38 – Life With and Without Beliefs

In this episode, I will talk about beliefs and the role they play in the fictional narrative we build around our perceived reality. The story we construct about reality is determined by our beliefs. This becomes problematic when reality doesn’t fit our beliefs because we tend to cause suffering for ourselves and others when we try to make reality fit the narrative of our own fiction.

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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello. You are listening to the secular Buddhism podcast, and this is episode number 38. I am your host Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about life with and without beliefs.
(Musical Introduction)
Have you ever noticed the T.V. or billboard ads for whiter teeth? They always show you a comparison. Here’s what teeth look like with this treatment, or here’s what they look like without this treatment. And this tactic seems to trigger in us the thought, “What would I look like with this treatment?” Or perhaps even worse, “Oh no, what do I look like without this treatment?” And this attitude of comparing, it plays a part in all forms of advertising, all forms of marketing or advertising, that pretty much says here is what life would look like with this new car or this energy drink or this product or service, and then it is left up to us to imagine what it would be like without, and we don’t want to miss out so that is what compels us to want to get something.

Have you ever noticed the T.V. or billboard ads for whiter teeth? They always show you a comparison. Here’s what teeth look like with this treatment, or here’s what they look like without this treatment. And this tactic seems to trigger in us the thought, “What would I look like with this treatment?” Or perhaps even worse, “Oh no, what do I look like without this treatment?” And this attitude of comparing, it plays a part in all forms of advertising, all forms of marketing or advertising, that pretty much says here is what life would look like with this new car or this energy drink or this product or service, and then it is left up to us to imagine what it would be like without, and we don’t want to miss out so that is what compels us to want to get something.
And we are always being presented with this dualistic set of realities. There’s what is and then there’s what could be, and all you need is this one product or this one service. This is a tactic that plays on our natural curiosity, because we have a natural eagerness to want to compare and to contrast things. So, what if we could use this natural curiosity to look more deeply into our own lives, into the nature of our own minds, our thoughts and our deeply held beliefs.
Before I jump into that though, I do want to remind you that this podcast is made possible by The Foundation For Mindful Living, a 501c3 non-profit, with a mission to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully. The goal of the foundation is to make mindfulness teachings available to anyone anywhere, and we can do that with the support of our listeners. If every podcast listener donated just two dollars a month, the foundation could host mindfulness retreats and workshops all over the country, perhaps even the world, completely free to the attendees.

Before I jump into that though, I do want to remind you that this podcast is made possible by The Foundation For Mindful Living, a 501c3 non-profit, with a mission to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully. The goal of the foundation is to make mindfulness teachings available to anyone anywhere, and we can do that with the support of our listeners. If every podcast listener donated just two dollars a month, the foundation could host mindfulness retreats and workshops all over the country, perhaps even the world, completely free to the attendees.

Now, I love recording the podcast. I love teaching workshops, hosting retreats, and I never get tired of teaching about mindfulness or talking about Buddhism. The only part of all of this that’s difficult for me, is to ask for donations, and fortunately in the past I have been a position to be able to do this without relying on any kind of support. This has been my way of giving my time and resources, and this has allowed me to do everything on my own dime, and I have been happy about that.
Unfortunately though, as some of you may know from listening to recent podcast episodes, I am going through a difficult phase with my business, and very soon I will no longer have the business, and I will not have the same financial freedom that I’ve had in the past to continue running this the way that I have using my own resources. And during this time the podcast has grown quite a bit. Its become the number two podcast in the world for Buddhism, and it’s consistently in the top 50 now for religion and spirituality in the world. I’m very thankful to each of you for listening and for supporting when you can, because it couldn’t have grown without you. But that also means that I am dealing with significantly more bandwidth and resources to just keep it all running, and as of now it is about .2 percent of monthly listeners that are donors.

Whether that’s a one-time donation or a monthly donation, and I would love to get that percentage up a bit. I don’t know what a proper goal is, but you know, between two and five percent of listeners making a donation would make a significant difference in the resources that I would have to be able to take this and do more with it. That would allow me to make this my full-time project. So here’s my pitch to you. If you’re getting any value from these podcast episodes, if you are in a position to be able to, consider visiting secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button at the top of the page, and consider becoming a monthly contributor, or at least making a one-time donation that can go towards the cause of making mindfulness teachings available to everyone.

Normally you have to pay for something to see if you like it or if it was useful. You know, we’ve all done this. You go but a product, you spend a couple of dollars, and then you get to see if you like it, or if over time if it is something that continues to remain useful to you. Now, that is what’s nice about this setup with a podcast. Podcasts are free, and I want that to always be that way, and I don’t want to start bringing in advertising as a form of supplementing the income that, you know, that I would need to do this. I think that kind of muddies the waters a bit, but with this format it’s a little bit different. You get to listen to the podcast and over time you get to decide or notice if these teachings are making a difference in your life, and if they are, if you are benefiting from this content, then you get to choose if you want to support it, and that would insure that I can continue recording new episodes and even more regularly than I do now because I would be doing it full time, and continue to provide you with content that in turn continues to be beneficial to you and your day to day living.
So, I’m not asking anyone to donate unless you feel that this podcast has been beneficial to you, and you are in a position to be able to, because one of my main things has always been, you know, I don’t want any of this content to be restricted to people who can afford it. That’s why the workshops that I am doing, the recent format is to make these completely free. But every donation makes a difference with the mission of the foundation and the mission of the podcast to take what can sometimes be complex teachings or complex topics, and make them easy to understand and accessible to anyone who’s interested in learning more about mindfulness, Buddhism, and meditation.

o, I’m not asking anyone to donate unless you feel that this podcast has been beneficial to you, and you are in a position to be able to, because one of my main things has always been, you know, I don’t want any of this content to be restricted to people who can afford it. That’s why the workshops that I am doing, the recent format is to make these completely free. But every donation makes a difference with the mission of the foundation and the mission of the podcast to take what can sometimes be complex teachings or complex topics, and make them easy to understand and accessible to anyone who’s interested in learning more about mindfulness, Buddhism, and meditation.

So that’s it. That is my one time pitch to you. I don’t want to take up nearly as much time talking about this in the future, because I just want to go into talking about the content of the specific topic for the day, and maybe I will have an occasional reminder or a quick blurb about it if it is something that is still needed, but hopefully with your help we can get the percentage of listeners who donate from .2 up to a higher percentage, and that will make all the difference.

So, with that out of the way, let’s jump into this week’s topic. So, we all have beliefs. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes us function so well as a species, as a highly evolved species. The fact that we’re capable of creating and collectively believing stories, is what gives rise to our modern civilization. Now, there’s a whole book about this called Sapiens. You should check it out. But essentially our political, financial, and even religious systems all work because of our shared beliefs. You know, think about that. If we didn’t all believe that this little green piece of paper had any value, our financial systems would collapse and we wouldn’t be able to trade or do commerce anywhere near as effective as we can now, because of our common held belief that this piece of paper has value.

And today I want to talk about beliefs and the role that they play in the narrative that we build about reality. I talked about this in the past. There is reality, and then there is the story that we have about reality. In other words, there’s you and then there’s the story you have about who you are, and these are not the same thing. It’s two different things. The story we construct about reality is determined by the beliefs that we hold. So, you could say it’s our beliefs that build a fictional world, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that when reality doesn’t fit with your beliefs, then you run the risk of causing suffering for yourself and for others, because you are trying to make reality fit the narrative of your own fiction.

And here’s the thing about reality though, reality is under no obligation to make any sense to you. You know, if you’re a regular podcast listener you’ll recall this story or this incident that I had a while back about meeting with Chris in China, one of my suppliers, and how for months I had been communicating with Chris over email, and when we finally went to meet in person I just couldn’t see Chris anywhere, because I kept thinking he’s not here, and after enough time went past and I finally sat down, the girl sitting next to me that whole time, that I didn’t even realize, she looked up from her phone and said “Oh, hi. Are you Noah? I’m Chris.” And the story has stuck with me, because you know the story reminds me of how my belief blinded is what blinded me. There was no problem with reality. Reality was what it was. I was there, Chris was there, but I couldn’t see Chris, because of the belief, because of the concept. The conceptual Chris blinded me from the real Chris, and this is where, you know, I talk about there’s what is and there’s the story of what is. For me, the story was that Chris was a guy, and that is why I couldn’t see Chris the female sitting there all along.

So, that is what I am talking about when we look at this duality between what is and the story of what is, or the narrative that we’ve constructed around what is, and that narrative is influenced by our beliefs. So, in that specific event, like I said there was absolutely no problem with reality. It was a problem with the narrative that was influenced by my belief that Chris was a man. Remember, all of this happened during a time in my life when I was deliberately trying to be aware and to be mindful. So, what does that say? You know, if I wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t aware of reality, well then I’m in a dilemma. You know, what do we do about that? How do we overcome that? If our beliefs are influencing our narrative, or the story around reality, how can we work with that?

So, I don’t think that we can just eliminate our beliefs. I’m not sure that we can and I’m not sure that we need to or want to, but by understanding the connection between my beliefs and my perceived reality, I can become much more introspective with the role that I’m playing in my own self-inflicted suffering, and the suffering that I may be causing to others. So, I want to elaborate on this just a little bit more by introducing you to a popular zen koan. If you’ll recall I’ve talked about this in the past. A koan is a riddle. It’s a story or a question or a saying. It’s something that’s meant to be difficult if not impossible to understand or solve, but it’s ultimately meant to serve as a tool that essentially knocks us away from our conceptual thinking for a minute.

So, koans are used as tools to help us have a glimpse of reality without the bias of our beliefs and our stories. And remember, there is no problem with having beliefs or stories, it is just problematic when we confuse those things with reality. So, a koan can introduce us to the possibility of seeing or glimpsing what the world might look like if we could see it just as it is without our beliefs, without our concepts. So, what does life look like if I’m suddenly not relying on the stories I tell myself about reality?

Well, lets look at the koan a little bit. The koan goes like this, it’s an expression that says: The great way is not difficult if you just don’t pick and choose. That’s it. The great way is not difficult if you just don’t pick and choose. I’ve worked with this for a while. You know, what does this mean? And I’m going to tell you what it means to me, but remember at the end of the day, with this and all other things, the only real question that matters is what does it mean to you? For me, I think of it like this: Life is not difficult if you just don’t pick and choose. But what is it that we don’t have to pick and choose from? Well, to me this is reality verses the story I have about reality. See, that is the game I’m always playing. I’m trying to decipher what is reality verses what’s the story I have around reality, and we are always choosing. We’re picking and choosing between the two without even realizing that that’s what we’re doing.

So, we are always caught up in the fictional reality we have created because of our beliefs, and this koan is saying: What if you could learn to see reality as it is, and then you wouldn’t have to pick and choose between what is and what you think is. You know, what if events in life don’t have to be anything other than what they are? You know, no stories, no fiction. I often talk about the analogy of a car cutting you off, and you can notice how quickly the story influences your view of reality. You know, the real suffering in that event has nothing to do with being cut off. It has everything to do with thinking, you know, that a jerk just took advantage of you, or something along those lines. But you see, that’s the story. That’s the story part. That’s the fiction, and what this koan is eluding to is that life is not difficult if you don’t have to pick and choose. I can be reality as it is. You know, what if we could approach events as they unfold in life without the stories that we’ve attached to those events?
You know, I often talk about what it feels like to be out in nature, because it’s one of the few places where it seems to be very easy to drop all the stories, all the narratives, all the fiction. We aren’t out there in nature looking at trees thinking, wait a second you need to be more straight, or you know, your leaves are not green enough, or sorry there is too much bark growing on the trunk of this tree. Like, we just don’t play that game. It sounds absurd and silly to even imagine that, but that’s what we do in real life.

When we’re out in nature we simply allow nature to be just as it is, and in return we don’t feel that nature plays that game with us. You know, you don’t go out in nature and feel like the trees are judging, you know what brand of backpack I’m wearing or the color of my shirt or what ever. You know, it’s in these moments where we’re completely at one with reality. We are just with what is, and when we’re like that there’s no tension, there’s no inner conflict, there’s nothing to add, there’s nothing to subtract. You’re just there with what is. And how refreshing does that feel? You know, what if we could be like that in other aspects of our life? What if we could be like that with other people, or even more, what if we could be like that with ourselves? That’s the essence of what it means to be able to live with and without beliefs. It’s looking at the role that they play in how we are with ourselves.

So, beliefs and thoughts and feelings, you know these things arise naturally in the same way that the wind or the rain does. When the causes and conditions are right it rains, and when the causes and conditions are not right, the rain is gone. Beliefs and thoughts and emotions, this whole sense of self, it’s very similar. The key is to remember that we don’t have to agree with them, or to fight against them. You know, that puts us back at picking and choosing, and it’s not difficult if you don’t have to pick and choose. So, we all know that Buddhism teaches this concept of non-attachment, and sometimes I think that is a concept that can be difficult to understand, and in some ways I like presenting this on kind of the flip side of that notion as the wisdom of adaptability.

So, in the context of time we say that all things are changing, all things are impermanent. So, attachment is what seems to bring a sense of permanence to things that are not permanent, and Thich Nhat Hanh says: “It’s not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” And I think in a similar way a lot of our suffering arises, not necessarily from having beliefs, but from wanting those beliefs to be permanent when they’re not. Thinking this is this way and it always needs to be this way.

Sometimes I like to think a little bit about what it must have been like when science was making that transition from the geocentric view of the universe to the heliocentric, and how, you know, I don’t think the problem was that there was a geocentric view of the universe. They didn’t know, and if you were just observing the night sky without the proper knowledge it would be easy to assume that everything is spinning around us. Now, the problematic part of this is when a new model comes out that makes more sense, and you can’t let go of your current belief that the, you know, that the earth is the center of the universe. That’s where it becomes problematic. You know, because wanting our beliefs to be permanent can be problematic when they’re not permanent. Nothing is permanent. All things are changing. So, this is where that wisdom of adaptability comes in.

You know, imagine how much more healthy it was for the scientists that were able to hold a view that, you know, the earth is the center of the universe to be presented with hew information that makes sense, and say: Oh, well, okay it looks like the sun is the center, you know we are revolving around the sun, it’s not revolving around us. That’s the wisdom of adaptability, and to say, you know, that changes everything. From here I’ll view it differently. You know, that is what it means to not have to pick and choose.

You know, at that moment you’re not stuck with the cognitive dissonance of what you think is verses what it seems, you know, what reality is saying. You can just say I’m not going to pick and choose. I’m going to go with reality every time, even when I don’t know, even if it doesn’t make sense. It just allows you to loosen the death grip that you have on your view of reality. You know, I think it is perfectly fine and healthy to hold a belief and to know that this is just how I view it now. This is how it is. Doesn’t mean it will always be like this, because if new information comes along, I would be happy to change my view. You know, that’s the wisdom of adaptability.

There’s an expression that is common in Buddhism that says: Right now it’s like this”. And that’s, it’s an expression to remind us that we have the tendency to make things feel permanent. You know, if you are going through a difficult time it’s easy to think, well you know, now life sucks. As if it was this permanent thing, and the expression: Right now it’s like this, is the reminder that it’s in the context of time. Sure, it’s fine to say this sucks, you know, what I’m going through sucks, but it won’t always be that way, because the nature of things is that they’re impermanent. Things are always changing.

This is where the story The Parable Of The Horse, that I have shared so many times, in so many podcast episodes, you know, who knows what is good and what is bad? It’s trying to get us to understand that in the context of time, sure right now I’m suffering because my son fell off the horse and he broke his leg. That seems like that’s a bad thing, but the thing is, I don’t know, you know, that that’s permanent, because tomorrow I may be grateful that that happened, because now he wasn’t conscripted into the army. That’s the point is that, it’s permanence that makes it problematic. Trying to hold on, you know, as Tich Nhat Hanh says: “It’s not impermanence that causes suffering, it’s wanting things to be permanent when they’re not.”
Now, I want to deviate a little bit on another thought around all of this. Have you ever noticed how it feels whenever you’re around someone that you want them to be different than how they are? Have you ever noticed how that feels? Now, and I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong to want someone to be other than they are. I’m not saying that. I’m just asking you right now to look for a minute into your own self. What does it feel like? How do you feel when you’re around someone who you don’t want them to be how they are? You want them to be different than how they are. How does that feel? Because it’s the same way we feel in general towards life when we’re wanting life to be other than it is, and that is the very definition of suffering in the Buddhist sense, you know.

Suffering arises when we want life to be other than it is, and I remember feeling this way around a certain person in my own life, someone close that I felt was judgemental or harsh or difficult to be around, and I always thought that the solution is, when this person changes, then it will be good, then life won’t be difficult, you know, then I won’t ever have to suffer around that. And, you know, it wasn’t until later, through contemplative practice and stuff, that I realized when I didn’t want this person to be any different than how they were, that’s when there was true peace between us, and I was completely content with them being who they were. It’s fine if they want to be judgemental or harsh to me. You know, it didn’t, I was at peace. And the irony is that that peace allowed them to change. Not because I wanted them to, but because they had the freedom to.
But that’s not the goal, right? They don’t have to. You’re going to have peace when you can be content with life just as it is. And it’s not just with life and not just with others. I think what I really want to get at here is that you do this with yourself, you know? There’s who you are, and who you think you should be. And to even make matters worse, there’s, you know, there’s also who you think someone else thinks you should be. But we’re playing that same game. You know, we’re wanting life to be other than it is, and it causes suffering.

So, when you’re playing that game, there’s who you are and who you think you should be. You know, the moment that you can look at your life, and you no longer want it to be any different than it is, you will experience peace. When you no longer have to pick and choose between who you are and who you think you should be you will experience peace, or you know, when you look at someone else. You no longer have to choose between who they are and who you think they should be. Think about that for a minute. Just imagine. What would life be like if I didn’t have to pick and choose? That’s kind of the premise of this koan. You know, what if I could be with reality just the way it is. Now this is, the great way is not difficult if you just don’t pick and choose. That’s what that means to me.

Hopefully you will be able to spend some time and look at this and ask yourself that question. You know? What would I be like if I was completely accepting of me just the way that I am, and I wasn’t comparing or having to pick and choose between me and the me that I think I should be, or life and the life I think should be, or you know, another person. Who they are and who I think they should be. What if you could be around someone and accept them just the way that they are?
I promise you it’d make a very big difference in what you feel. Notice how it feels when you’re around someone that you want them to be other than how they are. Notice how it feels when you want to be other than how you are. That’s a tumultuous thing to experience.

This podcast episode was inspired by a chapter in the book Bring Me The Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life by author John Tarrant. If you want to get a little more in depth with this specific koan, the great way is not difficult if you just don’t pick and chose, I recommend picking up that book. And as always, if you enjoy this podcast please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on Itunes, and remember if you are new to Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more, you can listen to the first five episodes of this podcast in order. They serve as a summary of some of the key concepts taught in Buddhism. You can also check out my book Secular Buddhism Eastern Thought For Western Minds available on Amazon Kindle, Itunes, and Audible, and for more information or links to those books just visit secualrbuddhism.com. And that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

37 – The Art of Self-Compassion

Why are we so harsh on ourselves? Have you ever noticed how we tend to be nicer, the further out we go from our inner circle? We’re not as mean to a stranger as we are to a family member. But we’re ruthless to ourselves! In this episode, I will explore the idea of self-pity, self-criticism, and self-compassion. I will share 3 steps you can take to help you to be kinder to the person who needs it most…YOU!

Subscribe to the podcast on:
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Transcript of the podcast episode

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast, and this is episode #37. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And, today, I’m talking about The Art of Self-Compassion.
Why are we so harsh on ourselves? Have you ever noticed how we tend to be nicer the further out we go from our inner circle?

Why are we so harsh on ourselves? Have you ever noticed how we tend to be nicer the further out we go from our inner circle?

We’re more harsh on a friend than we are a stranger; more harsh on a family member than we are on a friend. And, ultimately, we’re just ruthless on ourselves. And, when it comes to treating ourselves, the craziest part is that the person giving the beating is also the one taking the beating. Why are we so critical of ourselves?

In this episode, I want to explore the idea of self-pity versus self-compassion. What is self-compassion, and how do we practice it?

But, before I jump into that, I want to remind you that this podcast is made possible by the Foundation for Mindful Living, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, whose mission is to make the world a better place, by teaching people to live more mindfully.
If every podcast listener donated just two dollars a month, the foundation could host mindfulness retreats and workshops all over the country, and, perhaps, the world for free. Imagine that, people being able to attend a workshop or a retreat to learn about mindfulness. That’s possible. All you have to do is visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button at the top of the page.

And, one more reminder, the Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”

If you’re new to Secular Buddhism, or you’re interested in learning more, you can listen to the first five episodes of this podcast, in order. They are a summary of all of these concepts. Also, you can check out my book, Secular Buddhism: Eastern Thought for Western Minds, available as a paperback on Amazon, eBook on Kindle, iBook on iTunes, and audiobook on audible.com. And, for more information and links to those book versions, just visit secularbuddhism.com.
Okay. With all that out of the way, now let’s jump into this week’s topic.

Self-compassion. So, first, how do we define compassion? In general, everyone has some level of compassion, excluding conditions of psychopathy or something like that; but, think of the images of suffering animals on TV. I remember those commercials with Sarah McLachlan playing in the background. You know, generally, we all feel a sense of compassion when we see stuff like that; compassion when a family member or a friend, or even a stranger, is experiencing an instance of suffering. But why do we feel that?

I think we’re hard-wired from an evolutionary standpoint to feel this way, because we depend on the compassion of others for our very survival. No other creature on the planet requires the care and attention that a young human being requires to survive.

In Buddhism, this innate desire to lessen the suffering of others is often referred to as our Buddha Nature, or the awakened state. It’s a natural state. And, overtime, it’s our concepts, and ideas, and beliefs that can desensitize us from this natural state. So, part of the spiritual practice of someone studying Buddhism is to increase that state of compassion; to include all living beings, including, and perhaps, especially, ourselves.

There’s a phrase or an expression that comes from a Tibetan Buddhist prayer that says, “May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.” And, that idea, or that prayer is rooted in this practice of increasing compassion. Another idea that comes from the Buddhist understanding of compassion is that everyone deserves it. It doesn’t need to be quantified or qualified.

You know, think about a dog that gets hit by a car, and you see it. You don’t tend to judge the circumstances, before determining if the compassion is deserved. You just feel it. You feel sorry for it, and you try to minimize the suffering. You don’t say, “Well, you shouldn’t have tried to cross the road. See what you get?” You know, we wouldn’t do something like that.
But, why is it that we do that when it comes to human beings?

You know, “I’ve been robbed.” “Oh, well, you shouldn’t have been in that part of town.”
Or, you know, the horrible story of someone being raped. And, it’s like, “Well, you shouldn’t have been dressed that way.”
And so many other similar judgments. And these are horrible because compassion doesn’t require any kind of judgment or qualification. And, sure, there may be reason to analyze a situation and to be able to use wisdom as a tool to avoid suffering, like obeying the sign that says, “Warning: There are sharks in the water,” so, maybe you won’t go into it.

But, once a person has gone into the water and they’ve been attacked or bit by a shark, and they’re experiencing suffering, the compassion that we can feel to help ease or minimize that suffering shouldn’t be entangled in the analysis of whether or not this person should’ve been in the water or not. It’s just not necessary. At this point, compassion is only concerned about one thing: to lessen the suffering that is being experienced. And, there’s no need for judgment in that process.
So, I mentioned this at the start. It’s easier to feel natural compassion the further out we go from ourselves. So, stranger, then friend, and then family, and ultimately, self. So, as a practice, if we want to increase our compassion for others, we should start with ourselves, because if I’m capable of deep compassion for myself, imagine that expanding out, exponentially, as you go out from there.

Compassion for a friend might be harder than compassion for family, and compassion for a stranger might be even harder than compassion for a friend. So, I think we often think about working on compassion or developing compassion, but we start with thinking outside of that ring. What can I do for someone else first? And, if this was a formula where you’re imagining these rings, and the further the ring goes out from you, the easier it is to experience compassion. And, let’s say that multiplies, I don’t know, just any number by two. Then, imagine the amount of work and effort it would take, if we were starting from the outside of that ring in.

If I can get, let’s say, the level of compassion from one to ten that I experience for another, maybe it’s a, let’s say, an eight out of ten, and then it diminishes. Eight out of ten for a stranger, maybe six out of ten for a friend, four out of ten for family, and when it gets to me, it’s like, one or two out of ten.

So, if I’m trying to increase the outer ring, by working with others, and I get that to go up one notch, and then you use that same formula and go in, you’re not making a big dent, or a big increase in the compassion you have for yourself. But, if you’re gonna do this backwards; if I was to take the compassion I have for myself, if it was on a two out of ten scale, and I was able to increase that to, I don’t know, six out of ten, or something, imagine what that does to the number going out from there to family, and then friends, and then strangers.

It’s a lot like the turning of a wheel on a bicycle. You’ve got the pedals that are attached to one set of, you know, one wheel, and that is usually connected with a chain to gears, and then the gears can shift, and they turn. Ultimately, the actual wheel is spinning. So, if you’re thinking the key to get in this wheel to spin faster is to work on the wheel itself; imagine the bicycle’s kinda suspended in the air and you’re spinning the wheel; you could spin it faster, or you could start with the smallest of all those things, which is the actual, the little wheel of the gear, where the pedals are.

What if you made that bigger? Then, what would that do to the ultimate speed of the tire? It would make it a lot faster. But anyway, you get the idea. The idea here is, instead of starting from the outside in, what if we started from the inside out in developing compassion? So, this is self-compassion we’re talking about now.

So, we wanna start with this form of self-compassion. Now, if you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ll recall that during the safety procedure, usually at the beginning before you take off, they’ll take about how if there’s an emergency, these masks come out of the top, and they always say, “Put yours on first, and then help someone else.”

And I was thinking about this on a recent flight with my son sitting next to me; and I was thinking, “Man, I would want him to be safe first,” you know, “First thing because I care about him more than I care about myself.” And then, I realized, “Well, if I only have a matter of seconds, and I were to pass out, then I can guarantee he will, ’cause he can’t reach it, and he won’t know what to do.” And I thought, “Is it selfish of me to want to put the mask on first?”

And it may seem so at first but, if our goal is to dramatically increase our compassion towards others, by focusing on ourselves first, then it wouldn’t be selfish. Like the airplane mask, I put mine on first because of how much I care for my son sitting next to me. So, on one hand we have this idea of self-pity, and this seems to be a default setting for a lot of us; and on the other hand, we have self-compassion.

One arises out of fear; perhaps, the fear of not being liked, or the fear of being disliked, ’cause remember we’re hard-wired to belong. And the other one arises out of love. So, self-pity arises out of fear. Self-compassion arises out of love. And there’s an element of wisdom that I wanna point out here.

In Buddhism, we’re always teaching about interdependence, and we continually go back to this idea that all things have causes and conditions; things inter-are. The flower exists because of the sun, and the clouds, and the rain, and the soil, and so on. And suffering fits this understanding. Suffering is also interdependent.

In the last podcast episode, I talked about this and how we can learn to look deeply at our suffering, and to understand the causes and conditions. The absence of compassion has causes and conditions too. So, if compassion is the natural state that we experience, and you can see this at a very young age, then we can look into what are the causes and conditions that may be preventing us from experiencing compassion.

Again, aside from psychopathy, which is also a cause or a condition that would prevent compassion from arising naturally; perhaps, there are other causes and conditions.

For example, prejudice. If I hold a racist idea or a concept, could that be the cause or the condition that prevents compassion to arise naturally towards a specific group? You bet. And you spend time looking at how you see the world, then you start to notice things like this. Perhaps you can ask yourself, “What ideas or beliefs do I hold that maybe preventing me from feeling natural compassion towards others?” Maybe a specific group.

How do we actually practice self-compassion?

I wanna mention three steps to assist with this process. And step one is you practice being kind to yourself by imagining you’re someone else. And I’ll explain that. And step two is looking deeply at suffering. And step three is developing mindfulness or awareness around suffering.

So, starting with step one, practice being kind to yourself by imagining you are someone else. What does that mean? Well, I’ve mentioned already in our society, it’s much easier to be kind to family and friends, than it is to be kind to ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to treat others half as badly as we treat ourselves. I’m sure that we’ve all done this. Have you ever said to yourself, “You idiot,” or, “You’re such an idiot.” What are some of the things that we say to ourselves that we would never ever say to someone else? Think about that for a moment. Think about some of the things that you say to yourself.

Mother Theresa used to say, “It’s easy to love the people far away. It’s not always easy to love those close to us. It’s easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger, than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.” I really like that. And I would go further and add that when we learn to love ourselves, that’s when we can truly learn to love others. But it has to start with ourselves. And this is where self-compassion can kick in.

So, as an example of being kind to yourself, imagining you’re someone else. Just recently for me, my business has been experiencing some complications and difficulties for quite some time. A couple years ago, I had a big contract with Walmart that fell through, and I’ve been struggling to recover from that ever since, and then it happened again about a year ago with AT&T Wireless. Similar deal. They ordered all these products, put us in all their stores, and then decided, “Nevermind. We don’t want to sell these anymore.” And they take it all back. And a lot of these big retailers are notorious for this; doing business with big box retail can be really difficult for a small company. And I’ve paid the price for that twice.

It’s been such a significant price that I’ve had to pay to take all that inventory back, to scale down manufacturing that it’s put my company on the precipice of failure. And in the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with a few other setbacks that have kicked in that are like adding, you know, it’s like the straw on the camel’s back. And I’m in a very serious predicament now where I’m in complete uncertainty about the future of my company. And it’s been stressful. And it’s been difficult. And I’ve caught myself on occasions with how I talk to myself about it thinking, “Man, you failed. What have you done?” And so, I’m experiencing firsthand in various occasions in the last few weeks, and the last few days, the sense of self-pity. You know, “Oh, poor me,” or self-criticism. You know, “You’re such an idiot. Why did you ever do business with these guys. You knew this could’ve happened again after it happened once.”

And then I started to remember this concept of self-compassion. I started to imagine somebody I really care for. And, you know, in this case, my brother. I have a twin brother, and he’s my best friend. And I was imagining, “What if this was his company? He started this seven years ago, and this is his baby, and he’s built this, and he’s telling me what’s happening at work.” And imagining him telling me the same thing changed the entire dynamic.

At that point, I’m thinking, “Well, geez. I’d hug him and say, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that this is happening. How can I help you? Don’t be hard on yourself. You didn’t know this was gonna happen with these big retailers’.” And it was so fascinating to see how much easier it was for me to feel kindness and compassion by imagining myself to be someone else. And noticing how harsh I could be on myself, when I was just in this experience all by myself.

So, this is one of the techniques we can do. If you’re going through something, whether it be, I don’t know, you can think of so many examples. Getting out of a bad relationship, or running a red light, and then coming down so hard on yourself for what you’ve done, imagine in that moment, someone you really care about, and now they’re telling you what just happened, but it’s them. And notice how quickly that tone, how quickly that compassion can arise naturally. And then flip it back to you and say, “Well, geez. Why can’t I throw that in for myself?”

And what you should experience is the opportunity in that moment to actually feel compassion for yourself. I felt it myself, you know, in these past few weeks, in these past few days. This form of compassion, thinking, “You know, what I’m going through is a difficult thing, and I’m gonna do my best to get through it. And, at the same time, I’m going to adapt and move on.” And all these things come to mind, but the harshness was gone. The criticism was gone. And self-kindness counters the tendency we have to tear ourselves down.

I don’t know why it’s so easy to tear ourselves down, but we do. So, this form of practice; being kind to yourself by imagining you’re someone else can make a difference. So, give that a try.

Step two in this process is to look deeply at the suffering. And this was the topic of last week’s podcast episode. So, in summary … I mean, you can go back and listen to that episode to get a much more in-depth understanding of step two but, essentially here is understanding that suffering is universal. And life difficulties will arise and it’s universal.

Early on in the podcast, I talk about this and I mentioned the story of the bear. You’re hiking in the woods and someone warns you on this trail. Somebody’s jumping out in a bear costume and scaring people. And now that you know, you can continue your journey knowing that when that happens, you’ll still be startled, but how much more quickly can you recover from it, because you realize, “I knew this was gonna happen, and it’s happening to everyone else on this trail.” Everyone experiences hardships in life. And our tendency is to wanna think, “Why is this happening to me?” As if I was the only person in the world experiencing the potential emanate collapse of my company or my business, or losing a job, or any other trial that you may go through in life. As hard as it is to see this at the time, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. Everybody experiences hardships.

Another part of this is understanding interdependence. And I think this is central to the understanding of self-compassion ’cause, remember, looking … learning to look deeply, looking deeply at an object. The flower, as an example. If you learn to look deeply, you’ll see that the flower is made up of all non-flower elements. The sun and the earth, and the … everything else.

But we’re no different. You are made up of all non-you elements. Starting with your parents, your culture, your society, your beliefs, your … this doesn’t end. It goes on, and on, and on, but you are inter-being with everything that is not you. And so, you are inter-being with everything and everyone else. And I know that may sound crazy at first, but if you really look deeply, and you see. That’s what you see. Interdependence.

You can’t see something without seeing everything. This is a concept I really love about Buddhism. You cannot see something without seeing everything. And if you’re not seeing everything, you’re not seeing something with the right eyes.
And I think we fall in this constant trap of thinking, “Things are suppose to go a certain way. Life is suppose to be a certain way.” And then when they don’t, we think something’s wrong. And this causes us to not only suffer, but then we feel alone in our suffering. “Why is this happening to me?” And remember, we’re all part of this shared experience. When we look deeply, what we start to see is that everybody experiences suffering. And sure, the circumstances are different, the degree of pain can be different; but, the basic experience of human suffering is the same. It’s universal. And while self-pity may say, “Poor me,” self-compassion is saying, “I’m not the only one going through something difficult.” And it can even take it a step further. It can say, “Well, now that I know what this is like, I can help somebody else who’s going through this.”

So, those are things to think about with step two. Learning to look deeply is understanding that when you look at something, it’s not just that. There are always layers of complexity, because all things have causes and conditions. So, in the same way that looking at a flower, and only seeing the flower, is a narrow way of seeing. Looking the flower and seeing all of the elements that allow that flower to be what it is; that’s looking deeply. And we can do that when we look at ourselves, and when we look at our own suffering.
So, that leads us to step three, which is developing mindfulness or awareness around suffering. Remember, mindfulness is just awareness. It’s the acute awareness of our moment-to-moment experience with complete equanimity and balance. What does that mean? It means that we’re completely aware of our thoughts, our emotions, and our sensations, without this need to cling to them or to resist them. Awareness of impermanence reminds me of the expression, “This too shall pass.”
And remembering that, it’s easier to be kind to the non-permanent me. There’s the me that thinks … that’s constantly thinking, “Oh. This is gonna be this way. What’s gonna happen?” Because it … we tend to want to experience our moment-to-moment experiences of life with a sense of permanence attached to it, like, “Oh crap. This is always gonna be this way,” or, “Oh man. I’ll never do that again.” We think in terms of permanence. And the reality is, there’s no permanence to be found here.

So, for instance, rather than thinking, “Well, geez. I’ve failed. If this company collapses, I’m a failure.” I’m realizing, I’m not a failure. I’m simply experiencing failure at something right now. This too shall pass. Can you see the difference in those two approaches? It’s dangerous when we get caught up and adding permanence to the way that we see things. And mindfulness prevents us from over-identifying with our thoughts, and with our emotions. This is understanding that, “I’m not angry. I’m experiencing anger.” You know, “I’m not a failure. I’ve just failed at something.” At this, or at that.

Being a failure is a mere concept. If you think about it, you know, what does it mean to fail? Failure is always relative to something. There’s no such thing as failure without it referencing something, right? “I failed to practice my guitar. I failed to meditate. I’ve failed to continue holding a job.” Or whatever it is, it’s relative to something. Failure is always relative. Because there is no absolute in there, you cannot be a failure. You can’t. Sure, you can fail at something. I’ve failed at a lot of things. We all do. But we’re certainly not failures because that’s impossible.

Mindfulness can help us to understand that, through the understanding of impermanence, or the nature of change. Things are always changing. So, if you’re … in a continual state of becoming, how do you fail? It’s not over, you know? It’s never over because change is the only thing that’s always happening. So, there is no permanence there.

When your perspective shifts to allow you to experience this self-compassion, what you’ll find is that you not only transform your own life, but it starts to transform the lives of everyone we interact with. Because when you become a better whatever-you-already-are, it allows everyone else around you to become a better whatever-they-already-are too. Do you see how that works? So, rather than starting with that outer ring, you know, “What can I do for others? What can I do for friends? What can I do for family?” Like, bring it in. Bring it to the core of, “What can I do for me? How can I learn to develop compassion directed at me?” And you know, self-compassion.

I wanna make a note about this, ’cause self-compassion should not be about trying to make our pain going away. It’s not like we’re trying to minimize the experience that we’re going through. We’re not trying to manipulate this experience that we’re having. That makes self-compassion a new form of resistance. And that inevitably makes things worse. So, I’m talking about self-compassion as the art of becoming more comfortable with this comfort.

Self-compassion doesn’t take away the suffering I’m experiencing. It creates space for it. It allows it to come sit at the table and be like, “Yeah, I’m going through this and I’m experiencing that.” Well, let’s sit with it. You know, “Come join us at this table, anger or sadness. Let’s have equanimity here.” And that’s what self-compassion can allow for.

It starts internally. So, maybe what you can do is try this exercise for this week. When you hear that voice of self-criticism, or of self-pity, which you will. We all do. Try to imagine for a moment someone that you really care about. A parent, a sibling, a spouse, a child, anyone. Imagine that they are the ones going through whatever you’re going through; whatever you just did. Notice how the tone of that voice; that internal voice changes when you’re directing it toward someone you already care for.
And then, when you feel that compassion arise naturally, turn it and channel it towards yourself. And remember if there’s the you that you think you are, and there’s the you that can observe that you, then you can certainly create a space for the compassion that you, to emphasize with the you that’s experiencing the suffering.

Now, if that’s kind of hard to understand, then I’ll leave you with this quote by Alan Watts that you can think about for the rest of the week. He says, “There was once a man who said, ‘Though it seems that I know that I know. What I’d really like to see is the eye, which knows me when I know that I know that I know.” So, there you go. Think about that. Mull over that for a week.
So, before I wrap up this week’s episode, I do wanna share one last thing. Leo Tolstoy says … said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

My personal goal is … has been to teach mindfulness in a way that’s universally accessible and easy to understand. And that’s why I’ve started this podcast. That’s why the content on the podcast is free. It’s open to anyone in the world. And I also have a book. It has more content that’s available at a very affordable price. But let’s face it. While there are countless sources to learn about mindfulness or about Buddhism, sometimes it’s easier to just work one-on-one with an expert.

Why? Well, for the same reason that people hire personal trainers to get in shape, when they could just go workout alone in the gym. Because having an expert to guide you, and to hold you accountable in your practice, makes all the difference in the world.

So, with that, in light of the recent changes that I am experiencing with my career, and with my business, and with my potential source of income, I’m happy to announce that I am going to be offering one-on-one mindfulness coaching, for anyone who’s interested in deepening their mindfulness practice. And some of you may already know that I’ve been training rigorously for the past several years in a Buddhist ministry program, and this is exactly what I’ve been training in; how to teach mindfulness.

And now I’m ready to start teaching that to others in a one-on-one format. And I know that this isn’t the right format for everyone, but here are some of the things you can expect from one-on-one coaching. What I plan on doing is putting together a customized, six-week mindfulness coaching plan, designed entirely around your schedule. So, there would be six hours of one-on-one teaching and learning. It could be an hour a week. It could be 30 minutes, twice a week. We could schedule that however.

We would go over specific topics that are generally barriers for mindful living, and talk about the understanding of these topics; how to overcome the barriers and just be able to look deeply at any specific instances of suffering that you may be experiencing at this time in your life. And just keep in mind, I’m not a counselor. I’m not a therapist. I don’t have the answers for you.

I’m here to help you discover your own answers through mindfulness, in the way of the Buddhist tradition. So, working with me, you would learn to make meditation a daily habit. I’ll check in with you everyday. And at the end of the six weeks, if you’re not 100% satisfied with the coaching you’ve received and the knowledge you’ve acquired, you’d get a full refund. No questions asked.

Now, a session like this, six weeks of coaching, would only cost $299. And that’s to work one-on-one with me for a full six-weeks. It’s the same as the average cost of working with a trainer of … on your body at the gym. And I can only work with a limited number of people at at time, because of the time constraints I have. So, if this is something you’re interested in, just visit my new website, noahrasheta.com, and you can schedule a 30-minute initial consultation for free, and see if this is the right fit. I can answer any questions you might have and give you an idea of what kind of expectations, and how this is all gonna work. Or you could just contact me by email.

If you go to my website, noahrasheta.com, you can click the Contact Me button, and then fill out that form, and that would email me. But this is something new I’m going to try and see. I’ve had a lot of requests from people in the past about, you know, “How could I spend time studying with someone like you? A teacher? A Buddhist teacher who could explain all of this stuff in a one-on-one setting?” And I feel like the time has come for me to be able to offer that. So, we’ll see how that goes.
If you’re interested, let me know. And once again, as always, if you enjoy the podcast, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. And, if you’re in a position to be able to, I would encourage you to consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com. Just click the domain button at the top of the webpage. Remember, simple two-dollar a month donation from every listener would easily allow me to take these workshops and this content to cities all around the country, to spread these teachings, and make them completely available and free for anyone who wants to attend.

I’m trying the first of this format, and I’m doing a workshop in Park City on Mindfulness here in Utah. And I’m so happy to be able to make that available to the public for free. Anybody can come. It’s in an auditorium. There’s room for 300-400 people. And learn these concepts, and these teachings, without any barriers. If you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t be able to afford learning wisdom. It should be available to anyone, and that’s why I do the work that I do.

And then, of course, if somebody wants to and can do one-on-one type coaching or learning, that’s available now too.
But, that’s all I have for now. And I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. And until then, have a great week. And, until next time.

36 – Looking Deeply At Suffering

Suffering arises naturally when we crave for life to be other than it is. Knowing this, we can look deeply at our own suffering or the suffering of others and we can work to alleviate the causes and conditions of the suffering. When we experience an instance of suffering, we tend to narrow our view to that specific instance to the point where we are no longer aware of all the instances of non-suffering that are simultaneously present.

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Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello! You are listening to the Secular Buddhism Podcast and this is episode number 36. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about looking deeply at suffering. The Secular Buddhism Podcast is made possible by The Foundation for Mindful Living, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, whose mission is to make the world a better place by teaching people to live more mindfully.

For more information about the foundation or for tools and content to help you live more mindfully, please visit getmindful.org. The Secular Buddhism Podcast focuses on Buddhist Concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular-minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. Keep that in mind as you listen to this podcast episode or any of the other podcast episodes. There’s nothing to sell here. There’s nothing to convert to or to convert away from. This is all about trying to give you the tools and the content to help you live more mindfully. If you’re new to secular Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more, check out my book Secular Buddhism, Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It’s available on paperback on Amazon, e-book on Kindle and iTunes, and also an audiobook on audible.com. For more information or links to those books, visit secularbuddhism.com.

Let’s jump into this week’s topic. This week I wanted to talk about the idea of looking deeply at our suffering. To do that, first of all, what is suffering? I’ve talked about this in previous podcast episodes quite a bit. The idea is that wanting life to be other than what it is, that is what creates an instance of suffering and this can be major things and it can be minor things. Being stuck at the red light wanting the light to be green because you are late. That creates an instance of suffering. Anytime we are experiencing wanting life to be other than it is, we will experience an instance of suffering. That’s the definition of suffering we’re working with here.

The next part of this is what does it mean to look deeply? This idea of looking deeply in Buddhism comes from the understanding of interdependence and impermanence. Looking deeply, for example, would be the concept of seeing a flower as a flower, independent of everything else, that’s not looking deeply. That’s, I guess you could say, looking superficially or just narrowly. Seeing something in a narrow mindset, you set it as if it were independent and separate from everything else. Looking deeply at a flower would be seeing the flower and recognizing that when you see the flower you are seeing the sun, the clouds, the rain, the soil. Everything that it takes for that flower to exist. When you do this and you spend time analyzing that, you’ll recognize that what it takes for that flower to exist is everything. Everything that exists allows that flower to exist. Looking deeply at the flower, you no longer see the flower. You see the flower and everything else that allows that flowers exist.

This is something that you can do looking at anything. You can look at the table that you are sitting at or the chair that you are sitting on or the device that you are using to listen to this. It doesn’t matter what it is, you can look at it and then look deeply at it and start to see it interdependent with all of the causes and conditions that allow that thing to exist. That’s looking deeply. Looking deeply at our suffering is the same process of taking a look at our instance of suffering and then looking deeply and seeing its interdependencies. Seeing its causes and conditions.

When we see suffering through the lens of impermanence, we recognize that it’s constantly changing. This idea of this too shall pass. This can be helpful when you’re experiencing an instance of suffering because you recognize that it’s impermanent. It’s not going to last forever. You haven’t been experiencing this suffering forever, therefore there was a start and because it has a start, it will be an end. Sometimes recognizing that suffering is impermanent, holding on to that thought of this too shall pass, is enough to start to minimize the pain that we experience during our suffering. The second component, seeing suffering through the lens of interdependence, recognizing that they are causes, can also minimize the pain that we experienced because we recognize we actually have something to work with because there are causes and conditions.

Typically, when we’re talking about suffering, the most basic teaching on suffering from Buddhism is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. That is that first, there is suffering and you can work with that first truth. In life, there is suffering. Difficulties will arise. You can ask yourself, in what ways am I suffering or in what ways are others suffering. Hungry people don’t have water or there’s a lack of human rights or whatever it is that you’re looking at, you look at the instance of suffering and try to acknowledge why that suffering exists. You move onto the second step, which is listing the causes that we can identify for each instance of suffering. It may be people in a certain part of the world are suffering because they don’t have water. They don’t want water because there’s a lack of infrastructure or money or there’s corruption in their government. You get the idea here.

What you’re starting to work with is recognizing there is suffering. This is a personal exercise you can do when you’re experiencing an instance of suffering. Recognize it and then see if you can list the causes that you can identify for that instance of suffering. Why am I experiencing suffering in this moment? Every instance of suffering has a cause. As you go through the list of causes, you can ask yourself, what has to change in order for this particular cause of suffering to cease? At this stage, it’s more theoretical than it is practice, but you want to start listing what has to be different for this to stop. What you’re left with is a list of your suffering and then the causes of your suffering and then many of those causes you can look at and say, is this something that I can change? What has to be different? You sort out from that list what can or cannot be done.

Some things are within reach and they can immediately be changed. Others are a longer process and it may be multiple layers. For this thing to change, that thing has to change, and for that thing to change, this other thing has to change. You start working with this and you may have multiple layers to work with, because one thing may lead to another and so on. What you’re left with is something tangible that you can work with. Sometimes we get really stuck with the instance of suffering itself and in that moment, our view becomes very narrow. This is where mindfulness really comes into play, because people will ask me sometimes, how does mindfulness or how does awareness come into play when you’re talking about dealing with difficult emotions. For example, an instance of suffering.

The idea here is that the mindful view of suffering is a wide view. It’s a deep view and a wide view. Deep in the sense that it recognizes that the suffering isn’t the only thing there. There are causes and conditions. You spend time looking at the causes and conditions and the causes of the causes and so on. That would be the deep view. The wide view is the other component here. Take a minute and just look around. Whatever you’re doing, stop for a minute. Whatever you’re doing, you’re listening to this podcast. Just work with me here for second. Just look up. If you were looking down or whatever you’re doing, just look around for a second and recognize that everything that you can see in your peripheral vision, like just the entire scope of what you can see. If you were to lift your arms up at your sides, like at 90 degrees and slowly move them in, it doesn’t take long before you can recognize in your peripheral vision your left hand and your right hand. They enter into view. They’re not the focus of your view because you’re looking at something straight ahead, but you can recognize that they’re there. They’re in your view.

Typically, when we’re looking at something, the object of our focus, whatever it is you’re focused on, it can be become difficult to notice what’s happening in your field of view. Even though it’s still in your field of view, you may not notice it. You especially won’t notice it if you’re focused heavily on that one thing that you’re looking at. We do this with instances of suffering. When we’re experiencing negative emotions, we tend to narrow our view, almost like if you were to cup your fingers like a telescope and put it over your eye. Just look at whatever it is that you were looking at, now put your hand over your eye like you would a telescope or binoculars and now look at it. You’re certainly not seeing the other things that are in your peripheral vision.

Those things are still there, whether you see them or not. That’s the essence of viewing with mindfulness or awareness. It’s recognizing that yes, I am looking and focusing on this one instance of suffering and this is causing me pain. At the same time, I’m going to widen my view and recognize that simultaneously, while this is going on, something else is also going on and I wasn’t aware of it. For example, I maybe experiencing, at this moment, suffering around the way things are going at work. Maybe it’s not going according to plan. It’s looking like things are difficult. My view narrows in on that one thing in my life. Right now, things are bad at work. You narrow in on that. Mindfulness is like taking your hands from that cupping position of being telescopes and moving them and saying, okay, yeah, that suffering is still there, but I also recognize what’s there is I’m not experiencing the pain of a toothache. I’m not experiencing the pain of a headache. I’m not experiencing the pain of the loss of a loved one. Whatever it is, the point is that in any given moment, even moments where there is suffering, there’s also always non-suffering.

They’re happening simultaneously and because we’re shifting our focus to be a more wider view, we’re not trying to eliminate or pretend like the instance of suffering isn’t there. Don’t make the mistake of trying to compare it or measure it saying, this hurts, but it would be worse if this other thing was happening. Sure, there can be some truth to that. The difficulties going on at work would not be nearly as difficult as coping with the loss of a loved one right now. I can recognize that, but the point of this isn’t to try to minimize or to rationalize away the suffering that is present, which is that things at work aren’t going according to plan. The idea here is to hold space for that while simultaneously holding space for the joy that I’m experiencing because I don’t have a toothache or the joy that I’m experiencing because I’m not dealing with the loss of a loved one.

It’s different to allow that suffering to be what it is, while holding space for all of the non-suffering there. That’s different than trying to do away with my suffering by saying, I shouldn’t evil that because this would be worse or that would be worse. That’s not the point. We don’t need to measure or scale my suffering versus your suffering. I don’t think it’s fair to do that. To say, that’s nothing because there are starving kids in Africa and that’s much worse. While I think there is something to that thought process, I don’t think it’s helpful or beneficial to try to weigh one instance of suffering versus another. Awareness or mindfulness, looking deeply at our suffering, is not about that. It’s more about holding that space of recognition that in this instance of suffering, this other instance of non-suffering is also present.

There is always joy and peace simultaneously present with suffering. The difference is a shift in awareness. That’s how mindfulness or awareness helps us to deal with difficult emotions. It helps us to switch out of that narrow view that can only see the instance of suffering, to a wider view that recognizes yeah, that’s still there, but so are all these other things. These other things are good right now. The toothache reminds us of the joy of not having a toothache, right? At any given moment, we’re enjoying the peace and joy of being free from some sort of pain or suffering. That’s something that we can look at and spend time with in mindfulness.

This idea, I like to call it radical okay-ness. This is something I first heard from a good friend of mine who’s also a teacher, whose name is Christopher Lebo. He runs the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship and really good guy. In one of the presentations I went to where he was talking, he mentioned this concept of radical okay-ness. I had never heard that and I love it. I think I’ve mentioned this on the podcast. The idea around radical okay-ness is that at any given moment in life, right now, regardless of what’s happening, I can experience a sense of radical okay-ness. I can be completely okay with this moment. This is different than, I think, chasing the moment of intense pleasure as opposed to intense pain. That would be radical … I don’t know what we would call that, like goodness or wanting to ride the roller coaster and only have the peaks and not have the valleys can cause us pain. You can’t get to the peak without there being valleys, right? You have to have lows in order for there to be highs. There’s no such thing as a high without reference to a low.

Radical okay-ness is about recognizing that what I have right now in a different scenario could be exactly what I wish I had. For example, if I were to find out tomorrow that a loved one has terminal cancer or I don’t know. It could be almost anything that’s going to be difficult. When I get that news, I could look back to today and think, I would give anything to go back to what it was like yesterday when things were just good. I thought that things weren’t good, but they actually were because now I’m going through something more difficult. The idea here is we’re already in that moment. You’re in that moment right now, regardless of what’s happening, because something could change that moment in the future and you would want to come back to this. Yet, here you are in the present moment, unaware of how radically okay this moment already is. That’s kind of the thinking of radical okay-ness.

I really like that because it’s true. Tomorrow I could look back and think, I though yesterday was hard, now that this or that popped up, I would give anything to go back to yesterday and here we are. Today is always the yesterday or tomorrow. We’re always in the space of being able to experience this radical okay-ness if we can look deeply and if we can look with a wide view instead of a narrow view at our instances of suffering.

I have five steps that I think are helpful for us to be able to look deeply at our suffering, at our emotions. The first one is that we want to recognize what we’re experiencing. If we’re angry, we say I know I’m experiencing anger or I know that there is anger in me right now. We’re recognizing what’s actually there. This is an important step because a lot of times we don’t recognize what we’re experiencing. Sometimes you could be in a bad mood. You could be in a chronic bad mood for a significant portion of your life and to you that’s normal. Someone else might look at you and say yeah, so and so is always grumpy or always angry. You wouldn’t recognize that because to you it’s normal. Recognition is important here. I want to recognize the actual state that I’m experiencing. If I’m angry I don’t want to pretend I’m not angry. If I’m sad I don’t want to pretend and say, I’ll counter this by trying to just be happy, ignoring the fact that I’m sad. We need to actually recognize what we are is what we are. I’ll recognize that this is what I’m experiencing.

Once I recognize it, I can accept that that’s what it is. Step two is acceptance. I’ve mentioned this multiple times, the idea of acceptance versus resignation. It’s not the same thing. Acceptance is that we don’t deny what’s there. We’re not gonna deny what’s present for us. We accept it. We accept that that’s what’s there. For example, if it’s suffering or sadness or anger, I can accept that that’s what I’m feeling. I don’t have to pretend like I’m not. I’m just going to accept that yeah, I am experiencing sadness for this thing I’m going through. The moment you can recognize and accept what’s there, you can go to the third step, which is embracing.

Here we hold space for our emotions, for suffering, in the same way that when my little girl is crying, I can pick her up and hold her. I can embrace her. I can try to comfort her. It’s not different with out own negative emotions. When I’m experiencing sadness or I’m experiencing anger at how something is playing out, I can embrace that emotion and have compassion for it. Compassion for myself for experiencing it, in the same way that I would hold my child who’s crying and I can say okay, I’m experiencing this sadness. I recognize it. I accept it and I’m going to embrace that I’m sad or embrace that I’m angry right now. It’s what I’m feeling.

That leads us to the fourth step. I’m gonna look deeply at this. I want to look really deeply at this emotion I’m experiencing. What has caused this emotion to be here? What has caused this suffering to arise? This is what I mentioned earlier where you can look at the causes and look for the causes of the causes. With that looking deeply, we go to the fifth step, which is insight. When you start to look at something deeply, you can insight by understanding what the causes and conditions are. We know what to do, what not to do. If my instance of suffering is a toothache and I have no insight into the nature of this pain I’m experiencing, I might not know that by continuing to eat a Jolly Rancher or something, it’s hurting my tooth more. I wouldn’t know that unless I was able to recognize I’ve got a toothache. Okay, then that’s what it is. I accept it. I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna look deeply at it. What are the causes? I might recognize the cause could be that I have a cavity and with that recognition and insight I can say, cavities, yeah. Sugar aggravates that. Okay, maybe I should stop eating sugar. Maybe I should go get my cavity filled. That’s a very simple example that I think is easy for all of us to recognize because that example is pretty much common sense.

Sometimes, our suffering isn’t that clear. Recognizing that I’m experiencing suffering and just reacting to it because I have no insight into where that emotion is coming from would be a lot like somebody who has a toothache and they’re just screaming and yelling because their tooth hurts, but they don’t know why. They don’t know why it hurts. They don’t know what’s causing it. They don’t know what would aggravate the pain or what would ease the pain. There’s just no awareness around the instance of suffering. You’re so caught up in the suffering itself. My tooth hurts and that’s it. That’s all I can see. As silly as that would sound, isn’t that exactly what we do with a lot of our other emotions? A lot of our other sources of pain or suffering? They well up and we experience an emotion and we just react to it. We’re not with it. There’s no insight into our emotions. This is where looking deeply really comes into play, because what if we could actually spend time with our emotions. Recognizing, accepting, embracing, looking deeply, and then gaining insight out of what we see when we look deeply.

That’s the idea of looking deeply at our suffering. You can look deeply at anything. I mentioned this before. You can look deeply at the table you’re sitting at. When we were in Africa on our humanitarian trip, during one of our lessons we spent time looking at the wind chimes that were hanging where we were sitting. We de-constructed and looked deeply at the string that was holding the wind chimes. It was crazy to spend time saying, now where does this string come from? Looking at the causes and conditions that allowed that wind chime to exist right there. It was incredible how, within a few minutes, we all felt how it takes everything in existence for that to be right there. That’s inter-dependence.

Don’t make the mistake of judging or comparing your suffering. Don’t conceptualize it. Remember, conceptualizing is when we take something, a reality, and we add a story to it. You’re seeing your suffering, but you’re caught up in the story of the suffering. What you want to do is try to get away from the conceptualization of it. Just see it for what it is. You recognize it, you accept it, you embrace it, you look deeply for the causes and conditions, and then insight arises naturally because you’ve spent time with it. This can be a really powerful exercise. A really powerful process to learn to look deeply at your suffering. When you’re ready, try to switch this. Flip it and look deeply at someone else’s suffering. You may recognize that somebody saying something you, calling you name or something, you don’t react any more, but now you can look beyond that, beyond the action that took place and see the suffering from the same perspective. Looking deeply it in someone else and recognizing something caused this and something caused what caused this and that goes on and on. Insight can arise out of that. Suddenly, you’re not so upset about something, because you have a deeper understanding of why someone may have said something to you.

Remember, in nature, change is incremental. Wisdom or transformation can be gradual, so be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to sit there, ponder on these topics, sit with an instance of suffering, and then that’s it. I’ll never be mad again. It doesn’t work that way, but what does happen is that gradually, incrementally, you’ll notice that the way that you perceive your own suffering changes. You start to experience this radical okay-ness throughout any instance of suffering, because the instance of suffering is never independent. It never exists without its causes and conditions and it’s never permanent. It always exists on the same plane and the same sphere as all these instances of non-suffering. Anytime that you’re experiencing suffering, simply recognizing that you’re also experiencing non-suffering is already a very valuable perspective to have. To be able to do spend time in awareness with your suffering, you can gain a lot of insight.

That’s my invitation to you for this week. To spend time learning to look deeply at your suffering or learning to look deeply at the suffering of someone else. A loved one or just anyone else. Learn to look deeply at suffering and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. Remember, if you enjoy this podcast, please share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to, I would encourage you to consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com or the foundation website, getmindful.org. You can click the donate button at the top of the page and that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for your time and until next time.

35 – The Pillars of Joy

The key difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is an emotion we experience, while joy is an attitude we can develop. In this podcast episode, I will discuss the 8 pillars of joy and how these pillars can lead to a more joyful attitude that not only benefits ourselves but others as well.

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Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism Podcast and this is episode number 35. I’m your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about the pillars of joy.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” If you’re new to Secular Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more check out my book, Secular Buddhism, Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It’s available as a paperback on Amazon, e-book on Kindle, iBook on iTunes, and audiobook on audible.com. For more information and for links to those book versions visit SecularBuddhism.com. Now let’s jump into this week’s topic.

It’s great to be back. I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks doing a lot of traveling. I did a humanitarian trip in Uganda, Africa and the planning for that trip and then being on the trip has caused me to fall behind a little bit on the podcast episodes. It’s been almost maybe a month now since I’ve recorded a podcast episode and it’s great to be back, to be re-energized and excited to record several new podcasts.

Today I wanted to discuss the idea of joy, and this is inspired from the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. I read this a few months ago and I took several notes and I thought it would be fun to do a summary and to just kind of talk about the pillars of joy. To get more in depth with this entire topic I highly recommend you read the book. It’s a really good book but the idea is this, that there are certain pillars and these pillars, in the same way that you have pillars that hold up a building, these are the pillars that allow joy to the exist, or happiness.

One of the first things that I noticed was the distinction between happiness and joy. When we talk about joy versus happiness in the Buddhist lens we have something that we teach called the four immeasurables and these are love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The idea is that these things are immeasurable. There’s no, you don’t run out. You know, with something like willpower, for example, studies show that we have a tank at the beginning of the day and a certain amount of willpower, and certain things can influence that. You know, if you’re hungry or if you’re tired your ability to have willpower decreases or diminishes throughout the day and you run out, and then you rest of the kind of fills up almost like a tank of gasoline or something like that.

The idea is that love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, these things we call it immeasurable because these are things that don’t run out. There’s no limit and anyone who has children, or I guess friends, family, someone that you love, you’ll understand that love isn’t something that runs out. You know, if I love you too much now I won’t be able to love this other friend of mine enough. It doesn’t work that way. It just grows and it’s immeasurable.

I think about this often with my kids. You know, when I had my first child, my son, it was like, “How could you ever love this much?” Then the second comes along and it just multiplies, and just when you think, “Wow, it’s not possible to love more than I love.” then the third one comes a long, it’s the same thing. The idea is that love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are immeasurable traits. They don’t run out.

When we’re talking about happiness versus joy in this book I think it’s important to distinguish that happiness is an emotion. It’s not something we develop. It’s something that we experience. I’ve mentioned before something that’s always taught in Buddhism is the idea of dependent origination, or the idea that all things have causes and conditions. Happiness as an emotion has causes and when those the causes are right or the conditions are right happiness arises, and when the conditions are gone happiness is gone. All of our emotions work this way, so in that sense when we’re looking at emotions, happiness is no different than sadness or no different than anger. These are just emotions that we experience when the conditions allow. When the conditions are right these emotions arise and when those conditions are gone these things go away. That’s the understanding of happiness.

Now, knowing this you can conclude that happiness only affects you, the person experience it. It’s a state of being so you may be happy but that doesn’t necessarily spread to someone else just because as an experience only you can experience it. You could be happy and I wouldn’t know that you’re happy, or I could be happy and someone might not know that I’m experiencing happiness.

Now joy on the other hand, we visit joy as an attitude. When we’re talking about before immeasurables joy is not an emotion that we experience in the same way that happiness is. We view joy as an attitude that we develop and the idea is that joy affects me and it affects others. It promotes a state of well-being. It comes from within. It’s not to be found externally and the Buddhist teaching of joy comes from the Pali word mudita, which means being happy with someone’s fortune or someone’s happiness. This is kind of what’s reflected in biblical teachings as rejoicing with those who rejoice. This is the opposite of the German word schadenfreude, which is pleasure derived at the misfortune of others, because sometimes we experience that too. The idea of joy as an attitude is that it’s something that we can develop and it’s something that affects not only ourselves experiencing it but others as well. Think about that, the differentiation between happiness and joy, happiness as an emotion and joy as an attitude.

The big question is how do we find joy in the fact of life’s inevitable suffering? You know, one of the core teachings in Buddhism is that in life there is suffering, that difficulties will arise, so have do we find joy in the fact of this reality? Well, the first thing I want to highlight here is that these pillars we’re going to talk about that develop joy, these arise naturally. They need to be authentic. They’re not to be faked. What that means is if you’re not experiencing these emotions or these attitudes you can look into it and see what’s there. You don’t need to pretend.

Remember, in Buddhism there’s no compelling. There are no commandments that say you need to be happy, or you need to have joy, or you need to be humble. You know, there’s none of that. In fact it’s saying those things can arise naturally and if you’re not experiencing this naturally then look into it. Look into the causes. Be with how you are but there’s no need to fake it till you make it with these things, so keep that in mind as I discuss each of these pillars.

The eight pillars of joy that are discussed in this book are: perspectivehumility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Let’s start with talking about these starting with the first one, perspective.


Now, in the Buddhist tradition we talk about the eightfold path. You know, we have the four noble truths, that there is suffering, that suffering has its causes, that there’s the cessation of suffering and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering, and that has eight areas and it kind of coincides in a lot of ways with these eight pillars of joy. But this first pillar, perspective, is essentially the same thing as the first in the eightfold path, which is wise view, or perspective.

The idea here is that with the proper perspective the way we see things changes. There’s essentially a narrow view and a wide view, and the idea is this, that I’ve talked about this parable of the blind men and the elephant. You have the blind men each describing what the elephant is like and they’re each touching different parts. One’s touching the side. One’s touching the trunk. One’s touching the tail and so on, right?

The idea is that by realizing and accepting that the way we perceive reality is a lot like the blind person describing an elephant, then we can accept the validity of different perspectives, so that turns the perspective of I, or me, into we. Whatever I can perceive my reality to be, if I can combine that perspective with your perspective, or you know, just another perspective, we understand more. The more perspectives we have, the more it all makes sense. That’s kind of the wide view.

The narrow view is thinking, “No. Only my perspective is valid because only mine is right.” We all have that tendency to want to think that our perspective is the only correct one. The reality is, just as in that parable, all of the perspectives are right because they’re all incomplete. In Buddhism we teach this, you know the perspective of viewing reality with the eyes of wisdom, the eye of interdependence, and the eye of impermanence, recognizing that all things are interdependent and recognizing that all things are impermanent, so constant change and interdependence.

Just in a nutshell to remind you, interdependence is the understanding that when you look at a flower you can’t just see the flower alone. You have to see all of its dependencies, so when you look at the flower you see the sun. You see the clouds. You see the rain. You see the soil. All of the things that make the flower a flower includes all of the non-flower elements like the sun and the rain, etc.

That’s interdependence. That perspective, when we see reality that way, it starts to change the way we understand reality, and the other one is impermanence, which is that all things are always changing, right? We’ve talked about that one multiple times in the podcast. With the right perspective what we’ll start to notice is a change in how we perceive reality, and I think that leads right into the next pillar which is humility.

When you understand that you exist interdependent with all the things that allow you to exist, that strong sense of independence starts to go away. You realize, “Well, I don’t exist without all the things that allow me to exist.” Just like the flower doesn’t exist without sun, rain, clouds, temperature changes, soil, and so on, and all of those things don’t exist on their own either. They exist with their causes and conditions so you start to understand really quickly with this perspective that, “Wow. I depend on everything. I am because everything else is.”


I think that starts to create this next pillar of humility. It arises naturally because remember, we don’t want to fake this. You don’t want to just pretend to be humble. The idea is that with the right perspective humility arises naturally because you realize, “Wow. I’m just a part of all of this and how lucky am I because without all of this there is no me?” That starts to reduce that sense of, I guess, independence like I mentioned before, or that narcissistic view that I’m the center of everything. You start to realize how that’s just not the case.

Humility, when we’re talking about humility in this sense we’re talking about considering yourself to be greater than others, and the moment you do that that robs you of your happiness. The opposite of humility we could say is pride. Pride is an exaggeration of the self, an exaggeration of the ego. Pride closes the door to all personal progress because in order to learn you must first think that you don’t know, right? The wise are humble not because they’re going to pretend to be humble, but because they genuinely know that they don’t know it all.

You know, there’s this quote that says, “I used to know a lot until I learned a little.” I think the idea is that an open mind starts with humility. It’s recognizing that of all there is to know out there, I know hardly anything, and that there’s me and then there’s everything in the world in terms of interdependence and impermanence. The things that allow me to be me have their own causes and conditions both in time and space, and suddenly you realize how little you really are compared to everything that is. I think that induces this sense of humility.

I think in a paradoxical way humility favors strength of character because the humble person makes decisions according to what he thinks is fair and holds to them without worrying about image or what other people will say about you, and that requires strength of character. I think sometimes we think of these things as separate, that strength of character is the opposite of humility, but I think, again, in a paradoxical way these things are intertwined. It requires humility to have that strength of character, to know I can stand for the things that I think are fair without having to get caught up in worrying about my image or what other people think about me, and that comes from the humility, you know, the shrinking of the self or the ego because of the proper perspective, the proper understanding of the nature of self.

There’s humility in not knowing, in not assuming, holding on to that. The mentality of I don’t know requires humility because our tendency is to want to think that we know, you know? I do this when I cast judgment on someone, so and so is this, so and so is that, as if I knew, you know? That might be based on something that was done in the past. It may even be done based on something that’s happening in the present, but what I don’t know is all the future, right? That person might change. That person may not always be a jerk but if I make that permanent I’m assuming that I know, that I know the reality of how that person will always be. Humility allows you to have that space of I don’t know and you’re always open to whatever might be.

Brene Brown, in her work with vulnerability she talks about just showing up and being seen as we are. I think that requires a lot of courage. It also requires a lot of humility, so that’s the kind of humility that we’re talking about as far as the pillar. With the proper perspective of reality humility arises naturally and because we’re humble it’s easier to be happy, because we’re open to things as they unfold and not fixating on anything that seems to be permanent, because we understand that things are impermanent and things are interdependent.


With that humility and perspective let’s talk about the next pillar that I think arises naturally. With the perspective and humility we talk about humor because when you no longer take yourself so seriously everything becomes funny. Think about that. We take ourselves so seriously and humor, and I want to be clear, humor that does not mock or belittle brings us closer together. It helps us to diffuse tension or tense situations and humor shows us, in a way, our shared ridiculousness. You know, we’re all here in this life. We’re taking it so seriously thinking that there’s somewhere to go, somewhere to be, and the truth is we’re just here in a hamster wheel, and we’re all running, and if we could all see that we would all start laughing at ourselves. There is no need to take this so seriously.

Studies on humor are beginning to show that laughter boosts your immune system. It relaxes your body. It protects your heart by lowering stress hormones which can cause inflammation, and in general it just feels good to laugh. Laughter is a respite from pain. It gives us the ability to find humor in any situation and helps us to maintain the joy that so many of us are actually craving in life.

Humor I think is an important part of this pillar, and again, it’s not faking it. It’s not pretending that things are funny. It’s realizing that in reality things just aren’t so serious, and then humor arises naturally. I love that this is talked about in this book because both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, you see them and they’re always full of joy. They’re always laughing. I don’t think they take themselves that seriously and if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously we would be able to experience this same humor that is a pillar of joy.


Let’s talk about the fourth pillar now, acceptance. Acceptance is the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, beauty, just as it is, but it is not resignation. This is something I clarify every time I talk about acceptance. It’s that it is not defeat. It’s accepting that we need to pass through the storm. It’s facing suffering and asking the question how can we use this as something positive? It’s not resignation.

Acceptance allows us to engage life on its own terms rather than wishing in vain that things were different, because the moment we want things to be other than they are we experience suffering, right? Acceptance is what enables us to change us, to change and adapt, rather than expecting everything else to conform or adapt to our expectations.

One of the central practices of Buddhism, one that I think we can all learn from, is aimed at seeing life accurately, at cutting through our webs of concepts, our expectations and the distortions that we have of reality. When we accept reality we’re better able to see it accurately and respond to it in the appropriate way. Acceptance is like sitting in a field looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by. There’s no resistance to the moment to moment experience because there’s only observation and acceptance. You know, you don’t look at the clouds and say, “Oh, there’s a misshapen cloud.” because there are no misshapen clouds. There’s just reality. There’s just what is and clouds, like all things they arise naturally. They linger and then they disappear, replaced by new ones, or you know, constant change.

I also like to think about this as playing life, playing the game of life like playing Tetris because when we’re playing Tetris, you know, the shapes appear, and those of you who have played this can visualize this, but the game works so that a shape shows up and you have limited movement with what you can do with the shape. You can move it from left to right on the screen or you can rotate it to try to get it to fit the best way possible, and before you know it a new one shows up. Acceptance is playing that game knowing, “I have limited control with what shows up but I don’t control what shape shows up next.”

Now in life, if you think about it…it’s a lot like Tetris. Because we have some control with how life unfolds it gives the illusion that we’re in control, but the reality is we’re not. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you know, something jumps up and the whole game changes because now you’re confronting a new shape you were not expecting. Acceptance is learning to play, it’s learning to play life the way we play Tetris. I’m going to accept the pieces as they show up. I’ll do the best that I can knowing that before I know it that piece is gone and the new one has showed up.

Acceptance is being open to the actual feelings we’re having in the moment to moment experience of life and being willing to just feel that, whatever it is. You know, if it’s anger, if it’s happiness, if it’s fear, if it’s jealousy, anxiety, joy, whatever it is we can learn to simply be with our experience. You know, we can try to control the experience but controlling is the opposite of acceptance, so we like to say, “You know, if you’re angry be angry. If you’re sad be sad.”

I think a lot of the anxiety that comes from our emotional states is the resistance to the state itself, thinking that the point is you’re supposed to be happy and not be sad, but as emotions these are just things that arise naturally. What if you could be happy when you’re happy and when you’re sad just be sad? You know, accept that you’re sad. Sit with it. Become comfortable with it because like clouds, before you know it emotions arise, they linger, and then they’re replaced by other emotions when the causes and conditions are no longer there.

Acceptance is about, it’s a lot like just observing, observing the natural state that you’re and in being with it. Think of the expression, “This too shall pass.” I think when we understand the nature of impermanence, that all things are continually changing, we learn to accept things as they are and go with the flow instead of resisting reality.

Another analogy I like to use here with acceptance…imagine if you’ve ever gone white water rafting or any kind of activity in a river where the river’s flowing. When you’re on the river in a boat, you know, it’s useless to just try to resist the rapids and go up. You actually can’t so the idea is you go with the flow and you do your best to maneuver in and out of rocks, or whatever you’re maneuvering, but at no point are you not being pushed around by the overall flow of the river.

Life is a lot like that, where here we are in the river of life and it is taking us, and rather than resisting it how can I work best going with the flow and steering my boat from left to right or doing whatever I need to do to navigate the best that I can? But turning around and trying to go against it is not ever going to work. Think about that as acceptance.


The next pillar is forgiveness. Once we attain acceptance of the present then we release our desire to change the past. This is the concept of forgiveness. I talk about this in a parable, the parable of the raft, you know, if you need to build a raft to cross from one side to the other on a river, at one point while crossing that raft is everything to you. It’s a matter of life and death. The moment you get to the other shore it’s no longer wise to continue your journey with the raft on your back because you don’t need it anymore.

I think in life we do this. We have rafts, things that got us through specific things in life. Now, one of the mistakes that we make is we continue on our journey and we’re still holding on to that raft, and sometimes we’ll look back and we’ll resent it and think, “Ah. I wish I would’ve never been on that raft. That was, I didn’t like that phase of my life.” or whatever, and the reality is at the time you were on it it was very meaningful. It’s what you needed.

Forgiveness is recognizing the raft was the raft and now I don’t need it so I can let it go, but I don’t need to hold on to anger or resentment for what that was at a previous point in my journey. Holding onto grievances is our way of wishing that the past could be different and when we hang onto those negative emotions, the anger, and grief, and the desire for vengeance, we’re only hurting ourselves. Now, if we use those emotions to strike back and cause harm then where only inviting that cycle of retribution and then we become trapped in that.

Forgiveness, this pillar, doesn’t mean that we forget. It means not reacting with negativity or giving in to negative emotions. This doesn’t mean that you don’t not respond to the acts or that you’ll allow yourself to be harmed again. What it means is that justice can still be sought. You know, a perpetrator can be still be punished. Justice can be served without the hatred and once it’s served we can let it go.

I like to distinguish it too. I think sometimes we think that we’re not supposed to experience anger. That’s not what Buddhism teaches. It’s teaching the opposite. Like I mentioned before, the experience, the emotional experience that you’re having is reality, so if you’re angry, be angry, but the danger here is crossing over into hatred because hatred has never been useful. It’s never accomplished anything positive so the idea here is that we can still demand justice. We can still, you know, ensure that we’re not going to be harmed and we can process all of this without hatred.

Until we forgive a person that has wronged us we allow that person to hold power over us. They effectively control our emotions, and I’ve experienced this firsthand in my own life holding on to anger and resentment for someone who wronged me. I held onto for years. In a lot of ways it’s like that story of hanging onto a piece of coal with the intent of throwing it at someone, but meanwhile I’m the only one being burned. That’s a lot how hatred feels.

But the choice is always ours, so if you’re going to be angry, be angry. That’s completely fine and when you’re ready let it go. Be done. From the Buddhist perspective forgiveness is not commanded. It’s encouraged because it’s understood as a way to end suffering, so you know, taking this analogy of the coal, you can be standing there holding the hot coal. That’s fine. It’s not that you’re commanded to let it go or to drop it. Hold onto it until you’re ready to let go. When you are ready to stop experiencing the burning sensation and the pain of hanging on to anger then you let go, but only when you’re ready, and not because you have to.

All of these pillars, like I’ve talked about, they’re not compelled. These were not commandments. These are things that we have the opportunity of experiencing on our own when we’re ready, and when you let it go it feels incredible to let go of that pain, and then that wound can heal and before you know it that’s not even a point of pain anymore in your life.

Buddhaghosa was a fifth century Buddhist commentator and see he said, he’s the one who’s kind of started this, this teaching of the hot coal, but he said it like this, “By holding on to anger or holding on to hatred, by doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand, and so first burns himself or makes himself stink.” I like that because that’s kind of the idea. If I pick up excrement thinking I’m going to go and ruin someone’s day with this, well guess what? I’m the one making myself stinky while doing that.

Remember, he who angers you controls you, and again, this doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to be angry. It’s that you hold onto the anger as long as you need to till you’re ready to let it go, but the letting go of the anger always starts with you. I think one of the mistakes that we make is thinking when circumstances change, then I’ll let go of my hatred or my anger. What we’re saying in this teaching is that you are the one with the freedom that gets to choose. Whenever you’re ready, let it go.


That’s going to lead us to the next pillar, gratitude. When we understand the nature of interdependence we start to understand that everything is a gift, you know, like the flower I mentioned. The flower is receiving the gift of sunlight, receiving the gift of the rain from the clouds, the nutrients from the soil. What I start to notice through this lens of interdependence is that I’m grateful, not because all of this is for me, but because I am the result of all of this. I’m the result of all that is and with acceptance, we no longer fight against reality. With gratitude, we embrace reality.

Brother David Steindl-Rast says, “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful. It is gratitude that makes us joyful.” You can see why this pillar of gratitude is so important for experiencing joy, for developing an attitude of joy. Gratitude, I think, arises naturally from awareness because you start to notice new things that you’re grateful for every day.

You know, I’ve talked about this before but when was the last time you paused and looked down and thanked your shoes for protecting your stinky feet throughout the day? When was the last time that you paused and you thanked your computer or your smartphone for allowing you to be connected, allowing you to listen to this podcast? Thanked your marker or your pen for allowing you to write your ideas? You start to see things in this new light with gratitude for everything because all that I am is the result of all that is. I get to be me because everything else is what it is, and then there’s this connection with all of these things that allow me to be what I am.

I want to read a quote from Richard Dawkins from Unweaving the Rainbow, and I really like this because I think this embodies the attitude of gratitude when it comes to how lucky we are to be alive, but he says this. He says, “We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will in fact never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I in our ordinariness that are here. We privileged few who won the lottery of birth against all odds. How dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

I really like that. That is the attitude of gratitude for just being alive, not because there’s something we’re supposed to obtain or to accomplish, but just the sheer statistical improbability of the fact that of all the possible combinations of this present moment being whatever it could be, it is what it is, and it is what it is because of all of the past events, whether we like them or not, whether we perceive them as good or bad, all make the present what it is. To be grateful in the present moment for reality as it is allows us to have acceptance and gratitude for all past moments as well, the pleasant ones, the unpleasant ones, the painful ones, the happy ones, the sad ones. All of these moments start to share a level of equanimity because all of them contribute to the present to being exactly what it is. To me that’s the understanding of gratitude.


That takes us to the seventh pillar which is compassion. There is a saying that is often attributed to the Buddha and I think it explains compassion well, but it says, “What is that one thing which when you possess, you have all other virtues?” If you think about that for a minute, that’ one thing that when you possess it you have all other virtues, it’s compassion. Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we see others suffer and we wish to see that suffering relieved. That’s it. That’s all it is. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness.

Compassion is the wish for others to be free from suffering and I think this is the key here, is that it does not need to be prequalified. I will only have compassion for you if I feel that you deserve it. That’s a qualification and compassion, like I mentioned, is one of the four immeasurables. There’s no measuring here. It’s not concerned with the circumstances of the suffering, you know, this idea of mourning with those who mourn. We can do that while having fundamentally opposing views and ideologies.

Compassion doesn’t need to be justified. Compassion is the path to healing. It leads to kindness. Kindness leads to joy. As the Dalai Lama says, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Then he goes on to say, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” I hope that we will all strive to develop kindness and compassion towards each other and I think the Dalai Lama puts it well when he says that, “When we think of alleviating other people’s suffering our own suffering is reduced.” That is the true secret to happiness.

I do think it’s important to bring up that compassion shouldn’t just be extended to others. It should also be extended to a self. Contemporary culture measures us constantly. It evaluates and judges us based on our achievements. We’re always comparing ourselves and self-loathing often results when we fail to live up to these expectations that we internalize. We think, “I’m not good enough. I’m not as smart as so and so. I’m not as wealthy as so and so. I don’t look as good as so and so.” But we learn to be compassionate towards ourselves and we learn to recognize our own humanity, our own needs. To be kind to yourself is as important as being kind to others when we’re talking about this pillar of joy, of compassion.


That leads us to the eighth and final pillar, generosity. This is the eighth pillar of joy. Giving to others does not subtract from ourselves. It adds to us. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues have found that money can buy happiness if we spend it on other people. People who give experience greater long-term satisfaction whether that giving is large or small.

I think there’s a reason why nearly every major religion embraces charity and why our bodies respond so positively to this virtue of generosity. We are complementary beings in a competitive world. We’re not meant to be so constantly set in opposition to one another. When we give to one another and we engage others in that spirit of generosity it makes us thrive. We can see this in how we regard others. Who are the figures whose names rang out across history and that are still spoken today with love and admiration? If you think about that, mostly they’re the names of people who were the most generous, the most caring, and the most compassionate. People look up to, these are people like the authors of this book, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and we look up to these people for a reason, because they promote harmony.

To strive to attain a generous spirit can be made possible by acknowledging that you are merely a steward of your wealth. You’re a steward of your possessions and your power but these things aren’t actually ours. In the same way that the flower doesn’t claim the sunlight, like, “This is my sunlight.” It’s receiving it, and I talked about this in the last podcast episode, this is the idea of understanding the difference between receiving and taking.

Think about all the things that we receive in life, that we receive from the planet, that we receive from others, the efforts of farmers that allow us to have the food that we consume. This process doesn’t end. It’s an incredibly complex web of interdependencies that I receive. I receive the benefits of all that is so that I can be. I think generosity is the understanding that when I see that, then I can give of myself because I am a part of that process too. Everything that I am, everything that I do, that I say, and that I put out in the world is there for someone else to be able to receive benefit from. That is the understanding of generosity in this eighth pillar, and joy arises naturally out of that. It arises from that sense of community.

I think we see a theme emerging from these pillars. It’s that joy comes from our togetherness, from realizing that we are all part of this human community and that no one thing can exist in isolation. No one can be happy in isolation, much less develop an attitude of joy. No. Joy comes from participating in the human story in a positive way, becoming aware of reality just as it is, having compassion for others that arises naturally, it’s not forced, and acting on that compassion through generosity.

Now, when I talk about spirituality in my work in Secular Buddhism I talk about spirituality being a sense of connection and meaning, having connection and meaning in life. I think joy, developing an attitude of joy, really helps to fulfill that sense of meaning, you know, what greater meaning can we have than to seek to be joyful in this short amount of time that we each have to be alive, that we each have to be experiencing the incredible miracle that it is to be alive?

That includes all of it, what we perceive as good and bad, the happy, the sad. All of these moments can be cherished because they’re all unique and it’s that togetherness that we experience with others, you know, to be able to see someone else and see in them their interdependence with all things. Their impermanence, their constant state of changing allows us to realize that we’re all the same and that togetherness, I believe, is the to true nature of joy.

These eight pillars, like I said, if you want to study this more in depth definitely pick up the book, but these eight pillars of joy can help us to develop an attitude of joy that arises naturally. None of these things need to be faked. None of them need to be forced. We’re not compelled. There’s no commandment that says you need to be joyful but what if by having the proper perspective all these things started to line up and the natural result was joy that arises naturally, an attitude of joy? Not the same as happiness because happiness can be fleeting, but joy can be an attitude that we develop and experience throughout all of the emotional states of existence. We can experience a sense of joy, a sense of gratitude, a sense of acceptance while we’re going through emotional states like anger or sadness. We can still experience that sense of joy because that’s the attitude that we develop.

That’s what I wanted to share in this week’s topic, the pillars of joy from the book The Book of Joy. As always if you enjoy this podcast please feel free to share it with others. Write a review in iTunes or give it a rating, and if you’re in a position to be able to, I would encourage you to consider making a one time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting SecularBuddhism.com and clicking the donate button at the top of the page.

The donations allow me not only to keep this podcast going, but they allow me to travel and put on workshops in different cities and to put on these workshops without having to charge a lot of money. Generally a workshop, the only cost involved is the food, the lunch for the time, and I can do that with your support as a listener allows me to do that. My goal with all of this is to make these teachings, to share mindfulness, to show the concepts of Secular Buddhism in a way that they can be accessible to anyone.

That’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon, so thank you for listening and until next time.

34 – The Art of Giving and Receiving

In this episode, I discuss the art of giving and receiving. Life is, “as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving”. The Buddha taught that generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is being given and to the self that is giving it.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello, you are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 34. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about the art of giving and receiving.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics and teachings presented for a secular-minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.” If you’re new to secular Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more, check out my book Secular Buddhism: Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It’s available as a paperback on Amazon, an eBook on Kindle, or as an iBook on iTunes and also an audio book on audible.com. For more information and for link to those book versions visit secularbuddhism.com

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. For the past few weeks I’ve had this topic on my mind that I’ve been wanting to share and for one reason or another I haven’t had a chance to record a podcast for a couple of weeks. I was traveling for work, attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and I also had a cold and my voice was essentially gone. I still sound a little sick but I’m feeling much better and I decided it was time to go ahead and record another podcast. Please forgive me if my voice sounds weird or my nose sounds plugged recording this podcast episode.

But I want to talk a little bit about the topic of giving … and receiving. The Buddhist understanding of giving comes from the Sanskrit word Dana, which means to offer, share, or gladly give. Dana is a virtuous form of giving that does not expect anything in return, not even a thank you. And there are many ways to give. Sometimes we give out of obligation, like a child obeying a parent to share a toy with their brother or sister. Other times we give out of sympathy, like giving food or money to a person in need maybe a homeless person. Another type of giving could be an exchange of reciprocity. For example, anything that resembles a transaction. Employment, I work for you giving you my time and my talents, and in exchange you give me money.

These are all forms of giving. When we give in these ways, we typically expect something in return even if it’s a simple thank you. Even when giving is driven by a virtue such as empathy, we still tend to expect the recipient to at least be grateful for the gift. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with these types of giving but the type of giving that I want to talk about is a little bit different. The type of giving I want to discuss is the type where the thankfulness of the giver is greater than that of the receiver. And you can think about love as an example to this. To be able to love deeply is a richer experience than to be loved. I think about that often when I think about the type of love a parent has towards their child. The love I have for my kids for example, … is a love that I feel more gratitude for the ability that I have to feel that love for them, to me, is greater than the love I would feel back from them. To know that they love me, it feels greater to know that I love them. That’s the richness of that type of love.

I think this can also be felt towards pets. I think anyone who has a pet knows that it’s a richer experience to have love for the animal that you care for. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you know whether or not that animal loves you back. I see this in my kids. We have fish and when they feed their fish there’s a love that they have towards their little pet and … never does it come up … the question that, “Oh, the fish isn’t grateful that I fed it.” Or, “The fish doesn’t love me back.” That’s irrelevant in this kind of giving. That’s the kind of giving I want to talk about.

I like to think of this concept as giving artfully because I think a true artist gives in this way. When a painter is painting from their heart there’s no expectation that someone’s going to say, “Oh wow, that’s a really nice painting.” That’s kind of beyond the point. That’s the icing on the cake later but that wasn’t the reason for doing it. They’re painting because it’s what they do.

Kind of like the sun just gives off its heat. In fact, Galileo said, “The sun with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” I like to think about that as the type of giving that’s referred to as Dana in the Buddhist form of giving. And I think it comes naturally for us to understand this idea of giving and how giving can be beneficial to the recipient and to the person giving. But Sunada Takagi says, “That life is as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving.” While giving may seem natural for us and we all strive to be good at giving, I think most of us seem to be pretty bad at the receiving end of giving.

A good friend of mine, a fellow teacher Christopher [Lebo 00:06:12] shared a profound thought with me about the idea of receiving versus taking. I want to share with you what he wrote. I’m going to read this. He says, “The practice of receiving, let alone even asking for help is challenging for many of us. The first time I really open heartedly asked and accepted help wasn’t until I was in my late forties. In my delusional thinking I believed that to need help was to be weak and to be weak was to be unlovable. I think at this point it is important to realize that receiving is different than taking. We take food, love, money all the time. The difference between the two is that when we take, our small self is saying, ‘I earned this.’

When we get love from our spouse or our children, when we get kudos at work, when we eat a lovely meal, we aren’t receiving the love, the acknowledgment of food, we see ourselves as earning it. And we take it because it is ours. And a similar strain of this construct is when we see ourselves as unworthy to receive anything. This can manifest as self-doubt and shame. In both strains we’re stuck in seeing giving and receiving as economic exchanges but how could it be any other way.

I was never taught how to receive. Were you? Most of us have been taught that it is better to give than to receive but how can that be since to give you need to have someone who receives. Proportionately it just doesn’t add up. So truly receiving is something different from taking. There’s an inherent humility. There’s an openness of heart. An acknowledgment of our interdependence and an awareness of our dependence on a myriad of things. Receiving is a place of openness and courage in that it implies a vulnerability. We may ask for something in that open space and not get it. Yet in realizing our lack of control, our inability to fix love, joy and peace in place by somehow earning them, those very things arise naturally. Everything I receive is a gift, a gift to me the receiver and a gift to the giver, an ever-expanding circle of giving where in the end there is no giver, no receiver and no gift.”

That was written by my friend Christopher Lebo. And I thought it was a really profound expression of this concept of the difference between receiving and taking. I’ve been thinking a lot about Christopher’s explanation of this concept and I’ve been enjoying the process of trying to understand in what areas of my own life am I unaware that I’m taking versus simply receiving.

I’ve also tried to spend time analyzing the flip side of that and the aspects of my life where I’m the giver, as an employer, as a podcaster, as a meditation teacher, as the breadwinner for my family and so on. And when I’m giving, am I expecting a return or even a thank you? I like to ask myself, “What would it be like to just give without any expectation of a return or even a thank you?”

I realized that I think love is a wonderful example of this. When I first started dating and eventually married my wife, I have to admit and I think most of us would, that I was unknowingly giving of my love in a conditional transactional way. An attached way really. I loved her because I believed she loved me and this is the reciprocal way of loving. And then you’re capable of giving this love because you’re expecting that that person loves you back.

In that case, my love for her was attached to her love for me. It never occurred to me until later in life once we started having children and I mentioned before I noticed how different that love felt. In that case I was giving my love and my kindness to my children without the same expectation of that reciprocal love. In fact, it didn’t even matter with my kids for them to have to express it back because it was just unconditional.

I thought it was interesting to notice how much more natural it was to be able to love unconditionally towards my kids than it was even towards my own spouse. And when I think of my kids, I think it’s easy to understand that to be … that concept, that to be able to love is richer than being loved because that’s how I naturally feel. I’ve since spent many years trying to foster that same kind of unattached or unconditional love towards my wife that I feel towards my kids and I can honestly say that I feel that now for her.

I want to be clear when I’m talking about this type of love, this unconditional love, I’m not talking about the type of love that puts up with things that shouldn’t be put up with. Things like abuse or harm. These are causes for taking action to stop, to get away from a relationship that’s toxic or harmful but that’s … what I’m talking about is … like I mentioned, it’s love that’s unconditional like what we feel towards our kids or what we feel towards pets or … I’m sure you can think of other examples where you feel that type of love.

That’s the type of love that I want to feel towards all people, not just those close to me but everyone. And learning to give and receive in a way that is not attached to reward is easier when we understand the nature of reality as being interdependent and impermanent. I think that’s why we talk about these topics constantly when we, those of us who teach Buddhism … In fact, I’ve mentioned before … we call this, “Seeing with the I’s of wisdom.” The letter “I”. Seeing with the I’s of wisdom, of interdependence and impermanence.

Think of all the ways that we receive, that we never pause to consider or think about. These are examples of interdependence where we continually receive the benefits of the efforts of so many other people. For example, the people who farmer our food, the people who transport that food, the efforts of the people who make our clothing and who make our shoes. In my case, tonight on my way home from work it was snowing the whole way and I was receiving directly the benefits of the people who were plowing the roads in front of me.

Think about the garbage trucks that take out our trash or the countless people and processes that give us electricity, they gave us technology. Even the ability right now for you to be receiveing these words through a technological platform that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t receiving those benefits from whoever created all of this. And that’s the example of understanding interdependence in the sense of receiving. We’re all receiving, at any given moment the benefits of other people and their efforts. We’re always receiving and that’s different from taking. Even though we may not be aware that we’re receiving it. So, what we’re trying to do is to be able to awaken and have this awareness of the receiving that’s already there. That’s kind of the irony in our culture. It’s like there’s this idea that we need to be independent and not have to rely on others and receiving is a form of weakness. And the irony in that is that everything that we are, is because of others and because of the efforts of others. We’re always receiving.

In speaking about this deep understanding of interdependence or inter-being, as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We have never really seen the flower until we have seen all of the non-flower elements that make up the flower. To see the flower mindfully we must also see the sun, the clouds, the rain, the soil and the countless processes that allow that flower to be a flower.” I think of each of these interdependent processes, giving and receiving … in a very non-attached way. The sun gives it’s rays, it gives it’s heat and the flower receives them. It doesn’t take, it receives and the sun doesn’t need to get anything in return for giving off its heat.

This is what the Buddha taught about it. He said that, “Generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is being given and to the attachment one has to the self that is giving it.” I think once you’ve realized that the self and all of its possessions are impermanent, then you have a deep understanding of non-attachment and non-attachment is perfect generosity. This is why this practice of generosity is so highly encouraged in the Buddhist tradition. I think from the Buddhist perspective, the art of giving is not so much about the gift that is being given, it’s about seeing our natural clinging to the act of giving and renouncing our habitual clinging.

So, think about that. How about you? What does giving and receiving mean to you? In what ways do you practice giving and receiving? Have you experienced that from the perspective of non-attachment? How would that look to you? How can we get better at allowing ourselves to receive from others? I know that’s hard for us in our culture, the Western mindset. But I would invite you to pause this weekend, think about that. Not only how we can be better at receiving, but pause and see in how many ways are we receiving already that we are not even aware of, we’ve never stopped to even think about it? and when we notice that, what is the natural outcome that comes of it. It should be a form of gratitude and a form of humility when we understand just how much we are constantly receiving from others. I’d love to hear your thoughts and the comments on our Facebook page or in the Facebook group about around this topic, around the art of giving and receiving.

That’s all I have for this week. As a reminder, if you enjoy this podcast, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to, I would really appreciate if you could consider making a one time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast. You can do that by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the, “Donate” button at the top of the web page. That’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

33 – Heaven and Hell (Here and Now)

Heaven and Hell are real, they are the contents of everyday life. They are states we experience in the here and now and WE are the gatekeepers. In this episode, I will discuss the Zen koan called: the gate of paradise.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode number 33. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about heaven and hell.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics, and teachings presented for a secular minded audience. The Dalai lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” If you’re new to secular Buddhism or you are interested in learning more, check out my book Secular Buddhism Eastern Thought for Western Minds. It’s available as paperback on Amazon, ebook, Kindle, and ibook on iTunes. Also as an audio book on audible.com. For more information and for links to the book versions, visit secularbuddhism.com.

Let’s jump into this week’s topic. The last couple of weeks I have been reading a booked Zen Koans by Gyomay Kubose. It’s been a fascinating experience to become familiar with zen koans. On the website elephant journal, Don Diande talks about koans and says, “The koan serves as a surgical tool used to cut into and then break through the mind of the practitioner. Koans aren’t just puzzles that your mind figures out suddenly and proclaims, ‘Aha. The answer is three.’ They wait for you to open enough to allow the space necessary for them to enter into your depths, the inner regions beyond knowing.”

Essentially what that means is the koan is meant to help break out of the conceptual way of thinking and into more of an experiential understanding of a specific topic. The specific koan that I read this week that really resonated with me and stuck with me and I decided I wanted to share it in this podcast episode is a koan called the Gate of Paradise.

A soldier comes to visit a famous zen master Hakuin. And the soldier asks, “Is there really a heaven and a hell?” The zen master replies, “Who are you?” The soldier says, “I am a samurai.” “You? A samurai? What kind of lord would have you as his guard? You look like a beggar.” The soldier starts to get angry and becomes so enraged that he’s about to draw his sword. The zen master continues and he says, “Oh, so you have a sword. It’s probably too dull to even cut my head.” At this point, the soldier is just indignant and he brandishes his sword. The zen master says, “Here. Open the gates of hell.” And the soldier immediately recognizes the wisdom in those words and he puts his sword away. The zen master says, “Here, open the gates of heaven.”

It’s just a short story that’s kind of conveying the idea, the Buddhist understanding of heaven and hell. I love the way the zen master does this because rather than answering the question, he shows the soldier these states. He induces them into the very mind of the questioner. Rather than having a theoretical discussion of what is heaven or what is hell, he’s showing him the reality in that moment by allowing the soldier to experience his anger and turning that anger almost into hatred. When he realizes that that’s what he’s doing, he instantly is able to sheath the sword or to control his anger and that’s also the experiential understanding of what it is to be in heaven. To be able to control your emotions.

Gyomay Kubose in his book goes on to say about this koan that heaven and hell are the contents of our everyday life. Here we have this neat little story that I think does a really good job of helping us to understand the understanding that heaven and hell are here and now. These are states that we experience in the present moment. Furthermore, we are the gatekeepers of, you know, the gate to heaven or the gate to hell. I thought about this a lot, many times, when I felt just like that soldier. You know? I think every time that I’ve ever felt that, it was my ego that was being offended or hurt or criticized or questioned. I love knowing that I myself am the gatekeeper of my own paradise and my own hell.

What’s interesting when I think about instances in my life when I felt like that, every single one without exception that I’ve been able to recall or think about is an instance where it’s my ego that’s on the line. It’s the ego that is so sensitive to being criticized. You know for someone like the zen master to say, “Who are you?” It’s like the ego is like, “Who are you to think who am I?” It’s when the ego-self is attacked that way, we instantly start to experience what in this koan is kind of described as that sense of hell.

I bring up the example many times about getting cut off by a car because it’s something that we’ve all experienced. If you think about it in that moment, usually what makes it so frustrating, it doesn’t have to do with time. We might think that it does, but I don’t think that what’s happening is we get cut off and we’re all thinking, “Hey, you just robbed me of five seconds.” We know that we can make up that time by increasing our speed for the next minute or something. It’s not about that even though it may seem like I’m in a rush. If you’re honest with yourself, when I evaluate myself in this example, I think what’s really happening is you’re thinking, “How dare you do that to me. Like don’t you know that I’m an important person and you shouldn’t just be cutting me off. Because I’m me. I’m right here. What are you doing?”

It’s an attack on me, the ego me, not just the me that’s driving along. When that ego is removed, you start to look at a scenario like that and what is there to be offended at? I got slowed down. It doesn’t matter if it was person or if it was something that got in the road. A tree that fell or an animal that got in the road. The results in all those scenarios could be the same. I had to stomp on my brakes or I had to swerve and now I’m five seconds behind the schedule that I was on. When it’s a person, this is an attack on what I perceive as my ego, my self, the sense of self. I think that’s what makes it so difficult to work with in these scenarios.

In my understanding, that’s probably what this soldier was experiencing. It’s an attack on his ego. I think that’s a very quick to open the gates of hell so to speak.

I would invite you to take a minute and think about instances in your life when you felt like this soldier. When you felt any form of anger that’s at risk of turning into hatred and see if you can pinpoint in what way is the ego attached to that story. Is the ego the culprit of feeling so hurt or offended or whatever emotion you were experiencing with that? Criticized. See if like me you find that the ego is what was attached there that’s kind of the common denominator in these instances. We’ve all experienced anger. Every single one of us. You’ve probably also heard the expression that’s often attributed to the Buddha, however it’s not an actual quote from the Buddha. The quote says, “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the only one that gets burned.”

The expression I think comes from a monk named [Buddhaghoṣa 00:09:16]. He was discussing anger. He says by doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember or excrement in his hand and so first burns himself or makes himself stink. I like Buddhagosa’s version because I think it’s easy for us to imagine somebody right there next to you holding a hot coal, waiting to throw it at someone. The burning ember. But it’s hard to see how that really effects me. If you’re standing right next to me, you’re holding this coal cause you’re angry at someone and you’re waiting to throw it at them. I could be looking at that scenario and thinking, “Well, that’s unfortunate. You’re burning your hand. You know if you would just let go of that, it would stop hurting.”

I like Buddhagosa’s cause he mentions not just the burning ember, but also excrement and how he makes himself stink. That to me is a little bit more indicative of what it’s like when someone is around me for example if I were experiencing this type of anger that I’m holding onto that I want to let go of. The stink that he talks about. Now that effects the people around you. I think we all know someone like this. Who maybe is holding onto anger or is vengeful or has you know their anger makes them difficult to be around in the same way that it would be uncomfortable being around someone who smells of excrement. You’d say, “That’s affecting me now because I’m standing too close to you.”

I think anger can cause a similar aversion almost. Where you’re like, “I don’t want to be around this person cause they’re not pleasant to be around,” in the same way that it would not be pleasant around someone who’s stinky. I kind of like that correlation of the ember. It’s burning me if I’m holding it, but I’m also the stinky one if I’m holding onto it. Others around me are going to start to notice that and they may not want to be around me so much.

Don’t pick up the burning ember. Don’t pick up the excrement and make yourself stinky. Now sure this a lot easier said than done, but how do we go about actually not doing it? Well that’s the tricky part. I think this is where it becomes a matter of introspection for you. How do you drop that coal, that burning ember or that excrement? That’s for you to decide. I think that’s kind of the point of this koan. The soldier was able to experience what did it feel like to sheath the sword, to put the sword back and say, “Huh. I’m not going to allow myself to go that far.” That’s when the zen master says, “Here, open the gates of heaven.” Because the soldier was noticing, “Wow, I have the ability to calm myself down and not want to chop your head off. I’m putting the sword away and that’s the start of it. That’s the gate.”

You are the gatekeeper of your own heaven or hell. That to me is the essence of what’s being taught here. Now that can only be experienced by you. You know when you’re one place or when you’re in the other. It’s not about someone telling you, “You should feel this way or you should feel that way.” Because then you could pretend, but pretending doesn’t get you there. I could pretend I’m in no longer in this state of hell. I’m putting myself in this state of heaven and pretend that all I want, but if I’m not actually there I’m not actually there. That’s kind of what this koan is trying to get us to experience is that in a very experiential way we know when we’re in one or when we’re in the other, but only we know.

The answer to you know how do we actually get there? To me that’s the part of the koan that’s for you to figure out. I think meditation plays a big part here. You know we talk about this often with the whole premise of mindfulness is creating that space between stimulus and reaction. That space is where we have the freedom to decide well here’s the trigger but I choose how to react here. I’m not going to allow my habitual reactivity to put me in a state of anger that puts me at risk of experiencing hatred because that’s entering my own hell. You know, what mindfulness allows us to do is to have a greater sense of understanding of what’s happening and to remove the ego from that equation. At that point, like we say, “No self, no problem”, right? If I can remove my ego from that equation, well then what is there to even be offended?

You know, you could call me whatever you want to call me and I’m not going to respond to it. Not because I’m pretending and saying, “Huh, that didn’t bother me.” You know, if it’s bothering you, it’s bothering you. Rather than pretending it’s not, that’s where you want to get very introspective and say, “How interesting. This is really affecting me. Why? Why does it affect me if somebody calls me this? Or if somebody does that?” You know, that’s for you to analyze and become introspective with. I think the threefold mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique to be able to do that. My question for you and question for myself is, “What gates are we opening today? What gates are open right now?”

Only you know where you stand and only you have the keys to open and close the gates to heaven and hell. I like a quote by Pema Chodron who says, “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” Because isn’t that the truth? I think about that a lot and the difficult times that I’ve experienced, not all of them, but many of them I can look at and say, “Huh. In what way have I given myself these difficult times?” Like I said, this isn’t always the case, but in many times it is the case. Hopefully, I like to imagine now and knowing that if I’m the gatekeeper and I’m the one who holds the keys, now the responsibility is on me. Rather than blaming circumstances or blaming specific people. I’m the one who decides when I’m going to open and walk through the gates of heaven or the gates of hell.

That’s my invitation to you with this koan like the zen master who allows the questioner to experience in a very experiential way what heaven and hell actually are. The question of what is the reality of is there really a heaven and hell. Ask yourself that. Is there? I’m sure you know the answer because you’ve been in both. You’ve experienced both at one time or another. What caused you to feel in one versus the other? What I found, again for me personally, when the ego is not attached those are the moments that I would equate to being in heaven. These are moments where you’re kind of in a state of flow almost or suddenly it’s not about me. It’s about something greater than me. You know, these are moments where holding a newborn or doing humanitarian work or doing something that puts me beyond just me. These are moments that you experience just joy and happiness and contentment in a way that it has to be because the ego has been so detached in those moments.

It’s not about me. The moments where I feel the opposite, what I would equate to hellish moments. Like I said earlier, every single one that I’ve analyzed I’ve concluded it’s because the ego was very attached to that moment. The suffering that was coming from it was almost a direct attack on the ego itself. Like how could this person have done this to me? Don’t they know who I am? How dare you call me that or cut me off? Me or mine always fits in very nice with these scenarios of hellish moments or hell.

Those were the thoughts that I wanted to share with you guys. I think this is kind of a shorter episode, but I wanted to make sure that I shared something this week. Again, ask yourself, “In what way am I the gatekeeper to my own heaven, to my own hell?” And when you’re experiencing these in day to day living, see if you can make that pause between the stimulus and reaction. Oftentimes it’s right after the reaction that you can pause and say, “Oh, that’s what I just did.” But that’s still good, because noticing that you just noticed is a form of awareness. Ask yourself, these moments of heaven or these moments of hell that happen in the here and now and the present moment, what are they for me? How do I experience one? Why do I experience the other? Be introspective with it. What are the causes of these moments when I experience this feeling or that feeling?

See what you can find. This koan is here for you to get introspective and to find the answer yourself. Something that I wanted to end with in this podcast episode that I really enjoyed is a statement of intent rendered by Sharon Salzberg. She’s a Buddhist teacher and does a lot of writing for Lion’s Roar. I can’t remember exactly where I came across this, but it’s a statement of intent. It’s kind of a thought that you keep with you. Rather than having like a form of prayer, like the Buddhist form of prayer is usually something like this. A statement of intent that’s kind of internal. It’s a reminder of me, of what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. This statement of intent, she says, “May the actions that I take toward the good, toward understanding myself, toward being more peaceful be a benefit to all beings everywhere.”

I really like so I wanted to share that with you guys. As always, if you enjoy this podcast, please feel free to share it with others. Write a review or give it a rating in iTunes. Of course, if you’re in a position to be able to, I would appreciate if you could consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the donate button on the top of the web page. That’s all I have for this week. I will look forward to recording another episode next week. Until next time.

32 – How to Meditate

In this podcast episode, you will learn how to practice Threefold Mindfulness Meditation (Calm, Observe, and Analyze). This meditation technique is aimed at training the mind to overcome our habitual reactivity. The goal of this meditation technique is to learn to create a space between what happens (stimulus), and how we react to what happens (response).

Subscribe to the podcast on:
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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast and this is episode #33. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about threefold mindfulness meditation.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast, a weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics and teachings presented for a secular minded audience. The Dalai Lama said “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are”. If you’re new to Secular Buddhism or you’re interested in learning more, check out my book “Secular Buddhism: Eastern Thought for Western Minds”. It’s available as paperback on Amazon, e-book on Kindle, and iBook on iTunes. It’s also available as an audio book on Audible.com. For more information and for links to those book versions, visit Secularbuddhism.com.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. So, before we get started I want to remind you that this content is also published on my website Getmindful.org. Two common questions I receive quite regularly are, “Why do we meditate?” And second, “How do we meditate?” So, I wanted to address this.

The reason we meditate – Our minds are engaged in an ongoing process of assigning meaning to events as they unfold. We create stories about ourselves and others. The guy who cuts us off in traffic. The strange look on the face of the clerk in the grocery store. The tone used by a co-worker and so on. We’re generally not even aware of this process and yet these stories that we create in our own minds can end up being the greatest source of stress in our lives. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years as a tool to help us move beyond those stress inducing thoughts and into a more peaceful state of awareness that’s anchored in the present moment. And when practiced regularly, meditation has been proven to increase positive emotion, emotional intelligence and self control, while at the same time decreasing depression, anxiety and stress. I have links to all of the scientific research on Getmindful.org. So you can visit that and click on those links and see what the research shows about how meditation makes a difference.

So, the next question – How do we meditate? So, the reason that we meditate, as I mentioned, can be to obtain more calm or peace. But how do we accomplish that, because like exercise meditation may be simple but it’s certainly not easy. And the secret is to develop a consistent practice. Meditating for five minutes everyday is better than meditating for one hour every month. And threefold mindfulness meditation is a technique that I’ve developed to make meditation easier to practice.

So, threefold mindfulness meditation only takes 15 minutes and it’s broken down into three 5 minute parts. And if you give it a try – I challenge you to try meditating for 15 minutes a day. Try this for 14 days in a row. That’s two weeks. You’re going to notice a difference. I’m going to create a 14-day meditation challenge and by the time you’re listening to this podcast, hopefully you’ll see the link to join that 14-day meditation challenge on Getmindful.org.

I want to talk about the three parts of the threefold mindfulness meditation technique. Part one, I call “Calm the mind”. The mind is a lot like a jar of murky water. Constant agitation and movement of the jar causes the water to remain murky, but when you keep the jar still for long enough, the sediment will settle to the bottom and you’ll have a jar of clear water. In order to be able to gain insight into the nature of your mind, you must learn to calm the mind before it becomes clear. So, the first 5 minutes of the meditation technique are dedicated to calming the mind by focusing on your breath.

There’s a powerful breathing technique used by free divers to lower their heart rate and to reduce stress as they prepare to hold their breath to go underwater. Freediving is a form of underwater diving that relies on the divers ability to hold their breath until resurfacing rather than the use of a breathing apparatus like scuba gear. So, I learned this technique while I was training for four days with the U.S. free diving record holder, Ted Harty. What he taught me is this technique that works like this. You inhale through your mouth for 2 seconds. Then you pause and hold for 2 seconds. Then you exhale over the course of 10 seconds. And at the end of the exhale you pause or hold for 2 more seconds. Then you repeat the whole process.

So, the way it works – kind of counting it out, you would start with the inhale. So, it’s (inhaling) through your mouth – one, two; 2 seconds. And then you’re going to pause and hold your breath for 2 seconds. And then you exhale over the course of the next 10 seconds. And to do that, the secret is if you exhale through your nose, that might be easier. If you do it through your mouth, you have to use maybe your tongue kind of tucked behind your teeth; almost like you’re going to do a “s” sound or a “Shhh” sound. And that will restrict how much air comes out, because you need to restrict the air flow so that you don’t just – you know in the first 2 seconds of exhaling all your air is gone. You’re not going to make 10 seconds, so you have to exhale slowly. You don’t necessarily have to make a sound, but it is easier if you make a sound.


Then as you practice it, you’ll get more and more familiar with it and you won’t have to make a sound as you exhale. You’ll just know what the right pressure is of the exhale to ensure you’re going to last 10 seconds. And more often than not, the first time you do this – every time I do this, the first round, I can’t hit 10 seconds. I can probably do 6 or 7. And then on the second round I can do 7 or 8. And on the third round of doing this, I can do 9 or 10 seconds. Once you hit 10 seconds, you can do 10 seconds. And you are going to repeat this process over and over and over for the first 5 minutes.

And the way it works is your focus is on your breath, because you’re counting it. So, this is focusing your mind on an object. The object is your breath or staying on pattern. But what’s happening physiologically is because the exhale is longer than the inhale, your body is going through the physiological change of saying, “Okay, we need a – “. Ted told me this is called the mammalian reflex. What’s happening is your body is gearing up to be able to stay underwater longer, so it starts to put in place the systems it needs to ensure that it can last longer holding your breath, so it lowers your heart rate.

The crazy thing – in the professional world of free diving, the number one thing that will ensure you can hold your breath longer than normal is lowering your heart rate. People who tend to go into it with a strong Type A personality of “I’m going to hold my breath as long as I can”, tend to perform less well than somebody who goes in with a very calm mind. Because the more calm you are, the less your body needs oxygen. At least that’s how he explained it to me. So, I found that to be quite interesting. So, in a physiological way, we are calming the mind by slowing down the heart rate. And we are focusing the mind on a single object, which is the breathing pattern that we’re trying to stick with.

Now, what’s interesting is when you do this, after 5 minutes you will notice physically a sense of calm comes over you. This is a really cool technique that I like to use when I’m transitioning back from work to home. If I have a couple of minutes I’ll sit down and just practice this breathing technique for a minute or two. And it makes a big difference. It really does calm the mind. So, that’s Part One. We’re calming the mind using this breathing technique.

Now, I’ve made an audio track that’s 15 minutes long. You’ll see that as the next episode in the podcast. That’s going to be available for you as an MP3 to download it to use it as a guide so you can listen to this and follow along. The first 5 minutes has a metronome spaced out at 1 second intervals so that you don’t have to count in your head. You can just listen to the metronome and stay on track with the pattern. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know if you’re actually holding it for 2 seconds or if when you’re exhaling for 10, was it really 10, or are you just counting fast. So that audio file will be available and that will be very helpful for you.

Part Two is observing the mind. Meditation can help you to change the way you perceive and react to the moment to moment events as they unfold. So, this shift takes place when you go from thinking to observing. It’s by observing that you learn to create a space or a gap between stimulus and response. So, imagine you’re driving and suddenly you get cut off. That’s the stimulus. You’re walking and somebody gives you a dirty look. That’s the stimulus. How do you react? That is the response. So, habitual reactivity is when you react to an event without even having the time to decide how you want to react. This happens to us all the time.

There is no freedom in habitual reactivity. It’s in the space or this gap between what happens to you and how you react to what happens to you that you have the freedom to choose. And this is the second part of meditation. So, the first part is learning to calm your mind. But the second part is learning to practice a technique that reduces our habitual reactivity. And this is the phase of the threefold mindfulness meditation technique that’s designed to train your mind to practice observing your senses, thoughts and emotions.

The technique works likes this. You practice observing your physical senses first. So, you can scan your senses from top to bottom of your body. For example; starting with your head, try to observe and ask yourself, “What does my head feel like?”; “What do my ears hear?”; “What is my nose smelling?”; “What does my back feel like? Is it sore?”. You’re just observing. You’re not answering these questions. You’re trying to get in the mindset of observing. “What does it feel like to observe my body breathing?” You’ve just been doing 5 minutes of breathing where you’re trying to stay on a pattern. There’s a lot of observing that can be done there. “What do my legs feel like? Are they going numb from sitting here with my legs crossed?” “What do I feel in my feet?” And so on. Again, you’re just observing things here.

Then you move on to your thoughts. You can imagine that you are sitting in a field and you are observing the clouds passing by in the sky. When you look at clouds, do you ever see a misshapen cloud? No. Because there are no misshapen clouds. When you’re observing your thoughts, it’s the same way. It’s not about right or wrong thoughts. What you see is just what is. So, apply this to the meditative process of observing. Just observe your thoughts, but don’t judge them. And don’t think that there’s something you’re supposed to or not supposed to be thinking while you meditate. Because remember it’s thinking mind that we’re trying to get out of and observing mind that we’re trying to get into.

So next, I want you to practice observing your emotions in the same way you would observe clouds. Notice how if you are feeling an emotion, like anger for example, you are not actually angry. You are experiencing anger. This is creating a little bit of separation between your emotions and you. So, two key findings should emerge when we’re consistently observing our senses, thoughts and emotions.

One is that they are impermanent; meaning they are always changing. They arise. They linger. They go away, just as the clouds in the sky do.

And number two is that they are interdependent; meaning they have causes and conditions. For example; if you sit long enough and your leg goes numb, the cause of the leg going numb is that I’ve been sitting here. There’s a cause to it. And the cause has its own cause. And that goes on and on. Every cause has its cause. So during this part of the meditation you’ll notice how quickly your mind shifts from observing back into thinking; making meaning. And when it does, just bring your attention back to the practice of observing. Remember, observing that you’re no longer observing is still a form of observing, so don’t be harsh on yourself.

The whole goal of this part of the meditation is to practice observing. That’s what creates space between stimulus and response. It’s our ability to remove ourselves from the thinking mind into the observing mind and that will create that space between stimulus and response. You choose how you respond.

So, part one is calming the mind. part two is learning to observe, and what we are observing specifically are senses, thoughts and emotions. And now we’re going to talk about part three.

Part three is called “analyzing the mind”. After observing that the nature of our senses, thoughts and emotions is that they are impermanent and interdependent. Now, we want to analyze the implications of these observations. So, if you are experiencing an emotion, such as anger, this is where you get to spend time analyzing it now. For the second part, if you were noticing or observing your emotion, you’re not doing anything with it. You’re just observing it. But for this part, we are going to analyze it. So you could ask “What are the causes and conditions of this emotion?”. And when you find the causes, “What are the causes of those causes?”  What you should find, if you are analytical enough and you spend time with it is that everything that has a cause, has a cause. And that cause also has a cause. And this goes on and on. And this process can go on forever because all things are interdependent; all things have causes.

So, if your senses, thoughts and emotions are not permanent, what about your sense of self? What is the “self”? The Dalai Lama practices this form of meditation, called analytical meditation, which I have incorporated to be the third part of threefold mindfulness meditation. So, it’s in this phase of meditation, he asks himself the question, “who am I?” And this is what you’re going to do, too. Ask in the context of observing the nature of my mind, being impermanent and interdependent, then “Who am I?”. And if you can observe your thoughts, then you must not be your thoughts, so perhaps you’re the observer of your thoughts. And if you can observe that you’re observing your thoughts, then maybe your not the observer. You’re the observer of the observer. This gets crazy, because this can go on and on.

If you can observe your emotions, then you are not your emotions. Are you the observer of your thoughts and emotions? So, the ultimate aim of meditation is to arrive at an understanding of the nature of reality; the nature of the self. And that is that the sense of self we experience, like all other things, is impermanent and interdependent. It’s constantly changing and it has causes and conditions. So, whatever it is you’re experiencing, try observing it and then analyzing it for its causes and conditions.

One of the secrets of meditation is that you don’t will yourself to be calm or peaceful by meditating. It cannot be forced. And I think there’s a misconception here, because people spend time meditating thinking what I’m doing is I’m sitting here and pretending to be peaceful or calm hoping that if I fake until I make it, eventually I will be. And that’s not how it works. The key is that you learn to understand the nature of your anguish; the nature of your anger or your discomfort, or whatever emotion it is that you’re experiencing.

Understanding the nature of yourself brings about peace naturally. It’s not forced. When you understand your anger and its causes, then you become liberated from it. And it’s not because you force it to go away, but because you allow it to be the impermanent emotion that it is. And by the very nature of being impermanent, before you know it, it’s gone. And when it comes back, because it will, you can greet it like an old friend. But this time you won’t be trapped by your reactivity to it anymore. Freedom from habitual reactivity is the essence of what it means to be mindful. What it means to be awakened or enlightened.  And it’s something that we can practice. We do this over and over, day after day, until we’re free from our habitual reactivity. This is the goal of threefold mindfulness meditation.

We learn to calm the mind. Then we observe the nature of the mind. Finally, we analyze it, so that we can gain insight about ourselves.

So, to make this meditation easier,  I mentioned before, I’ve created a 15 minute audio track to help you through each phase. The first 5 minutes have a 1 second metronome to help you stay on track with the breathing pattern. At the end of part one, you’ll hear a bell. This bell indicates that you’re now entering part two. During the next 5 minutes, practice observing your senses, thoughts and emotions. Over time, you’ll get back into thinking mode, where you start making meaning of things. Gently return to being a neutral observer; like watching the clouds. When you hear the bell ring again, you’ll know that now you’re on part three.

And it’s for this last 5 minutes you’re going to practice analyzing the causes and conditions of your senses, thoughts and emotions. It’s amazing how many of us experience emotions without ever really understanding why we’re experiencing them. Are you really mad that somebody cut you off? Or is there a deeper discomfort that’s causing you to react with anger to a stimulus such as being cut off? You can ask yourself, what if it was a duck with its ducklings that’s walking in the road that forced you to slam on your brakes or forced you to swerve. Would you still feel the same amount of anger? Why or why not? Analyze that emotion.  And at the end of the meditation, you’ll hear the final bell that indicates the 15 minute meditation is over. And that’s it. In one sitting you’ve practiced threefold mindfulness meditation.

I would challenge you to make a goal to practice this everyday for at least 14 days and see if you notice a difference in your habitual reactivity. And then after that, keep going. Just make it a daily practice. So think about this for a second. What price would you be willing to pay to be free from your habitual reactivity? The investment is only 15 minutes a day. And I hope the resources I’ve made available to you on our journey to have greater peace and contentment in life will be helpful in that process.

Try using the audio track. I am going to make a guided version of this. And as you use the guided version I think it’ll help you to become familiar with the technique. Over time you may not need the guided version. You can just listen to the audio. The audio helps you stay on track to know when to switch from part one to part two to part three. And how to stay on track with the breathing pattern in part one. And eventually you may not need that one either. You can just do this without any kind of assistance. I’m going to upload the 15 minute audio file to help you as a meditation guide. There will be the unguided version, which is just the music and the metronome. Then you can download the guided version, too. And you’ll be able to download this as an MP3 and save it for whenever you meditate or you will be able to stream it like you would a podcast. I am also going to be uploading that guided version that I told you about. So, you’ll see those on the podcast list soon. And remember, this content is typed out and published on Getmindful.org so you can re-read this to really get a sense for how this meditation works and how to do it.

So, that’s all I have for the podcast episode on how to meditate or an introduction to threefold mindfulness meditation. If you have any questions about it, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can find me on Facebook. We have a Facebook study group called “Secular Buddhism”. We have the Facebook page that’s also called “Secular Buddhism”. And then on the SecularBuddhism.com website, you can always reach out to me through the contact link and it’ll email me. There are several ways to track me down and get a hold of me.

If you enjoy this podcast, again, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. If you are in a position to be able to, I would encourage you to consider making a one-time donation or becoming a monthly contributor to the podcast by visiting SecularBuddhism.com and clicking the donate button on the top of the page. That’s all I have for this episode and I look forward to another one. Until next time.