. These are incredibly powerful experiences that all take place in our minds.

So in this sense, pleasure and pain are both experiences of the mind. I don’t know about you, but for me, I cannot think of a greater goal than that of getting to know myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly intrigued by the great mysteries of the universe and the cosmos. I’m fascinated by what we know and by what we don’t know about space and time and the big bang and the expansion of the universe and the origins of life and all that.

But somehow as I sit here and I really think and I feel, I’m also overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonder at the fact that my mind can produce thoughts and it can produce feelings. Some so intense that I can barely even try to express the experience through words. Then those words, as I speak them aloud and they get recorded and then transmitted to another mind. In this case your mind, the listener who right now is connecting with my mind in a way that really alters everything for all of us, for both of us. How incredible is that?

All these thoughts and ideas that I share come from the thoughts and ideas that others have shared, that others have had. They’ve been shared across space and time for literally thousands of years and it almost leaves me speechless as I think about it. Our mind is the experiencer of each and every moment in our lives. Everything that I think and feel and perceive starts right here in my own mind.

Getting to know your own mind, not only leads to greater happiness in life, but it literally transforms the chaos and confusion of our habitual reactivity and it’s the key to waking up. To experience that awakened state is the very heart of Buddhist practice. It’s really a state of freedom. It’s not dependent on any external circumstances, it’s anchored entirely on the profound realization that we can be fine with the ups and downs of life. The pleasant and unpleasant experiences and mental states, what we could call a state of radical okayness.

Earlier this week I saw a meme on Facebook for a shirt that I thought would be really funny. You guys know if you follow me on social media and I talk about it here, but I am way into paragliding and paramotoring. Paramotoring is essentially just paragliding with a motor strapped on your back. I saw a T-shirt that I thought would be really fun and it was a T-shirt that says, “The world’s okayest paramotor pilot.” I thought, “Man, that’s actually quite a goal to have.” Rather than wanting to be the best paramotor pilot, what does that even mean? That what if I could be the world’s okayest paramotor pilot?

Then I thought about this in context of other labels that I carry. The world’s okayest dad. The world’s okayest mediator, and others like that. I really got a kick out of that. Just laughing, thinking, that’s actually a really profound message when you think about it. That kind of prompted or inspired this podcast episode to talk about this concept of okayness, radical okayness. I think the process of getting to know ourselves starts with the realization that we actually don’t really know ourselves very well. We think we know ourselves, we might be thinking, “Well yeah, of course, I know myself. I know myself better than anyone else.”

But do you know why you react the way you do about things? Do you know why you feel the way that you feel or believe the things that you believe or don’t believe the things that you don’t believe? Why do things bother you? The things that bother you, why do they bother you? Why are there things that you like and dislike? Why do you like it? Why do you dislike it? Just because you know yourself better than … or think you know yourself better than others know you, doesn’t mean you know yourself very well.

I think we need to recognize that our mind is often like a stranger, one that we may see often. We may hear from often when it kicks and screams or has things to say, or it wants its opinions heard. But do you really spend quality time trying to develop a friendship with your own mind? Is your mind your friend? Is it a close friend? Those are questions to explore and I believe that we actually don’t know ourselves really well. A big part of that is because we are living in a conceptual world.

When I try to understand how my mind works, I understand that I have experiences. Those experiences invoke concepts, stories, and those stories and concepts allow emotions to arise. In Plato’s analogy of the Cave, he talks about how what we perceive is not the whole picture. He talks about the situation where people are positioned where they’re facing a wall and they’re stuck that way, facing the wall and they see shadows on the wall. They perceive those shadows to be reality. But the truth is that the shadows are not the real thing.

If you’ve ever done, when you have a light source and you project a shadow on the wall, have you ever put your hand there and done the little animal shapes. I’m only capable of doing one, I can do the dog, which most people can do that one. But imagine looking at that shadow of a dog face on the wall, we don’t really mistake that as a dog. We understand this is the shadow that looks like a dog. But imagine mistaking that shadow for a dog and then living in a new reality where that shadow is the dog. That’s essentially what the Buddha came to realize. That we are living in a conceptual world where the stories have become the real thing and we’re all ignorant to the reality that they’re not the same thing.

Many Buddhist teachings allude to this same concept, this conclusion that the symbol of a thing is not the same as the thing it symbolizes. I think about this often with something like the flag. In our country, we’re really protective of our flag and what it stands for. It’s interesting to me that when we pledge allegiance, we’re pledging allegiance to the flag, not to the thing that it symbolizes. If the flag symbolizes freedom, for example, we’re pledging our allegiance to the thing that symbolizes freedom.

In the Shurangama Sutra, a Zen story, speaks to this. When the Buddha was telling his attendant, Ananda, he says, “You still listen to the Dharma.” Think of the Dharma as the teachings. You still listen to the teachings with the conditioned mind, the conceptual mind. So the teachings become conditioned or conceptualized as well. You don’t obtain the Dharma nature or Buddha nature, you’re not capable of attaining the state of seeing things as they really are.

It’s like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guiding by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon. That’s the problem with the conceptual world, a world where people are more loyal to the symbol of a thing than to the thing itself. People think the finger pointing is more important than what the finger is pointing at. I think we find this in a lot of ideologies and religions. Including, perhaps especially, in Buddhism.

Now, somewhere in the layers of perceiving of having experiences, having concepts or stories that arise out of the experience and then the emotions that arise from the concepts, we get tired. We get exhausted of playing this game of seeking after more of what is pleasant and avoiding at all costs what is unpleasant. The funny thing, well perhaps the sad thing, is that we go through life thinking that we’re tired from our job, or I’m tired of this relationship. Or I’m exhausted because of the heavy experiences I’m dealing with, like the loss of loved one, or something along those lines. But in reality, it’s all just our mind. We get tired because we’re living our lives conceptual not experientially. In doing so, we often end up missing both the finger and the moon.

It’s like we’re locked up in the prison of our own conditioned mind and the Buddha taught that ignorance is what causes us to confuse our conceptual reality with reality itself. This ignorance makes us believe that our stories about ourselves, about others, or about life, that those are real. That the story is the real thing. It’s kind of like being asleep and having a dream and thinking that the dream is real. You’d have no reason to question the reality of the dream if you don’t even know that you’re asleep.

So Buddhism teaches that the key to waking up is first recognizing that we’re not awake. Then we can unlock the door of our conceptual prison through self-knowledge. This is why Buddhism is such a contemplative practice. It’s not about telling others what you should do or what you shouldn’t do, it’s entirely about looking inward and getting to know yourself. When I hear, “What does Buddhism say about this, or teach about that?” It’s often troubling to me because I think, here we are getting caught up into the conceptualized form of Buddhism. Why would you want to know what Buddhism is telling you what you should think about this or that? Now, that’s entirely irrelevant. If anything, Buddhism would say, “Buddhism doesn’t have a position on the Buddhist position.”

As you get to know yourself, it’s like turning on a light in room that’s been dark for so long. I love this analogy, I’ve used it before talking about the idea of being in a dark barn and confusing a coiled hose for a snake. Seeing things as they really are can bring about a sense of radical okayness. There’s almost a relaxation or even a sense of humor that arises. Suddenly, nothing could be better than just okay. I can’t believe I thought this coiled hose was a snake, but the moment I realized oh, it’s not a snake, it was just a coiled hose, there’s that sense of relaxation. You would probably at that point maybe laugh about it. I can’t believe I jumped up on the counter or whatever your reaction was. I think so much of what we’re experiencing in our day to day lives, fits with this analogy.

So to wake up, it’s like turning on that light and seeing oh, how funny that I’ve been chasing after this thing. Thinking that the next job or more money or whatever the thing is you’re chasing, that that was gonna do anything. Some of you may be listening to this and thinking, “Well, wait a second. Is this radical okayness similar to some kind of radical blandness? With this kind of awakening does life become more bland?” My answer, in my experience, the answer is absolutely not. I think life becomes more rich and vibrant when we experience a break from our habitual reactivity and our conceptual labeling of everything as either pleasant or unpleasant. Suddenly we can see more clearly. We can think more clearly. We’re free to just feel and experience life.

I think getting to know yourself is not easy. It requires you to challenge and question one of the things that is closest to you. Something that is deeply meaningful to you, that is the story you have of yourself. But it’s totally liberating to finally be able to see yourself stripped of all the concepts and stories. The Buddha taught that the root cause of suffering is attachment or clinging. In this case, when it comes to the story you have about yourself, perhaps it’s skillful to ask yourself why am I clinging to this story I have about myself? And sure, it’s hard to do but I can promise you that an incredible sense of relief and peace arises when you do. Your very freedom depends on letting go of your attachment to that story.

Now, when I think of the Buddha sitting and meditating under the fig tree, that moment of his enlightenment or his awakening, I like to imagine what he achieved is a sense of radical okayness. That life was radically okay and others who saw this change in him started to call him the Awakened One, the one who’s awake. That’s what the word Buddha means. He went on to live for a long time after that doing a lot of radically okay things. Teaching these ideas and these concepts to others. If you’ve ever experienced these glimpses of moments, of feeling that awaken sense, that feeling like you can see past your own storylines, I’m sure you’ve also felt that sense of peace that comes with knowing that radical okayness is actually a phenomenal state.

I think with this shift we start to develop a sense of confidence in ourselves and in our ability to handle whatever Tetris pieces come our way. I like to think of it like a bird, that comes and lands on a branch with all the confidence in the world. Never having to stop and worry about whether or not it has enough faith in the strength of the branch to hold it, right? That’s entirely irrelevant because the bird has faith in its own ability to fly. Its own faith in its own wings. Whether the branch breaks or not doesn’t matter. If it breaks, it’ll fly away to another branch.

That’s the sort of confidence I think we can develop as we go about walking on the path of life. We no longer put our faith in the path itself, that the path is gonna do what we think it needs to do. That’ll go this way or that it won’t get too steep going uphill, that’ll be a slight downhill. What we do is we start to develop our faith and our ability to navigate the path regardless what the path looks like. Regardless of whatever turns it may take. Whether it’s going uphill and it’s steep or if it’s going downhill.

I think as we approach the end of the year we often look forward to the next year with goals and resolutions of how we want things to go. How we expect the path to twist and turn. Well, I’d like to invite you to add getting to know myself as the top priority on your list. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting to know yourself and getting to know your own mind as a key to a more peaceful life, an awakened life like that modeled by the story of the Buddha. So I wanted to share this concept with you and this topic with you as we approach the end of the year. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this. I hope it inspires you to want to get to know yourself.

If you wanna learn more about general Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism. The second book No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. And my most recent book, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, which does a lot to help in this task of getting to know yourself. You can learn about those books by visiting, noahrasheta.com. That’s N-O-A-H R-A-S-H-E-T-A .com and as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes.

If you’d like to join our online community you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community to learn more. If you’d like to make donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button on the top right. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening, until next time.

87 – Mindful Parenting | Interview with Shirin Peykar

This is the audio recording of an interview I did with Shirin Peykar where we discussed the topic of mindful parenting. Shirin works with parents who are trying to be more mindful. Parenting is difficult at times and it’s easy to find ourselves reacting habitually in the midst of the chaos. In this episode, Shirin will share some fantastic ideas and insight about mindful parenting.

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www.talkwithshirin.com | www.rie.org


Noah Rasheta: Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 87. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today, I’m sharing the audio of an interview I did with Shirin Peykar on the topic of mindful parenting.

Noah Rasheta: Before I jump into the audio, a reminder, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, [00:00:30] do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. I think that’s especially relevant in this topic when it comes to parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I connected with Shirin a couple months ago and we’ve been planning on having a discussion around the topic of mindful parenting. And this is a topic that hits home for me, because I have three kids, ages nine, six and three. And I’m always striving to become more aware of my parenting style and trying to be a more skillful [00:01:00] parent in the role that I play as their dad.

Noah Rasheta: Shirin is a graduate of the University of Southern California. She’s a licensed psychotherapist in California and she’s been practicing psychotherapy since 2019. In her work, Shirin incorporates elements of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness. And Shirin has specialized training in RIE, which is an organization that’s all about helping [00:01:30] parents to raise authentic and self-competent children.

Noah Rasheta: So without further ado, this is the audio recording of the interview I had with Shirin.

Noah Rasheta: All right, I’m excited to have Shirin Peykar on the phone with me. We’re doing this interview using the wonderful technology that is Skype. So Shirin, thank you for taking the time to be on this call with me and I’m looking forward to this interview. How are you?

Shirin Peykar: Hi Noah, it’s great to be here with you, thank you for [00:02:00] having me.

Noah Rasheta: Thank you. So this is a topic I’m looking forward to discussing with you, one, because I’m a parent and two, because I’m striving to be more mindful with my parenting.

Noah Rasheta: So before we jump into it, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into this topic of mindful parenting, a little bit about you and your background. Would you mind sharing a little with us?

Shirin Peykar: Sure, so I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, [00:02:30] as you mentioned, based in Los Angeles and since I began working with clients in 2009, I found that there are a lot of common threads, themes in my work with them. One being that clients struggled with their difficult feelings or unpleasant feelings of anxiety and depression and shame, guilt, loneliness, so those kinds of tough emotions that we tend to call the negative feelings. They had a really hard [00:03:00] time feeling them. And they had a hard time communicating them, expressing them. It seemed almost like they had sort of cut off from themselves, with regards to their feelings.

Shirin Peykar: And ultimately, they had a hard time even accepting that those feelings existed in their lives and they were afraid, in essence, that A, the feelings would swallow them up whole, that it would be too much for them to handle and B, that the suffering would be forever. Once they opened [00:03:30] up this can of worms, it would just be forever. As a result of their avoidance of these feeling, their pain would get louder and louder until they really couldn’t cope anymore and that’s when they would come into therapy.

Shirin Peykar: Then another theme that I found was that they had this attachment to the idea that they needed to be a certain way in their life. And when their ideal world and their reality didn’t align, it caused them suffering.

Shirin Peykar: And then the third area [00:04:00] is that they had this idea that happiness and comfort needed to come from something outside of themselves, some sort of external means, like a purchase or food or a relationship or marriage, career, how much money they were making. And they were so set in their ideals from their ego, that they lost their sense of being. It was all about what they were doing and providing.

Shirin Peykar: [00:04:30] And so fast forward to when I had my son, he was about three months old when I began looking for a mommy-and-me type class. And I found an organization called RIE and they held these parent infant guidance classes, they called it, where the parents would go into the room and the babies would be placed on a mat in the center of the room and the parents would sit around the perimeter of the room. And the class was led by an experienced RIE associate.

Shirin Peykar: Parents would [00:05:00] learn in essence, through these interactions and through observing the children and the babies, their own babies with other babies, they would learn mindful, conscious, respectful parenting that led into toddler head. So we stayed together for about two-and-a-half years, from about three months to two and a half years.

Shirin Peykar: And so this is where my mindful parenting journey began, when my two worlds kind of collided, my personal, my professional [00:05:30] world collided. And it brought me a sense of consciousness within myself and with regards to my parenting.

Shirin Peykar: So I realized that I was so conditioned to resist my uncomfortable feelings, very similar to my clients. And I had adopted my cultural view that children are to be not seen, not heard even and that parenting is more of a hierarchical relationship. So I realized that if my [00:06:00] clients had this type of parenting from a mindful place, they wouldn’t have had those themes sort of keep coming up in their lives.

Noah Rasheta: Wow, that sounds … it’s so interesting to hear that. I’ve heard that same expression in my social circles, that children are to be seen, not heard. It’s interesting how we do that.

Noah Rasheta: [00:06:30] Something you mentioned that stood out to me was not being good at sitting with our uncomfortable emotions or difficult emotions. And that certainly resonates from just a general mindfulness standpoint, but something that I find interesting is for some reason, it seems like we go into parenting expecting parenting to just always be this pleasant experience, without acknowledging that part of parenting is the discomfort. It’s [00:07:00] the poopy diapers and the tantrums and the other things that you experience, that are normal parenting experiences and normal emotions, but we don’t want to feel those.

Noah Rasheta: And so much of our suffering arises out of not wanting to experience what’s normal and natural.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and that attachment to our desires, that things should be a certain way because that’s how they should be, we have all these shoulds attached to [00:07:30] parenting. So exactly, that’s [inaudible 00:07:33].

Noah Rasheta: Yes, so tell me a little bit about like the shift from the view you have, the view of children as the standpoint of to be seen and not heard and that switch to … so how do you view them then, if that’s not the case?

Shirin Peykar: This is the sort of intro to mindful parenting about really reflecting what is your image [00:08:00] of a child. And this is what I ask parents to do initially is to think about what they view children, how they view children. And are we viewing them as individual beings or are we sort of viewing them as extensions of ourselves?

Shirin Peykar: So what you do is a reflection of me and we have these expectations of them to be our projections or these ideas that we, for example, should have been this [00:08:30] great doctor, this amazing, successful doctor. And so we project that onto our children, sort of viewing children that way or again, as individual beings with their own ideas and their own journey and just figuring out who they want to be.

Shirin Peykar: Go ahead.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that and what you said kind of stood out to me are they extensions of ourselves? I remember my son [00:09:00] taking, when he started soccer, that was meaningful for me, because I grew up playing soccer all throughout my schooling years and even after, I played on a league for my adult years for a while.

Noah Rasheta: So when he started playing soccer, it was exciting to see him play and I remember one game specifically, the way he was playing. He’s very timid, he’s not aggressive at all and he’s just not a good soccer player, [00:09:30] but his team won. And I remember being excited and then it occurred to me, am I happy that he won or am I happy that I get to participate in a story of my son is a good soccer player?

Noah Rasheta: It was the extension of me that was taking place there and I think we do that a lot with our kids.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly, but it’s wonderful that you are able to get into this place of mindfulness of checking in with yourself about what this means to me. Is this for my child [00:10:00] or is this for me?

Noah Rasheta: I think a lot of times, at least in sports with kids, you see that where it seems like we’re projecting ourselves on to our kids so much where if they’re not good at something, it’s like that speaks about me as the parent. Then I’m not a good parent. That’s damaging, huh?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, it’s exactly it, because we’re not allowing this space for them to fill who they are and who they want [00:10:30] to be and maybe he doesn’t even want to play soccer, maybe he wants to play football. But because of your excitement and your pride, he may have some difficulty with expressing that he doesn’t want to go to soccer, he wants to do something else.

Noah Rasheta: It’s been an interesting topic in my dynamic, in my family and my marriage, because I do have kind of the unique circumstances of having [00:11:00] multiple views in our household, when it comes to cultural views, political views and even religious views. And it’s kind of forced us to really think about that with our kids, what do you think about this? And we’ll talk about a topic, they’ll ask a question and it’s like mommy thinks and she’ll explain her view and then daddy thinks and I’ll explain my view. And we’ve tried to make a very conscious effort to say, but what really matters is what do you think? And [00:11:30] give them a space and that flexibility to one day know that you get to decide for your own how you view this or what you think about that.

Shirin Peykar: And the way that you’re modeling that you each have different views, it shows him that he can also have his own.

Noah Rasheta: Sure, yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about the feelings that you were talking about. How do [00:12:00] I as a parent relate to my feelings, the feelings of being a parent, the experience of parenting versus the child’s feelings? Tell me a little bit about that.

Shirin Peykar: Again, when we’re not allowing ourselves to access a place of discomfort, we’re modeling to our child that they also shouldn’t, for whatever reason. Or that if we’re dismissing or not allowing them to have their experience, [00:12:30] for example, if they’re crying about a fall and we’re saying you’re okay, the child learns to cut off that feeling, the inner self with regards to their feelings.

Shirin Peykar: And then like the initial beginning intro, where I talked about the clients that sort of cut off their feelings from themselves, they have a difficult time accessing them in the future.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that. I feel like this is getting at the heart of [00:13:00] what it means to be a mindful parent or to be parenting mindfully. And this has the crossover with what we talk about in mindfulness in general. What we’re trying to accomplish as a practice isn’t necessarily to feel good, it’s to be good at feeling.

Noah Rasheta: And I really like that applied specifically to parenting. Would you say that’s kind of the … is that how you would define [00:13:30] mindful parenting?

Shirin Peykar: Yeah, I think mindful parenting begins with that sense of a parent really just asking themselves how are they feeling? It begins with us.

Shirin Peykar: And so if we are beginning to allow our own feelings to be within us and we’re allowing them to exist and we’re labeling them within ourselves, because if you can name it, [00:14:00] you can tame. That’s the saying, if you can name it, you can tame it. And if we’re able to release them in a healthy way, we’re again, modeling all of these for a child. So release in a healthy way, it could be if we’re upset, we’re just going to cry, we’re not going to hold back our sadness for whatever cultural reason we’ve had in our past, where you shouldn’t cry in front of children. It’s going to make them sad, you don’t want to make them sad, being sad is bad, being sad is scary. [00:14:30] If we’re angry, we want to use exercise to release our anger or a journal or breathe through it or use some sense of imagery to release it.

Shirin Peykar: And we want to really just validate within ourselves, instead of judge. I remember a podcast where you talked about that second arrow. We want to eliminate that second arrow of feeling and emotion and then having a judgment about that emotion. [00:15:00] We want to eliminate that and accept our feeling. And if we need to, communicate and share within ourselves and with others, including our children.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. And a word that kind of arises as I think about this is awareness, that you mentioned. I had this experience last week or maybe the week before. It’s a busy time of the season and the reason I want to highlight this [00:15:30] is because I’m sure someone’s listening to this or clicked on this podcast episode with the title mindful parenting, thinking I want to be a mindful parent.

Noah Rasheta: And in their mind, what that means is here’s all this chaos, kids are screaming or whatever and I am just at peace and I’m like sitting there. But it’s not that. Here’s how I, in my experience of trying to be a more mindful parent, this is one example where I have been very grateful for my practice.

Noah Rasheta: [00:16:00] So like I mentioned, it’s a busy time of year, we were all out late doing activities, going to listen to grandma and grandpa’s choir concert and long story short, we get home, it’s really late, kids are going to bed around 11:30 and they’re going to have to wake up for school tomorrow. So I kind of paused and took the whole family for a moment and I said, everyone, listen for a moment. It’s late, [00:16:30] we’re going to bed late, so in the morning we’re all going to be probably a little grumpy. Do you know why we’ll be grumpy?

Noah Rasheta: We all talked about it, yeah, because we’re tired, but it was almost like this awareness of what we’re going to be experiencing tomorrow and sure enough, the next morning, I had forgotten that we talked about it, but remembered when we were having breakfast and the kids were essentially being sloths and could not get themselves ready in time to make the bus. [00:17:00] And I felt this moment of wanting to lose my temper and just be, like you guys, run.

Noah Rasheta: And then I remembered what I said the night before I was like, oh yeah, I knew that this morning would be harder than normal because I’m tired, they’re tired, we’re all grumpy and that awareness alone was enough to not get rid of the feeling. I was still frustrated that they weren’t going to make the bus on time, but at least I knew why and it gave me a little bit of space, in terms of the feeling [00:17:30] that I was having and how I was going to react to that feeling.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and I’m really glad you brought up this awareness of needs and triggers, because this is another step into becoming more of a mindful parent. Because when we’re able to increase our awareness of not only our feelings like you did in this situation, but also our needs and our triggers as parents.

Shirin Peykar: So things like [00:18:00] sleep, like you mentioned, food. There is a term called hangry and it’s true, when we’re hungry, we do get angry and our children even worse. And bringing this awareness into the stressors in our own lives on any given day. There are personal triggers from childhood, maybe we have this need to control because of our anxiety as adults or maybe we’re struggling with boundaries with others or again, we’re feeling like [00:18:30] we’re very ego driven, so we feel like our children are projections. We’re having this constant dance of projections between us and our child or maybe feeling ignored triggers your rejection button.

Shirin Peykar: Maybe sometimes when my son doesn’t respond to me and I’m saying something and he’s looking at me or he’s not looking at me, but he’s not responding. I sometimes have to check in with myself as to why is this triggering me? Why am I getting activated? And is this triggering my rejection [00:19:00] button? Do I feel rejected by my child right now because he’s not responding to my question, if she’s hungry or not?

Shirin Peykar: Also, it is this awareness of the way maybe that we were parented. Maybe we’re seeing ourselves as our parents and we swore that we’d never become that. And it’s also important to not only have this awareness of ourselves, but also an awareness of our child’s needs and triggers too.

Noah Rasheta: And in [00:19:30] my case, it’s been really helpful to try to recognize in my spouse and my wife’s interactions, her triggers too. What I found was something would trigger her and when she’s triggered, that would trigger me, because I’m the peacemaker. And like suddenly we’d be caught in these complex webs of reactivity and we’re all just reacting to different things that had we all understood, oh, you’re tired, oh, [00:20:00] you’re being triggered by this past experience of your childhood, which is triggering me.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly.

Noah Rasheta: And then we go through our whole lives, if we don’t notice that, we go through our whole lives raising our kids, just constantly being reactive and unintentionally teaching them to carry on with that same form of reactivity.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and the relationships, I’m glad you brought up romantic relationships, because those are very triggering [00:20:30] for us, but we can leave those relationships, which people tend to do, especially in this day and age. But when it comes to parenting, we have to work through triggers and we have to figure out why this is activating us and what within us is being activated and why, so that we can raise healthier, happier children.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that. So one thing that I try to emphasize a lot in the topics that I discuss [00:21:00] on the podcast is that when we’re discussing something, we’re trying to bring it back to me. This is about introspection and you finding out what’s there for you and I think that’s important to highlight here.

Noah Rasheta: Mindful parenting isn’t modeling, oh, I want to be like so-and-so, they’re a mindful parent. It’s about getting to the heart of what you just said, like what’s triggering me, why am I feeling this way? And discovering the little things that you didn’t know, like [00:21:30] the concept of hangry was somewhat foreign to me. I don’t know why food isn’t a big deal for me. I could eat sludge, as long as it has a decent flavor, every day, for every meal and it wouldn’t bother me.

Noah Rasheta: But my wife is very particular when it comes to food and if she hasn’t had her meal, she gets hangry and that’s passed along to my kids, well, at least to some of them. But I didn’t realize something about me is I call it hotgry, which [00:22:00] is the temperature. If it’s too hot, like if I’m wearing my coat and we get in the car and then we turn the car on, the heater kicks on, like all of a sudden this rage enters me. And it’s because I’m hot.

Noah Rasheta: And I didn’t know that for a long time and I would be reactive and especially in the car, like we’d get in the car and start driving and that’s when I’m more likely to like yell or something. But now that I know that about myself, we get in the car, especially here in winter, I’ll take my coat off and [00:22:30] I’ll be in a T-shirt in the car because if the heater is on and everyone’s being loud, the hotgriness goes away, because I learned that about myself. And I don’t know how many times I was reactive because I was just really hot.

Shirin Peykar: It’s funny you brought that up, because I actually share both of your triggers, except when it comes to food. I am very much like your wife in the sense that I’m very aware, when I need to go pick up my son [00:23:00] from nursery school at 12:30, I need to have eaten before. I need to sit down and eat a good meal. I need to be full, so that I can be patient.

Shirin Peykar: Because one of his triggers is transitions, but one of his needs is that he needs time to transition from school, to the car, to me, to home. And so he requires a good 10 or 15 minutes to walk and look at a tree that’s outside [00:23:30] and sit on the grass and look at the little child outside of his nursery class. And if I’m hungry, I don’t have the patience to do that.

Shirin Peykar: So like you say, being mindful of our buttons really helps us to create less of those unnecessary moments of chaos.

Noah Rasheta: Yeah, I like that, unnecessary moments of chaos. Because like we mentioned before, the truth about parenting is it can be [00:24:00] an unpleasant, it will be an unpleasant experience at times and it will be chaotic at times, but the unnecessary chaos is what we’re focused on. I like that.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and that’s also a reason why I encourage parents to take on this practice of figuring out what their goal is, of becoming a mindful parent. Are they trying to get rid of both the unnecessary and necessary chaos? Are [00:24:30] they trying to fix their child to be more compliant and respectful, rather than having this mutual respect that mindful parenting encourages?

Shirin Peykar: What’s the reason? Why do they want to be mindful parents? So we delve into that and we’ll talk about, are they attempting to fix, change or minimize these negative feelings to control their child? Because [00:25:00] these are all ego-driven goals. Or are they trying to create a psychologically healthy adult, that’s inner directed and authentic and secure and self-aware and accepts a full spectrum of their emotions? A child that’s communicative and confident and attentive.

Shirin Peykar: Because a child that is excessively compliant is unhealthy. This represents [00:25:30] the death of the self. Meaning the child has cut off their true self, in order to satisfy others, so they’re really in essence sacrificing themselves, their needs, their feelings, their wants and desires to satisfy everyone else and that’s the recipe for a very codependent relationship in the future.

Noah Rasheta: It seems like that transitions very easily into affecting your romantic relationships too.

Shirin Peykar: [00:26:00] Yes, undoubtedly. The relationship between parent and child creates the parameters of the relationships that we pursue as adults. We kind of recreate those relationships as adults and we try to resolve those unresolved areas of our childhoods, through our romantic relationships in the future. And then we find a whole mess later on, when it could have been something that [00:26:30] we could have worked through with our parents, if our parents were more mindful and aware of us and themselves.

Noah Rasheta: Let’s talk a little bit about like common mistakes, what we can call habitual reactivity. What are some of the tendencies that you see when you’re working with people of little things, that might not … excuse me, little things that might not be so obvious, that we’re all doing?

Shirin Peykar: I think [00:27:00] you touched on it a little bit, when you said that you kind of flip your lid when you get hot and that speaks to reaction without taking a pause. I think this is one of the areas that many parents fall into, where they just yell or they raise their voice or they become annoyed or get into a power struggle, because they haven’t been aware of their own bodily cues of they’re going [00:27:30] to flip.

Shirin Peykar: And so I recommend that parents take a pause, when they start feeling those cues within their body of them getting tense, usually it’s like the hand, the fist kind of being tight, your body becomes tight, your breathing is slow or minimal. And when we’re attentive to those bodily cues, we can then remember to take [00:28:00] a pause and so then we can mindfully respond, rather than habitually react.

Noah Rasheta: I found in my own experience, I like prompting myself with a question, like, whoa, why am I feeling this? Or specifically with kids, with my kids, it’s like, why does that feel like such a big deal to me, the fact that they’re doing this or that and I’m feeling really … like I want to react. Why [00:28:30] is this such a big deal to me?

Noah Rasheta: And that often allows me to sometimes gain insight on what we were talking about earlier, like, oh, this past experience or something along those lines.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly. It really brings your awareness to yourself and to your child and that’s what really this is all about, mindful parenting is just awareness of ourselves and our child and the dance between us. And even if though, [00:29:00] you do get into a situation where you have sort of flipped your lid, Dan Siegel calls it flipping your lid, he says that it’s a human thing that we do and it’s something that our brain, it just does. It’s natural, it’s not your fault.

Shirin Peykar: And so it’s important not to blame ourselves if we have flipped out. And you want to move to more of a place with self-compassion and repair, ultimately, is what we can do at that point. And so like you say, asking yourself the question, [00:29:30] we’re really impaired at this point once it has happened, so you want to maybe ask yourself, how do I handle it when I have acted in a way that’s not aligned with my mindful parenting perspective?

Shirin Peykar: And what we tend to do as parents, unfortunately, is to deny that it happened or we rationalize it and say, oh, I’m really tired. I didn’t sleep last night or we blame our child and we say we got a bad kid or we avoid it altogether.

Shirin Peykar: [00:30:00] But what I encourage parents to do is to communicate what they’ve done in a way where the child can reconnect with them and what that could look like is, I’m sorry I yelled at you, that was probably scary for you. I’m going to let you know next time I’m upset that I need a break.

Noah Rasheta: That’s interesting. I remember now that you’re saying this, for me growing up, [00:30:30] there’s kind of a routine, if we got in trouble or I shouldn’t say if, when we got in trouble for doing something, my twin brother and I were very rambunctious little kids. But I remember any time we got in trouble, it was always followed up at some point usually within I don’t know 30 minutes to an hour, my dad would come back in and tell us we got in trouble. If we got [00:31:00] spanked or whatever it was, whatever the technique was that put us at our place, he would come back and explain it.

Noah Rasheta: And I remember as I’ve grown, like appreciating that and I’ve carried on that same thing with my kids. If they get in trouble or I react a certain way, I always come back and explain it later when I feel like I’m ready to explain myself adequately.

Noah Rasheta: And I mentioned this in the podcast once, one of these instances was [00:31:30] coming home, being upset and like kicking or picking up and throwing the Legos that they had built a little thing and I threw it against the wall. I felt really bad about that because at the moment, I was just reacting, but flipping the lid. My lid had been flipped, which I think is a normal thing, but it allowed me, like I said before, that question, why was that such a big deal, why did I react that way? Because it felt like that wasn’t [00:32:00] normal of me.

Noah Rasheta: And I gained a lot of insight out of that. So I try to continually do that, whether it’s just a little reaction or a big reaction. I try to eventually sit down with the kids and I’ll do this all the time. Do you know why I yelled? And it gives us this chance to talk. And I always, by then I’ve realized something about myself, so I usually present that. Listen guys, I’ve been dealing with this or that or I’m tired or I was [00:32:30] hungry and it gives them, at least it feels to me like it’s giving them this perspective of understanding, oh, I’m going to feel that way too one day and when I flip my lid, I get to also sit and ask, why did that happen, why did I feel that way? It’s been an interesting experience for me.

Shirin Peykar: Yeah, exactly and I think the ability to communicate with each child that’s in a different stage, [00:33:00] we of course have to adjust how much and what we’re communicating with each child in a different stage. Obviously with an older child, you’re able to share more and you go for more complex emotional terms that you could use with them, that really expands their emotional intelligence. So it’s really a great practice to do that.

Shirin Peykar: I think another area that I offer for parents to be [00:33:30] mindful of is the phones and media distractions. This is a big one, because we become so unconscious of the fact that our presence with our child usually entails us grabbing our phone, checking emails or getting a text and responding. But we really want parents to think about the effect of not having this distraction. By being present without these we’re modeling a level of connection [00:34:00] with others and with our child and we’re sending this message to our child that they’re worthy our time, because how else are they going to learn worthiness?

Shirin Peykar: I recommend that parents be present and it doesn’t require us talking really, it could even just be us getting in their world, sitting next to them when they’re playing a video game, just observing. Not hovering, but more observing and just having this quiet presence. I think a lot of parents struggle with that quiet presence [00:34:30] and the piece of advice for that is to really tap into your senses when you’re trying to connect with your child without these distractions. Because we’ve become so used to these distractions.

Noah Rasheta: That’s a big one for me. I feel like I’ve been battling with this a lot. The phone is always there and my habitual reactivity is going down to the phone and checking, is there an email, do I need to respond to someone on social media or things [00:35:00] of that nature.

Noah Rasheta: And I’m often reminded when I’m trying to talk to the kids about something and they are on their screens and they literally cannot … it’s like I’m invisible. I have to put my hands in front of the screen and then they realize, oh yeah, you’re there, what were you saying?

Noah Rasheta: But that’s what I do and it’s been really a source of … what would the word be? I guess feeling bad about my parenting, is my phone addiction. [00:35:30] What have you found as some tips or things to work around that?

Noah Rasheta: One thing I’ve done is I’ve tried to at least block out times, like okay, dinner time is an obvious one, but other times I go and I physically put my phone away like in the room or something and go back out and just sit and try to interact with the family. Because I’m trying to model that, because they’re growing up with an even harder one where for them it’s the same, they’re so entertained [00:36:00] by their technology. And I just feel like we’re modeling all the wrong behavior there.

Noah Rasheta: What would you say about tips and techniques there?

Shirin Peykar: I think those were really great ideas that you had, putting the phone in another room, putting it on silent and again, modeling that this is the time that we’re having dinner, this is the time that we’re having play. Sensitive observation [00:36:30] we call it, where we’re just kind of observing our children and watching them play.

Shirin Peykar: And if we do have to take a call, because it does happen where our children don’t want us to constantly be with them the older they get, they want to exercise their independence. But if we are in the middle of those times when we do get a disruption and it will happen, again, it’s communication, it’s communicating that I’m sorry I have to take a call. [00:37:00] I’ll be right back. Or I’m sorry, that was disturbing, I apologize for that. Or the phone’s ringing. I’m not going to take that call because it’s important for me to be here with you right now. They really acknowledge that and they internalize that they’re worthy of their parents’ time.

Shirin Peykar: So I think these ideas that you had were a great one. I think a lot of parents do struggle with it, but putting it on silent really helps. It’s just having that out of sight, out of mind thing for [00:37:30] our own well-being is very important, let alone for our child.

Shirin Peykar: So another tip I have that I think is more subtle is our use of language and use of the words, in particular of no, because that’s something that’s become so overused and it’s become something that the meaning … it has lost its meaning for our children. And so what I recommend for parents is rather than no and don’t do this and don’t do that, [00:38:00] to shift their language to something that the child can do.

Shirin Peykar: So for example, my son loves to jump on the couch. Instead of telling him don’t jump on the couch, I say if you want to jump, you’re welcome to go jump on the trampoline or you’re welcome to go jump on the mattress in your playroom, but I don’t want you to jump on the couch.

Shirin Peykar: So it’s more of this directive, it’s directed to what they can do rather than don’t do this, no, no. I recommend [00:38:30] parents using no for just safety concerns and the rest is more directives to things they can do and offering them the choice. So that they’re not zoning out with the no.

Shirin Peykar: Or the terms good and bad, I feel like places some judgment on things and people. Maybe shifting those words to unhealthy or healthy, rather than that’s bad for you, that candy is bad for you, that’s [00:39:00] not really healthy. You see the difference?

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting, that’s one that I’ve worked on a lot in our home, because I’m always talking about that as a concept, that good and bad, that’s a very prevalent conversation in Buddhism and mindfulness. But I’ve noticed even when my kids are asking me questions like, hey, why is this word a bad word? And I’ll say [00:39:30] it’s not a bad word, there’s no such thing as bad words, there’s just words that some people get really uncomfortable if they hear it.

Noah Rasheta: So we don’t say it because it’s bad, we just don’t say it because we don’t want to make people uncomfortable. And trying to reframe things just to get out of that mindset of good and bad.

Noah Rasheta: I’ve had a lot of discussions with my wife around that same concept of there’s no such thing as like a good parent versus [00:40:00] a bad parent, other than like how do you define that, what makes you a good parent? We’re all just parenting and we’ve tried to reframe in our personal conversations, we’ve tried to reframe the good and bad to more how can I be a more skillful parent, how can I be a more skillful partner?

Noah Rasheta: But I think we’re trying to model that with our kids too, because I’ve noticed for them it’s easy to get caught up in that thinking of it might be in a good son or a good daughter, versus, [00:40:30] there is no good or bad.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly. We’re not good or bad people, people have behaviors that may not be the greatest or we could even label the behaviors as maybe good or bad, but people, we just are who we are. It’s that accepting as is notion.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. So [00:41:00] language is a big one and again, this goes back to being introspective and asking yourself, how am I communicating and why am I communicating this way? Any other common ones?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, another one that is a big one that we see is when parents tend to dismiss a child’s physical boundaries, unconsciously [00:41:30] because they want to respect others. Go give grandma, grandpa a kiss or just picking up children without letting them know.

Shirin Peykar: I think that it’s really important to begin to bring this physical awareness through mindful parenting for our children, so that they’re aware of boundaries. And we begin giving children the opportunity to check in with themselves about what they want, what they’re comfortable with, what feels good, what doesn’t [00:42:00] and allowing them to make decisions about their body.

Shirin Peykar: So maybe asking, do you want to give grandma, grandpa love before they leave? Or can I pick you up, to younger children. I have this bedtime routine with my son where I ask him, we call it the bedtime kisses and I ask him where do you want me to kiss you before bed? And so he’ll point to his hair and his eyes and his ears and it’s almost like a fun game for him, where [00:42:30] he tells me where he’s comfortable being kissed. And I just say good night and I respect that and some nights he doesn’t want any and that’s okay too.

Shirin Peykar: So again, it’s not about me, it’s checking in with yourself as to who is this for? Is this for my child or is this for me? Who is this benefiting?

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting with my kids, the differences in their personalities. My primary love language is [00:43:00] physical touch and affection and my son is very much that way too. So like in the mornings when the kids are … so my son and daughter, my kids are nine, six and three. The nine year old and the six year old go ride the bus together, but every morning it’s the same thing. My son is like bye mommy, bye daddy and he has to give us each a kiss and he has to give us a hug and then he’ll start to leave and turn around and always needs a second hug or a second [00:43:30] kiss.

Noah Rasheta: And our little daughter, the six year old, she’s always just like see you, bye and doesn’t … no hugs, no kisses and it was interesting to notice in me like that sense of, whoa, something’s wrong because why would you not give someone a hug and a kiss before you leave? Because that’s me, but it’s made me very aware that, oh, she kind of gets to decide how that is and how long I’ve projected my communication [00:44:00] style on like my wife or on my kids.

Noah Rasheta: And it’s been eye-opening for me to think, okay, I want to be more mindful about this and pay attention. What are her communication styles, how does she feel loved? I just thought about that as you were explaining.

Shirin Peykar: It’s really important for us to be able to respect theirs and allow the space for them to exercise what they want, when it comes to their bodies. I think [00:44:30] as young children, we do tend to tell them to go kiss this person and give that one a hug and we don’t think, like what if they don’t want to, what if they’re really uncomfortable for whatever reason? It’s not what they want to do. We’re sending the message that your inner voice is secondary to what your parent has to kind of direct you to do.

Noah Rasheta: Yeah, interesting.

Shirin Peykar: And I don’t think it’s intentional. I don’t want to [00:45:00] judge parents because I’m sure they’re all doing the best they can with what they know, but we also do want to bring some awareness to a child’s experience within the way that we’re parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. So let’s talk a little bit about like the mindful parenting from the perspective of what’s happening inside. Because we talk about mindful parenting in terms [00:45:30] of how I interact with my kids, what do I say to my kids? But what about mindful parenting in the context of how I talk to myself? The inner voice, what’s happening inside of me, let’s talk about that a little bit.

Shirin Peykar: So when it comes to our own feelings, that’s where we can begin, ultimately, that’s where we’re going to begin. And bringing this awareness to ourselves, I have a [00:46:00] little thing that I have created called the mind and body scan. And it’s very aligned with the Buddhist tenet of the right mindfulness, of being aware of your thoughts and your emotions and your body as it exists in the present moment. And ultimately, your feelings and your thoughts do create your reality, which is the whole mindfulness approach. I’m sure you’re able to speak to that better than I am.

Shirin Peykar: But I’ve created this practice, [00:46:30] in checking in with yourself, just by scanning your body, throughout the day, for your sensations and your feelings. And the purpose of this is to create a habit of staying in the moment.

Shirin Peykar: So just throughout the day, taking a moment within yourself to check in, how am I feeling right now? Because we’re really easily able to distract ourselves, though again, the phone, through chores that we have to do, through our relationships, through [00:47:00] work. It’s really easy to forget and to put ourselves aside.

Shirin Peykar: And so when we create this practice of checking in with ourselves, it benefits us as parents and as individuals, because we’re modeling that we’re feeling or validating or communicating or even with ourselves, about our feelings our needs. And it’s a great practice to do just within yourself, the positive or the negative. Right now, I’m [00:47:30] not in a good mood, what caused that? Just having this relationship with yourself throughout the day that you’re checking in with yourself, just to see how you’re doing. The same way that we would do with a partner.

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting how you mentioned this modeling, if we don’t model or if we don’t practice this ourselves, we’re essentially modeling the way of being [00:48:00] habitually reactive to our kids. And one way that I know that I do that and I think you mentioned this in some of your work, is distracting our kids. It’s always been a strategy or a technique that I use when the kid falls and you’re like, oh, you’re okay, oh, look, over there, did you see that? We’re trying to distract our kids from what they’re feeling or what they’re going through.

Noah Rasheta: And I think in my [00:48:30] case, that stems from … maybe that’s how I’ve always been like, oh, I’m feeling this, better distract myself, go look at that. How do we foster that sense in our kids, how do we help them to honor what they’re experiencing?

Shirin Peykar: The way to go about that is to really just meet them where they are at in that moment. So if again, we’ll use the [00:49:00] fall example of you’ve witnessed your child falling and they’re crying, I mean there’s no real injury and you may feel like, okay, it’s not a big deal. But we want to meet them where they’re at and if they’re crying, we just want to sit with them while they’re crying and just look at them and even explain to them maybe what we saw happen. You were walking and you didn’t see that last step and then I noticed that you just kind [00:49:30] of fell over and you hit your head slightly on the ground. And that probably scared you.

Shirin Peykar: We want to add words, we want to be able to put words to the experience, emotional feelings, that must have scared you, that shocked you, you weren’t expecting that, you feel scared, you feel afraid, whatever words that we feel like would accurately explain [00:50:00] what our child is feeling. So that they’re able to put words to it, they’re able to make sense of it and we’re not discounting their experience, because we feel like, okay, there’s no blood, you’re fine.

Noah Rasheta: That seems to be a common one, it’s like, you’re okay, get up. Quit crying.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, I see that, you’re okay, nothing happened, nothing happened. Why are you crying, don’t cry? Oh my gosh, let’s go get ice cream, the ice cream truck … and I think a lot of that’s cultural too [00:50:30] for many people. We’ve learned to become afraid of our emotions. I don’t know why, because we don’t do that with the positive emotions of happiness and joy. We want that, but we don’t want the other part of our human experience.

Shirin Peykar: And if we’re not willing to have that within ourselves, we definitely can’t see that within our children.

Noah Rasheta: I wonder if a part of that is the impatience, we’re always [00:51:00] rushing from here to there, this to that. So like someone falls and oh, you’re fine, get up, don’t cry about it. We don’t have time, at least we feel like we don’t have time to sit and evaluate.

Noah Rasheta: But it’s funny that you mentioned like on the flip side, if it were a positive experience, then we do want to be like, oh, I’m going to linger with this one. We don’t do that there, it’s like, hey, I’m feeling great, no, you’re not, you’re more okay. Let’s move on.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly. I think [00:51:30] it stems from A, this fear that these negative emotions are going to swallow us up whole. So we need to avoid it or even just the fact of us being parented from a perspective of distraction and not being in touch with that emotion and thinking that there’s some reason why we shouldn’t visit those feelings. There’s something in there that’s scarier, that it’s going to last forever or that we have this idea that it shouldn’t be this [00:52:00] way. We shouldn’t feel sad or we shouldn’t cry or we shouldn’t feel guilty or anxious or lonely.

Shirin Peykar: But why not? Really asking ourselves, why not, what’s wrong with that?

Noah Rasheta: I like that you mentioned kind of highlighting some of the other underlying emotions that may be causing that discomfort, like instead of just saying, oh, you’re okay, saying, oh, did that scare you? I think that’s really [00:52:30] powerful, in terms of helping our kids to grow up with the tools, I guess, to explore deeper.

Noah Rasheta: Because I find that as adults, we do that all the time too. I mentioned in one of the podcast episodes, we were in Iceland and my wife had this experience of being yelled at by another tourist, because she was taking too much time on one of the things where we were taking a picture. And there was this intense moment of strong emotion that welled up for her, that through introspection, [00:53:00] she was able to realize why did that bother me? And realizing there’s a deeper thing, that sense of embarrassment, in this case, embarrassment is what led to the anger.

Noah Rasheta: But I think with pain, it’s similar, it’s like, well, a kid falls, they’re crying not because it hurt or because they were embarrassed, but helping them to discover what happened, did that scare you? I think is a good prompt for something like that, to realize, oh, that’s why I’m feeling this way.

Shirin Peykar: [00:53:30] As you said, in every experience, there are multi layers and it may not just be maybe what we think or it may be that there is something deeper or something different that maybe we didn’t even catch, that if we allow for that experience to unfold, that they will be able to tell us. I was surprised. I didn’t expect that to be there, it’s not that I’m in pain, it’s more that I was shocked or [00:54:00] I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Caught me off guard.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that.

Noah Rasheta: So I feel like it’s a good time to mention again, this to the listeners, if you’re listening to this thinking mindful parenting means there’s this way to parent compared to that way of parenting. I don’t know that we would want to necessarily present it that way. It’s a more introspective way [00:54:30] of parenting, where I’m learning about why I parent the way that I parent. Why I react the way that I react, when this or that happens.

Noah Rasheta: Rather than saying … I think a common mistake would be to think, okay, well, I’m just going to pretend now. This thing happens and I’ll pretend like that’s not bothering me because that’s the mindful way. And that’s actually the opposite, you’re not sitting with the emotion that you’re experiencing, you’re pretending that you’re not experiencing that unpleasant [00:55:00] feeling is counterproductive, that’s not going to make you mindful at all. Pretending to be peaceful in your parenting isn’t helpful at all.

Noah Rasheta: If we were to kind of wrap this up, what does mindful parenting look like, what are some common things that somebody listening now could start doing this or that? What would that be?

Shirin Peykar: So mindful parenting is really a [00:55:30] combination of being authentic with our feelings and our experience, relating to them, relating to our child’s feelings and experience, allowing them to exist within the child too, bringing awareness to our needs and our triggers and our self-care and our child’s needs and triggers. And bringing this awareness to our communication, as to how we’re communicating what’s going on with us, with [00:56:00] regards to our feelings and our experience.

Shirin Peykar: And lastly, I wanted to add a bonus sort of exercise for parents to try out and see how that feels for them, even if they had a day of not so mindful parenting. How does that sound, Noah?

Noah Rasheta: Great, yeah, let’s hear it.

Shirin Peykar: So I call this the manifesting positive outcomes, where at the end of each day it’s taking five minutes [00:56:30] before you go to bed, to replay the day’s interactions with your child in your mind. So what I do is I stood at the edge of my bed and I envisioned one incident that I would have liked to have gone better with my son. And I’ll ask myself where in that event I could have been more, where I could have been better. How could I have interacted in a way more aligned with mindful parenting?

Shirin Peykar: And then I begin to envision that same event going exactly as I would have liked [00:57:00] it to go, in my mind and I feel in my body, what it feels like to be on this endeavor of mindful parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. Is this like a practice that you’re just kind of running in your head or do you have people write it down like a … I don’t know, like a parenting journal or something?

Shirin Peykar: It depends on what you works for you. Some parents don’t [00:57:30] like the journaling, but if you journal, I think it’s even better because it allows you this opportunity to go back and kind of look through past incidents. And you’ll remember things that you may not have remembered in that present moment. And it could be a very enlightening journal to go through, when you have the time.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. One thing I do regularly in the podcast episodes is I try to have an invitation [00:58:00] for a challenge of some sort at the end. And I think this is a good one for this podcast episode, maybe for the next week or so, to give that a try and in your day, with that asking yourself, how did today unfold in my parenting, what could I have done differently, how would that have made things turn out? And just thinking about it I think goes a long way.

Noah Rasheta: Because what we seem to be up against is remembering to remember. [00:58:30] And like in our busy lives, we’re just reacting and we’re surviving the experience of parenting and not really pausing and analyzing, what does this feel like?

Noah Rasheta: And that’s unfortunate because I try to remind myself that no matter how unpleasant the experience of parenting is today, at some point, I will look back and I’ll miss that that experience is gone. And I don’t want [00:59:00] to have regrets in my parenting and to me, I mean I don’t want to have regrets in my living, but tome, that translates into, am I really feeling it right now, allowing myself to be fully immersed in the experience of parenting?

Noah Rasheta: But that puts the good and the bad, so to speak, on an equal playing field. It’s like did I really soak in the unpleasantness of my three-year-old still not being potty-trained? Here I am changing [00:59:30] her pull-up in the mall. Did I really allow myself to be good at feeling what that was like, rather than just pushing that away?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly. This full spectrum of emotions and experiences, exactly, that’s exactly it.

Noah Rasheta: I feel like parenting is an incredible experience. Anyone who’s a parent kind of knows this and I feel like, man, it’s been such a neat [01:00:00] experience to raise another human being and realize they’re not little robots, I’m not cloning myself. They’ve got their own personalities and their own way that makes them unique. And it’s neat to have that interaction with them, even at such a young age and to me, that’s what mindful parenting is about. It’s me trying to understand the interdependent nature of our relationship and trying to understand [01:00:30] myself, how I interject, like the natural tendency to put myself in them, the egocentric side of it that you talked about.

Noah Rasheta: And I guess not eliminate that, but totally just recognize, oh, that’s a natural tendency. Wow, why do we do that? And allowing myself to see that and then back away at times and think, oh, okay, I know why this felt this way or that way. And just again, experiencing that full range of emotions in [01:01:00] what it is to parent.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly.

Noah Rasheta: Sorry, I was just going to say if people want to learn more about this, do you have any resources that you would suggest, books or your website or anything along those lines?

Shirin Peykar: Yes. I encourage them to check out my website. I have a little bit of information on my website about how I work. [01:01:30] They’re welcome to reach out to me. I offer free 15 minute consultations for prospective clients and I’m able to just kind of get to know them and what they’re looking for. I’m able to see clients in California, face to face or through Skype or teletherapy throughout the United States. And that would be more as like a mindful parenting coaching.

Shirin Peykar: And if they’d like to get more information about RIE, they’re welcome to go to www-

Noah Rasheta: [01:02:00] Wait. Before we jump into that, what is your website?

Shirin Peykar: My website is www.talkwithshirin.com.

Noah Rasheta: And that’s S-H-I-R-I-N.

Shirin Peykar: That’s correct.

Noah Rasheta: Cool and I’ll put these links in the description of the podcast episode as well. So the other one you were mentioning?

Shirin Peykar: RIE’s website is www.rie.org and that’s [01:02:30] R-I-E.org. RIE may have RIE associates throughout the United States, they are actually worldwide, so you’re welcome to see if there are any parent child guidance classes near you. Or they also have other sort of resources on their website.

Shirin Peykar: And on my website, I have books that I recommend for parents that are interested in mindful conscious parenting.

Noah Rasheta: [01:03:00] Cool, do any of those stand out right now as like here’s a book to check out or should we just go look at the list?

Shirin Peykar: There are a bunch. I recommend that parents go check out what works for them, what they’re looking for. If it’s for discipline, I have a couple for discipline. If they’re looking for more … something for their babies, from zero to two, got that covered. And then for older [01:03:30] children as well.

Shirin Peykar: And then there are books for the parents too, so we’ve got it all covered on my website.

Noah Rasheta: Awesome, great. I feel like I want to echo what I mentioned at the beginning of every podcast episode, in terms of when we’re talking about Buddhism, I always mention the quote of the Dalai Lama is to not use Buddhism to become a Buddhist, but to become a better whatever you already are.

Noah Rasheta: And I almost want to say that it’s perfectly with this, like use the concepts [01:04:00] and tools of mindful parenting not to become a mindful parent, but to become a better parent, a better whatever you already are, whatever type of parent you are now, just be a little better.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly.

Noah Rasheta: Cool. I really appreciate you taking the time and discussing this topic. It’s certainly a topic that’s interesting to me because I have kids and I know podcast listeners have mentioned it before, because I’ve only done one or two podcasts where [01:04:30] I talk about teaching mindfulness to kids or things along those lines.

Noah Rasheta: So this has been a really fun conversation. I think there are a lot of good nuggets in there, that parents are going to appreciate. And we’ll go check out your books. I think that would be the next logical step, talking to you or reading some of these books and learning more about these concepts. I know I’m excited to dig through that list and see which book I want to pick up next.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, definitely and feel free [01:05:00] to reach out if anyone has any questions. I’m very accessible. This mindful parenting is such a favorite specialty of mine and I enjoy it very much. I’m grateful.

Noah Rasheta: Very cool.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, thank you.

Noah Rasheta: Thanks again for your time, it was a pleasure speaking with you and I’m sure we’ll reach out if anyone has any questions. Visit the links in the podcast description to find Shirin and her work and thank you guys for listening.

Shirin Peykar: [01:05:30] Thank you, Noah.

Noah Rasheta: Thank you for listening to the audio of this podcast interview. If you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners and my third book, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. You can learn about those if you visit noahrasheta.com, that’s N-O-A-H-R-A-S-H-E-T-A.com.

Noah Rasheta: If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, [01:06:00] give it a rating on iTunes or if you want to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button.

Noah Rasheta: That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

86 – Listening to Understand

We seem to really struggle when it comes to having conversations about difficult topics. Are we listening with the intent to understand the other person or are we simply assessing to determine what team the other person is on? Are they team “us” or team “them”. In this episode, I will discuss the idea of listening to understand.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 86. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about listening to understand. Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

I had a recent experience where I was asked about my view or stance on a controversial topic, and in that moment I felt a sense of hesitation on my part in deciding how to answer. And, this experience got me thinking about the nature of the question. Was this being asked in order to truly gain a better understanding of my views or was it just a test of some sort to see what team I’m on. Now, imagine for a moment any of the hot topics of the day, it could be political questions like, what are your views on immigration? What is your stance on gun control? Moral or ethical questions like, what do you think of abortion? Are you a vegetarian? Why do you eat meat? Or existential questions like, do you believe in God? What do you think happens when we die? And of course we can’t leave out the hot topic of the season, you know, what are your thoughts about the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside?”

Now, as I thought about the specific question that I was being asked, it occurred to me like I said that perhaps I was being subjected to a test. Was this question just a simple assessment of whether, or not I’m on team us, or team them, and this got me thinking, how often are we making these assessments against others? For me, how often am I really listening to understand? And, I mentioned before in a previous podcast episode, episode 73 titled, “What Moves Us,” the five core social motives. With the first one, number one being, belonging. That is to say that, one of the core social motives is to make an assessment of belonging. I’m trying to determine whether I belong. I need to decide what team you’re on, and can you see how this plays out if we’re all doing this assessment all the time? Do you do this in your own life?

I do this all the time and I think we all do, and some topics are more sensitive than others. I know for me it centers a bit more around like religious affiliation, or are more clearly I’m trying to determine the level of religious dogmatism or fundamentalism that one possesses, and that’ll hit a sensitive nerve for me. So, I think it stems from the fact that I tend to feel like, that is a particular team that I no longer belong to. A team that often gives off this vibe of, “Hey, you’re a trader, you were one of us and now you’re not.” Or, “You’re a weak person, because you’ve lost your faith.” Or, I don’t know, anything along those lines. So, it seems easy for me that when it comes to religious topics or questions of a religious nature, I catch that I’m generally listening to assess for belonging rather than listening to try to understand, and that’s just something that I’ve noticed about myself.

Again, what we’re trying to do with all of this as a practice is internalize it. You take all this information that you’re hearing on the podcast and this is about you saying, “Okay, well how does this apply to me? In what areas of my life am I struggling to listen to understand?” Now, I want to emphasize that we’re hardwired to do this for survival reasons. Back in the old days, the evolutionary days, if we weren’t good at this simple assessment, it could have meant the difference between life and death. In other words, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing that we do, I’m just saying it’s not the most skillful way to communicate around these difficult topics when we’re all playing the game of just trying to see, what side were each on, and then we ostracize, or invalidate the other view, or the other opinions so quickly.

Now, it’s unfortunate, but I think in our culture we’ve been taught to avoid talking about controversial topics, because it makes both sides too upset, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about it. We end up getting carried away by the aversion that we have to the discomfort of these emotions that arise when we’re talking about these things. When instead, we should be focusing on learning how to have skillful conversations about difficult topics. Now, I get it that you can’t change other people. This isn’t about convincing someone else to be better at talking about difficult topics that are controversial for them. This is about you deciding and learning, can I personally become better at having skillful conversations around difficult topics? How do we do that?

Well, first we need to learn to listen to understand, and when we’re seeking to understand, it’s important to know that we’re not trying to debate the validity of another person’s view, or their opinion, or their belief, we’re just trying to gain a bigger picture. And, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Understanding is loves other name,” and I really like that quote. I’ve mentioned it before in another context where he talks about how the more we understand, the more we love and the more we love, the more we understand. I think that’s something important to keep in mind. One of the most powerful things that we can do individually to become better at having skillful conversations around difficult topics, is first to recognize that we’re not experts at everything. I don’t understand why we all feel the need to be experts at everything. All of I do, everyone does, and in reality there are very few things that we are experts in.

Perhaps, it could be your career or something that you spent a considerable amount of time learning. That’s your area of expertise, but then there are so many other areas that are not your area of expertise. And for me, I know when someone asked me to talk about my views on, I don’t know, say immigration as an example, it’s like, well, why would you want to know what my opinion is? I mean, sure, I have one and I may feel strongly about my opinion, but that by no means makes me an expert on the topic. My view or my opinion may be wrong no matter how right it feels to me. And, wouldn’t it be nice if we all carried that attitude, that a bit of wiggle room that, my view may not be the right view.

In my personal practice with Buddhism, I’m constantly trying to understand myself, why do I do what I do? Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I not believe what I don’t believe? And, to view things the way that I view them. I understand that, I am the product of the societal views that I grew up with. With all my past experiences and the opinions that arise out of all of this, but that doesn’t mean that they’re right. It doesn’t mean that they’re better than other views or other opinions, and I try to keep that in mind. To acknowledge that there may be better views, or better opinions out there. In fact, that’s why I am where I am with my views, because at one point I measured or analyzed the views that I had with other views and thought, “Oh, these other views seem to make more sense to me.” So, I shifted and evolved in, and that’s led me to this current moment in space and time, where the collective views and opinions that I have are the ones that I have.

But to become stagnant and think, “Oh, well, now I got them all. This is …” No, it continues to evolve and I’m continually assessing my views and my ideas to other views and other ideas. So, there may be better views out there, and I want to hear about those. I want to listen to other views and understand them more. And, I want to be clear about this, that this doesn’t mean that we’re tolerating or condoning harmful views, harmful ideas, harmful opinions, but I think we can learn to engage more skillfully with opinions that we don’t like, opinions that we disagree with. But again, this whole process really starts with us. So, this episode of, are we listening to understand, it’s an invitation to ourselves. But, it also turns into an invitation to assess how others are listening to ourselves. If somebody comes to me and they’re asking me a question that’s on a hot topic and I get the sense that they want to understand my view, I would happily sit and discuss it and have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.

I think that would be relatively easy, but it would be very difficult if I sense that that person is not listening to understand. They’re listening to assess and listening to decide whether, or not I am one of them, or I’m the enemy, if I’m on the other team. And, if that’s the case, I personally feel like, well, what’s the point of playing that game? The moment I make it clear to you that I’m on the other team, I’m not sure I’m going to stand firm about specific views and ideas that I hold. But, there may be instances or circumstances where I think, “Well, I don’t think you need to hear my view on this, because it’s just my view and that’s it, and we don’t really need to get into it. You’re just going to view me as your enemy if I elaborate on this. So, why elaborate on it? Let’s just …”

Or the other thing that I’ll do often is, be honest and say, “I don’t know. I feel like it could be this or that, but the truth is I don’t know. So, I’m open.” And, that creates space for the person who’s assessing you to think, “Okay, well, that I can discuss this more with them.” And, you can develop your strategy, see what works with you and what works with different people. I mean, this is different with friends than it is with family, different with close family, like a spouse or a partner than it is with maybe a distant cousin or something. But, again, I think that the invitation here, the challenge for this week is to notice what is your default style of listening? Are you listening to understand, or are you defending your opinion perhaps with more zeal and more energy than maybe skillfully required for the goal that you’re trying to achieve?

What, if the goal of our conversations was to understand each other, rather than to a figure out who is more right than the other, or how I’m to convince you to view the world like me. So again, those were just the ideas I wanted to share around this topic, but the next thing I wanted to share is an item of news, and that is, in the past, I’ve done these trips to Uganda, humanitarian mindfulness trips. I’ve done two of them. And then I took a break, rather than planning to do another one, I held off because I’ve had in the works this tentative idea to do a trekking mindfulness trip to Nepal. And, I’m excited to announce that, that is now officially going to happen November 15th of 2019. So, we’re still 10 months out, there’s plenty of time to think about this, but what I want to do is, an adventure trekking/mindfulness retreat.

Now, why Nepal? Nepal has a lot of significance for Buddhism. It’s where the Buddha was born. What is today Nepal back then it was India. There are many temples and pilgrimage type sites, but what I want to do is actual trekking. Nepal is world famous for its trekking and one of the regions there is called the Annapurna range. And so, what I’m proposing to put together, and if any of you are interested keep listening, is a 15 day itinerary where we would start in Kathmandu and then we would do a 15 day a trek. Everyday we trek to a new little town where we stay and this would be, a part mindfulness retreat where every morning there would be group meditation, guided meditation, silent meditation, plenty of walking meditation, because that’s what we’re doing all day.

We would be having group discussions around a really deep concepts of getting to know ourselves, and having the time to put it into practice, because you may discuss a deep concept and then it’s okay, let’s walk for an hour and really think about this. And, then pause and imagine just sitting there and talking about these things, and glancing over and there’s mountain Everest, or the other incredible mountains on the Annapurna range, I think would be a really neat experience. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. So, it’ll be a small group. I’m going to cap this at probably 13 to 14 individuals and we would spend 15 days together trekking through Nepal, talking about mindfulness, and Buddhism, and deep concepts, and just seeing and experiencing the incredible culture of Nepal. Seeing ancient Buddhist temples and all the cool things that we’re going to see there.

So, I’ve put that together with a really neat outfitter group that’s based in Nepal. We’ve been talking for just over a year now and it’s going to be an incredible trip. Now, I don’t have all the details ready to publish yet, but for now you can visit mindfultrekking.com to learn the most basic details of the trip. I will be updating that site next week with more details, with the full itinerary, so you can see the schedule from day one through day 15. But for now, you can go there and if you’re interested enter your email address, that way I have it and I can send you the notification when all the details are there and it’s actually open to register. It’s going to be a really cool trip. So, if you didn’t get the chance, if you went to Africa, awesome. If you didn’t get the chance to do any of our Africa trips, this would be a really fun one.

This trip is geared for the average person, average level of fitness to be able to complete it. There are plenty of ups and downs, we’ll never go higher than 6,000 feet in elevation. So, it’s not an intense trek, but just keep in mind there are plenty of ups and downs and stairs that you would have to navigate over the course of these 15 days. So, if he had bad knees, that might be a consideration or … But the average person with the average level of fitness would be able to complete this. So, check that out, mindfultrekking.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, like always share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. You can join the online community, which I’m actually in the process of making a pretty big shift and change with this, I’ll announce that in a future podcast episode. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. But that’s all I have for now and I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon, and giving you more details about the mindfulness retreat and trekking in Nepal. Thanks again for listening, until next time.