John practices in the Zen Buddhist tradition of Robert Aitken (Diamond Sangha)
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
John was attracted to fundamentalist Christianity as a teen for a few years. It did not work for John. He abandoned all religion in his 20’s living an agnostic/atheist life. He was accepting things that other people were saying, and he decided he was not going to do that again.
He stumbled on a book On Zen by Alan Watts. That caught his attention. Then started to figure out how to meditate, learned a bit from the TM movement.
Did you understand what parts of it?
He did not understand all of it, but he did get non-duality. This was a whole new understanding that opened up for John. He by then had his own meditation practice on and off. Year on, year off kind of practice. He would feel that he would need to get back into it.
Where you attracted to meditation as a way of insight, or as a way to experience something you were looking for?
Maybe more the insight. I got fairly involved in the lead-up to the presidential elections in 2004. When that was all done, and the dust settled, I realized I was full of anger and even hatred towards the chosen political enemies. Then I phoned the Zen Center after finding them online.
Have you found that joining a group is different than meditating alone?
Yes, definitely. Especially the first couple of years, John derived tremendous support from the regular weekly sits, and meditating and support from other people. That whole structure that keeps you on the cushion, and prevents you from a moment of restlessness coming along, and tricking you into jumping up, and doing something else. And the book studies have been very helpful.
So the structure is very helpful too?
Yes, extremely helpful. If you see structure as a means to an end, as a tool, then you wouldn’t see it as limiting or old-fashioned tradition that doesn’t fit the modern era. It’s there to help people.
How has your relationship with those perceived enemies changed at all?
I don’t think my political views have shifted much. My indulging in hatred is way less than it used to be (laughs). So that’s a good thing! The hatred thing, the target is no longer individual people. There are so many facets to a complex society, some not functioning well, sick, very poor design. So a person may get elected to congress.
For example the structure of congress is stacked against you. Very hard to be an awake and honest person, and not get corrupted by the money from the lobbyists and so forth, when you’re in that environment all the time.
So, I guess I’ve shifted from individuals to the system that I perceive as something that is bad.
Do you see that a system can be shifted by individuals or groups, or completely needs to be uprooted or re-designed?
Uprooting is a tempting fantasy, because it is quick. The ultimate expression of that is war. You perceive an enemy, and the best thing is just to eliminate your enemy.
But then you assume of enemy as outside?
Yes, the enemy is all outside, and things good is all in me, and all things bad in someone else.
But to truly have a culture evolving into something healthier, does require the individuals in that culture, become more aware, educated and enlightened. And developed in a balanced way, where not just our minds, but our hearts are also developed.
Has this way of long-term seeing changed the way you get attached to outcomes?
Perhaps, I understand how to be unattached to outcomes, but more focused on the nature on your actions, is perhaps a more spiritual way to be in the world.
When you practice there is a certain letting go of the desire of certain outcomes, not having strong attachments to certain outcomes, whether in your immediate area, or the larger geopolitical arena?
Yes, I’ve probably developed a little in that direction. As things play out from my actions, I’m not necessarily in control. I might do something in one particular thing in space and time, but the consequences of what I do in that spot, goes on without me. It’s better to focus on the nature of my act. Am I acting free of greed or, desire for revenge, hatred. What is my true motivation I think is more important, than banking on a particular outcome. Because it never comes out that way anyway, even driving to the store to get milk.
Yes, that reminds me of your example you mentioned of an instance of road rage?
Yes, I have an 2 examples of my own road rage. Both times I was really surprised I had this in me, I didn’t know it was there.
I was just getting on the freeway, it was fall, rainy and dark. I was careful to look for a space in traffic. and this guy comes zooming in. He roared by me, and it made me jump. It triggered this rage in me, it took me 2 miles on the freeway to get this under control. This whole time I sat with this rage. I realized if I had a much bigger vehicle, and it was banged up, I would have chased him down and bumped his car and driven him into the barrier. That’s how illogical and enraged I was. I just had a little car and couldn’t catch up.
So I started thinking….what does a Buddhist do in this situation I thought? I think you just be a bit detached, just watch it, instead of being it, but 2-3 miles, I did start to settle down.
Second time, similar incident, also someone roared by. And in this case not only was I powerless, but my wife also screamed at John to slow down. She reminded him to slow down, and he might escalate the situation. those are two instances, where I had to struggle to become detached from the rage I experience inside of me.
What was also important was the constraints that I have, I had a little bit of a rational mind, but also external constraints, the realities of traffic, not doing something that was even more dangerous. and my wife reminding me to get sane again.
But there are also other times, when there were no external constraints at all, and then there will be that moment of choice.
Sure, give us another example.
This involves you and Kristina! (laughs)
This was one of the very the first times I showed up for Zen, and we exchanged names, and one of you said something like, “Are you new to Spokane? Have you lived here long?”
And I asked you two, well how long have you been in this town?
And Kristina laughed at the way I said that. And somehow, and this is just me, not you or Kristina, I took that as a kind of a put-down. That i was using a phrase that was dated, or maybe she thought I was pompous. He felt judged. But as soon as she laughed, I could feel myself getting defensive.
And that moment, if you catch it right at the beginning, that’s when things are most fluid. I didn’t even have words behind this decision. I just made the decision, I wasn’t going to go there, just going to watch it happen.
There’s my feeling vulnerable, and insecure again, feeling judged again. That sort of thing. Because i was able to catch it in the very beginning, it just evaporated. It was an experience of freedom. I did not make a psychic cage around myself. I was free.
You didn’t take it personal?
Absolutely not, the laugh happened, my judgement happened, my reaction happened, I just watched it happen. And then I was fine, I was done with it.
Another example of a positive outcome. Many years ago, Mary and I had a disagreement. We were getting at each other a bit, and she said something that hooked me. I watched the whole thing happen. I watched the words go in, and there was a strong visual component to this experience. It was like I was looking inside myself. I could see this happening.
Inside myself, looking down through my spine, at the bottom there was this dark pool of liquid. Like mud. And I looked down, and I saw this shape starting to emerge, and as it came out, I saw it was this coiled snake. But it was really anger at what my wife said. It was halfway out, and I still had a choice. At that moment I still had a choice. I could say yes, or no to this thing, and so I said no . And it went back down. No anger at that point.
What about present-moment awareness, have you noticed that change over the years of practice?
I think so, I’m more aware when I’m not in the present. I can kind of pull myself away from all my head trips that takes me out of the present. When I’m going to beautiful scenery, like on a walk, I’m much more likely to actually notice it, like smells and sounds as well as the sights.
Is that something from practicing in that moment, or over time practice?
Yes, the second thing, it’s a cumulative effect of practicing over time.
Is there anything when you’re not on the cushion that is practice related?
Sometimes I’ll use the Tibetan mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. When I feel a need to be more in my heart than my head, I use that, and I visualize my energy going from my head to my heart.
The jewel is in the lotus, that which I seek, I already am?
Yes, the jewel in the lotus, the lotus being the heart. The pearl of great price, The jewel that we’re all seeking. We don’t know that it is there, we have to put our attention there, to live from that spot.
When I’m really feeling really scattered, irritated, tired, bored, I will sometimes use that.
What is the role of a teacher in your practice?
I get to ask Jack (John’s teacher) some questions, that I don’t know who else to possibly ask those questions of that nature. He’s reassuring for me. Sometimes I don’t know where I am in this journey, even though I have some mental road maps. Like the 10 ox herding pictures. But I don’t know where I am on that road map. I need a second opinion on that (laughs). Am I more or less awakened than I think I am?
Any other tips, or inspirations that help you?
Your questions make me aware that I can do much more on a daily basis to remind myself to return to the present. I think I might make that a project to jot down some of those tools and use them more often. I just tend to notice more frequently where I am, where my attention, awareness, and energies are. Sometimes that’s all you need.
And you intend to keep on practicing?
Yes it’s been good for me. One of the aspects of Zen that is a good fit for me, is that in my youth I was so much in my head, and Zen is merciless at cutting down those head trips. Pushing you out of that comfort zone.
Interview with Ed Earl – Mindfulness and Sustainable Design
Ed Earl is the principal of Priority 1 Projects, a construction project management firm. Ed has 25 years of construction experience and an MBA from Stanford university. He is pioneering a new approach to construction project management he terms “collaborative construction” which is based on open communication, trust and shared objectives – aspects that are often absent in the construction industry. Ed has been a regular meditator for over 20 years and has been attending meditation retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh since 1997. Ed is currently the project manager for the construction of a new nunnery complex at Deer Park Monastery in San Diego which incorporates sustainable design and green building techniques including straw bale construction.
What brought you to a meditation practice?
About 20 years ago in his 30’s Ed went through a period of exploration. He was raised as a catholic. Ed was looking for meaning, and exploring spiritual traditions, in particular Eastern religions. His wife and him spend time in Nepal taking meditation and Yoga classes.
He found a book by Thich Nhat Hanh on walking meditation before his trip to Nepal. Thich Nhat Hanh was having a retreat in Santa Barbara in 1997. That was his first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, and Ed has since gone on a lot of retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh or in the Plum Village tradition. So most of Ed’s practice is in this tradition/lineage.
Drew & James Hubbell with Thich Nhat Hanh
Was there anything in this new spiritual practice that you didn’t get from your wisdom tradition that you were brought up in?
He read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh , Living Buddha, Living Christ, which gave him a much deeper understanding of Christianity and Catholicism, that he didn’t get from 12 years of education. Thich Nhat Hanh does a great job of explaining Christ consciousness, putting Christianity and Catholicism in a context that was much more meaningful to Ed.
It’s more about becoming more deeply grounded and connected and strengthened to your root religion or faith.
So at some point in your practice you wanted to apply these mindfulness trainings into your daily life, your career, and this “right livelihood” was a bit of a struggle to integrate right?
Ed took the 5 mindfulness trainings in 1999, they’re guidelines, not commandments that you try to live by. No one can commit to them 100%.
Right livelihood was always a struggle for Ed. He was in construction for 20 years. He was not necessarily in a career that was harmful, or completely out of alignment. Just not necessarily incorporating his mindfulness practices in his profession.
So let that dissonance sit there, and not resolve it as much. It wasn’t until about 2014, where he was asked to help and get involved in a construction project at Deer park monastery in Escondido, a monastery that was created and directed by Thich Nhat Hanh. That was able to show him a way to bring and incorporate right livelihood into his daily life, and his professional career.
Maybe you can explain this a bit more, how you bring mindfulness into your construction job?
One of the mindfulness training is about mindful communications. It’s about deep listening, and loving speech, or mindful communication. And much of construction is not necessarily about deep speech and listening (laughs).
With this project, Ed felt he had the freedom to practice these concepts, since the clients are the monastics who follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, so this was a good opportunity for me to practice deep communications.
Normally, when you have a bid meeting, you meet with each of the candidates privately, and then have them prepare a proposal.
Strawbale House Raising
This time they wanted a more collaborative and cooperative meeting, so they invited all the contractors together, not privately or competitively. So they invited 5 or so of them and arranged them in a circle, and began the meeting with a mindfulness bell in the center of the room, and rang the bell. Ed explained to the contractors how we use this bell to go back to our breath, and re-center yourselves. Don’t need to do anything, when you hear the bell, just close your eyes, follow your breath in and out a few times. Any time that a bell rings, we invited them to bring their mindfulness back to their breath.
And bells go off in the monastery, and they invited them to stop and go back to their breaths.
This was interesting with burly contractors with boots, and a bit skeptical. Some of them really took to it, and went inward, and saw this as a useful tool for them. Especially for contractors, where there is a lot of pressure, working against deadlines, stress, unanticipated circumstances, etc.
We all wanted to have everyone work together, incorporate more than one contractor in the same project. Each of them had their own special strengths to contribute. If anything and they didn’t want to go through it, they’d have a new method of stress reduction out of it.
One of the contractors invited was a high-end custom home contractor, and he didn’t think his bid would work. Because his level of quality would not result in a low cost bid.
Ed told him that the perspective of Thich Nhat Hanh and the nuns and monks, they don’t look at things in terms of expedience, months and years, and how cheap can we do it. They are looking at the project in terms of generations from now, 50 years from now. What’s in the best interest of the monastery as a whole. They’re looking at the longer-term perspective, looking at the cost of the environment, the surrounding areas, and really the impact on the entire word. That’s looking through the lens of interdependence, and inter-being.
So they’re not looking for cheap, they want it to last, and craftsmanship. So Ed encouraged him to bid on it, with his approach. So the contractor submitted his bid, and he ended up with the job. This was the first introduction to incorporating mindfulness concepts, not just in the way the meeting was structured, but in the way the bid proposals were invited and evaluated.
Collaborative Strawbale House Raising
You also mention mindful consumption, how would someone understand that in terms of building a house with corner cutting vs a house that sustainable designed with health and long-term well being in mind?
The sisters wanted a straw-bale structure (part of 4 structures). Which means it is using straw-bale for insulation. Straw Bale is an environmentally sensitive and in tune material. First of in the materials it uses. The walls inside are made of straw which is different from hay. It wheat or rice farming by-product.
First aspect of a straw bale building:
These are the dead stalks, baled and stacked up, and that is what is used inside the walls. Straw is an agricultural waste product, and you’re just re-purposing it, as well as recycled wood and other green building materials.
The second aspect of a straw bale building.
If designed properly and in a sustainable way, you can minimize your energy consumption. Because you now have this super-insulated structure. Hubble and Hubble is the architect, using sustainable design, very well known in Southern California. Sustainable design looks at building structures in a different way.
I’ve build very high end homes, and typically when you build a fancy custom home, you clear a piece of ground, and just place the building where you want it to be. Then you make the surrounding serve the building.
Whereas with green sustainable building, you look at it completely differently. Looking at the way the sun comes across the land, the way the prevailing breezes come and go. The structure is laid down in a way that is compatible with the structure and it’s surroundings. That is the way a straw bale building is build.
Using passive solar design techniques, you build it with large overhanging eves roofs, to prevent the heat from building up, and the sun from getting in during the summer. Whereas in the winter the sun helps heat the structure, using south facing windows. The winter sun comes in through, and warms the building. The super insulated straw bale walls then help to keep the warmth in, using a lot less heating and cooling costs.
Strawbale Construction Team
Heating and cooling cost way down right?
Yes, lot of less energy usage. And there’s also lots of natural lighting, so not as much need for electrical lighting. You’re causing a much smaller foot print for the building. Lots of solar tubes, and sunroofs. Then there is a solar array on the property as well, so that the electricity that is used, is being generated from the sun.
How does inter-being fit into this construction work?
Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term inter-being that everything in the world, and in life is interconnected. TNH tells, when you drink a cup of tea, you’re connected to the clouds and the sky. Because the water in your cup came from the water in the sky. So when you’re drinking tea, you’re in a sense drinking your cloud. Everything is inter-related.
In sustainable design and architecture, you also see that everything is also inter-related as well. You realize that your building structure isn’t just sitting on an island by itself, but it inter-relates with all of the natural conditions that are around it. And is designed accordingly.
Another example, we’re using rainwater catchment system and gray water system that re-uses the waste water. Everything is designed currently to drain off into storm drains into the ocean, to prevent flooding, as though water is the enemy. But the fact is that water is precious. Water is a commodity that we want to respect, and utilize.
Especially here in Southern California where we have a big drought going on. We want to capture and reuse the water, and recycle as much as we can. Because we realize it’s connected to our environment, connected to our land, something we need to realize. To inter-be with that water. Not just to treat it as this foreign substance, and get rid of the water as quickly as possible.
For the residents there must be a great benefit in terms of well being and comfort, and health that you get from this natural building?
Yes, you have this symptoms of sick home syndromes due to these man-made materials that we have in our homes today. Whether it’s the off gassing from VOC paints with lots of aromas, fiberglass isolation, sealants etc. All of that is sending fumes into our homes. And we’re indoors spending a lot of our life, breathing all these pollutants.
With building straw bale homes, you eliminate so many of these man made materials. You don’t put gypsum Sheetrock and Portland cement stucco on your inside and outside walls for example. Instead you use earth and clay plaster, that allows the moisture to escape, which allows the walls to breathe.
The walls are colored with different earth and clay plaster, with different color clay’s, so there’s no paint on the walls either. No, stucco, no sheet-rock, no fiberglass insulation, that causes indoor poor air quality.
Think about what it takes to manufacture all those materials! The carbon footprint you create by manufacturing these materials. Now you’ve eliminated all that.
We’ve gone back to building like we did 2000 years ago, where homes were also built out of mud and straw. At the end of the day, you can easily take it down, without big consequences, it will just be re-absorbed by the earth.
What about it being washed away by rain?
Yes you have to design the buildings in a way to protect it with large overhangs. And you can easily patch it with earth and clay. It’s actually easier than re-patching drywall holes. You just sponge it back into it, it’s a self-healing plaster.
Another benefit of straw bale homes. These walls are 18 inches thick with solid dense straw. These are not just amazingly insulated well from a thermal standpoint, but also acoustically from a sound standpoint as well. There’s a stillness and quiet that is created by these structures.
At some primordial level, when we walk in such a room, I also believe that our body senses that our bodies are surrounded by natural materials. And so our body subconsciously relaxes. It just really puts itself at a calmness.
Hubble and Hubble have developed and designed this as well, using organic proportions. Because nature designed this way as well, with straight walls and 90 degree angles, no, nature designs with curves. Not only are these natural materials, but the form is natural as well. So your body naturally relaxes in these places, and feels more calm and centered. I can’t imagine building a more supportive structure for these monastics.
And also in a way you’re combining 21st century technology with primitive building techniques? By for example still keeping it up to date with latest building requirements, such as earthquake protection?
Yes, it is. Here in So Cal, because we have such seismic activity, most buildings are build on post and beam construction. So you don’t have wood studs every 16 inches on center like you typically would. In this case we do have to add some steel reinforcements to make the structure seismic (even though they are single story structures). But in other parts of the world where there is not so much seismic activity, you can build them without the steel reinforcement.
Please explain collaborative vs competitive construction?
My focus is on the entire process of building the home, or project that we’re working on. Typically this is a very competitive process in traditional construction. There are sealed multiple bids, everyone is secretive. The owner doesn’t feel like he can trust the contractor so he/she has to get multiple bids.
It is basically designed in a way that is lacking trust. It’s build to minimize conflict. Then there is the blame game, who’s responsible, so when something goes wrong, “we know who to sue!”
Because of my practice with mindfulness and meditation, I felt like I should walk the talk. I wanted to incorporate those into construction. Is there a different way that we can approach construction? In the process of working and managing I developed this new approach, which I call collaborative construction. In stark contrast to competitive construction.
Straw Bale Community Building
Collaborative construction is based on the mindfulness training of open communications:
In order for people to develop an open relationship, it really requires really good communication. Where people can feel they can really express themselves in an open way. Like that conversation I had with that contractor who didn’t think his bid would work. That brings us back to our mindful practice, really listening when the other person is speaking. Processing that, and responding in a mindful way. It all comes to trust. That we are all working together on the same team, taking joint responsibility. So when things go wrong, we minimize finger-pointing and blame. Instead, let’s figure out how we can best work out, and solve the situation.
So making it a win-win for everyone.
Really really good communication is very important. He discovered while on the project, a cloud-based construction management system. All the information related to the project is stored in the cloud and accessible by the entire team all the time. Blueprints, plans, budgets, or correspondence regarding finish selections, and changes along the way etc. Everyone can access it. Myself, as the construction project manager, the architect, the clients, the monastics, the general contractors, the sub-contractors, etc. So that when there is an issue or question, it comes up on this cloud based solution, and everyone can bring this up and contribute, and find the most mindful solution to this issue.
That sounds better than having all that separated out.
Yes, it is a high-tech, low-tech approach. Mindfulness and meditation have been around for thousands of years but with the combination of the technology and mindful concepts, we can use both these technologies, to achieve these deep communications, deep listening, and open communication goals that we’re trying to achieve.
Is this going to be difficult to bring this mainstream, since the current construction and client demand is not necessarily in alignment with what your’e talking about?
It’s not for every client. It depends on the client’s preferences and values. It’s particularly interesting for folks interested in green building and sustainable design. Because these clients have a much broader perspective on their project anyway.
These are people who want to be mindful of their own impact on the environment, and society and how much energy I consume, and afterwards. They also want to be concerned about the building process itself, and the impact that that will have on all the people and environment involved in this. So in the same way they want to minimize the harmful impact and foot print. By taking a collaborative approach, they can also minimize the negative effect of the construction process itself.
And at the end of the day, you will feel much better when your home was build in a collaborative cooperative way. And when it was done, everyone feels that they all contributed together as part of a team, and it wasn’t this divisive competitive process. Where some lost, and others gained.
Would you have any advice for someone who is struggling in their job, in another line of work, what tips or advice would you have for that person who wants to bring mindfulness into their livelihood?
I used to think I would have to quit my job in construction, change careers, and join a non-profit, to make a meaningful difference.
Instead, I had to just look at the same things differently, not get a new job, but look at things that I did day in and day out, and find a way to do them in a different way. To incorporate my mindful practices into my construction management.
Once I realized, how can I communicate in a more mindful way, how can I create in a more collaborative way. Then all these things showed up, like the cloud based collaborative solution, and other new ways to communicate in ways that are more open and trusting. I was able to communicate with other contractors in a more mindful way.
So I would encourage those listening to look at what you’re doing currently, on a day to day basis, in a new way. Find small ways to incorporate your mindfulness and meditation practices in your regular daily life, and your profession.
Once you start to look at things in different ways, what you look at changes as well.
And different doors open then before..
Yes, exactly, because your’e looking at things in a different way, and so different opportunities are going to come your way. You’ll see doors that you never saw before.
Interview with Melli O’Brien – Mindfulness Teacher in Australia
Melli O’Brien is an internationally-accredited meditation and Satyananda yoga teacher and anMTIA-trained mindfulness teacher. Ms. O’Brien was selected by the Satyananda Mangrove Mountain Ashram(the largest ashram in the southern hemisphere) to teach their mindfulness retreats. She also blogs about mindful living at www.mrsmindfulness.com
Below Melli explains what is mindfulness in her own words on a Youtube video
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you get started with meditation practice?
Melli looks back and reflects on the pivotal moments in her childhood for forming the beginnings of her interest in meditation. As children we’re good at being in the present moment. She spend a lot of time in alone in nature. Time in nature, contemplating in nature.
When she was about 8 years old, she watched the news, of the Gulf war at that time. And she realized that the adults that she looked up to, that she was going to become like, were really insane, not functioning harmoniously at all. That hit home for her.
Something hit her deeply, it created an existential crisis for her. Coming to terms with her place in the world. It became a slippery slope into depression, and even despair.
As Melli got older, she wondered if it was possible that there are people out there who live in harmony with each other and the planet, who have some wisdom and are not with despair and distress.
She started looking for an answer to see if it was possible to be happy and harmonious. That led her to reading books about comparative religion, self-improvement, to look for answers.
She found answers, and her curiosity was fed.
So you were a teenager at this point right, a few years down the road?
Yes, the depression and despair was getting deeper, and at the same time, I was opening up to the wisdom traditions.
How did that develop into a meditation practice?
She did a course on meditation with her friend in her late teens, and started doing yoga. And she started reading eastern wisdom traditions. She started to get it, that she could investigate her mind, and free herself from the patterns that were causing depression and distress.
Was there a particular meditation practice?
Melli was doing simple breath meditation back then, it has evolved since then, but it is still mostly breath meditation. So it is not so much the technique, but the way that the practice, and the orientation, and attitude of herself, has changed, the ability to simply be. The quality of her practice has evolved a lot, rather than any particular technique.
Did you start noticing the depression de-escalating or dissolving?
It made a huge difference really quickly, because what happened I realized.
That I am not my mind
That was unbelievably liberating.
I am separate from those things that I had been so entangled and so identified with, things that caused her so much suffering.
She was really enthusiastic about utilizing that realization to the best of her ability. She put a lot of effort watching her mind, watching the current of her mind go by, seeing how it worked.
Even simple insights like noticing that when I have bad thoughts, it makes me feel bad. And then choosing to drop it, when I found that it wasn’t serving me.
This was absolutely life-changing, absolutely incredible.
Two things happened there,
1. You have this incredible opportunity for liberation. Seeing the way you get caught up when you’re no longer the witness, you’ve falling in the river of thoughts and emotions. Again and again you can chose to have more and more liberation.
2. The noticing of the fact when I’m not caught up, witnessing, I felt so at home. So in a natural state of contentedness, deep sense of being connected with life. Not the things that that my culture said would make me happy, white picket fence, achievements, etc, but what would make me happy is being the witness. Sitting in my own being-ness. That was a wonderful realization to have at a fairly young age. This avoided me from getting caught up, that I probably would have gotten caught up into.
So it sounds like you got started investigating why we’re unhappy really early..
When Melli was 19, she worked in a nursing home, with people coming to the end of their lives. They would share their wisdom with her, what makes a wonderful life, and what doesn’t. This was a huge catalyst in Melli’s life.
To focus on embodying the present moment, living the moments of my life, so that when I got to the end of my life, I wouldn’t have regrets.
The message that they would tell her, was that the things that are supposed to make you happy, don’t do it. It’s about being alive to the moments of your life. Melli heard that over and over again.
It sounds also that the more awareness you have of death, the more important it is to be aware of your choices in each moment your attitude, and how you live your life.
Yes, it’s great to really see how the avoidance of death, the simple fact that we’re mere mortals. Life is always changing. There’s quite a bit of uncertainty in life. This body doesn’t last forever. It’s confronting and really freeing at the same time. Living with that in mind puts everything into perspective.
Have you seen any other changes results or benefits from this practice that you didn’t see when you started this practice?
Yes, one really wonderful thing that happened to me, is taking things less seriously. I’m more kind and gentle to myself now then when I was younger. I laugh a lot more. I make plenty of mistakes, I mess up all the time. I’m human. I get caught up, and I catch myself. In the past I might have been self-critical about that. Especially if you’re a mindfulness teachers.
These days I’ve lightened up, treating myself more kindly. I have a so much deeper and kinder connection with others. Willing to see the ways in which I do get caught up all the time. That has been a delightful unfolding.
You mention being more human, and being able to connect, and not taking the dogma parts of religion. Could you elaborate?
Yes, for my path, and partly due to my personality. I enjoyed seeing all these religions, and was curious about all religions. I noticed the similarities. I saw that they were one perennial philosophy, universal teaching, but using different words. This mindfulness is not just a Buddhist thing. It’s a Buddhist word, and roots in Buddhism.
But the actual practice of mindfulness, which is stepping out of auto-pilot mode. And consciously switching attention, and being fully embodied in the present moment, and dis-identified from the mind. That is in every single wisdom tradition around the world. Different words, but same teaching.
What I love about this approach. You can draw from the essential teachings. All of these wisdom traditions, and not get dogmatic, saying you’re doing it wrong. It’s open, spacious, kind and accommodating. We’re all kind of doing the same thing, but go a different way with it.
When I teach courses, I quote from different traditions and time periods. I don’t have an agenda to promote one tradition. It’s just essentially the wisdom traditions can be broken down into two core teachings about how to end suffering.
1. Humans have a tendency to create suffering for themselves in normal consciousness. When the mind is untrained.
2. There is a way to wake up from that dysfunction, and come back to clarity, harmony.
The essential way to do that is through practicing mindfulness. Melli has boiled her teaching down to mindfulness.
Because mindfulness is the means by which we come home to ourselves.
Also the way to dis-identify from the mind. Which is the key to ending suffering.
And the mind can also can run astray from the feeling of separateness.
Yes, exactly. When you’re identified with the mind, it creates a sense of separateness from the world. A strong sense of me, I am, I need, and I want.
When you embody the present moment fully and deeply, and there’s a dis-identification from the mind, and there’s the mind. And here you are as a witness. That sense of separation, of being a separate self with complex wants and needs, fades into the background completely.
The sense of warmth and gentleness and compassion towards myself is part of what’s unfolded with long-term practice. It makes me feel more warmth and connection to everybody, also with folks who may feel differently with those who may feel differently as to what is the right way to get home.
The heart of teaching can get kind of obscured, with agendas, etc, when a religion/wisdom tradition gets institutionalized, has that influenced you?
Yeah, there was a resistance with me to hunkering down with a particular religion. Perhaps it is me, but I’ve seen it over and over again, we all have a tendency that our way, and that we can get a little bit rigid.
I love Buddhism, mystical Christianity, Sufism, they all have so much beauty and wisdom to offer. There’s been wonderful teachers who have embodied the teachings. They have so much to share. How can I hunker down with one, when there is so much beauty in all of them to draw from.
Once you can get past the clothes, ceremonies, and the forms of religions, you’re naked as brothers and sisters. Some people get disillusioned because a religion’s outer form may have been put them off?
Yeah, it feels like there’s these surface differences. Essentially there’s these 3 elements, practices, teachings, and stories in wisdom traditions. Like parables and stories, and certain practices and ethics.
The ethics of all the world’s religions and wisdom teachings. These are the foundations of ethical behavior, if you live your life like this, it will be much easier for you to be aware and awake, and to feel what is there at the depth of your being. When you are able to feel that, you can live from a place of harmony, of being a part of an evolving dance of evolution in this universe. Part of something really wonderful.
If there’re not an ethical component, and just want to practice mindfulness while having affairs, or stealing, people after you, etc, it will be very hard and difficult.
Let your life be simple,
Give yourself spaciousness
Be around nature.
Keep things simple, not get too complex.
Don’t believe they were meant to be rules. Melli doesn’t believe these dogmatic rigid things that if you don’t do them you are a bad person. If you want to get in touch with the essence of who you are, then these things will help you.
And the mindfulness will help people get more conscious and see how behavior helps or harms.
Buddhists have a very nuanced description of what mindfulness is, it can be very simple or very nuanced. It creates insights with regards to what you can get caught up in, by watching your mind. Which will help you create intelligent wise actions as a response that alleviates suffering.
For example, when I criticize myself hardly, it doesn’t help. It is futile to beat myself up mentally, doesn’t make me a better person. Compassion and treating myself with kindness is a much more intelligent approach. Works much better, better result.
As a teacher have you noticed what people come to you with? What particular struggles do students come with? And how do they overcome or work with those struggles?
I think one of the things that we all struggle with, is noticing that the mind has wandered. That you slipped into auto-pilot again, we have a tendency to be self-critical in that moment. In that moment when self criticism comes in the door,
“I’m so hopeless, I can’t do this, I can’t even be awake for 2 seconds, I’ve got the most unruly mind” etc.
That is the voice coming straight in the back door again, allures us again. Can be quite seductive of the mind to seduce us into that.
What I tell my students, that the moment when you wake up to really congratulate yourself for waking up.Noticing how does it feel to be awake?
Coming out of the mind wandering. Notice it’s a joy to be awake. And then with a warm gentle and kind attitude drawing the mind back to the present.
I’ve been practicing for a long time, and it still will be crazy at times. Especially, our minds can be so wild. In the beginning this can be difficult. This can be frustrating, and your practice can get tension and tightness in it.
That act of congratulating yourself when you wake up from mind wandering really can be useful, makes it more rejuvenating.
The other thing for all of us, encountering difficult, and negative emotions, can have a gravitational pull. The way we tend to react, is wanting to avoid or suppress, wanting it to go away. Not realizing that makes it worse perpetuates it.
Like that saying,
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen. What you resist, persists.”
With mindfulness, you do something courageous and really wise. You stop the running, and kindly, gently turn towards exactly what it is that you’re feeling in that moment.
For example, agitation, boredom, anxiety, you can leave the breath for a moment, and focus on feeling what you’re feeling. in the case you can break the loop of avoidance. It might just boil down to strange feeling in the tummy, little bit of labored breathing, some tension.
It’s not as big and scary anymore. I find it helpful to say, Ah, there’s anxiety in me, or embarrassment in me, etc. Accepting that it’s there, and knowing that all emotions come and go, being with it, and noticing it’s changing qualities, as part of a meditation practice.
It’s wonderful, because it immediately dis-identifies you. Here you are as the awareness, and there’s the emotion. If needed, you can investigate what’s going on in there, and chose some wise action. It’s mostly just being with it, not fighting it, allowing it to come and go as it does. That’s quite liberating.
What is your sense as to how people who get discouraged as you mentioned earlier feeling like they are not good at meditating, on how they can be encouraged by meditating in a group with the encouragement and guidance from a teacher?
Yes, that includes myself. That is why I also go on retreats at least twice a year with teachers that I respect. You benefit a lot from someone who’s walked the path before. As you would with any other skill like golf, learning from someone who’s a bit more experienced. Someone you can ask questions to, you have the support there.
And then it helps you when you do practice on your own as well.
There’s not substitute for practicing. I used to think you can just embody the present moment in every day life, and not practice. I tried that for a couple of months, and wanted to get back to practice.
I realized that it’s like fitness, like a muscle, you have to take some time every day to just tune into just BEING. In a world that is so obsessed with doing, taking some time to just be, is like an oasis. Such a precious thing. I really think there’s no substitute for practicing every single day. Mornings are great. That energy carries you through the rest of the day.
That makes it easier to be fully present through the rest of the day. Yes, that is Melli’s experience as well. But we’re all different, with different personality types, and inclinations, so I don’t believe there’s one right way.
Any final thoughts or inspiration?
There’s so many different, beautiful teachers and wisdom traditions that helped me become more present. If someone were to ask me if you have a teacher, I’d say looking out my window. My greatest teacher has always been nature, and we’re part of it. We’re part of this evolving mysterious universe. Nature is my greatest teacher. The close observation of nature, natural wildlife, being in trees, or even cloud watching, is a wonderful teacher. Watching how things come and go with such grace and ease.
Same for me as well, for feeling at home.
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How did you get started with a meditation/mindfulness practice?
I started out in the Himalayan institute in 2003, and then fell out of the practice for a couple of years. But the seed was planted in terms of cultivating a meditation practice.
But then about 6 years ago, she did notice she had social anxiety (headaches, backaches, stomach aches, etc). Jeena self-medicated.
She was starting to loose hair when she was getting closer to her wedding. The doctor said there was nothing wrong, all in her head. Same with the psychiatrist. The diagnosed her with social anxiety. Again they prescribed more drugs and anti-depressant. But Jeena didn’t want to go down that path again.
It’s just medication, it’s not a cure, its’ a symptom blocker at best.
She had a friend who told her to go to a treatment program at Stanford.
She had two options:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR
She didn’t think CBT would work for, and it did work effectively. She recommends this treatment if you suffer from anxiety.
She signed up for an MBSR course as well, and it was life changing for her. Hard to describe. She’s been a daily meditator since.
What is social anxiety?
Jeena had it in small groups, like self-introductions would cause cold sweats, even talking on the phone. They have you list all the things that cause anxiety. For example with phone anxiety, the therapist does role-play with you on the phone.
As a lawyer don’t you also have to do public speaking type of things? Did being in court cause anxiety?
No, not as much in the court. There is always some anxiety though. Anxiety isn’t all bad. But it can be interpreted in a positive way as well. If you just notice the physical sensation, and being with what is.
So Jeena used it as a front, as a way to sharpen your attention, instead of letting it debilitate you.
Explain MBSR Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction a bit more, what is it like?
Was started by John Kabat-Zinn, who is a researcher at U-Mass. He was noticing that people had a terminal or chronic pain condition. He found the treatment options limited (like pain killers). So he brought this program from Eastern culture, and secularized it, and started using it with patients, who changed their relationship with pain, and coming to terms with the knowledge that you’re going to die. Of course we all have to come to terms with that. So mindfulness can be used as a tool to accept and learn to enjoy more of the days and moments you have left.
With MBSR, Jeena says you’ll learn:
Being in the present moment, accepting it as it is
Weekly homework exercise
Noticing body sensations, body scan
Yoga movements are also brought in
Is there a daily component?
Yes, meditate for 45 minutes every single day, but started out with a body scan slowly moved to that over the weeks.
As a lawyer have you found it helpful in your practice?
Yes, so many ways. The biggest way is learning to be less critical of myself and others. The script of not being good enough, not smart enough etc. I learned to be my own best friend. Regardless of how the day gets messed up, I’m not going to abandon myself.
Before I started practicing mindfulness, I treated my opponent as my enemy. I’m out to destroy you, and you me. Now I have a very different understanding, we both have different roles to play. We’re not enemies. I have to respect the opposing party. And accepting and letting go of the things I have no control over. Clients expect a certain outcome. Rarely is the outcome dependent solely to me, it’s up to multiple factors.
Just showing up, and doing the best that I can in the arena that I do have control over, which is ultimately only myself.
Has this effected the outcome in your work?
Yes, I’m more able to pivot. Ex, in a hearing, I have all the facts, and go in with a script on how the argument is going to unfold. And of course it rarely goes that way,
Now I can listen more fully to the opposing and (instead of only listening 30%)
Fully engage and then take a breath and then come up with a response.
No longer get off center, because it isn’t not going the way I expected it should.
Being more comfortable with uncertainty and yeah, practicing law is all about being with uncertainty.
How did you decide to call your new book, “The Anxious Lawyer”?
I used to be an anxious lawyer, I like to think I’m no longer one. When I look back at my life, and connect the dots, all the different things have prepared me to do this work in the legal profession. It’s my life’s work and calling, to help lawyers live a more healthier, more balanced life, with a focus on and wellness and self-care. The key is through self-awareness, through mindfulness and meditation practice.
About 2 years ago, her co-host got her meeting with his editor. They met, and he asked her if she had a book proposal. She certainly did, and had a title ready. He loved the title, and said it would sell well at the ABA.
They need a better way to live, instead of with a sword and a hammer in each hand.
There’s some really depressing statistics for lawyers right?
Yes, 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression, higher rate of substance, and alcohol abuse, as well as high incidence of suicide rates. This shouldn’t be part of law practice, it doesn’t serve us well, and our clients.
What is causing that high degree of distress?
A lot of different reasons. Lawyers tend to be type A. Top of class,and all of a sudden you’re not so smart. The Socratic way of education within lecture halls of 150-200 other kids and being grilled is pretty traumatic. This constant push to become excellent, lots of pressure. We’re not given any tools for self-care, how to process these experiences. And clients don’t come to us with happy news, we’re exposed to all this trauma from our clients. We suffer from vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Similar to folks in the mental health professions, but we don’t get the tools. And people are angry with us, the opposing council, the judge, the clients, and we’re just given a hammer to give precise results, and asked to do brain surgery.
Have you found some of your colleagues appealed by your book?
I think so, but of course there is a healthy dose of skepticism. I don’t want lawyers to take my worth for it, they need to find out for themselves, and see.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
As an immigrant from Korea when I was 10 years old. None of us spoke English. And as immigrants you get taken advantage. My dad owned a laundromat, and my mother a nail salon. And customers would come in and threaten to sue, or call the police on them for unwarranted things. Jeena thinks because they knew that her parents didn’t know the legal system and didn’t know the language, didn’t know the justice system. People took advantage of us. They lived in this constant stage of fear.
Jeena was inspired by watching Law and Order as a little girl. I thought I’m going to be a lawyer to correct the injustices in the world. Put the bad guys in jail, and all the wrongs would be righted. This I can now look back on as a somewhat naive point of view, but that is what motivated me to become a lawyer.
Do you still get in touch with that initial inspiration you got as a child?
Yeah, I do. She now does bankruptcy work, bad guy and good guy is not as clear anymore. The sum of who they are is not the worst thing that have ever done. Like a heinous crime. That’s not the totality of who they are as a human being. With the mindfulness practice it gave me a whole different perspective.
Most of us are probably a few paychecks away from needing a bankruptcy lawyer. It exists for a reason, it is a right that we all have. I get to help people like me. I can relate to these people.
Do you have some tips specifically have for lawyers?
The most important thing is to cultivate kindness to yourselves. Not be critical and harsh. That we’re all human, and only humans, not perfect. And then take that attitude towards others. Every person is trying their best. The truth is that we are all trying our best. See if from that perspective.
Approach situations with curiosity. Assume that this is a reasonable human being, and why is he acting that way, instead of assuming he/she is a jerk. And will always be a jerk. The golden rule.
For those who say, yeah I’ve heard that. Would you recommend regular consistent practice to allow someone to befriend themselves more?
Loving kindness meditation has been a life saver for me. And life changer to me. Wishing yourself well, and wishing people you love well, people you have difficulty with well, and then finally humanity as a whole. It’s a beautiful practice. This helps you see people in a different light, with more compassion and empathy. Approach people with kindness instead of with a hammer. Because if you have a hammer, all you see is nails.
Yeah, I have to practice it like a muscle, and rewire my brain, not just happen in one day, has to be done regularly.
Yeah, we have different lenses we walk around life with. And that lens may be flawed, it may be obscuring, or distorting reality. If you can’t have stillness and reflection, you can’t see that your lens that you see the world through, is distorted.
I used to think people were intentionally cruel or unkind. And if you approach everyone with that lens, then seeing them that way, they end up living to that expectation. It may be the energy you’re putting out, approaching them with.
Now I try to be friendly, say hello, and lead with kindness. That’s a practice, you have do it for yourself, before you can do it for others. You have to offer compassion for yourself, before you can offer it for others.
Like the flight attendant, with the mask instructions, put them on yourself first.
Yeah, that’s what I use in my presentations. A lot of lawyers think self-care is not for me, tough through it, I have to be strong, if I do that I’m being selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Self-care and selfish are two different ends of the spectrum.
Tania de Jong AM is a leading Australian soprano, inspirational speaker, social entrepreneur, spiritual journeywoman and creative innovation catalyst. She founded Creative Universe, Creativity Australia, Music Theatre Australia, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room and works with diverse communities through the ‘With One Voice’ choir social inclusion programs. Tania sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing 7 CDs. She is Founder and Executive Producer of Creative Innovation Global.
Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has sparked international interest (see Youtube video embedded below). Tania has recently released her solo CD Heaven on Earth.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you get started with a meditation practice?
Tania: Yeah, I started with TM, wasn’t very disciplined at it. For me, singing became my meditation.
Singing is an active form of meditation.
When you sing you have no choice but to be totally in the moment.
You have to be conscious of your breath, and you can’t be thinking about anything else. Your body is an instrument. To actually sing sustained sound, you have to keep your breath going. Its’ similar to meditation, having an even exhalation breath, that’s what the sounds sits on.
If you practice hissing, you get a sense of what happens. You need to keep the air flow going.
Did meditation help you with singing?
Tania: Yoga helped as a more active form of meditation. Its hard to sit and meditate.
Sicco: Chanting is a kind of singing meditation in my Zen meditation. Letting my breath sink, use your whole body as an instrument, instead of just the top.
Tania: Yes, changing and singing correctly engages your whole body right. Through mother earth you bring the sound of the earth. Tania feels like she’s breathing all the way from her feet and up. She feels this incredible energy sphere around her body.
Many have trouble unlocking the full potential of their voice. Many folks think of their voice as just above their neck and up. My voice is my voice box. When you do that, You fail to engage the resonating cavities that are in their bodies. Your body is like a resonating instrument. There’s resonators in your chest cavities. Resonate right through your head. Their upper amplifiers.
A lot of people have a very tight jaw, which is another issue that keeps you from from using the full capability of your voice. When you chant or sing, in that passioned way, you start to relax your jaw as well, which allows you to access those resonators more.
You mentioned clenched jaw, there’s psychological boundaries to get through as well.
Yes, it’s all about letting go. The root of your tongue can get hard too. There are certain exercises you can do to gradually release the jaw, let the jaw relax at night. It’s also about letting go of control. When we’re holding on to issues, wanting control. Instead of Practicing acceptance, we get tight with our jaw, or when we’re afraid. Relaxing that jaw hinge is extremely important. The TMJ (“Temporomandibular Joint”).
Are there other parts of the boy that need to relax as well in order to fully express your voice?
Yes, some folks lift their shoulders up, only breathing in the upper part of their chest cavity. Heave of their chest, you have to learn to breathe at the base of your ribs. I liken it to blowing up a balloon inside your stomach. You blow it up and it is all the way around 360 degrees. When you breathe in your upper part of your chest, that is a stress response, its a fear and panic response. That also induces a relaxation response.
So it helps people with anxiety problems too?
Singing would have to be one of the best ways to heal anxiety and depression that I know of. A lot of people suffer from depression and anxiety. Many people have stopped taking drugs. Singing is the greatest drug of all. Very good for you, a bit addictive perhaps.
Singing is like exercise for your brain, body, mind, and soul. A super duper drug!
And you mention it takes you out of the box thinking?
Yeah, so basically our brain is like a battery, and the right side of the brain, which is our creative intuitive side, is like a charger. But we spend a lot of time, especially in today’s world, analyzing data, overwhelmed with so much information. 85% spend time on the left side of our brain.
So it is very important to spend time doing activities which recharge the right side of the brain so we don’t get burned out, stressed, depressed. One is singing, meditation walking in nature, walking with pets, cuddling with loved ones. Being creative in other ways, all extremely important ways to recharge your mental batteries.
Often times people with depression are not doing enough of those sorts of activities.
And society is also having productivity and bottom line expectations.
But actually organizations will have a much better and achieve their goals, bottom-line if they allowed to recharge their right sides of their brains. Helps with productivity, positive about the future. Whereas stress about the bottom line is unhealthy driven pattern.
That is one of the reasons why there is an increase of anxiety and depression. Mental health issues arising all over the world. Depression is one of the main chronic illnesses of the western world.
You mention uncovering your one voice and your unique voice.
With our one voice we bring together many individuals, job seekers, and others who are struggling in their lives. We bring together all these diverse people, these diverse voices.
We all suffer the same fears, same hopes, we’re all connected, part of this universal consciousness.
There’s something really special when you sing together with other people. Some of the research shows that our hearts start to beat together, when we sing together.
There is this connectedness.
Your creativity sparks when you’re with a diverse people. Most people tend hang around similar people. Dress, talk the same, similar education, etc. I believe that we can get more of our human potential, if we connect with people who are very different from us. We learn a lot from being with people who are very different from us. It sparks our creativity.
Getting out of our own comfort zone is the best way to unlock our own creativity and your unique voice. Otherwise you’re in the box.
We start life being born in a box, then we go home to a house, another box, in the supermarket we buy boxes of stuff, same boxes. We tick boxes on forms, and then we go out of life in a box. I have this theory that, life happens between the boxes.
On the bridges where we connect with other people, with a larger universe.
So to connect with that, you have to get out of your comfort zone.
How do you encourage that?
The biggest way to get out of your boxes, is to connect with other people. Befriend an alien! Sit down next to someone you don’t know. Don’t just hang out with the people you know. You may actually find out you share something, there might be synergies between you.
Look for new experiences. If something really scares you, go and try it. There are a lot of people who are very scared of singing. and public speaking (Glossophobia – Public Speaking). 74% have speaking anxiety, includes extroverts (Source: National Institute of Mental Health). 85% of people have been told at some point in their lives that they can’t sing, their parents, schools, etc. That is why a lot of people have a fear of it. Been told they’re not good enough.
That would never happen in parts of Africa. All tribes sing together, sing in harmony. Singing is a tribal and primal activity. It is only in our western world where there’s such a culture of celebrity. We start judging ourselves.
I was told as a 4 year old, never to bother to have singing lessons. If I believed that, I would not be sharing that gift with the world today. That would be sad for me, and those who enjoy listening to me.
Every single person was born with a voice to share with the world. Our voices are a reflection of who we are as a human being.Voice is the language of our hearts. Many people who are disadvantaged in their lives, their voices are silenced. Not just their singing voice, but their voice.
People often don’t feel like they can speak up, can’t express themselves. They can’t say what’s truly in their hearts. Going through their lives not being able to do what they truly want to do.
My vision in life is to help people find their true voice. And also to change the world, one voice at a time. Which we’re doing through Creativity Australia. We have this big global campaign, “Sing for Good”. Two or more people pump it up on YouTube, and then getting family to vote and support disadvantaged people.
We talk about self-limiting beliefs, a lot of that comes from childhood. Our caregivers and teachers do their best, but sometimes things are said that shouldn’t be said. The negative sticks more to a child than the positive.
We have a lot of big projects designed to help people find their voice, connect with diverse people, and to connect to their creativity. I tried to de-condition myself from deep childhood conditioning, which created self-limiting beliefs.
Yes, things happen, a lot of self-limiting beliefs come from childhood. We have to be very careful what we say to young people. People do their absolute best to give encouragement and constructive to young people.
I’ve talked to tens of thousands of people who have remembered things that they’ve been told, between ages of 0-15 that they remember for their whole lives which stops them from being who they really are.
This celebrity culture (putting people on pedestals) must be part of the system as well right?
Celebrity culture constantly remind us that we’re just ordinary, just living an ordinary life. When it in actual fact, it is the opposite, every person is actually extraordinary. When you speak to people in our choirs, you realize that every single person is extraordinary.
Tania mentions a person with cerebral palsy. She has such incapacity, and yet every week she comes to the program, happy to be there, laughs all the time, she found a job through it. She knows all the songs and the words by heart. Every week she comes there to the choir, and if I’m having a grumpy day, Beth teaches me and all of us about gratitude. It’s just the luck of the draw where we’re born, and our conditions. Are you going to take things for granted, or are you going to live with gratitude? And she is so grateful herself, despite her conditions and adversity.
Truckhaven Rocks with heavy storm clouds behind on the Santa Rosa Mountains
Talk about what inspired you to create the song, “Heaven on Earth”.
I wanted to connect that higher consciousness that we all have, to earth. To create a CD that would take people to a heavenly space, meditation, a space of reflection and illumination. Songs of love, that would help people feel more light, and love and peace.
Some is music by Mozart, Beethoven, and Dvorgak, timeless classic orchestral works, and then there’s also some original work. Like the title track.
Starts with Mark Twain’s beautiful quote,
“Sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one is watching, and live like it is heaven on earth.”
I do belief that people need to sing like no one is listening. It’s just come out (see link to music below, and this is played in the podcast as well).
We all have our daily issues, the humdrum of life, but how do we get to experience the glory of life? It’s so incredible to be alive. And looking in nature is a great way to connect with life, for connecting with the right side of the brain. Like looking and smelling a rose.
And they teach us to be here without needing an excuse or justification and unique. Yes, flowers and animals don’t have that judgement that humans feel. Yes, dogs don’t make value judgments, they’re unconditionally loving. How do we as human beings can get more into that space? Of non-judgement, acceptance, love peace, letting go. So that we can truly experience our lives in every moment.
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to be more in that space?
The key is you have to reserve a little time every day, that is your time, where you do something you love, something that gives you a gift.
It could be a beautiful bath, music, or going for a walk, like by the ocean.
Breathing, becoming aware of your breathing in each moment.
Letting go of the past, and any anxiety for the future.
The only moment we can really have any control over, is this exact moment. That’s all there is.
What would I do if my life were to end today or next month, what would I do with my life? Start doing those things.
The rest of your life starts now.
My favorite quote,
By Rabi Hillel says,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
I encourage everyone to not put off any longer doing the things you really love to do. Especially singing. Find your voice!
Tom is a dedicated long-time Ashtanga Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation practitioner. He is a passionate Yoga teacher, inspiring Yoga business & life coach, and whole-food & healthy-living enthusiast, based in Germany.
As a Yoga teacher, Tom believes in the benefits of learning yoga through the Mysore style self-practice classes. He encourages students to develop their personal practice rooted in the Mysore tradition yet incorporating their individual needs.p
Tom studied with many senior Ashtanga Yoga teachers and is grateful for the guidance by his primary teacher Paul Dallaghan, who also initiated him in Pranayama practices in the lineage of the Kaivalyadhama Institute.
He mainly leads a traditional Mysore program and Ashtanga Intensives at GaiaYoga School & Shala in Croatia as well as at phoenixarising, a school for Yoga and consciousness practices in Dresden, Germany, and together with his partner Sandra teaches yoga retreats in India.
As a coach, through applying the principles of Yoga, as well as his experience in business and management, Tom supports and inspires Yoga teachers to become aware of their unique gifts and how to share them successfully with the world. In workshops, online programs and one-on-one-coaching sessions, he offers tools and techniques to aspiring Yoga teachers and practitioners to help them get started and/or stay focused in walking their yoga path while supporting the growth of others through their teachings.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you end up on a path of Yoga Meditation?
Tom’s brothers both did Yoga, so he got into Yoga based on his brother’s interest of Ashtangha Vinyasa Yoga, and he also broke up with his girlfriend. He was inspired by David Swensen, a well known Yoga teacher.
He started doing this every day. Because of the emphasis on deep breathing, it makes you go deeper into the practice. He got more into it by reading books about it and started practicing it deeper.
In Ashtangha Vineyasa Yoga (breath aligned yoga) Every movement is aligned to your in-breath and exhalation. There’s never a movement without breath happening.
When you follow those 3 techniques, Ujjayi, Trishti, Bandha, that creates a kind of moving meditation.
For many people starting with sitting meditation is hard. With Ashtangha you go more steps before that. Maybe it is easy to connect, but it is easier to use the body, so by moving the body, you have something to do.
If you keep those 3 things in mind, you don’t have more capacity to think. And that creates this moving meditation.
Additionally you always have the same sequence of postures. You just do the same sequence ideally 6 days a week. This Yoga practice creates kind of a mirror every day where you can see the changes over time. Some days are easy, some days not, some days focused, never the same. But a good reflection that everything is changing, and you just have to accept that.
What changes have you notice over the years from your practice?
Tom got a lot more:
More aware what he’s doing from waking to going to bed
More in tune how he feels , what is beneficial and what is not so beneficial, due to this mirror of practice. For example, if you fold yourself in a pretzel position, you will feel it if you had something unwholesome to eat the night before.
If you do constantly something else, like different asana sequences, or different sports, you always have something to distract yourself.
If you always practice the same sequence, you really start to appreciate more detail. You start to feel, because it is always the same, you can see where your resistances or emotional distractions are. You can then relate that to your life, like an argument with your friend, or boss. Instead of letting your emotions take over, you can see more from an observer perspective. You notice it, and then you can stop it, and look inside, there’s a longer response time, a witnessing component to it.
Tom talks about the corpse pose. Good ideas come for Tom from the corpse pose. On a spiritual level there’s a little dying every day. You do your practice, you lie down, and your body lies down. And you let go of your body every day just for a moment.
So it helps you not over-identify with your body?
Yes, it feels like a little detachment of the body. That’s how I feel. All the good ideas (like for his business) often come from that corpse pose.
14:00- 16:00 How did you go deeper into yoga, like reading Patanjali Sutras?
Yes, he started reading and studying more and more, and going to India, and so then all those aspects got more and more integrated. He didn’t think he would go that deep 10 years ago. Slowly through the physical practice it opened him up. And there are also other books, like “Awaken the Mind“. It talks about the brainwave patterns, and also about meditation. It has a more scientific approach, putting the spiritual practices into a more explainable to a rational western mind. He also knows how it feels from his own perspective, and now he can also explain it.
Patanjali’s 8 limbs, Ashtangha Yoga, these 8 steps lead to Samadhi (liberation, divine bliss, experience of oneness state)
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
7.Dhyana Meditation is the 7th limb.
6.Dharana You need concentration to get to that, that’s the 6th limb. How do you get to concentration?
5.Pratyahara (control of the senses) Well, you need to keep from getting distracted senses, so withdrawel of the senses is the 5th limb.
4.Pranayama (energy, breath control) Attention goes where the breath goes, the 4th limb is control of your breath energy. without that you will be unfocused. So breath control is that 4th limb. How to control your breath?
3.Asanas (Body Postures) You have to control your body, so that’s the 3rd limb, the Asanas and postures (which means a seat that is stable yet comfortable). You need all these ingredients
2.Yama (Universal Morality) The second and first limb are the Yamas..
1.Niyama, the do’s and don’ts the morality, be disciplined, be content, those are kind of the foundations.
All those limbs, you can practice at once, it’s not a consecutive thing. You don’t have to perfect one step to go to the next. The Asana part is to get your body healthy. Your gazing point should always be concentrated on one spot. When you combine all those things, you create this meditation in movement.
You should make sure you don’t do a posture that hurts yourself. I love this philosophical approach to this physical aspects.
Would you say that most folks would get introduced to Yoga through the Asana limb?
Yes, we have a hard time relating to the subtle thing, if you don’t have any relationship to that in your normal lives. Just sitting and doing nothing and focusing on the divine, many can not relate to that in their normal lives. While standing on a yoga mat, and learning to breathe, you get a more gradual introduction to the more spiritual aspects.
We’ve talked about the importance of the Asanas, and how they are a form of meditation themselves. Does this in a way lead the practitioner to seated meditation?
With regards to Asana Yoga:
“This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.”
But Tom cautions against getting too stuck on the body, you should start a relationship with your body, if it has gotten lost. Meditation for Tom is a state that you cannot just switch on. There are many techniques, like mantras, that invite us to get into a state.
Is this limb and other limbs often divorced or uncoupled from the Yoga that has been brought in to the west?
Or do folks after doing Asana yoga naturally gravitate towards learning more about meditation and the other limbs?
When Tom was working in a consulting firm, he just practiced in the hotel rooms. So you have no excuse not to practice.
But some folks stop practicing because they forget. Yes, for me what kept me practicing day after day, is that I miss it if I don’t do it. There are of course also other motivations to keep practicing.
But the main part, is the way I feel when I practice. It feels good, that is one motivation that keeps you going. I can’t tell folks to practice though. It’s really up to the individual.
There’s also no finish line right, always a beginner, not like a certificate at the end? Which helps you get into the present?
Yes, it’s tricky. Some folks can get attached to the practice. But there are fewer and fewer people who finish the harder sequences. So there’s always a new Asana that you can learn, but there will always be a harder one after this next Asana cross road. You shouldn’t attach your happiness to a certain result or the fruits of your practice.
The path was the goal all along. You just have to love every moment, find your happiness on the path, love the present moment.
Advice for folks just starting out with Yoga?
Find a good teacher that’s helpful, someone give guidance at least at the beginning.
Just do it, don’t worry about the benefits, don’t worry in general of course too.
Try it consistently for a period of time, not just once a week. Or you won’t feel the benefits.
Muscle fever will go away if you do it a few days a week.
“Before you practice the theory is useless, after you have practiced, the theory is obvious.”
So don’t read books too much, just try it, experience it, and go from there..
How do you bring your Yoga into your daily life?
Tom finds Yoga practice a rehearsal for his life. Whatever happens, just keep breathing. That’s what he always does, whenever he has a tough situations, just come back to himself, and just breath for a few moments.
As simple as that sounds, it is super powerful. Whenever you’re in rush traffic, lecture in front of thousands of people. If you feel unease in yourself, just come back to breathing. And go from there.
There are three things in life, things that are your responsibility, think that are other people’s responsibility, and god or the universe’s responsibility.
If it’s raining, or sunshine, that’s god’s responsibility, so no use in getting upset. Then there are thing that are mine, as long as we care for our own responsibility, we can then be much more happier.
So in terms of Yoga, my responsibility is to show up that day and do the best I can do. If my body feels stiff that day, or some other thing gets in the way of my practice. I can deal with it, but look at my own responsibility.
Michel Dion is a CPA and PMP who spent his life in the business world. He has developed a website on project management, called Project-Aria. The name of the website is a mix between his interest for music and project management. He likes to live life fully and passionately. Yet, someone he discovered meditation and the power of the discipline in all dimensions of his life.
Michel also recently published a book called Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers. In the book, he has included the importance of self-awareness and development of the leader as a person as part of leadership skills.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
In this podcast we have a conversation about how Michel Dion:
Got started meditating because of too many thoughts and not sleeping much anymore at night.
Michel became an “accidental meditator“.
He is great at solving problems, but it started affecting his family life. He started seeing his friends get burned out by overwork, as well as develop depression. Now in his early 40’s, he couldn’t bounce back from the lack of sleep as much as when he was young.
He was attracted to start meditating after watching a BBC documentary, Michael Mosley’s Horizon: The Truth About Personality (BBC Two) in which Mosley tries mindfulness meditation based on scientific findings about our personalities. And see if he could influence his more pessimistic and insomnia prone personality. He wanted to see if he could change his brain less anxious. They found that the right side of his brain was more active than the left side, which also created an imbalance. A combination of cognitive training and mindfulness training was used to help him change his brain. See, “Can Science Explain Why I’m a Pessimist?“
Michel was inspired by these findings, and also wanted to learn this meditation, so he got the Headspace app by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk.
He needed to start with guided meditation. Very useful, otherwise he would have felt lost. He doesn’t consider himself spiritual.
He also noticed more and more projects as he grew in his career, and he was never in the moment any longer. He’d be at work, as well as with his wife, and always thinking either about work or other things. He couldn’t be present any longer. Starting to lose focus.
As a result of a regular meditation practice:
He found that the meditation helped him be more productive at work.
Better and more real connection with his wife and kids.
He found this important enough, that he mentioned meditation, requirement for self-awareness as a leader in the beginning of his book on Business, Project Management, and Leadership, rather than an afterthought. Taking care of yourself.
At the time of this interview..
He still practices regularly using head-space, listens to podcasts (this one, and Tara Brach’s Podcast), and reads about meditation.
Michel is learning how to meditate without the assistance of guided meditation, or apps. He plans on adding unguided meditation to his practice.
Michel had to unlearn some preconceived notions and pressures about what meditation is supposed to be like. Typical misconceptions propagated:
“You can stop all thoughts!”
“Real meditators are always 100% peaceful and happy!” (as though they are no longer human!)
Michel was a great “multi-tasker” at one time, but learned that this wasn’t working very well.
He would do other tasks while “listening” to his wife. After realizing this error, he now has a deeper connection and conversation.
Another challenge he has is with long-distance running. At some point his mind is, “no longer in the moment”. It’s not physical pain that’s the problem after 2 hours of running, but his mind. He is going to read the book by “conscious runner” Lisa Hamilton (former guest on this podcast).
How his meditation affects his work, and leadership role?
Very much, as a leader you can be agitated, “do, do, do, more, more!” But people are more likely to follow a leader that is calm. Then a leader that is helps give their team confidence of success. Comfort zone does not mean it’s easy. You get greater results with a team with greater self-awareness.
Authenticity and honesty are often lacking in leadership.
In business you can master something. Michel studied classical music when he was younger and you can master that as well. He feels it’s different with meditation, you can’t say you have 100% self awareness. You can do this for 30 years and you will still discover something, so it’s never completed. There is a level of being comfortable in the unknown.
Michel talks about developing more knowledge of the self, which is part of executive leadership development program. Meditation and modern science is bringing it to the western world from a different angle.
We discuss how meditation is sexy or trendy, and the potential issue if the leadership and executives don’t practice meditation themselves, and use it to squeeze more productivity out of employees, or put them into smaller cubicles to save money, without thinking of the triple bottom line.
Michel talks about the blind spot of leadership, the privilege and rank of leadership, and the problem if you just have false relationships around you. It’s his job to create a relationship where the employees feel comfortable talking with him.
Why it’s a problem to be over identified with your job (and Michel sees this more in older generations).
It’s better to have a life also outside of work.
Why it’s not always the best if someone is 100 % dedicated to their work life, doing 60-80 hours a week. You don’t have as much motivation to be efficient, if you’re just making work for yourself, “looking busy”.
The mind needs some break
If you invest all your thoughts into one thing, the day it succeeds, you’re extremely happy, if it does not succeed, everything is crashing.
The intensity of reactions at work, are like for a nuclear plant, small problems are turned into big dramas. It’s not like your two kids are dead!
It’s rare that someone will crash their career over an intellectual issue, it’s more the emotional side of life.
If you want to maximize you need to have an authentic holistic view of human.
We talk about too much drama when there is an issue at work, taking our titles and roles too seriously.
Michel talks about an example of a stressed out employee who was thinking she needed to spend the night fixing things, and he just told her to go home and watch a movie, and sleep on it. Sure enough, the next day, the employee came in refreshed and was able to solve the problem easily.
When do you have your sitting meditation during the day?
He seems to meditate best when his mind is tired.
He also likes long distance hiking, he likes how nature calms him. We talk a little bit about nature-deficit disorder.
He puts his device on airplane mode to keep from getting distracted. When it’s on, the mind stops checking. He finds that better than a technology fast or rejection.
His book is for folks leadership, the most powerful powerful part of leadership is to lead yourself first, before leading others.
Never have only your career as defining who you are.
Michel would feel more lonely without technology, to find other like-minded persons. That is an example of where technology supports personal growth.
Interview with Kenley Neufeld of the Deer Park Buddhist Mindfulness Community. Kenley was ordained in 2005 by Thich Nhat Hanh as a lay-practitioner in the Order of Interbeing with the dharma name, True Recollection of Joy. Kenley received the Lamp of Wisdom, permission to teach, from Thich Nhat Hanh in 2012.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
What brought you to a meditation practice?
How did you get started with meditation?
Kenley took a world religion class in the late 80’s. Then in the 90’s he’d been participating in 12-step recovery process in San Francisco where he lived at the time. The program had a meditation portion. He then went to a Zen Center, and didn’t get into it. But after picking up a book, and sitting by himself worked better initially.
So it blossomed out of the 12 step recovery experience. He wanted to try meditation to get in touch with the spiritual side of his life.
Is the meditation offered as part of the 12-step?
Yes, some it’s part of the spiritual practice and some of the groups do it. To deepen our spiritual practice, and being able to sit still and be able to reflect on this thing called life, and the directions we want to go.
He just wanted to do a little more than was offered. It was an easy segway to explore for himself. He”s always been on a spiritual journey for most of his life.
Where there any particular struggles at the time?
It was more of a general spiritual search. He was taking his recovery very seriously at the time. And one of the steps is to explore meditation. So he was trying to explore meditation. Coupled with his experience with the world religion. His wife also gave him a book, “Peace is every Step” which also influenced Kenley.
As you practiced over the years, did you see other good reasons to practice, like finding it helpful to pay attention for example? Was there an aha moment?
It didn’t really come until years later. 1995-2001 he did meditation regularly, he like the way it helped him to stop and become aware of his body. It was still very rooted in the recovery program, it was part of the puzzle of being clean and sober.
But something happened that pushed him unto the high speed conveyor belt, moving forward on a path of mindfulness and meditation and transformed his being in a much more significant way, then all those years he did it on his own.
Yeah there is a big difference, between doing it on your own and with a community or group?
Yes, what happened is September 11, 2001 (the terrorist attacks for those unfamiliar). Kenley was quite traumatized on different levels. Some experienced the horror of the towers coming down, but also our response to that. That is what pushed him to see clearly how important community was.
He was drawn to, and needed to draw himself in to others who felt like they could bring peace, and be peace in the world. And he couldn’t do this by himself, or through the recovery program.
He needed to find a spiritual community that embodied that concept of being peace in this world.
So he went to the Deer Park Buddhist monastery in Escondido, California, and learned about being in community with people. And he went home to Fresno, CA where he was living, and started a Sangha (community).
And that completely changed everything for him, just sitting and being in a community and practicing with people. Allowed him to walk through this very dark time in American history. We struggled as a nation.
Being in a Sangha helped him to navigate that, and not let anger be the primary feeling in his life. He felt meditation could transform that anger from 9/11.
When you saw the reaction of a lot of Americans and the world. You wanted to respond in a different way than with anger..
And he was on tour at that time. And he was reading it, and he realized he had to do something different in his life, put more effort into what Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh’s nickname) is talking about.
He is a teacher who speaks extensively about Sangha. Community is so important to our well-being and society. How important the 3 jewels are, buddha, dharma (teachings) and sangha (community). Thay’s teachings on peace, social work, social justice work. That really attracted me to his community in particular, that’s where I decided to put my energy and time.
You also mentioned (as part of your commencement address), that a lone person shot up the UC Santa Barbara campus across town? How does loneliness contribute to the anger?
He was a student of this Campus as well. This goes back to the idea of community. The human being really craves to be together with others.
In this last century we’ve become disconnected from the roots of our families and communities. It’s so easy to move around, travel and live a thousand miles away from them. That was not the case earlier times. Not to say there is no suffering in those environments. All those elements build the support network that allows for us to see each other.
Not being seen builds this loneliness, coupled with mental illness can lead to those tragic events.
I do believe, we can work together as communities to bring a little bit more well-being into society. It starts with our own selves, with our own practice. How we’re able to transform our own suffering, our own loneliness, and being able to see with a different set of eyes.
Thay talks about looking deeply, to see you’re not a separate self.
Yes, the inter-being nature of all that exists. Essentially, we all come down to being star dust, all the way to the present. We have this relationship with this planet, there is no way to separate each other. Without the sun for example, a big thing that is clear, without the sun there would be no life. But that can all come down to our most intimate relationships. And how we connect with each other, the connection between the past and the present. Which can then inform the future.
Explain Inter-being a bit more for someone new to this?
For me that means there is this idea that there isn’t any separate self. I am because you are. Because there is this connection between us. Our relationship exists, my well being and my taking care of the plants, will bring well-being for more than just me. For everyone else as well. For example, on a physical level, the air in my house is exchanged between my family, my self, pets, plants, etc.
There is no separate self, this is one of the most deepest teachings of the Buddha. Thay says, we can’t have the lotus without the mud. There is this relationship with the lotus and the mud. That is that inter-being nature of all things.
What types of things do you still struggle with today?
I always need to come back to, and remind myself that meditation is not just what I do on the cushion in the morning when I get up. I spend my 45 minutes or so in meditation to bring awareness to my breathing, and look deeply at something in my life.
But what i try to remind myself is that that meditation is what I try to do each moment of the day, and how I wake up in the morning, how I walk across the floor, how I brush my teeth, How I prepare my meal, how I drive my car, how I interact with the people at work.
It’s not a struggle, more of trying to always remind myself that each moment is a moment to be mindful. And to be present for what is in front of me.
Just like we’re speaking right now. When misc thoughts arrive, like “why did I say that”, that could be going on in my mind when I talk with you.
Meditation is being aware that this is happening.
Recognizing that it’s happening, and
Letting it go…(without judgement)
If I can do that in all aspects of my life, then I walk more in a free way, can be more at ease with my interactions, and those things that go on around me. That’s what I try do with my meditation these days with varying degrees of success..
What advice would you have for folks who do struggle with those types of things, bringing their meditation, their presence, being fully present into their daily life?
The best thing we can do to support our practice, is to create an environment in which we can practice. I try to set up conditions and reminders, so that I can have that opportunity to practice. Whether a little sign by the sink that has a little Gatha, that reminds/tells him what to do when brushing my teach. So I set up a condition to allow that to happen in the bathroom.
I’ve trained my mind to have a little verse. When I wake up , i have a little verse, it took months, perhaps a couple years to automatically remember this when I wake up.
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion and love.”
So that when I wake up, it just comes, it arrives. It takes some training, so start with a note. This also comes in my work environment. I want to be present for the people at work. I put the computer out of the way, so I have to really talk with them, not have that screen distraction. I keep my desk clear as well. Again setting up a condition, so that there is nothing there to distract me from being there for this other person. This is there for me, to remind me.
That is how I practice my mindfulness in each moment.
Do you also take out time-outs during the day to take a few breaths, (mini-meditations)?
Yes, he uses a computer program to call for him to stop occasionally and take a breath.
Walking Meditation at work
He also practices walking meditation when he moves between buildings on his campus. All it needs to do is bring attention to your breathing, and your footsteps, and avoid the texting, phones, etc, distractions. Keep that in his pocket, and enjoy the beauty of the environment where he works in. Avoid multi-tasking. It all takes discipline, a lot of years.
There are so many opportunities for practice.
The sitting practice informs the rest of the day, so that part is important. Looking deeply into my being, it would be more challenging if I did not do that. It would be harder to bring that awareness into other parts of my life without the sitting practice at the beginning of the day.
There is no such thing as multi-tasking. See research debunking the virtues of multi-tasking. It is really switching activities quickly, is not good for cognitive process. It could have long term impacts. Kenley has made changes in his physical environment to support LESS multi-tasking. Like turning off all notifications on his phone. It’s no good for it to be beeping at him every 20 seconds. He doesn’t need those constant distractions.
Thay is a good example, takes his time drinking his tea, and yet super productive, he’s written like 90-100 books now?
Yes, I look at someone like my teacher, with seemingly endless energy, almost 90 years old. So there is a way to do it, and be peaceful and free.
Having the mindfulness practice helps to ground myself, and know when to be productive, and also when to rest and take care of myself. To take it easy and not push myself. He’s definitely an inspiration. He’s currently recovering from a stroke.
What do you think Thay means, when he says, “The Buddha is the Sangha”?
He talks about the collective awakening we need, the power of the community. Like M Luther King, about the beloved community. We have this ability if we work together, to transform ourselves, our communities, and the world. We don’t need to go into dispair. There is this capacity to go beyond that. The “Buddha community”, being our capacity to live in harmony and transform our society and our world.
Also a not just one person responsible, co-responsible to awaken.
We all have this capacity to wake up, individually. Each one of us, we can do this together also.
Do you see this at your work, any movement towards mindfulness into the institutional culture, to the physical campus?
Yes, the wake up community 18-35 year folks. They will go out and offer programs, and lead meditations with college campuses. Kenley also does a meditation group on his campus, not affiliated with religious organization. Not yet a dedicated space yet. He’s always done it in his office so far.
It’s starting to happen more in the corporate world, with providing opportunities and spaces for employees.
Practice Centers also in Deer park Monastery (also in Germany, NY, Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand, and France)
Wake Up for young people (Wake Up is an active global community of young
mindfulness practitioners, aged 18-35, inspired by the teachings of Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. They come together to practice mindfulness in order to take care of themselves, nourish happiness and contribute to building a healthier and a more compassionate society.)
This bell is a lovely sound to help harmonize our breathing and our body.
It’s an opportunity to come back to our true selves, to come back fully to this present moment in time.
To be able to let go of our worries, our projects, to come back fully to this present moment in time.
To be able to give all our attention to the sound of the bell.
Breathing in, I hear this sound of the bell.
When I invite the bell I have a verse (invite is a gentler term chosen then striking a bell)
Sending my heart along with the sound of this bell, may the hearer awaken from forgetfulness, and transcend all anxiety and sorrow.
You as the listener can come back to your breath, and be present, and listen, listen to this wonderful sound of this bell. Calling you back to your true home.
The following video was discussed in this interview, as a mindfulness tool for during an 8 hour work day. The bells will go off every 30 minutes, allowing you to take a few breaths, and a time-out, increasing your energy and productivity.
Interview with Lisa Hamilton of the “Conscious Runner”.
“Running is my form of meditation, my meditation practice.” Lisa Hamilton
What brought you to a meditation practice?
Trying to eliminate chaos in her life, and also in her mind, and connect to peace in a nutshell.
You mention a natural disaster, hurricane Hugo in your book, what is the role of that major (traumatic) event in your life?
Lisa says that it did transform her, and she was traumatized by that experience. She still finds herself shivering and having other symptoms when there is a storm. it can leave remnants. It still to this day has somewhat of an effect. She doesn’t necessarily think it changed the way she views things. She’s always known that there’s more to life than money, cars, etc. Just a knowing that there was more to life..
She wasn’t brought up that way, it was a painful upbringing. In part to escape that pain, she had to believe that there was something more to life.
What problem where you perhaps trying to solve with your meditation?
She didn’t approach it as a specific problem, like working on forgiveness, progress, or self-esteem. I wanted to solve the problem of chaos and unhappiness. Once I could connect to source into the present moment, that all of those other things would disappear. Going for the root than dealing with the limbs and for the branches.
I don’t look too much for the branches. She always knew that there was something even larger than that. That if she just addressed the root cause (her chaos and unhappiness), then the rest would just fall away by itself.
You mentioned you had to love yourself, imperfections and all. Did that chaos disconnect you from being connected.
Yes, some of that came from the Oprah show. She love Oprah like a mother. Back in the 90’s, Gary Zuchov was one of her favorite spiritual teachers. The world wasn’t ready for that at the time, she was crucified for it. But Lisa knew there was value for her in those interviews. She resonated with those interview. She played those over and over again, and learn more and more from it.
She said Gary was lighting the path for her, she decided to stick with it. Because this was the way she was going to “get it”. After this things became more clear to Lisa, that she had to love herself, imperfections and all. She is a great soul, that every place is a holy place, not just in the confines of a church. It can be anywhere.
Did those teachings turn you towards a meditation practice?
She turned towards running as a meditation practice, not sitting meditation. She could not resonate with that practice. She learned that meditation is anything that you can use that brings you into the present moment. Meditation is just a tool or a technique. There are many meditators sitting in cross legged positions who are not really meditating. They just look like they are.
So running is my form of meditation, my meditation practice.
Did you just discovered it?
Yes, she discovered it, she just knew it. That was her form of being able to connect with source, and the present moment. And to experience her mind and body the way that she wanted to. Her running is more directed inwardly from the kind of feeling that she wants to have, and those are the tools to help her get that.
So you didn’t have a teacher or way to know how to know to get out of your own way?
Yes, any time your minds are in the way, it prevents us from getting into the now, the present moment. Whether we’re focused on the past or the future. She did go to a class in meditation and she found that sitting meditation did not work for her. Sitting meditation does work for her in a sauna, because of the heat. Which helps her with her thoughts.
Tell me more about how the thoughts when running, prevent you from getting into the zone, or peak performance.
Yes, anytime we have thoughts, thoughts carry energy. Negative thoughts are heavy, and positive thoughts uplift us. If you carry a log of negative thoughts, they can actually make you stop (literally) where your body stops. Next thing you know, your legs feel like legs.
But changing all of that is literally only a thought away. Focus on what’s right and positive, and you can be restored.
Explains her experience with wind and trying to run, and she could barely move her legs. So she started to think she couldn’t do it., but then she stopped, and got her mind right. Then when she got back on her run on the trail, and it ended up being her fastest repetition out of the six, and it was into the wind. And all she changed was her mindset!
It’s the difference whether she goes out for a run or not, it all begins with the mind.
Expand how your beliefs are another layer that affect your thoughts?
Yes, there are different layers, thoughts are like particles in the air. We can’t always control what comes into our heads, but we can control what stays there. Part of what does stay there, is what resonates with the believes that we have underneath it. So you have all these thoughts that are floating around, and we pick the ones that resonate with the beliefs that we already have. And letting those go that we don’t.
If you have positive self-beliefs, then the chance are you’re going to pick the positive thoughts in this massive thought cloud. Whereas with negative believes, you pick the negative ones.
With pulling out something at the root. If you don’t just go after the thoughts, but go after the underlying believes, then all the other thoughts, you don’t have to fight with the problematic thoughts. Once you think your’e worthy, lovable, you don’t have to work at confidence, self esteem, and peripheral things.
What would you say with those who struggle with the self-limiting beliefs?
Replace and address and replace the beliefs with more positive ones, and do the inner work to change the beliefs to more positive ones. Stay in the present moment, which allows those beliefs to transform. Staying in the present moment helps, there is no past and no future, there just is. And our beliefs come from the past.
How do you define success with athletes?
A lot of time we think success should look a certain way, influenced by our parents, teacher, etc which dictate how we define success. Success is defined by how content you are, how much at peace you are, or how whole you are. And not necessarily by what time you got on your run, those too of course are successes. But let’s not miss all the other successes in addition to those.
Yes, the sport won’t always be there. It will transform. You do find that with athletes, they lose themselves in sport, and when the sport is taken away, they don’t know who they are anymore. Any time we’re identified with a role. It isn’t just with athletes. You see it with other professions, so identified with their job, or mothers with children who leave, etc. Anything you become identified with.
At some point you became connected to something much larger than the limits of your skin?
Yeah on some level she has always known. When things become hard, than that is the place she goes to, that I’m more than this body, more than this personality.
So there’s also a physical experience?
Yes, I know it. This is what I know for sure, my experience has been.
This changes your stories and way you view the world too?
Yes, it does. I’m here with a personality and stuff that i need to work through. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in that space multiple times. and it does change everything. You don’t take things so personally. There is more love, compassion, passion, no fear of death. This is what if feels like, when I’m in that space, fully conscious, fully awake, and fully in the present moment.
I too am a work in progress. There are things that happen that take me out of that. When I’m out of that I do take things personally. Then my life does become stressful and chaotic.
What do you do in those cases?
Then I have to make a decision, “so what are you going to do with it Lisa”? Are you going to wallow in the craziness, or meditate, or do some gratitude journaling to get you back there. What role am I going to be in?
So very conscious decision making?
Yes, very conscious, because I’m experience both. So for me it is which wolf am I going to feed? The one of happiness, joy and contentment and peace? Or the one of greed, and anger, and frustration?
Sometimes I don’t feed the right one..
And then you reap it right as I’m sitting there trying to decide, because it is no fun, it’s suffering!
How do you look at flow?
Lisa looks at it as being in the zone, or being present or connected with source, different ways of saying the same thing. Like saying God or the universe.
Is that the same as being in the super conscious mind, and the other two states of conscious you mention in your book?
Yes, the superconscious mind is like being in flow, being in the zone, being fully present.
Whereas conscious mind, you can still be conscious, but still not be fully present, you don’t necessarily notice everything around you, so many thoughts still floating around etc.
You call that the inner dweller, the 80 thousand thoughts that are clouding one’s mind, like a veil between you and reality.
Yes, the difference between living in black and white world, and living in color. It’s amazing when you’re in the present moment. How the wold comes alive, how much connection there is, love compassion, awe, magic and beauty. You stop looking at just people, and you can see through them, you can see the souls of who they are. And relate to that, it’s really amazing.
Do you have suggestions for those who seek a particular state of flow, and then when they can’t run, they may not get that state?
Yes, that is part two of her book, where she talks about the practices where you get into the meditative technique in order to run. It goes through deep breaths, scanning the body, visualizations, transitioning the body, mindset things like setting your intention.
The way to make it lasting is by doing the first part of the book, make it part of your life. So that by the time of your run, you’re already in that state. The only true way to truly be in that state is to experience it. You don’t want your book, you don’t want to rely on it for ever. You have to experience it. Everything in the book are pointers, ultimately you have to experience it.
The book takes you so far, to the gate, the rest is up to you.
If you then still struggle, you have to go back and and find out what is going on.
Lisa can only speak from personal experience. Chaos and drama are not comfortable, we say we want peace, and presence, and joy. In a weird way sometimes we don’t chose the right thing. Because the familiar is actually comfortable, even when it’s not good.
Sometimes the familiar is better than the unknown, even though the familiar is not good. Why people don’t change, she mentions in her second half of the book.
Why do we sabotage ourselves? Sometimes I make a conscious choice not to have peace, why do I do that. Because feeling like crap feels familiar. And there is some comfort in the familiar even though it does not feel good.
You can create a new familiar with being in presence. Why am I afraid? Maybe if I leave the familiar, I lose my friends, or it ties me to my family, my upbringing. If I leave the comfort zone, the familiarity. There’s a lot of layers to this as to why people don’t change.
Yes, maybe small steps for some?
Yes, there are different ways to progress through their lives. Some folks have one really bad night, and that’s the end of the ego attachment, one devastating breakup, their lives just completely crumbling down.
Javier Perez-Karam grew up in Venezuela, and relocated to New York in 2002 to pursue a film-making career. In the process he discovered Meditation and Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy, and as he started incorporating the practice into his life, he has gained a new purpose with his film career as well as his recent found drive to teach and share his experience with Meditation within the framework of Buddhist Philosophy and it’s applications to the modern life.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
What brought you to a meditation practice?
His relationship started “non-spectacular”, he was “chasing a lady!” That’s how it started. He liked this woman, and she invited him to a Buddhist meditation class. He couldn’t say no, so he went. It was Geshe Michael Roach, from the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition. He’s a very polarizing person. He became his first teacher, put the seeds of meditation into his brain. Learning about karma, mindfulness. and emptiness. He had already grasped these concepts before from his own experience, but didn’t have a framework for understanding.
Meditation can lead them to the best version of yourself. He liked the promises of what meditation leads up to. His parents were going through a divorce, and he had broken up with his girlfriend, so that further encouraged him. His fiancee calls him an “experience junkie”, so he gave it a try about 8 years ago. It took some time to make it part of his daily life. But it radically changed his way of seeing his reality. But also has a new view of Buddhism.
How did meditation help you with sad events?
It helped him accept sadness, it’s ok what is going on right now. So it is not so strong of an emotion later. He can now accept it. Through the practice of meditation and off the cushion through mindfulness and in living. He could now better identify what he was feeling and how it made him react to the world.
When his parents divorced, it hurt him very much. He felt physical pain in his chest, he’d never felt physical pain from sadness before. He could better understand it, and now allow that pain to become part of everything else. He did notice how this pain from broken relationships in his family affected how he started seeing others. He noticed he was objectifying women and rejecting love, but it was coming so much from his own relationships, but from seeing the broken relationships in his life like his parents. And by objectifying, he was protecting himself through this objectification.
Through meditation he was able to realize how he was putting on that barrier, and he was able to break it down. After that he started seeing clinging to possessions, and other afflictions in himself. So he could now find the problems in his life, and observe, and re-frame, and then it was not a problem anymore, but an opportunity.
Were there any particular practices that you found particularly helpful with particular struggles?
He read this book by Lama Christie (see link below), about a death meditation. About through visualizations, you try to simulate what it means what it is like to die and see how your possession and loved ones are left behind. It plays with the idea of uncertainty in the time of death. That was a wake up thing. He always liked to think death was far away, so you don’t pay attention. We like to think it won’t happen to us, we don’t pay much attention to our own death.
He started doing this death meditation over and over again. And he could now start to appreciate the shortness of human life, and appreciate the moment, so precious. And the fact that he was experiencing was mind-blowing. It is his choice whether to love or objectify a woman, cheat or not, etc. It’s all based on the choices you make now. That sitting down and self-analysis about mortality, really triggered a deeper practice. He needed to understand now more of our own reality, and how his mind creates his own reality, through that death meditation.
Was there more of a sense of what the consequences are of your actions?
Yeah, as small and insignificant as our actions are, there are consequences. He can recall things he did when he was a teenager, and now sees how those things created consequences. Very interesting once you learn about karma or the things you put into the world, the causes and effects.
And it then makes you more conscious about what direction you. want to take with your life right?
Yes, completely, that is also where mindfulness comes in. Because you may get cut off in traffic, or you have a fight with someone with work. That is where the practice takes shape in real life, not so much in sitting down. If you’re not mindful in your daily life, you’re bound to make mistakes, terrible mistakes even.
We tend to do something, there’s this urge, and then ohh, shouldn’t have done. The moment you have an impulse, this urge, not surrender to it right away. You take a second with mindfulness, you have that moment to think about it before you do it.
Regret is delayed illumination…
Yeah, we go through life without realizing. Sometimes we think we can get away with it. But when we know we didn’t. We’re constantly judging ourselves.
Do you have more self compassion through practice?
At first more for others, then more recently for myself. He took longer to develop compassion for himself. For such an individualistic society, in the west, we don’t really teach to love ourselves. Sure indulgence our selves, yes, but respect and love ourselves, not so much.
There is judgement in this culture about failing too. We are not allowed to fail in this culture as much.
Initially there’s more of self serving in a way initially because of cause and effect where you make sure it doesn’t come back at you. But regardless that still makes the world a better place.
Lately he has been doing Tonglen (Tibetan) practice, “giving and taking” with his future self.
Has your sense of who you think you are changed?
Yes, completely. When he was younger, he thought his identity was a film maker, and had to get a message out, self serving though. He didn’t care initially what he was making if it mattered to others. But now after practicing Buddhism, it does not define him anymore.
But with the Buddhist practice, and getting more wisdom, but now his film making career doesn’t define him so much anymore. Film making is now something he does, that doesn’t mean he is that. Now he feels more like a human being, a future father, future husband. He’s in a different framework.
Now the stories he tells through video, he wants to inspire with them, more oriented to what people the world needs. Inspire people to be the best version of themselves.
So what is the film you’re working on right now?
Yes, it’s called, The Perfection of Giving”, a documentary film shot between Kathmandu and NYC. See link below for more info. 108 lives project, from his teacher. The idea was to replicate the project in many other places. Javier wanted to offer his help. Initially just 5 minute pieces to document this giving to the 108 resource poor people, But as he was helping the organization to become bigger. As he started helping, their attitude started changing.
Just a couple hours a day thinking about the needs of those 108 other people. Was making them happy, brutally happy. Ah, there is something here, maybe altruism is not so much about helping others, but helping ourselves, to find ourselves. Not so much about building schools, but helping ourselves. They help people paint schools, teach kids English, etc. And then all the volunteers go back to their own lives. Sure there is an exchange, their lives don’t change much, but the volunteers experience as human beings completely changed! So that is what the story is about.
It’s a very personal film. It doesn’t come from his personal view, but that is not what he hopes it comes across as. Let’s see how it plays out. He’ll put it online after screening it at festivals. And he hopes it will help some people do some crazy non-self interesting things.
You mention non-self, what are you talking about for those who don’t know?
Yes, the blurry line between me and you. It’s the illusion from our own duality of mind. When you put yourself in a very generous position, “playing the Bodhisattva”, those boundaries just blur. When you see somebody laugh, you cannot help but laugh, or if you see someone in pain, you feel their pain.
Is that why you called it, “The Perfection of Giving”?
Yes, it’s exactly about that. In Tibetan Buddhism, the first perfection is about giving, dana. Blurring that space between our body and minds and access to the oneness. Certainly the experience we lived in the movie, was at least a little taste of what that means, that oneness, that blurring between giving and receiving.
So the self and other dissolves in that giving?
Giving is a full circle. There’s someone on the other end of the giving. For that person to be taking, it immediately becomes an interdependent arising. There can not be giving without receiving, not a giver without a receiver. Two sides of the same coin.
When is the film ready?
It’s done already for private screenings. It will be out to the public, depends on how the festival goes. It will be available in September 2015 for watching online (see below for links).
So you are a teacher of meditation?
He guides meditation offerings at the 3 Jewels Meditation Center. He’s now a junior teacher there. He’s also studying under a Shambala tradition. Mostly teaches mindfulness meditation and giving and taking meditation (Tonglen). Easy meditations for beginning meditators. One is based on breath, and the other on visualizations. He does a little bit of both.
Currently also doing an immersive meditation teacher training for a year, at a place called the interdependent project in New York City. They explore together with other teachers, and several lineages, to built more skills together with other teacher. Under several lineages of the Buddhist tradition.
Is there any meditation for really busy lives with distracted people like in New York?
If you are just starting out, recommend anybody to just breath, focus on your breath. Don’t beat yourself up. Your mind is going to wander somewhere else, just bring it back to your breath. Even if you do it “badly”, you can do it, to gain benefits from meditation. It’s better to learn how to breath first.
Website: OurBusyMinds.com (his own web site and blog about mindfulness and productivity includes audio guides sharing what he has learned)