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.
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.
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?