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!
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.
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)
Interview with “The One You Feed” Podcast host Eric Zimmer
Eric Zimmer is host and founder of the, “One You Feed” podcast, which he and Chris Forbes work on together. On the podcast, he talks about which wolf we chose to feed. Eric has also worked with start-ups, doing Management and Software Development, is CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy, and all around an Experienced entrepreneur. He’s also a Songwriter. You can tell tell he is a very curious person by listening to his podcast.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
Eric got introduced in high school by a teacher, he was probably the only reason that he got through high school. The teacher introduced him with Zen books. Eric then got involved with Trancendental Meditation.
He took a class in TM. Eric had to bring 3 handkerchiefs as a prerequisite to TM meditation. He then shoplifted these handkerchiefs, and got caught. He practiced for a short period of time, and then stopped. Over the next 5-6 years, he’d think about it, but also struggled with an alcohol addiction, “a wasteland” as he calls it.
He’d have periods where he’d sit and start and stop his meditation practice, and occasionally read books by Jack Kornfield. What drew him to meditation was, how can he use meditation, so he can better manage his internal states.
Was there anything in particular irking him that gave him a “why”?
After he got sober, he no longer had the escape that he had always had. He was looking for some way to quiet his brain, at least turn the volume down to a manageable level. The promise of some degree of peace.
How did that motivation then evolve over the years?
He recommends chunks of why he’d come back to practice. Especially the difficult experience of things falling apart. When he and his wife split up, and his son was about 2.5 years old. A very painful experience.
Pema Chodron’s book, “When things fall apart” was life changing for Eric. It introduced him to the idea that he could sit there with these feelings, and examine them. That they weren’t going to kill him. Neither repress them, or indulge them.
He really got into meditation then, because he was in so much pain, and even did some retreats.
But then life got a little better, and then he would not practice as much. Then about 2 years ago, he started getting exposed to ideas of better building habits. He really wanted to do it every day, and start small. Instead of like he thought, do 45 minutes ever day, which was self-defeating. So he started with 2 minutes, and gradually built his meditation practice from there.
The “one you feed” podcast has been another helpful ally to Eric, in terms of support for maintaining a consistent meditation practice for as well.
Why start the “one you feed” podcast?
He got interest in building a business online, do something online that didn’t take any money, unlike his main solar business. One day he just had the idea for the show. It just came into his mind. His best friend Chris was into audio, and that would give him more time with his friend.
And secondly, it was important to keep ideas of living a spiritual or more awake life. Because if he doesn’t keep it at the front of his mind, it is very easy for Eric to go onto auto-pilot, because his life is so super busy, and he would forget his inward life, and just be outward focused.
What is the parable of the two wolves?
The podcast is called, “The One You Feed”, and it is based on the parable of the two wolves.
There is a grandfather who’s talking to his grandson. In life there are two wolves inside us, which are constantly in battle with each other.
One is a good wolf, representing kindness, bravery and love. The other wolf is the “bad” wolf, representing things like, greed hatred and fear.
And the grandson says, “Grandpa, which one of the two wolves wins?”
And the grandpa answers, “the one you feed”.
So Eric uses that parable to interview various authors, thought leaders, etc, and asks them what does it mean to you? And he then tries to explore their work, and how to create a life worth living. He’s known the parable, since this is a well known story in recovering alcoholic circles.
How have the audience responses you’ve gotten, changed your thinking about this parable?
It has evolved his thinking. He’s been exposed to a lot of ideas in his life. It is just becoming more about the importance of integrating those things into our lives. From knowing intellectually to living it out.
There’s a huge gap on what we belief, and how we practice that.
There are certainly themes in the show what he hears a lot of, and he’s trying to extract that. But he’s mainly interested in consistent focused effort, and keeping that into his awareness, seeing what that has done over time for his emotional and mental health.
You use apps to help you meditate, what Apps do you use for your meditation?
Eric uses several timer apps, so he can set little bells for a timer and guided meditations. And he uses a gratitude app so he can record what he’s grateful for. There’s another app (The app is called rewire) where it helps you notice when a sound goes away. A gamified interesting way to mix it up a bit. It buzzes you when you’re off in your thoughts somewhere.
What advice do you have for someone who struggles with meditation?
Start really small and connect the dots, start with just a few minutes. Better 5 minutes a day, every day, than an hour once a month or once a week.
It took a long time to understand his expectations, what was supposed to be happening. He’d hear people say they always felt peaceful etc. He thought he was supposed to feel good, he must not be the kind of person who can meditate. And so he finally got that he might not feel great while doing it, but it is the training of his mind, and ideally it will help, contribute to the other 23.5 hours of the day. So he started thinking about it as mental hygiene. Just do it everyday, because he knows it’s a good thing to do.
Give up any expectation of a particular state or experience. In Eric’s case, he stopped fighting it, or getting disappointed. Trying to stay away from how it should be or how it was. Some days he has some measure of peace, and other times, it just runs completely crazy. He had heard people talk about meditation in such glowing terms before, and his experience just did not verify that, so that he then thought there must be something wrong. He got away from the idea that his mind was “supposed” to be clear.
Eric uses the analogy of the waterfall. Imagine the space between the rock and the waterfall, and you imagine standing in between that little space and watching that water fall by. That water is your mind, just noticing what’s happening there. Just noticing, just paying attention to what is happening right now. That really clicked for Eric.
Also the thing that finally worked for him. Breath meditation didn’t work as well, he is using what he hears, and what he feels in his body as his method for getting in the present. Similar to open awareness meditation.
Eric does not currently have a teacher, but he does go to groups in Ohio. He’s just ecstatic that he’s finally consistently meditating.
Have you notice anything off the meditation pillow that changes the way you look at things, or in your relationships?
Yes, quotes Victor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space. And in that space lies all our human freedoms.”
And the best way Eric can describe how meditation benefits him
It puts a little more space between stimulus and response. He finds himself more able to notice his reaction, there’s a stimulus and response. He tends to process inward, but there is still a reaction. More space to question what that habitual response is. That awareness to question his responses.
And the other thing he noticed, is an ability to appreciate for example, a pleasant experience a little longer. Ex, his attachment to watching the ocean at California, he’d get attached to it. I gotta live here, I need more time here, scheming how he can get more of it. He was not enjoying the moment any longer. Now he notices how now he’s able to more appreciate the moment and be more present and not clinging to it any longer.
The primary thing he’s noticed, is that he has a little more space within his thoughts. And he can examine them more regularly.
Some of your listeners struggle with depression, how has your show helped them?
He’s been taken by surprise how his audience felt helped by his episodes. He’s getting great responses.
Eric is doing meaningful things, like with solar and non-profit work, what is that like?
He’s now trying to sell his solar business, due to unfavorable circumstances. He’s always had a desire to do thing that are meaningful to him. He loved the work in software start-up companies, but didn’t get enough personal meaning out of it. With solar he just got interested in it, as a great business opportunity, and it is important to the world. So it was interesting to marry those two.
He really likes the idea of combining something that really matters with building things. Now doing the podcast and coaching work, that’s the next evolution for Eric. The podcast is more tightly integrating what he’s spending effort on from a work perspective, and a deep personal meaningfulness. He is seeing that the podcast is taking on a life of its own. He wants to do more of it.
He also does eCommerce consulting for a fortune 500 company. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean as much as something like the podcast. But he’s patient, he doesn’t want to rush it.
Interview with Dori Langevin, practitioner and teacher of Vipassana Buddhism. Dori works with groups and individuals using experiential mind-body-spirit approaches for healing and creating ceremonies for life passages including mindfulness, loving-kindness and compassion practices; guided imagery; artwork; ritual; psychodrama; emotional release work; and Holotropic Breathwork™. One special interest is the interface between mindfulness practice, addiction recovery and emotional healing. Dori has been in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction since August 1980. She serves as an Advisory Council Member for Buddhist Recovery Network.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
What brought you to a meditation practice?
Dori is a recovering alcoholic, so spiritual practice started with the 12 steps as her baseline for practice. It was a very “in vivo” (practice in the marketplace in daily life instead of “in vitro” (in the lab, in the formal practice, the inward focus). There are endless ways in which life creates opportunities for practice.
In 1985 she attended a month long retreat at Esalen called “The Mystical Path – Attachment and Addiction with Stan and Christina Grof and many other teachers including Jack Kornfield. Jack’s description of the Four Noble Truths (in Buddhism) completely resonated with her personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery from addiction. It made sense: addiction and recovery; suffering and freedom from suffering. It was an embodied frame of reference for her. Jack taught Vipassana and Loving-kindness or Metta meditations.
Although the 12 step recovery program included guidance in prayer there was little specific instruction for meditation. She started to practice without a teacher or community, so she was winging it and it took many years for her to find a formal community in which to study and practice Buddhadharma. In 1997, As “luck” would have it, she found that Tara Brach was teaching in near her in Maryland. She immediately resonated with Tara and her style of teaching the dharma and became very involved in the budding development of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington along with her husband, Ted. It is quite fortunate to have a partner that also practices.
What do folks do who don’t have a local meditation community?
Dori talks about how for some people there is no physical practice community available. The virtual reality of webinars and other on-line teaching and meditation are now viable options for support and to ask questions. But she still prefers the “embodied presence” of sitting together physically with a teacher and a sangha.
Was this a practice for life?
She can’t imagine this not being part of her life. Dori thinks of it as a tapestry. Those practices that weave in and feel alive for her stay—feeling enlivened by them and the sense of being at home. Practice is a guiding presence, a shepherding, so that when those moments of difficulty arise, she will be able to stay present and learn from life.
So in a way you’re priming yourself for those moments, so that when a difficult moment comes up, you have this practice that automatically kicks into gear.
Do you have an example of something like that?
Yes. Dori was riding with her husband on their Harley Davidson motorcycle on a long cross-country trip in the summer of 2013. Just west of Albuquerque the back end of the bike started fish-tailing and the only thought that arose in her mind was “We’re going down, because there is no other way out of this.” No panic, just a sense of “this is how it is right now.” They thought they were on their way to Canyon de Chelly to hike that morning, but the plan changed!
She was very grateful that in those few seconds she had the grace of clarity of mind and an absence of fear as she “went down” (thrown off the bike on to I-40). In the months of recovery, the practices helped her stay connected to her body, to notice pain (unpleasant physical sensation) and know that mental anguish was optional. First and second noble truths, pain is going to happen, but suffering is optional. Although she couldn’t do sitting practice because of broken bones, she practiced as she walked (very slowly!) and while laying down, and relied heavily on metta and gratitude practice. She was very aware of all the support and love they received from the people at the roadside scene, the EMT’s and medical staff, friends in Albuquerque, but also through social media. When back home friends brought food and goodwill everyday, and cleaned the house, drove them to medical appointments, etc.
So you still had the pain, but not all the mental baggage, the mental weather?
Yes, the whole ‘adding on,’ “Why did this happen? This shouldn’t have happened,” etc., all the ways you can fight with reality. That would just add extra mental anguish. Cultivating the attitude, “It’s like this now.” Her overarching questions are, What is happening? and What is needed now? Rather than this is not how is it supposed to be; that is Dukkha. By cultivating the mental capacity to see clearly one can choose freedom. As soon as I notice I’m on that dukkha train, I can get off.
So there is an element of accepting that everything is uncertain, and not being attached to outcomes, do you have an example?
The practice of setting intention. Dori can set her intention to contemplate what she may need, what the day will need from here, and then to realize there is a letting go into what is actually going to happen. And activate the inner qualities needed to be with reality. You don’t know what the next thing is that will break. Getting comfortable with uncertainty.
It’s coming back again and again to, “How do I recognize when I’m not in alignment with that truth?” Because then I just get frustrated.The attunement with the 3 characteristics, or three marks of existence.
1. Impermanence (anicca)
2. Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoryness, dissatisfaction, because everything changes If I’m trying to hold on,bI can remember to let go in any moment. I may not like it, but that is just a preference
3. Non-self (anatta – not creating an “I” or “mine” story)
Have you noticed that your relationship with the world changed from when you were an addict to now?
In a broad way, everyone has the desire to be of service, to be happy, to be able to give, and yet so many things get in the way. She admits she still has the capacity to “otherize.” And other people have this too.
How can I serve, and also savor this world? She looks at other people to link herself, looking at how they enjoy the world, and how they suffer.
She’s trying to link herself to the whole human condition, knowing that we all have our measure of sorrow, our measure of suffering, and we all have gifts to bring to the world.
You are now a teacher right?
In 2001 she finished her doctoral degree in clinical psychology and Tara Brach asked if she had any interest in teaching? At the time she had no inclination to teach, but about a year later she did accept Tara’s invitation and began teaching with Tara and other IMCW teachers. In 2006 she was accepted into the Spirit Rock/ Insight Meditation Society4-year teacher training with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and other teachers.
What struggles do you see with your students in their meditation practice?
She teaches locally in Spokane, as well as at IMS, Spirit Rock, Cloud Mountain, and iBme Teen Retreats. In Spokane she works with Experienced Practitioner Groups –these students she sees regularly, so there is deepening of practice, dharma and sangha. And some she sees remotely for shorter periods of time on retreat.
Many people are struggling to one degree or another is with “what is practice? or what is their relationship with practice. She encourages students to practice, and see for themselves if their efforts lead to well-being and harmlessness or to discontent and harm. And if it leads to harm, don’t do it! “Come see for yourself.”
Dori asks them, What you really want? What is your north star? What is your motivation?” She can then suggest various forms of practice to activate that
within themselves. And to discover the obstacles. She asks challenging questions of her students as well as offering support and encouragement.
Does it help the students to stick to their practice to be in touch with their why?
Reflecting on “What is true happiness for you?” Maybe the student is not resonating with the word “happiness,” maybe contentment is the word for them. So then she asks the student how these practices support the wholesome mind-states they want to cultivate.
So it’s about what’s happening today, and what is needed now? Start again now. Initially, keep it simple.
In time, you will be able to select the right skillful practice appropriate to the moment. It is letting the students articulate their own questions and what they are seeking through their own words.
If she’s worried about something that is going to happen that day, she may use a particular practice that works well for that particular mindstate. Like turning a “demon” into an ally. Lama Tsultrim’s Demon Feeding Practice frees up the unwholesome energy by understanding and meeting its needs.
Do you have tips for meditation practitioners to bring their mindfulness into their day?
Yes, this is what she calls “in-vivo” practice. Inviting people to select a particular activity of daily living as a focus for mindfulness practice. For example, driving their car. One could start the practice with mindfully walking to the car, entering, and starting, and then attention to the physicality of driving (without the radio or other distractions). Notice when you leave mentally, when you’re already at work, and then use the physical sensations of driving to call you back to the present experience of driving.
This is practice is about strengthening the muscle of presence.
Keep in mind that you’re driving as you are driving. Bring the ardency and alertness that is necessary, the wakefulness and stick-to-it-ness required for mindful presence.
Driving is great, because we habitually get so lost in thoughts. But It could be anything, just pick something—doing the dishes, brushing your teeth as a way of knowing what you’re doing “right now.” And then notice the transitions between activities, thoughts. How do I feel in my body now? As well as when something big erupts internally.
She also encourages On the Spot Tonglen practice (Pema Chodron). So that you can let the vicissitudes of the day be something that connects you to the web of life as opposed to shutting you down. Or needing to hoard what is pleasant, or to push away, or personalizing some arising of unpleasantness.
Embodied presence does not come easy for some folks. Coming into the body does not come easy for everyone. Do it in steps. Being aware of the body and the breath wherever you are. What is my body feeling now, checking back in. For others, notice your moods.
For example if you’re trying to work with the loss of someone. Notice what sorrow feels like. Notice when it arises, and then can you offer what is needed, perhaps hand on yourheart. Can you realize what is happening, pause and see if you can sit with that.
What is happening, and what is needed right now?
How can we be in this life, with open-heartedness, compassion, wisdom within our circumstances.? Even when someone has done something to hurt us.
Using the practices under all kinds of circumstances. Dori then talks about her various retreats and web sites and other ways she works with.
Dori talks about coming out of a patriarchal age, female equality in Buddhist monastic life is being addressed, but is an ongoing challenge. She talks about the Sacred Feminine that honors a variance of vision, inclusivity, and reverence fo rall life. The Sila (wholehearted commitment to non-harming) is paramount, and although we may not be as brilliant as we can be, we can cultivate a wholesome energy with which we bring ourselves to relationships. There is no barrier to who can be enlightened, which was radical then, 2500 years ago, and still is today!
She hopes we are all willing to be radically responsive to what is needed.