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.
This is a guest post by Father Tom Connolly who worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for 33 years as a Catholic priest and who now practices Zen Buddhism as well.
In an interview for, “Indian Country Today Media Network“, he said, “I’ve tried to find and emphasize integration between the older Indian spiritual ways and the more modern Catholic ways they have taken and show that these two worlds fit together in a comfortable way,” he said. “Much of my life has been trying to explore relationships between two different worldviews and how they can integrate and how both people can enjoy or expand themselves and find fulfillment in something of the views of other people.”
Why I meditate
As a catholic priest, the question of god’s reality, presence an activity has always been of great interest.
I feel that a source of great confusion has come from the stories of the Book of Genesis, that have been taken for granted and assumed to be historically true.
But the growing acceptance of “evolution” as a more accurate account of history today has opened up an entirely new field of questions about god’s presence an activity. This shift has called me to search for an entirely different set of images and modes of prayer.
Christian theology has always stated that God is both “transcendent” and “imminent”. But beginning with Hebrew old testament history, God has been described as a kind of heavenly “creator-king” and always “intervening” in their history to reward their fidelity and punish their infidelity.
Later Christian artistic descriptions have presented God as an elderly, bearded, white male, seated at high on a throne and surrounded by heavenly courtiers in a place called heaven high above the clouds. Traditionally, most Christians have imaginatively and prayerfully dealt with this God who is primarily “transcendent”.
This prayerful, transcendent imagery is not nearly as satisfying for me today. Psychologically, it seems necessary to have some kind of phantasm or verbal image for all our thoughts, and so it has been difficult to find and develop a meaningful relationship with a God who is also “imminent” and therefore less image-able.
We are familiar with scripture passages like Jesus’ prayer: “that you will know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you”, and Saint Paul’s: “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me”, and Saint Ignatius’ call to, “find God in all things”.
Yet it seems that these insights have not had the same impact in people’s devotional awareness as have references to a primarily “transcendent” God.
In the Zen and in Buddhism I have found two helpful means in my pursuit of an imminent God, who is at once present in himself, present in myself, present in others and present in all experienced beings.
Zen meditation has been helpful in following my breathing and being aware of breath and psychic energy present in mind lower abdomen. In time this awareness has translated into a kind of imminent “awareness of divinity” within.
It has also brought a great peacefulness of spirit. This type of meditation has gradually led me into an altered state of consciousness, slipping from Beta brain waves of normal alert thinking into calmer Alpha brain waves of an unthinking awareness and peacefulness. It has been difficult to calm the mind and remain in the state, but with practice, it seems to become more possible.
Another helpful means has been the Buddhist teaching of the “tathagata garba” – a “seed of the Buddha nature”, something somewhat comparable to Divinity, present in all sentient beings.
It seems possible to find, and not total identity who, but a lot of similarity between Christian teachings about the ” divine – nature” and Buddhist teachings about the “Buddha-nature” present in all beings.
They both indicate a kind of transcendent-yet-imminent reality drawing me towards a unity of myself with the One and the All of creation.
Meditating with some of these aspects of Zen and Buddhism has helped me enhance my catholic awareness of god has also “imminent”. This awareness is more spiritually meaningful to me today than previous images of a god who is primarily “transcendent” and “above”.
Interview with John Hancock, a practitioner of the Labyrinth, and advocate of building compassion into organizations, communities, and systems.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you get into a spiritual practice?
His father was Methodist minister, which is what he grew up with. He taught tolerance is great, but not enough, but we must go beyond that and embrace the other. He gave up on Protestantism, because he felt too much emphasis on sin. He wanted a more positive message.
He was impressed with the Dalai Lama, and his new Ethics for a New Millenium, and the concept of human universal compassion.
He feels we were misled and misinterpreted by Darwin about survival of the fittest and competition. But he thinks Darwins teachings on cooperation have been under emphasized. John feels competition helps individuals more than groups. He is seeking the commonality that we have with each other. His spirit life, is coming to grips with, yes, i’m distinctive, but on the other hand he’s with other people, that’s coordinated, linked up we have a shared self. Feeling oneness with the animals, other people, the revelations are calming and affirming. That he feels is the antidote to the stress as a citizen. That’s where he goes with his meditation.
What brought him to the tool of meditation in the form of walking the labyrinth?
John describes the labyrinth, as a universal symbol found in various cultures. He took a personalized demonstration, and found out that the practice in part came from women in the catholic church, coming to the US from Europe. In San Francisco there was a labyrinth in the hall, as well as outside. And this woman that he learned from, had been trained there. He learned how to build a labyrinth on his property (north of Spokane, WA) based books, and from a couple of examples in his town of Spokane, Washington. So he found a place on his property, and then used a national geographic type publication to help figure out the exact dimensions to replicate the design on his property.
Why does he prefer that over sitting meditation?
It is easier for him to do walking meditation in the labyrinth design. Because the physicality of walking allows him to focus and let go of his thinking.
How does the practice work?
The path into the labyrinth, is a return or into the unknown. The center of the labyrinth is the spirit energy, or the focus, of the light, or the revelation, of the center. Or the oneness. So it’s a stay in the center, with the expectation of inspiration or energy. The return is then the ability to take that energy back into the external life, to keep it with you, as you return to the next chapter of your life. The integration if you will. Representing the reborn idea.
In Europe there are some examples of labyrinths in the floor, like in Chartres cathedral. It wasn’t just Muslims to make the pilgrimage, the medieval Christians also could follow the steps of a labyrinth. They could do it in a symbolic way by following the steps of Jesus in a labyrinth, to get a similar spiritual revelation. Sometimes the monks would do that on their knees and/or with prostrations to intensify that practice.
How often do you practice this?
He does it when he’s stuck. John can find an idea that way, and also a link to the energy of the land. He’s not distracted there. He feels the energy of the land is important. He fiddled with the entry of his labyrinth in accord with their intuition, where the energy felt right. He found that the best place for an entry was the same as Stonehenge.
Does it help you with creative inspiration?
Yes, he feels it helps with next steps in life, and problem solving. It can also be a group activity. As an opening activity for a group of people who don’t know each other. Group reflection. When a group does it, it is in silence. The revelation is more strong. People will come into, “confrontation”. There are no rules as to how this goes, so it has various ways it works. Sometimes people step off the path, sometimes a aversion of eyes, sometimes an embrace, happens differently with different people. It looks like a wonderful dance, he says. It’s an indiscernible pattern. From Greek times, the labyrinth was an outline, pattern of a traditional dance. He also explains the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Perseus story, breadcrumbs explanation. Design occurs in lots of myths.
How has it affected his day to day life and integration with daily life?
Its’ about centering, about how to give up worry on the surface, giving up worrying. Helps to reassure him that he’s OK, that inspiration is available to him if he slows down and asks. And that nature is supportive, if he takes the time to be receptive.
How has that changed his relationships with difficult people or perceived enemies?
John talks about how the Spokane Indians lived in that area. Walking on the bones of their ancestors. They picked that place in their neighborhood for different reasons, and they all have different practices. They have social gatherings for the neighbors, to get to know each other and their commonalities. Many of them are tolerant and curious.
What was his inspiration to bring diverse people and organizations together in a “friends of compassion” group?
He was inspired by the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist nun Tubten Chodron, as well as the Rotarians, be kind be generous, fair, and give of yourself. So they started a project to get the Dalai Lama to come to Spokane. They couldn’t do it, but people said we can talk about institutions and individuals becoming compassionate.
We can talk about compassion whether the Dalai Lama comes to Spokane or not. So it turned into a discussion group to talk about compassion as a way of changing the community behavior. What does compassion have to offer that some of the other -isms don’t have. We were seeking the commonalities, and not getting hung up on the distinctions. The admonition to be kind is talked about by all the prophets.
There has been a balancing of the differentiation and the oneness. All of these different religions have something good to offer. We all need to find our own understanding. The absolutism that there is a god, or no god, is right for that particular individual, but we can all be right when we find the universal. So you can identify a team by what clothing they wear, but you can’t trademark kindness, that is universal.
What direction do you see this going?
While he is sympathetic of Buddhism, he found the Buddhism that he found, not as political and engaged. He wants more of an activist life. What are the problems in his community, for which compassion had not yet been tried? So he is now doing more political actions. He is working on a “smart justice” system, from a system that is more retributive, to more help them solve their problems, not just punish. So more compassionate way to help people. He further wants to do the philosophical investigation through blogs.
What would you do to change the retributive system?
He feels that poverty is a big one in the justice system. He advocates breaking the cycle of debt, crime, through a smart specialized court. “How is society harmed if this person (without a licence) drives to work?”. He also works with veterans. It’s just a specialized system that does a far better job of discerning the problem and get them to overcome their own problems, and breaking them out of a cycle of poverty. This is also cheaper, because there is less re-offending by actually helping people.
Russell Kolts Compassion Focused Therapy Interview
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview with author and professor Russell Kolts
Russell began with an intense study of Buddhism; reading, meditation, and doing retreats after three years, he realized that a compassionate, mindfulness practice had been life changing.
He says that it was the birth of his child about how he was motivated to start a a meditation mindfulness practice after his son was born. He taught compassionate therapy, and since he struggled with negative emotions in his own life such as anger, and irritability. He observed himself not following his own advice. So he deepened his practice. He realized, “if you want your child to become a good parent, become the person you want your child to be”. What message do your children get from their parents? So he started doing meditation practices, and learning from Buddhist teachers like the Dalai Lama.
He was then later also more able to bring what he learned in his meditation practice and into his psychotherapy work work, by focusing on, “Compassion Focused Therapy”. He then had a scientific scaffolding for working with the mind.
Some examples of practices that would work for him in the moment during.
Mindfulness meditation helps notice what is moving in the mind, such as anger and irritation. This practice helped him recognize it earlier, so just by naming the emotion, it reduces it’s hold on the person.
Meditation and cultivation of compassion have gradually transformed his experience so that the destructive emotions came up less, due to ongoing work with with deep awareness.
Switching out from “that’s a bad emotion” and judgments, looking more deeply, what’s going on here, and other habitual responses.
Working with close family members shows that it is not easy to not be reactive.
Insight is hugely trans-formative
From a scientific perspective, those destructive threat emotions such as anger and fear where designed by evolution, so we can make a rapid response.
The compassion work is by seeing how the threatening person also wants to be happy and maybe our goals conflict at that moment. And at that moment. Shifting from judging and labeling to understanding.
Things don’t always go your way. It takes practice to react with compassion and understanding.
He brings mindfulness and compassion into his classes. He has a course on Compassion Focused Therapy, which involves compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation. Students are meditating in the class, because there is just no other way to learn about it.
He sees how it affects the classroom, students feel safer, they can think better, and more reflectively, and they can have dialogue, since there is a container there. It helps the students with difficult course subjects, helps them to center themselves. They don’t necessarily struggle with the problem, but more with the idea, a self-limiting belief. “There’s something wrong with me” is the most threatening idea, very distracting. Meditation helps you recognize these experiences that come and go in the mind, and not necessarily see them as real or true. Notice them, and let them go.
Slowing down their breathing helps the students. They’re not just techniques on the pillow, but at some point it needs to come off the meditation cushion. At some point it has to come into our lives, and begin to transform. It begins to happen behaviorally, and neurologically.
Other Benefits of meditation practices
Russell thinks that because the world moves so quickly, we’re constantly connected. When he was growing up there were just 4 TV channels, now hundreds, tweeting etc, is all wonderful and convenient. But we’re training our brains and minds to expect a certain high level of stimulation. And we’re not designed to function like this all the time. Just sitting and breathing is hard enough! We’ve trained our brains to expect this level of stimulation. To just sit and do only one thing. If you can’t even sit for 5 minutes, its a sign to learn to slow down and be here now, with full focus of one’s mind. And maybe that’s reading, listening, and be fully present is tremendously powerful. If you want to be really good at something, you can’t be dividing your attention. It’s too stressful to maintain that kind of fragmented attention.
We just need to learn to slow down. He orients students on the front end that this is going to be uncomfortable at first to meditate. Key is to start very small, may start with a minute or two minutes, and go up from there. One of the biggest impediments is expectations. Folks don’t realize that it is actually very difficult. So they get frustrated with themselves, and they give up. In the West particularly we move into this self-criticism.
1. One thing we’re doing is to stabilize our attention
2. Training ourselves to see mental experiences and feelings as mental events, and not necessarily the stuff of reality
3. Training ourselves to notice the movement in the mind. Mentions giving a ticker for a finger biter, which helps train themselves to notice when they start doing the biting. Same with mindfulness. From this perspective the distractions are not a problem at all. These are opportunities to notice movement in the mind.
Russell’s focus right now is Compassion Focused Therapy to help people with emotions like anger. He’s currently working on “CFT made simple”, to help clinicians help their clients. They’re doing more research to demonstrate it’s effectiveness. It really helps that the science is beginning to be there, they now have data to demonstrate it.
He’s starting to see increasing interest in institutions. Lots of misconceptions still about compassion, it’s not being “sweet and nice all the time”.
Being sensitive to suffering and help out in an enduring way. It is still hard to pursue compassionate agendas in politics, because the money is not yet going there. We can have both, compassion and a good bottom line.
If you’re interacting with compassion and mindfulness, you can spread that pro-social stuff.
Russell Kolts one tip for dealing with an oncoming destructive emotion.
When we notice, “I’m getting angry, anxious, etc”. Take 30 seconds to a minute. Slowing down the in-breath (in CFT it is called “soothing rhythm breathing”) and the out-breath. And after that ask yourself the question, “what would be most helpful in this situation”? What would I want them to understand? Slowing down the breaths doesn’t make the problem go away, it just softens, gives “that thread stuff”, gives it some space.
Mary Webster Vipassana Meditation Teacher Interview
This is a summary of the interview with Vipassana teacher and practitioner Mary Webster
Mary Webster talks about growing up as an introspective and day dreaming child. Later in life she picked a career in mental health nursing. She noticed her mind was in an either/or right/wrong mind set. And this black/white thinking bothered her, and h ow it affected her and raising kids. This is how she got into meditation, went into her first 3 day meditation retreat in 1995.
She joined a Vipassana tradition, called re-collective awareness, which is a form of Vipassana meditation. It is based on the 4 foundations of mindfulness. She talks about how it is an unstructured tradition, so a lot of thoughts come in. But then they look at it afterwards to examine conditioning. They look at the way the mind works in terms of habitual thinking, making assumptions, like “this or that” thinking.
She’s learned to be more open and nuanced in her thinking, and is better able to examine her thinking habit patterns.
She learned that it was a beautiful how not being so sure of one’s position allows you to open up and hear other people’s thinking. Which helps tremendously when communicating and dialog with others, such as your kids. It allows for a different relationship to develop.
It’s really an exploration what is going on in our minds.
Mary talks about some of the personal benefits of her meditation. For example being a lot less self-critical. Letting go of perfectionism, she could see how this is just a construction, this illusory goal of perfection. She could see through the delusion, that there is no such thing or state of perfection.
Her meditation practice opened her up to her humanness and her own suffering, which is part of being human. We each have our own, and meditation practice helps us deal and incorporate. She felt OK and learned compassion for herself to be a human being. Which in turn allowed her to be more compassion for those around her, to be more friendly, and more open to ideas.
She then talks about her role as teacher, and what she sees her students struggle. But she also sees how we all suffer in a similar way.
“Holding on to something so tightly, a sense of our-self, a sense of how things are supposed to be. That we somehow solidify our experience, and don’t allow for an exploration of the movement that is around that solidity. We tend to hold fast in a certain way.” (11 min)
The work with students is around what is held solid? So then they explore what the mind was doing with the student. What was exactly happening? A lot of this work is breaking down words. Like breaking down the word “perfect”. How does this example of a word show up in one’s life, how does it “hook” you. Breaking down the experience in less defined way, and more full of the experience, not to shortcut our life so much.
She talks about the stories, the narratives, we have made up about our lives (or life-sentences we give ourselves).
She says Buddhism is one huge investigation, a way of examining our lives. It calls into question everything. Meditation allows you to examine life at a gentler pace.
She talks about how our set ways we have, set us apart. This sense of separateness is setting up ourselves into a position, so everything becomes positional. In the flowing river of life, that would be the log that gets stuck in the middle, and then everything has to adjust around it. She talks about shifting that, working with the knowledge of conditionality, so we can take up and promote more wholesome conditions.
She also asks what conditions help us, what conditions do we put in our lives? What conditions help us continue our practice? Watching what we put into our minds and then noticing how this influences and affects us afterwards.
She talks about the importance of taking some time out every day for self-reflection and meditation. Retreats are even better.
What is production, is it only “work put out”? Or is it more than that? We get caught in thinking, “if I’m not producing something that shows, then it’s not worthwhile.” She uses the example of Einstein taking naps and end up more productive.
Mary Webster’s tips for starting a home meditation practice.
Being gentle with yourself
Trying various times to practice
Try to meditate like when most upset.
Read a little bit of Dharma (wisdom) every day if possible, just let the words enter in even if you don’t necessarily understand.
“Conditions are the companions you have along the way”
She talks about how it helps to discuss with fellow practitioners, to have a supportive group if possible.
If you can’t find companions, “be your own companion”, do journaling after your meditation, write down what you can remember, which also helps your memory. So we can be our own friend. The journals can also be shared with a teacher through phone, skype or other means online these days.
Author and meditator Gail Storey hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband Porter Storey
(Note: below is a summary, not the entire transcript of the interview)
Gail Storey has meditated since the seventies, and has also authored 3 books. The Lord’s Motel, was praised by the New York Times Book Review as, “a tale of unwise judgments and wise humor.” Her second novel, God’s Country Club, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. She has won numerous awards, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have been widely published.
The book that is relevant to the Meditation Freedom podcast, and in which she talks about her experiences with meditation, mindfulness as well as perhaps the most awesome trails in the US, called the pacific crest trail, is a memoir called, I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. The book won a number of awards, the National Outdoor Book Award, Colorado Book Award, Nautilus Silver Award, and Barbara Savage Award from Mountaineers Books. It was praised by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, as “Witty, wise and full of heart.”
I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail is the hilariously harrowing story of Gail and Porter’s hike of the 2,663-mile trail from Mexico to Canada over the highest mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. In their fifties, they carried Porter’s homemade ultralight gear to climb and descend twenty miles a day, trudge across the searing Mojave Desert, kick steps up icy slopes in the High Sierra, and ford rapids swollen with snowmelt. Through the permeable layer between self and nature, they walked deeply into the wilderness of love, and the question Who am I?
A former administrative director of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, Gail now writes, hoopdances, and jumps out of cakes, not necessarily at the same time.
“I have a hunger to hike the whole trail” , Porter (Gail’s husband asked her), “It’s been growing in me for years, intensified by the work with people living their dying. But what keeps you going?” [Gail writes] For once I was at a loss for words. What wanted me out here? Not my body, it was falling apart. Not my thoughts, alternately confident and doubtful. Certainly not my emotions, unreliable in their swings from high to low. I wanted to be with Porter, yes, but even more, I felt inseparable now from the vast green and blue and white of the wilderness. I looked out on the lake, shimmering under the moon. I was as sturdy as the trees. I flowed over obstacles like water over rocks. I was as solid as the mountains, as clear as the sky. The wind blew through my heart. I was what knew the wind. What knew the world was here in me, pulsing in the trees, water, rocks, mountains, moon
Questions asked in the interview with Gail Storey
I’d like to start with how you got started on a meditation path, what prompted you to start thinking of doing a meditation practice? and why Buddhism?
You did some long retreats, how did those retreats and practice help you in our daily life?
Moving on to a different type of meditative retreat, let’s talk about your book, “I promise not to suffer, A fool for love hikes the Pacific Crest Trail”.
When you and your husband Porter where thinking about this epic trip along the Pacific Crest Trail, you were initially not totally thrilled with spending time in nature, as you say on the first page of your book, you “never much cared for nature, or rather, thought it OK, as long as it stays outside”. Was it the sense of your own mortality, as well as the circumstances (Porter quitting his job) or also those years of practice influence your decision to join your husband? (since you couldn’t join him on the Appalachian Trail).
Besides spending alone time, and relief from stresses of career, was it also nature that was calling you?
As you went further down the PCT, your relationship with nature changed…
You also mentioned that you wanted to fully experience each moment, instead of the endless “Cartesian chatter” as you call it.
You wanted (as you mention on page 94) the wilderness to make such claims on my body that my thoughts would settle like silt on the bottom of a lake.
Maybe you can describe a bit the experience you had on the trail, starting with suffering. As the book said, you made a distinction between pain and suffering. Explain what you mean with that to the audience.
Where you no longer had a clear sense of inside/outside. Where your persona, your face (as you say), everything dropped away, and your relationship or identification with nature transformed.
How has this affected your sense of authenticity?
Your husband Porter called it a vision quest, what was the main insight he got from this trip?