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.
Any questions? Comments? Please use the feedback form below!
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.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
What brought you to a meditation practice?
It was chaos in her personal life that brought Carol to a meditation practice. She says that her former husband came out after 30 years of marriage, so the rug was pulled out. He was in a relationship with another man, unbeknownst to her for most of the marriage. He led a double life for almost all of those years. He said to her that he had, “homosexual tendencies”. But he had acted on them for a long, long time.
She was also looking for meaning in her life.
Meditation became her refuge. It was a way to let go, to be in the moment, not to go back to the “what ifs”, and “how stupid I am”. She could get into the present moment.
This transition didn’t just go from one day to the next right?
They put their personal life on the back-burner. They had a business, and it took about 4 years, before they lived apart. In the beginning of that, they tried to make their marriage work. They decided then to separate, being unable to make it work.
She was taking Shambala weekend retreat training in a retreat setting during those 4 years of struggle. It’s typically 8 hours of meditation training. That is how she kept her sanity through meditation practice.
What were some of the breakthroughs during these meditation intensives?
Staying in the present moment is very important. And not trying to go back and second-guess everything.
Learned to follow the breath, “If you can stay and follow your breath, whatever is happening, will pass.”
The concept of impermanence became real. Whatever it is, will pass.
She was learning about the depth of her own spirit. She was feeling mostly sadness. She was in deep grief, felt betrayed, angry at times. As if someone dear had died. In a way that had happened, because the man she thought she knew was not the same man.
Was this one of the reasons you were drawn to Pema Chodron as a teacher, she often talks about these things, having the rug pulled under from you, impermanence, groundlessness, the certainty of uncertainty, everything falling apart, and so on.
Yes, she went through a similar experience before she became a nun. Her husband also ran away with another woman. That gave her a depth of understanding for situations like Carol’s.
Pema told Carol the first time they met, that, “having the rug pulled out could be very good news”. Carol was in the depth of her sorrow, so thought it was crazy at first. Pema also said, this is an opportunity to grow. So she started looking at the event that way from now on.
She also started studying meditation with meditation teacher, Dale Asrael of Naropa University. She is a wonderful teacher, that is how she began. She then went to the Rocky mountain dharma center, and got connected with Pema Chodron. She further did the Shambala training.
Carol also leads a Dharma reading discussion group, a small Sangha, or community. That is also very important to her, along with lojang practice, and meditation. She does work with straight spouses, and interviewed hundreds of straight spouses, which is how her books came about.
What insights did she get after she started seeing the events as an opportunity?
Carol learned how strong she can be, she felt devalued at first, unworthy, there must be something wrong with her. She was blaming herself at the beginning.
She learned through these quiet times, that this had nothing to do with her (that her husband is gay). It had to do with her husband needing to become more authentic in his own life. She came to appreciate that, that was one of the real benefits of a meditation practice. She could sit with it, and begin to understand it.
This doesn’t have to remain a crisis. She came to see that they could both come through it.
So you developed compassion then for this struggle for authenticity? We all struggle to with being authentic due to society’s, parents, etc expectations.
Yes, you learn to forgive, forgive what came before. And understand that the other person was doing what they thought they had to do. Her husband is now free, authentic, and married to his male partner. They both now have a wonderful life.
“We had to free each other”.
And understand the motivations in order to pass through it and heal. And forgiveness is a big part of that.
How do you see your practice now?
She has learned that service is the real reward, and is the real path. She took up the Mahayana Bodhisattva vow as a Buddhist. The gist of that is that to exchange self for other. To put yourself in the other person’s place. It’s about service.
Since then she has devoted her time to service working through the blog, and doing peer counseling, and working with straight spouses. The books are also part of that. She writes and teaches in this dharma group. She feels she has a sort of perfect circle of activities to act out the Bodhisatva’s vow.
You’ve written a book of poetry as well, where you talk about how your sense of self changed, could you read a couple of poems?
She realized she had a kind of record of turning points through her lifetime. Some are through her experience as a straight spouse, and some as a Buddhist.
She reads from, “Glimpses: a memoir in poetry”.
This first poem is about looking back (a record of turning points):
(some sentences from this poem)
..What was certain wasn’t..
..Tree ornaments lovingly hung.. radiate moving memories..
..Time passed, prior life with it.
..What was certain..wasn’t..
..It happens this way…another year, another begins.
…We pack away the past..
…out of sight, but always present.
…Ornaments and delusions, keen reminders of all we were, when we thought we knew.
It kind of captures the movement of this life. Everything changes. It’s not bad.. it’s how we grow, it’s how we learn..cannot escape impermanence, it’s not all bad, and these reminders are really precious.
She just read Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “No death, no fear”. She talks about photographs of yourself, how they are the same, yet totally different. It demonstrates the movement of life.
She also reads the poem, “On Separation”.
..Root bound no more..
..Total change required..
..circling inner walls..
..Wounded but vital..
..Timid new roots push tenderly past outgrown patterns.. ..Boundaries fall, rawness feeds renewal…
Renewal is a daily recurrence. Clinging to non-movement. Friction and clinging cause so much pain, trying to stop the movement.
My hair is graying..
My mind is straying.. It’s not too late to contemplate.. To heal all hate…and mend my faith My days are free..to just be me..
It’s truthful, it’s authenticity. She sees that in her own life, how in business how she was trying to Be who she was not. She kept the front up, and it was exhausting. When she was done with the business, and she sold it. Her first thoughts were after this business, “Who am I”? She didn’t even really know.
Now she is beginning to get a feel for something greater than what she thought she was at that time. She now sees her as part of a bigger whole, the ultimate.
She really wants and is becoming more real now, authentic.
Books Authored by Carol Grever (Click on the images below to purchase)
Peer groups are also very helpful to talk about it at first.
Spiritual practice like Buddhism
When you’re sick of hearing the stories, which is a sign of growth. Then you can move into a longer term therapy, you can do a long-term recovery.
Is this still as much an issue?
Yes, social pressure, career pressure, religious pressure is still very much an issue keeping gays and lesbians from coming out. Still a lot of prejudice in the work force, difficulty in advancing. Carol knows this, because her books and offerings still help many people.