In this podcast episode, I am sharing the audio of an interview with Yael Shy. Yael offers expert guidance on beginning a meditation practice and explores how to bring that practice to relationships, social justice, and the general ups and downs of everyday life.
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Transcription of the podcast episode:
Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.
It looks like we are streaming live now here on the Crowdcast platform and on social media channels. Welcome, everyone who’s listening in live. I am Noah Rasheta, host of the Secular Buddhism podcast. I am excited to have Yael Shy with me here today. Yael is an author. Her recent book titled, What Now? is going to be one of the topics [00:00:30] of our discussion today, but really quickly Yael is the founder and director of MindfulNYU which happens to be the largest campus wide meditation initiative in the country.
She’s also the senior director for the Center for Global Spiritual Life at New York University. She leads meditation workshops around the country and around the world. She’s been published in the Harvard Business Review, [00:01:00] Huffington Post, the Journal of Interreligious Studies among other publications, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. I’m really excited to have her on the show today because she offers expert guidance on not just meditation practice but I think more specifically how to bring mindfulness in this practice into things like relationships love, social media, how we interact on social media, [00:01:30] social justice, activism and just the general ups and downs of everyday life. With that, welcome, Yael. Thank you for being on the show.
Yael Shy: So happy to be here. Thank you so much. I’m a big fan of the show and the podcast, whole thing.
Noah Rasheta: Thank you. Just to clarify for those of you who are following us live, this is streaming on the various social channels but the platform we’re using to do this interview is Crowdcast. Now, those of [00:02:00] you who are watching through the Crowdcast platform, have the ability to submit questions. Towards the end of the discussion, we will open up the questions specific to what we’re talking about today.
If you’re on Facebook, or Periscope, or YouTube watching this live and you post questions in the comments, we may not see those live. I’ll go back and look for those after the interview. Yael, if she has time, she may do that too, but the once [00:02:30] that we will certainly entertain are the ones that are posted on the Crowdcast platform. If you are watching this stream somewhere else and you want to join this one, the actual platform, it’s crowdcast.io/e/yael which is Y-A-E-L dash Shy. It’s kind of a complicated URL to give out on the spot like that.
I’m excited to talk about a [00:03:00] couple of topics specifically. I think the two I’m most excited about are the expertise that Yael brings to the topic of mindfulness and relationships because we are all in relationships. It’s not just romantic relationships which I think is key here but any relationship, relationships with siblings, with parents, with children and then the other overall topic is social activism. We’re going [00:03:30] to talk a little but about that. Specifically, how do we change the world without burning out?
Let’s start with the first one, mindfulness and relationships. Before we jump into that, tell us a little bit, Yael about how you got into mindfulness meditation Buddhism. Tell us a little bit about your journey?
Yael Shy: Sure. I started meditating when I was [00:04:00] college junior and really I came to it from a lot of suffering, a lot of stress and not just the stress that people often talk about with college students like so much homework. Fights with the parents. Deep existential stress about what is the point of being alive, what is my role in this world, how am I supposed to [00:04:30] survive when all of these range of feelings just rushing through me in a lot of anxiety and fear just constantly. I was having panic attacks regularly and the circumstances of my life were falling apart around me and my parents were getting divorced.
I had ended a relationship, I felt very lonely and alone. I was struggling hard and so then I [00:05:00] was having a really hard time. I sought out a bunch of different kinds of advice, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get better and my mother actually passed along to me a flyer about a meditation retreat, a seven-day silent meditation retreat. No concept of what that was, I’ve never meditated-
Noah Rasheta: [inaudible 00:05:22]
Yael Shy: Yeah. It was crazy because I was imagining like a nice spa, vacation with [00:05:30] maybe hot tubs or massages and I get to that retreat center and it was really just seven days of … From morning until night meditation without much of a break at all. We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone. We weren’t supposed to be making eye contact. It was extremely intense. I had multiple panic attacks with a couple of days. I was having fantasies about hot-wiring cars and getting out [00:06:00] of that place.
Then about midway through in the retreat, I finally got to talk to a teacher about all the stress I was experiencing and I said, “I’m just so full of fear all the time.”He said to me, “Fear doesn’t like the light. If you shine a light on it then sometimes you can help to understand and fear will eventually disperse.” That began that process of trying to look at what was underneath all [00:06:30] that anxiety, what the root of so much of that panic and stress.
That really just started the journey for the rest of my life in this world and this meditation world because it almost immediately cracked through so much of that pain and anxiety that I was experiencing on a daily basis. Of course, it didn’t solve it right away but over the years, it almost transformed the chemical [00:07:00] makeup of my body so that … I really haven’t had a panic attack, I don’t know, like 10 years almost. That’s how I came to this practice.
Noah Rasheta: Wow. It seems intense suffering is a common path for people to find their way to this path, right?
Yael Shy: Right.
Noah Rasheta: I know that’s certainly the case for me. It’s the case for a lot of people I’ve encountered. It seems [00:07:30] like these meditation retreats almost all consistently somewhere around that halfway mark is when people realize, “Okay, I can do this and then it becomes a really neat experience after that.” Why do you think that is? Is it because we’re just not used to doing anything remotely close to sitting in silence for that long?
Yael Shy: Yes. I think we’re not used to it on multiple levels. We’re not used to it on just like our everyday consciousness [00:08:00] level but our bodies are not used to it. In the beginning, everything is screaming either in pain or I know many people who just slept through their first three days. I have no idea what it’s doing. You sit it down and you say don’t move. It’s bed time. There’s all kinds of things that come up. The Buddha call these things hindrances that come up when we sit down for meditation.
[00:08:30] Especially for beginners who do what I … I mean I did a crazy thing. Most people have had some experience, exposure to meditation before you do that but retreats are just incredible incubators of ourselves and most of us do not fit with ourselves and our minds for that intensity for that amount of time.
Noah Rasheta: When I think of meditation in general as the art of [00:09:00] becoming comfortable with discomfort, I think retreat is like what you’re describing. That’s bootcamp, right? That’s the-
Yael Shy: It is bootcamp.
Noah Rasheta: You’re going to sit there and it’s going to hurt until suddenly at some point, you become more comfortable with that discomfort. I imagine that’s why it’s so transformative too.
Yael Shy: That’s right. Yes, that’s right. It’s just that if anybody is thinking about doing one. You haven’t done one yet. The real key is just to have as much as you can to muster the faith that something will [00:09:30] happen. That’s what we promise whenever I lead a retreat that something will happen. You don’t know exactly what it will be but it’s just to hang in there through those tortures. For some people beginning time. Maybe not for everyone but certainly for me as an early day.
Noah Rasheta: Cool. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s jump in to the topic of mindfulness and relationships. You have a chapter in your book. [00:10:00] I’m trying to remember exactly what it’s called. Is it mindfulness and relationships? Oh, mindful relationships. That’s exactly what it’s called. In the chapter, mindful relationships, you bring together the … You merge the concepts of how does mindfulness benefit a relationship. Let’s talk about that a little bit, summarize the marriage of these two [00:10:30] things.
Yael Shy: Sure. Like you said, everybody’s inversions of relationships. I think what we all crave out of relationships is to be fully seen and heard to be felt and seen for who we really are and to be heard, our voices heard or our needs heard even of the other person can’t always meet the needs or can’t [00:11:00] fulfill our dreams, our fantasies, to really be seen is so healing and what so many of us are seeking. In order to then be able to really see another person and to see them in their totality then I think the practice of meditation and mindfulness enables us to see ourselves to open up our own hearts to ourselves to see the [00:11:30] ugly and the difficult parts to see the parts that we believe are beautiful and strong and to have space
The more we do for all of those different elements. The more we do that, the more we cultivate a loving appreciative accepting relationships to ourselves, the more we have space to let in the totality of another person and to really see them rather than what often happens which is we use the frame [00:12:00] of another person to try and discover whether or not we are lovable and the person feels used and feels unseen and we feel frustrated because we’re not getting the right answers. We’re not getting to the right thing and everybody suffers.
The best metaphor I’ve heard about this is from a Zen teacher named Thich Nhat Hanh who I’m sure many of your listeners know. [00:12:30] He talks about how if you put a handful of salt in a glass of water and you try and drink it and you can’t drink it, it’s disgusting, but if you put a much even more than a handful of salt in a very large, clear lake, you can still drink it and there’s enough space for it to dissolve and the lake water can still taste delicious. The metaphor being that when we have a lot of room and space for the difficult things that arise [00:13:00] and for the different parts of ourselves, then we have that room and space for other people.
Noah Rasheta: I like that, the analogy of the salt. I think about from the psychological standpoint we have the negativity bias where … I forget the ratios but for every X amount of good things … For every one bad thing, it takes X amount of good things to offset that. [00:13:30] Do you know that ratios? Is it 4-10, something like that?
Yael Shy: [inaudible 00:13:35]
Noah Rasheta: It’s happier. It’s like this.
Yael Shy: Yes, exactly.
Noah Rasheta: I think in relationships that becomes really evident, right? Especially, romantic relationships your spouse can do 10 nice things but then they do that one thing and boom, that’s where the focus goes. I imagine this concept of the salt [00:14:00] being like that. It’s like if you’re just focusing on this, it’s really salty but increase your awareness and you … It’s not the circumstance has changed but the perspective changed. That’s something I like that you highlighted in your book, bringing it back inward because what we’re trying to do through mindfulness practice in general is that same thing and relationship through reality.
There’s reality and then there’s me. I feel separate from it and everything I’m looking for is out there [00:14:30] but then mindfulness tweaks this and you turn that shift, you start to look inward and realize it’s here, it’s me. I think that’s hard to do in a relationship because we’re programmed to think everything I’m looking for in the success of this relationship is contingent on that other person. It’s outward, right?
Yael Shy: Yes.
Noah Rasheta: When you notice like when we start to acquire these principles, mindfulness principles into something [00:15:00] like a relationship. You brought up this concept of the mirror, that relationships are like a mirror. I really like that. so tell me a little bit about how does that really work in a practical sense? I’m in a relationship, with my wife for example and there’s this mirror. What are some of the common things that we hope to see if we don’t realize it’s a mirror but when I realize it’s a mirror what do we start to see, what changes?
Yael Shy: [00:15:30] It’s a great question. I’ll use myself as an example because that’s the easiest for me to use. I was single for a long time, much longer than I wanted to be. I think I put a lot of hope and pressure if I met someone and they saw me as the one, the most beautiful, the best [00:16:00] person in their life that I would finally in the inside really feel that way about myself that I was worthy, that I was lovable. It meant so much to me that many potential suitors came along and if I sense even a little bit that any of them couldn’t do that for me, couldn’t present to me with that picture of you are everything [00:16:30] and then either it was my fear or something else just kept getting in the way and I kept thinking, “That person is not for me. That person is not for me.”
When I finally met my husband and we were getting serious then nearly all of our fights in those early years were from my … The ones that I started were sparked by this feeling of jealousy [00:17:00] that he secretly wanted to be with someone else that he really liked someone else better, that he thought someone else was more attractive. The feeling in me would be just so much shame and fear and anxiety and pain because I was still looking outward to get that inner feeling of I’m lovable, I’m worthy.
Even though he was giving me a lot of love and was giving [00:17:30] me a lot of support, as long as it’s outward, it will never be enough. That’s what I realized. We all want outward love and attention and that’s fine but when it’s to answer that core question about ourselves, then we’re never going to be happy. It’s never going to be satisfying and that’s where a lot of my mindfulness practice had to come in. I had to say in those most difficult [00:18:00] moments, you know what, this relationship is now, it is just about me looking in the mirror of myself and my own worth and whether or not I believed myself that it’s about my own worth, it be different if he was giving me a lot of evidence that he really wasn’t that into me but that wasn’t happening.
That’s where the mirror comes in once you see, you know what, this is happening over and over again. This is triggering something [00:18:30] all over and over again and once you see it then you have to go back in and every time I was about to start a fight along these lines and this has been until recent years really that I had to take a break. I had to take some space and I needed to bring a lot of love and compassion to my own painful experience of what that felt like to just not really fully have that strong [00:19:00] sense of I’m lovable, I’m fine, I’m beautiful, I’m okay. It took a lot to do that and then part of it is to grieve almost that the partner is not going to be able to do that for you. They can give you a lot of wonderful things but they can’t answer that essential question.
Noah Rasheta: I love that. Something I want to clarify. Can you hear that echo or is that just me?
Yael Shy: [00:19:30] Maybe a slight one but nothing that’s distracting to me.
Noah Rasheta: That went away now. With this concept of looking inward and finding the contentment and the love there first, I want to clarify to anyone listening. We’re not saying that as long as I love myself I can stay in this unhealthy relationship with this person who’s abusive or something [00:20:00] like that. That’s not at all what this is insinuating. I think what I’m hearing and I want to be clear about it is what Yael is saying is the sense of completeness that comes in the relationship only comes when it’s complete here on your side when you are okay with you then you can be okay with it. That’s when the relationship can be completely whole.
I want [00:20:30] to correlate this to this societal view of my other half and the idea is that I’m half and someone else is going to complete me but with that other half, you’re not whole and this is saying, “No, that’s nonsense.” This is saying, “Mindfulness helps you realize you are it. You are essentially it and when you are whole, you take a whole and whatever the other is, that other maybe half or maybe … ” [00:21:00] It doesn’t matter. Wherever that other thing is, you work well with the other part because you are whole. Does that sound more of the lines of what you are insinuating?
Yael Shy: Yes. The only thing I want to also clarify in there is absolutely, yes. This is not about a settling like if you can’t find someone that you’re matching with and you should just settle for them because it’s really all about you, don’t believe in that. Not a good idea or accepting people [00:21:30] being unkind or not good to you, absolutely not. That’s just really a lot of … It’s just more suffering. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying with the person you really love and once you’ve had the chance to really see that person, then we come to that question of in each of these difficult interactions where are you and who is that and where is this [00:22:00] appropriate boundary?
My stepfather who is a very wise man always says this line. Love is boundaries and we don’t think of it that way. Especially in the Buddhist world, we are all one and we are interconnected which is very true but I think what it comes to relationships that seeing and understanding the boundary where someone else begins and you end is … Even in a relative [00:22:30] sense is really, really important. All kinds of relationships, romantic and otherwise.
Before I forget, the one thing I just wanted to adjust is that it’s not a static process. It’s not like, “I am at one with all of myself. I am fully enlightened and love myself. Now, I’m ready to be in a relationship.” It’s a constant process of back and forth, and figuring out what’s yours [00:23:00] and what’s the other persons, and just trying to be awake to the whole thing even if you’re still stuck in the really hard place. You don’t love yourself where you have a lot of self-loathing, just trying to be aware that it goes a long way.
Noah Rasheta: Thank you for clarifying that. From the Buddhist perspective we talked about and acknowledged that things are impermanent. In other words, everything is [00:23:30] changing, constant change. When a relationship … I mean this is extremely evident because then there’s the me that was me when I got married, for example and that’s not the me that I am today. Same with my partner, with my wife, she’s not the person I married and I hear this from people all the time. Concepts like, “Oh, that’s not who I married.”
It’s like, “Well, of course. That’s absolutely not who you married and you’re not who they married.” [00:24:00] This idea of looking in the mirror relative to time is you’re always looking in the mirror because you’re not the you, you were five minutes ago, much less the you that you were … When you got married or when you started the relationship. Emphasizing that this process is dynamic. If you ever think we got it, we figured it out we’re there, that’s when you should probably worry because you don’t get to the point as you’re always getting there and I think I like thinking about [00:24:30] that in terms of relationships especially romantic ones with my wife.
I’m thinking, we’ll never get there. That’s the point. We’re always building and working on the dynamic of our relationship. Who is the me that is in love today? Who is the person that I’m loving today because that’s not the same person from yesterday and the ability to keep it fluid like that, I think in our case has been really helpful. It was a period in a [00:25:00] time in my life when I felt like things were stagnant.
I’m the me that I’ve always been … That’s when there was conflict where I was thinking is this not my soul mate? Did I pick the wrong half? Is there another half that would have been more suitable because I was thinking in terms of that sense of permanence of the relationship but when I lean to look in the mirror that was a drastic change and when I understood [00:25:30] the aspect of impermanence in the relationship that changed the dynamic?
Yael Shy: So well said. It’s this process of continually waking up and being like, “Who’s in front of me? Who is this person? When you’re together a long time, I think my understanding, I haven’t been together yet with my husband for longer than … I think we’re going into 40 years but I think it’s even more important to just really see the person instead of being like the kind of hazy, “I know who you [00:26:00] are.” Certainly if you have kids, if you have any of these relationships in our lives I think to really keep committing yourself over and over.
The same way we come back in meditation practice over and over again, what’s happening now, what’s real now. What a story in my mind, we come back to this person, who is this person now, how are we interacting now? Who am I now in this thing? It’s a beautiful practice. It’s a really [00:26:30] intense beautiful practice.
Noah Rasheta: I think it requires a lot of vulnerability too because to show up and just be seen like this is me. It seems like in relationship especially the romantic ones, we’re always adding layers. I did this for a long time in my marriage. I’m trying to be who I think she things I should be. I’m measuring myself who I am versus who I think … [00:27:00] The layers are insane here because it’s who I think you think I think you should … you know? It gets really crazy. You’re doing the same thing back. You’re comparing your partner.
It’s like are you allowing them to be who they are or who you think they should be or who they think you think they should be. It gets extremely complicated with the layers and masks that we put on and I think the mindfulness approach is just saying … Like you just said you show up and you just ask, “Well, who am I [00:27:30] and who is this and what is now? What is happening now? Why are we saying this? Why am I feeling this? That I think is a really powerful exercise.
Yael Shy: Yes. The times when I felt like that [inaudible 00:27:43] love for my partner is often times those times when I’m like, “Look at this person that’s sitting on the couch with me,” that I’m like, “Did you pick up the milk yesterday?” I usually just kind of … Not ignoring, not taking for granted but just they were [00:28:00] a piece of the furniture but when I look and I’m like, “Wow. This a miracle. We’re trying this thing together. We’re doing this thing together.” That’s where this swellings of love come from because I think it’s impossible to feel that all the time. Moments are really special.
Noah Rasheta: Yeah. That’s been great. I want to take this concept and expand it a little to other forms of relationships, something [00:28:30] that you mention in the book that stood out to me was your understanding of the relationship of love in terms of your son. How old is your son?
Yael Shy: He’s 13 months and I have another on the way, actually.
Noah Rasheta: Congratulations.
Yael Shy: Thank you.
Noah Rasheta: You mentioned something that really resonated with me because I have three kids ages five, eight and two but you mentioned this realization that with your son [00:29:00] you would give your life up for him in a heartbeat, no questions asked. There’s this idea of conditional love that I think we get stuck in like I love you because you love me but if you didn’t love me then I probably wouldn’t love you back, right?
Then suddenly kids come along and you discover this new level where it’s truly unconditional. I don’t need anything out of it. The joy of it is that I get to love you and that’s what I was gathering as I was reading that [00:29:30] part in your book where you’re talking about your son. Let’s talk about that a little bit. It reminded me of like meta-practice where you’re trying to have that sense of unconditional love for someone. You start with someone where that’s natural.
When I do this exercise I start with my kids then expand it from there. How can I love my wife and that same unconditional way about my kids, parents, siblings and you move up from there. Let’s talk about that a little bit. How do you experience with [00:30:00] that?
Yael Shy: I wrote in the book and I still feel this way like that is the edge, very interesting. Writing about that was in reference to the heart sutra which talks about just like a mother at the risk of her own life protects and cradles her only child. This we have a boundless love for the entire world. In this heart sutra, the comparison [00:30:30] is like a mother with your only child. You have the same boundless love for the whole world. When the first time I read that, it was before I had kids, I was like, “That sounds wonderful. I had that.”
Now, where we come back down to the kind of brass text of it, definitely not. I definitely feel a different way about my family than I do about the world even if I may not wish anyone harm in the world. That just [00:31:00] entire like a love that goes that deeply that I feel is so deeply connected is not present in the same way but I had a little moment, it’s like just actually maybe a year ago on a retreat, we had a light … We broke one of those light bulbs and I wasn’t sure of the light bulb was fluorescent or not. [00:31:30] You know how when you break a fluorescent light … Not fluorescent but one of those eco-friendly light bulbs.
Noah Rasheta: The ones that just explode when they break.
Yael Shy: It’s so annoying. In mercury, and you’re supposed to abandon the area and air it out and all this kind of stuff. I was pregnant at the time. I remember when the light bulb broke, it was on the floor and in the room, it was a large room. We were about to do a meditation and they were [00:32:00] cleaning up the light bulb and we still at that moment didn’t know if it was that kind with the mercury and I said like, “You know what, I’m pregnant so I’m going to take my cushion and sit on the other end of the room. Then I’ll feel better.”
As I did that, and as I started seeing all of the retreatments come into the room and some sitting right next to the broken … Where that broken light bulb was. I just started to have this horrible feeling like what is the difference between [00:32:30] this life that I’m trying to protect inside of me and this beautiful life that’s over there sitting potentially near this source of poison. Just all of a sudden, I got up and I was like, “You know, wait. We have to actually figure this out. I can’t just protect myself. This is ridiculous.
I think it’s because I was in that heightened heart space of a retreat where I could actually tap into that. There is literally no difference. A life [00:33:00] is a life and everybody deserves that kind of love and care, so little pockets. It turned out it was not that kind of a light bulb. It’s just little edges of where the heart can be really expanded to include more and more people. I love the way you connect it to meta-practice because that’s we’re like going to the gym and weightlifting to expand our hearts that wide.
Noah Rasheta: [00:33:30] Similar to what you’re describing, for me it’s been in those moments of practicing that I get those glimpses either seeing somebody connecting for a moment. Maybe it’s just mentally doing meta-practice but it’s like for a minute, I can grasp the concept of truly loving everyone the same way I love my own children that feels incredible. Then you get back into the daily routine like the habitual reactivity of [00:34:00] life and it’s not was easy but I love that you just compared it to the gym because it’s the same way with the gym.
It’s like what makes it work is that you call the time and it’s consistent and you do a routine. That’s when after X amount of months or something. That’s when you notice you’re a lot stronger now. I think this is similar. It’s practice, practice , practice and then one day you realize, “It comes naturally to feel the compassion [00:34:30] and the unconditional love much easier than I did before.”
Yael Shy: Yeah. A teacher said that it’s sort of like the heart is one muscle so it’s like open or close. It’s not like a dimmer switch that you can keep in one area? As you work that muscle, it’s going to keep opening and opening and more and more people can fit but when we’re tightened around [00:35:00] just a little nuclear family, it’s actually not … It’s not as liberating. Like you said, it doesn’t feel good. It actually doesn’t feel very good. It feels tight and constricted.
Noah Rasheta: Great. If you were to offer just one snippet of advice to someone listening who is saying I want to have a more mindful [00:35:30] relationship with whoever they’re thinking of whatever. What tips would you give? Are there specific meditation techniques or just advice to someone who wants to introduce mindfulness into their relationships?
Yael Shy: I have a meditation on mindful love meditation in the back of my book and on that one, it’s about realizing, [00:36:00] coming home to and realizing how much you have been loved over the course of your life and how much you have loved because I think where a lot of us run into trouble and run into difficulty with relationships is feeling of like we’re coming in and we’re beggars and we’re empty and the other person must fill us or must meet our need because we don’t have anything here. This practice focus is from the beginning [00:36:30] even if people hurt you when you were a child, even if things were not wonderful which is the case for a lot of us, somewhere along the line to how do you survive until this day, so many people did acts of love to keep you alive.
Then you maybe without even knowing it have had enough in you to do acts of love for other people. Starting to tap into that fullness within oneself [00:37:00] in meditation I think is really helpful for relationships. That’s number one. Then I think number two is really helpful to do that practice that we were talking about really trying to see who is this other person and who am I and really going back and forth on those pieces.
Then there’s the communication piece that [00:37:30] when you’re really communicating with someone, when you’re in a fight know when you need to take time away. One of my favorite lines on this is strike when the iron is cool, never hot. Get really cool if you possibly can before you engage with somebody that’s triggering you. Then when you are engaged as much as you can through communication, see if you can fully let the other person feel heard and see [00:38:00] before you then say, “Can I now share my piece of this?”
That might be just repeating to them back exactly word for word what they say until they feel like you got a whole story right. You’ve got their entire side of the story right and then say, “Now, can I explain to you would you mind repeating it back to me.” That’s a tip from the nonviolent communication folks who have an entire curriculum around that but [00:38:30] I think it’s also deeply a mindfulness practice of being willing and able to be one with oneself to be with the boundary and meant to be with the other person.
Noah Rasheta: Great. Thank you for sharing that. One more aspect of it that I just thought of, we talked about the mirror and starting the process with learning to love yourself. You specifically mentioned in your book you had this moment where you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you said, “Are you going to love yourself or not. [00:39:00] How do we start that process introspection in a relationship? I want to improve my relationship. How do I start with me? Is there a first step or something like that?
Yael Shy: It’s accepting. It’s looking and accepting what is already there and it’s not going to happen overnight. We all carry a lot of judgment and pain but it’s almost we have to marry ourselves and be like I’m committed to [00:39:30] this with you and that was my moment when I asked myself, “Listen, are you in or are you out?” We have a life together, me and myself and if I’m really committed to opening my heart to myself, loving myself overtime, then I need to really accept what is there, and to form a friendly relationship even to the parts of myself I thought were so horrible and so [00:40:00] ugly that I never wanted anybody else to see just continually coming back to that, and holding it with love, and realizing that it was probably parts of myself that developed when I was very young in response to situations that were out of my control.
For me, all of meditation, all of this process of even just coming back to our breath and coming back to our feelings, coming back to the things that arises, it’s a practice of learning to love oneself. [00:40:30] It’s not a fast process but if you’re committed, if you put that ring on then that’s where the work happens and that’s where you will slowly and slowly just start to love this being that you are.
Noah Rasheta: Thank you. Again, just going to the gym analogy, we wouldn’t think … If I go to the gym today for 10 hours then I’ll [00:41:00] finally be strong. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, that’s going to be really bad where you probably tear all your muscles. Consistency and time, and that’s how it works very much the same way as going to the gym would.
Yael Shy: The only other thing I would add which I think I didn’t before is that part of the meditation process is hearing our inner critics because otherwise they’re just running our life like, “Why are you such [00:41:30] an idiot? Why do you do things this way? You’re such a failure? These things that we just say to ourselves constantly without second guessing it and so I think another piece of the meditation practice where we start to hear this voice and then don’t believe it, slowly start to interrogate that voice and not kick it out but just not believe that it’s true.
Noah Rasheta: I love that. I do think early on or we focus a lot of energy on trying [00:42:00] to silence the voice or thinking that this won’t be okay until that voice is gone. You need to get rid of it. Then you’re just up for disappointment because the surprise is, “Hey, that voice doesn’t go away.” It’s the moment like you just said when you realized, “I don’t have to believe my own thoughts. Oh, well, now they can just be there. They can stay whatever,” and you’re, “Oh, there’s that thought again but it doesn’t have power over you anymore.”
Yael Shy: If anything, you just have a lot of room for all of these voices that again [00:42:30] like we’re probably created when you were very young and they are still young. They’re not so [inaudible 00:42:35]. They’re not like these big evil demons that they feel like so much of the time.
Noah Rasheta: Sure. Okay. Let’s shift topics and talk a little bit about social activism now. One of the common things I hear and I’m sure you encountered this too, misconception that seems about mindfulness or living mindfully. [00:43:00] If you’re mindful, you’re just content with what is and there are bad things happening in [inaudible 00:43:06] in the world and I’m like, “Whatever. Let things be.” I think that’s a fundamental misconception so I want to address that a little bit. There’s social activism. Any form of social justice or work that we do in that arena how does mindfulness come and fit in? How does it improve social activism?
Yael Shy: [00:43:30] This goes right back to that analogy I was saying in that meditation room that day where I thought to myself, I’ll protect my baby in the womb. I’ll protect myself and other people can work it out for themselves and the more that we really tap in, the more we open our hearts but also just experientially understand that we are deeply interconnected [00:44:00] and that we sink or we swim species as a world together, that kind of I’m here, I’m in this just for myself and maybe a couple other people and everybody else can fend for themselves, that starts to breakdown.
It starts to actually … You start to see not because it’s the right thing to do because actually that leads [00:44:30] to more suffering for myself and for others. It leads to more feeling of a wall of the division which then makes me feel imprisoned behind this wall, this imaginary wall I am separate from everyone else. The more that we practice and the more we really truly see how our faiths are completely tied in together, then the more that we can’t sit by when other people are deeply suffering and we always unfortunately lived in [00:45:00] a world where there are people suffering.
I mean hopefully this will not be the case sometime. I assume from my lifetime there will always be people suffering. It’s no longer an option to just be like, “I’ll just meditate so that I can feel calm on my day to day walk to work because you’re not going to feel calm. It’s not going to ease some [00:45:30] of that inside suffering that you have while other people are still in pain. That’s the connection in my mind.
Noah Rasheta: I really like what you shared in your book, a quote. This was I think from the aboriginal … The quote says, “If you come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.” [00:46:00] That’s introducing the idea of interdependence again that we’re all connected. I think of that not just in the context of going and doing, building schools somewhere in the world like something big.
I’m thinking, wow, this is extremely relevant in my relationships just here with a friend who’s like, “Hey, I want to help you.” How different is that perception is if it goes like, “I’m helping me because I know what’s good for you and I know [00:46:30] how you need to be versus, “We’re tangled up in this together. Let’s work together.”
Yael Shy: Right. The helping mentality is like asymmetrical power structure and adults don’t really like to be helped on a large scale, but everybody needs real solidarity and people working in alignment with them.
Noah Rasheta: Isn’t that fascinating? [00:47:00] We’re hardwired as social creatures to want to fit in. Almost everything we do revolves around making sure I fit in and then I’m not excluded and yet I think we have such a hard time feeling like receiving help. It’s like I want to be a part of a team but I don’t want you to do anything for me. If we’re doing it together as a team that’s great, that’s what I actually want. It seems like that’s another way to shift that mindset like I’m [00:47:30] on your team. We’re working together here.
Yael Shy: I think that’s right. To some degree, it’s actually legitimate to not want to be helped by someone who has no idea what your circumstances are. When it’s a patronizing relationship, it can often feel like the person is trying to just help you for themselves and the same way like I want to help someone else is sometimes [00:48:00] just so that I feel better but then it’s all about me, it’s not really about them. It’s a realignment of that.
Noah Rasheta: I think sometimes in my past experience, I think sometimes, that’s aggravated by certain beliefs. If I want to save you, it’s like, “I’m not saved the way that I am. No, I’m going to save you.” I try to make sure that doesn’t … I think it’s easy to have that extent in a Buddhist practice where it’s [00:48:30] like, “You need more mindfulness like me. Look, how mindful I am.” It just doesn’t work to have that mindset that’s so far off the mark.
Yael Shy: In that same way of trying to manipulate others is just using these different tools but people manipulate it because there is that manipulation happening even if you think you have the best intentions.
Noah Rasheta: Something I want to highlight with social activism [00:49:00] and kind of going back to that misconception of that Buddhism is really engaged socially. I think of someone like Martin Luther King as a good example of this where … I mean just imagine for a moment how ineffective all of his work would have been if he was hyperactive and highly emotional in his approach, very reactive. It would be completely ineffective.
I think [00:49:30] what made him such an effective power for enacting change was he was very common levelheaded and he had wise things to say and he could present things in a way that made people think, “Oh, yeah. Why are we doing this? Why are we not doing that?” I think that to me is the key of the connection between mindfulness and social activism is what we’re trying to accomplish through mindfulness is essentially skillful [00:50:00] means.
If I’m going to be engaged in a social cause, I want to be as effective as possible so mindfulness can help me to be more skillful in my engagement with whatever causing it. When I see it that way, then I realize mindfulness is a really powerful tool to increase the effectiveness of whatever social engagement I’m involved with.
Yael Shy: Absolutely, without a doubt. At the same time, I want [00:50:30] to be careful also because it doesn’t mean that you don’t … I imagine and I think from what I’ve read of his writings, I mean Martin Luther King felt things.
Noah Rasheta: Absolutely.
Yael Shy: Felt frustration and suffering and had those strong responses so I know that that’s not what you’re saying that you don’t feel even [00:51:00] furious or angry or deeply wounded or afraid like you so beautifully said that we developed the right strategy and skillful means to address it. Then the only thing I can add to that is that you could say that about anything that mindfulness could bring you skillful means to do a bank takeover or something like [00:51:30] that or to [inaudible 00:51:32] country which is true.
Noah Rasheta: The Italian Job, right?
Yael Shy: It is actually to give you those tools of calming and focusing and being responsive and not reactive. It does give you those tools so in that case, it’s correct, but then if you coupled that with also the interconnection that we’re talking about and that [00:52:00] kind of commitment to relieving suffering, then it becomes that you not only have the skillful means bit you also cannot do things that harm people. You can’t even have … I write about this in my book, this line that I love which is how you do anything is how you do everything. I think [inaudible 00:52:24] who do engage in social justice often times find ourselves sometimes [00:52:30] in situations where the language is vitriolic against the other or it’s dehumanizing of the other side in a way that I think does not do us any favors.
I think it just perpetuates this again that sense of a division of those people are bad and we’re good and we just have to win and then we’ll be okay. That’s the real hard work that when you’re fighting for justice that nobody [00:53:00] can be left out. It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold people accountable or that you don’t restrain them when they’re doing harm or anything like that but that it’s all done with the spirit of we are connected. Then it’s an entirely different kind of a spirit.
Noah Rasheta: I mean for me I think that’s what makes it so powerful is knowing that the sense of wanting [00:53:30] to do something arises naturally out of understanding, understanding that we’re interdependent rather than this is what you should do? Why because it’s what you should do. It’s not compelled, it’s not a commandment, it’s not I’m supposed to love everyone so here I go. It arises very naturally out of understanding and that understanding arises through sitting and meditating or practicing mindfulness.
Then it’s like, “Why are we doing [00:54:00] this? Why aren’t we doing that?” All of that is natural. I think that’s an important part of the highlight because when it arises naturally, I think we can be more skillful and more determined with the cause. We’re doing this because this is natural. It’s not I’m doing this just because.
Yael Shy: Right. Absolutely. There’s a Zen proverb that says, “In Zen, we do two things. We sit and we sweep the garden. It doesn’t matter how big the garden is and that’s the [00:54:30] proverb. That’s the spirit. When we feel just so overwhelmed by the state of the world, then I think when you’re like, “Time to pick up my broom and sweep my little tiny corner of the garden and I’m just going to do that until I die.” It doesn’t matter if the garden is as big as the whole world. That’s my challenge and that’s what gives you the sustainability to do that long-term.
Noah Rasheta: To do what I can, [00:55:00] where I can and what I can which is now. Not have that feeling overwhelmed like if I can’t … I do this with work when I have enough projects on my table or on my plate. I can feel overwhelmed to think, “Well, I’m never going to get any of it done so I guess I’ll just sit here not doing any of it.” I think that can translate to social activism. It’s like this is so overwhelming, I just won’t do anything. I think mindfulness helps us to take that [00:55:30] step back and say, “You can do something. I can do this. This little thing that I’m doing here,” and that’s where I start.
Yael Shy: Absolutely. That’s right. Not only can you but it’s for the sake of all of us. It’s for the sake of yourself and for all of us. One of my teachers, Rabbi Alami once said, “Walking around the world,” we have sometimes this psychic [00:56:00] squint. We’re trying to screen out all the unpleasant, all the suffering, all the things that people are going to and we’re just trying to be happy just by ourselves. That psychic squint gives us headaches like it gives us entire life headaches.
To really commit ourselves even to our little corners of the garden means to really open our eyes and to say like, “I’m not going to wall myself away from this [00:56:30] anymore.”It’s tremendously freeing to do that. To me, it feels like, I accept, there is suffering and I’m going to do what I can and I’m not going to hide myself away anymore.
Noah Rasheta: I like that analogy of the squinting. The irony of a strategy like that is that the thing that you’re doing is the thing that’s causing it to be worse. It’s like I’m doing this because I want [00:57:00] to be shielded but that’s also what’s preventing me from taken in all the things that are great.
Yael Shy: Exactly. You screen out the suffering, you screen out the joy. They’re all part of the same thing.
Noah Rasheta: For anyone who’s watching live who has questions, now would be a great time if you want to … If you’re on the Crowdcast [00:57:30] website, you can post your question or put in the chat. I’m just going to check really quick on the Facebook one and see what’s going on there real quick. I would hate to find out later that somebody has a question and we just didn’t see it. I’m assuming that even it all worked and it’s broadcasting the way it’s supposed to. It’s live.
[00:58:00] I see comments but I don’t see any questions there. I don’t see any questions on here either and we are approaching the one hour mark so I don’t want to keep you too long and take your precious time. Let’s just shift quickly to the idea of insecurity, intense emotions and insecurity in general. I think this ties [00:58:30] in to what we talked about. There’s insecurity in the relationships, there’s insecurity in the things that we do. Is what I’m doing helping? Am I just wasting my time? What should I be doing in life?
There’s a lot of insecurity in life and across all the age groups, I think it’s especially evident in those younger ages where you’re trying to decide, “Hey, this is where I picked the path that goes this way or this way. Uh-oh. What if I hit the wrong one? It’s evident later in life too because [00:59:00] you go down the path and you’re like, “This is the path I should have gone down.” Most adults have thoughts like, “Is this the person they should married? Is this the carrier I should have gone into? What would it be like if I was over there?”
This insecurity that we’ve seemed to live with at any given moment, we talked earlier about how mindfulness has a skill set as a tool. It’s trying to help us to get more comfortable with the discomfort and the fact is life is [00:59:30] uncomfortable. Thoughts like that are natural so again rather than thinking, “Uh-oh, I need to never think those thoughts,” is just saying, “Where did that thought come from?” Exploring it. Let’s talk about that just for a second. How do we become more comfortable with discomfort, with the insecurity?
Yael Shy: I’m really happy you framed it that way because I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s not finding a solid ground [01:00:00] that you can stand on necessarily, it’s learning how to surf on waves that sometimes will take us under and sometimes will just be enough that we can kind of move our bodies and be flexible and surf gently on those waves, and then when we’re completely knocked over, we try and get back up on that surfboard again, and truly believe that the Buddhist message [01:00:30] that certainly my experience has been that the world is constantly, constantly, constantly changing.
We are constantly, constantly changing and that any solidity is just from releasing into the waves. It’s from releasing into our world that we can’t control and stopping fighting. It’s over and over again this [01:01:00] knowledge, this understanding that when we try, we can change as much as we can change obviously and we do as much as we can do when we try and get ourselves closer to feeling whole and feeling happy but when the world knocks is out again, trying to just say, “I’m knocked out or I’m on very unsteady ground and this is what’s true and really synching in to that. That’s the challenge.
Noah Rasheta: [01:01:30] I love the analogy with surfing because you can’t catch the wave if you’re not going with the flow. Anything static in surfing, that spells disaster. It doesn’t work. you can’t stay in one spot. If the wave us too big, I better go under it. If the wave us just right, I’m going to ride it. There’s a lot of dynamic stuff happening there but definitely nothing static. [crosstalk 01:01:57]
Yael Shy: Things are really [01:02:00] bad. The thing that makes it absolutely worse is fighting it. Fighting that break time so you have to just swim into the current. That’s what they always teach you and that’s the journey of our life is to figure out like the serenity priority change the things you can change and to really accept and grieve or to mourn and to be with the things you can’t change [01:02:30] and the wisdom to know the difference.
Noah Rasheta: I love that. Great. This has been a really fun topic and I really appreciate you taking the time to join me for this call. For those of you who are listening or watching later, Yael’s book is called, What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond. I read this and I was [01:03:00] telling Yael earlier that one of the things that was really evident to me is this stuff is for anyone. It’s written from the perspective of a lot of the experiences during those 20s and 30s but all of the concepts in here, every single one of them are applicable at any stage in life so if you’re interested in learning more about Yael’s approach with her book, What Now? Pick [01:03:30] this up.
I know it’s available in all of the major places where you can buy books and I will put the link on the Secular Buddhism website when I post this interview. I’ll have the video, the audio for the podcast and then I’ll have links to Yael’s website and to her book, at least on Amazon. Lea says, “Great surfing analogy. I haven’t realized you can choose to go under [01:04:00] the wave as a positive option.” That’s cool. Great. If you have any final closing thoughts you want to share with us, Yael?
Yael Shy: Well, I just want to thank you so much for such a fun conversation. I had a really nice time exploring these things with you and I just want to let everybody know that in addition to my website which you’ll post yaelshy.com, you can also find me on all the social medias @yaelshy number 1.
Noah Rasheta: [01:04:30] Okay, yaelshy1, that’s your Twitter. Is it the same for Instagram or Facebook and stuff? Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you, Yael. I’m going to end the live portion of this. Thank you to everyone who listened to and participated live. This will be posted on the podcast hopefully later today. Thank you, guys.
Yael Shy: Thank you.