MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

MF 45 – Stepping Out of The Busy-ness of Daily Life Into The Sanctuary of Our Heart with Bruce Davis

Bruce is the author of  The Heart of Healing, Monastery without Walls ~ Daily Life in the Silence, My Little Flowers, Simple Peace ~ The Inner Life of St Francis of Assisi and The Calling of Joy. His latest book is The Love Letters of St Francis & St Clare.  Bruce is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. A graduate of Saybrook University, Bruce is a spiritual psychologist and teacher of the essence of world religions. He has taught at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, California and many spiritual centers in the United States, Germany, and Switzerland.

In 1975 he wrote the book The Magical Child Within You which was the first book written on trusting and nurturing the inner child.  A couple years later he coauthored another best selling book Hugs & Kisses about loving life, which has been a theme of his work ever since.

While a graduate student, Bruce met and became an apprentice to a remarkable Shaman who had the gift of entering into and teaching people in their dreams.  For four years, Bruce was introduced to many realms and worlds outside normal western thought. These years were to be the beginning of Bruce’s quest to understand the potential of psychology and spirituality.

Since 1983 he has led interfaith spiritual retreats in many parts of Europe, Asia, United States.  Taking people to sacred places like Assisi, Italy, participants discover the sacred place within themselves.  For twelve years Bruce and Ruth lived in Assisi, founding the Assisi Retreat Center where people of all backgrounds are welcome to enjoy the simple peace and spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.  He returned home to California in 2012 and established, Silent Stay. It is Bruce’s wish to provide a sanctuary for everyone who yearns for real peace and quiet towards finding their own inner joy, spirituality, and purpose.

Through the years, Bruce has studied and lived with spiritual teachers in India, Philippines, Germany and Bali, Indonesia.  In 1992 Bruce & Ruth established a free food program for the homeless in San Francisco that continues till this day.  High schoolers from some of America’s wealthiest communities are traveling each weekend, into the poorest neighborhoods, serving food to people living in the streets.  At Silent Stay, Bruce has a great interest in supporting people who have had a Near Death Experience or spiritual awakening. His primary intention is helping others to develop a meaningful spiritual life including a daily life of joy.

Interview with Bruce Davis

(What follows is a summary transcript of the interview. Listen to the episode for the full conversation)

What brought you to a contemplative practice?

Began when Bruce was in grad school, in psychology. He was looking at his serious teachers, uptight, not happy, all grown up. So he wrote a book, The Magical Child Within You in 1975. It was the first book on the inner child.

That there’s more to life than being serious and dull, grown up and responsible. We each have an inner child to trust and enjoy. Ever since he’s been exploring the place of the heart. Then I gradually became more interested in meditation. Because meditation is a doorway to the really big part inside the heart.

And when you saw all those “grown-ups” and serious people  around you, did you ever go through that stage of being lost, and finding your inner child again?

My wife says I never grew up. (laughs). She says, “Bruce you’ve never really had a job”. You’ve never really worked. That’s true, I’ve been leading retreats for almost 40 years, all over Europe, and US, and now going to Bali and other places. I’ve always been living from my heart, sharing from my heart. And it’s worked. Trusting. Not an easy path, but it was the only true path I could do.

Since you already found your inner child, was there anything that you did struggle with, where meditation practice was beneficial?

Those days you didn’t really know much about meditation, or India, or Buddhism, and all these new feeling therapies were out. I started a clinic in Denver, where people would come and we’d ask them how old they felt. And the ones that would say 15, we’d send these teenagers upstairs, the 5-7 year olds to another room, babies to another room. They would explore these different ages inside of them. This was the Denver feeling center. We thought this was a new frontier. We were adults, we were grad students, all different ages, but remembering the inner child.

Meanwhile I was at a seminar in grad school, with a shaman. I didn’t know at the time what that meant. One night I fell asleep and she came into my dream to my bed. The next day I went over to her, she said, “do you remember me coming to you last night?”. So for 4 years, I was her student. And she’d come into my dreams, and take me to the other side, teach me in my dreams. She said I was the most stubborn student she had ever had. So mental. I was raised in a non-spiritual, non-religious family. I didn’t really believe in any of these things. I thought finding my inner child and feelings, and thought that was a breakthrough. I didn’t know that there was something even more. So she slowly taught me more. Even though I had all these direct experiences, I was resistant. Because it wasn’t in my background, my culture.

Once in Germany, she again came into my dream, she came into my dream, and I said this is not real. She said, “oh yeah?” And she pushed me, and I woke up on the floor. So slowly I began to realize there is much more to this world, then what we normally think in western culture.

I spend some months with Philippine healers. These people were very poor, had no medicine, but they were using their hands to heal. And I saw and experienced incredible things. And then again I realized there is more to this world. These shamans and teachers all told me to think less and be more present. That I needed to learn how to meditate. Get out of your mental mind, and just to be present. 

So that was your main struggle, and stubborness, that you were not being present at the time?

We’re caught up in our heads, we don’t realize that our mental life is only a very small part of a much bigger picture.  In the west, we think our mental life is everything.

Right, we let it dominate, even though it should be a support…

We should think when there’s something to think about. My wife tells me, Bruce you don’t think too much ..(laughs) It’s nice to just be present and enjoy life. And there’s so much presents to receive. 

And appropriate action come out of non-thinking as well. Even though it is common to think that you have to think a lot before acting. Sometimes that is necessary, but often times, appropriate action comes about due to being fully present, available, and attentive to the present. 

Exactly, now 40 years later, we live mostly in silence, we run a silent retreat. People discover the silence of their heart. And as you discover the silence of your heart, our intuition is more available. Creativity is more available. But more importantly, this borderless, this vastness inside that’s usually covered up with all of our thinking and busyness we have to do. 

So we enjoy living mostly in silence, and having people absorb the deep joy that was inside of us.

A joy that they didn’t think they had, but was covered up by the thinking, conditioning, etc. 

Exactly, most people are so busy with their mental lives. They don’t know underneath it is this vastness. Even people who’ve been meditating for many years, watching their thoughts, thinking about non-thinking. They haven’t really gone in and absorbed this deep heart inside of us, which I call our heart-essence.

So in the west, even those on a meditative path, a lot of them have not experienced this space, this lightfulness.

And some would want results that the meditation would have quick results, but  that is not always the case…

Well, in our case it is the case..My wife takes beginners, particularly beginners, they’re the easiest, into this space within their hearts, within 5-10 minutes. And they find this big space, and their innocence is right there.

Now people who’ve been meditating for many years, its’ more complicated for them. Because they already have a system to of going inside. Generally more mental, more challenging for them to let go, and go deep into their heart. And then we ask what do you find, and they find this space that has no borders. And then we ask what do you feel in that space, what’s your experience? Everyone has their own experience. Some people will say, they feel at home here. Or I feel this gentleness inside with no end, or they feel this deep joy.

And then we ask them where are your thoughts? And they say, what do you mean? There are no thoughts there. There is just this big space. And I think in all traditions, more and more of us are discovering this, as we learn to get creative with our mental role.  And really not just watch what’s in our hearts, but go deep inside our hearts and receive.

When you mention that just anyone can walk up to your retreat, and have this opening experience? Do you find it’s easier for this opening experience to take place for younger folks, than folks who are more set in their ways? I’m thinking of for example a very divisive politician for example, how easy would it be for them to turn around and become this joy and openness?

Most folks who come in, they stay mostly in silence, and they feel the silence of the heart, and from that place we ask them what do they find. And they find this beautiful space. But if they’re in the middle of emotional trauma or drama, they just broke up with their boyfriend, or they’re sick, or they lost their job. You can’t just push through those feelings, and go underneath to this big space.

So if they’re in the midst of a big emotional drama, we just have them embrace that place and be with it. Maybe they go underneath it and find that big space. Maybe their retreat is just being loving and being with what is going on with their lives.

We don’t get to many politicians to our retreats, but we do live near Silicon valley and get people from Apple, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo. They love it, just to put their mind aside, and feel this deep valley of non-thinking. So for them it’s not difficult to find.

I write for the Huffington post and once wrote this article, “Can you be a republican and still meditate?” I was making fun, but I’m not sure if you can be republican and meditate. If you go into your peaceful heart, you’re going to find compassion for yourself and others. But how can you have compassion and do some of the things that are going on this world? I don’t know.

I’m finding on the liberal side, there too can be a lot of mocking of the other side, that could be mean spirited and also isn’t all that compassionate either. I’ve seen mean spiritedness on both sides of the political spectrum that could turn into something more destructive harmful…you know what I mean?

Yeah, I don’t think it’s related to politics. We all have a personality and ego, and just by nature we want to be comfortable. After 40 years of meditation, I’m finding that that personality has not gone away. I still have an ego, still uncomfortable. But it’s not so intense, it’s a bit thinner. I’m a little bit more understanding, a bit more patient, and open, and happy. But that structure, our ego, our personality, all this deep patterns. I think it stays with us, we’re just a little less reactive. Hopefully a little less aggressive. We’re just a little more giving and caring.

And that space that you mentioned, the ability to pause to respond, rather than have a reflex and reaction. Having that space alone would make a huge difference in the de-escalation of violence and all those things that spiral out of control. 

Exactly, we tell people that once they find that space, and we help them find that. Then their intention is to receive that space, to absorb that space in our awareness.

Going back to the inner child. When we were kids, we were naturally open, trusting, receiving, spontaneous. That awareness was just here…But as we filled our awareness with all that stuff, all kinds of drama, feelings, and intellectual stuff, we become separate from source of trusting, and just be.

So we tell people coming to retreats, to really drink from that source as much as you can. And so we have no media, no cell phones, no everything, and it’s pretty quiet, beautiful nature. So people have a few days to really practice drinking from that place inside.

And then when they get home, that’s their spiritual practice. To continue absorbing our deep self of no-self. This deep being-ness.

And then when that becomes our source, our personality, and our mental life, it becomes less busy, hopefully more open, less automatic, more choices.

I was just talking to our daughter, who works with us. And she says she feels so much more freedom. She has two kids, yoga center, very busy with lots of responsibility. But doing this big heartfulness meditation, she just feels so much more free, so many more choices, feels better and more relaxed.

Do you have some examples in your own life, where you felt more freedom as a result of your contemplative meditation practice?

I’ve been on this path for a long time, so it’s hard to say…I’ve always been close to the near-death community, with folks having near-death experiences. I found folks there that could understand what I’ve gone through better.

We just finished living in Assisi, Italy for 12 years. Mostly in silence, just ouside of town. Then when I came back, there was things like Youtube, and books, and other internet experiences, where I had never anyone to talk about these experiences, like my experience with the Shaman. It’s a big thing where we all have begun to talk about these things. Whereas it wasn’t in my culture at the time, it wasn’t normal. Where it was normal in those cultures.

So I’ve been going through a process of discovering community. Just hearing their stories. It’s been a big hug to I am. I’ve been to retreats for all these years, and leading and sharing retreats for myself, not for others so much. But for my own health and well being. Enjoyed sharing it with others, wasn’t exactly planned.  I just live this way as a contemplative in a non-contemplative world.

Are you seeing people move away or towards silence and stillness, because they have less of it. What kind of frictions do you see with that?

A little of both. A lot of people at Google for example are now meditating, they have a silence room. But most of the meditation in California is mindfulness. Which is OK, because mindfulness helps people to be present, that’s a big gift just to learn to be present. But just watching our thoughts and watching our experience, we’re still separate from our hearts. 

And I think that the whole Silicon Valley technology world has to reconnect with the heart, and realize that technology for it’s own sake in my opinion is not that great. It just keeps the kids busy. The important thing is to get connected to our heart, to have purpose, to have service.

I love all the opportunity to reach out and touch each other, it’s amazing what you can do with the smart phone these days. But on another level, if you’re not grounded in our own hearts, there’s no meaning, there’s no purpose. We’re just playing with technology all the time.

Just endless distraction. One thing after another…

Exactly, an endless distraction. And it’s very seductive. Very hard, we have grand-kids. In our days it was only television, and we could get off the television. But these days, it’s very hard for kids to be away from it for more than a few minutes. That’s sad..

It has a bullying effect to it, they are constantly tethered to it.. they can’t leave it, fear of missing out. 

We have this beautiful place in nature, 25 acres on top of a hill. I think the kids would like to come out here, see the animals, turkeys, etc. And they’re more or less tethered to their machines.

What do you advice folks to help them ground themselves once they go to your retreats, and go back home, and its very tempting to come back on full distraction mode? 

That’s the challenge. In a non-contemplative world, it’s very hard to embrace meditation, to embrace spirituality. We tell them to find a local group. Whatever it is that you can resonate with. To sit and meditate with a group. There’s something very beautiful about sitting with a group.

If not a group, make a regular time, morning and/or evening where you sit. And some days are wonderful, and some days your mind is very busy and will not stop. That’s OK, just do it, discipline is very healthy.

And then there’s the nurturing yourself, I’m still into the inner child. People have to find their joy, practice receiving your joy.  You can’t go deep into your heart if it’s closed, angry, or uptight or frustrated. It’s not just a meditation practice. We have to live our joy, and enjoy life. 

Sometimes that means you might have to go to a therapist. If the knot around their heart is too strong, and they can’t loosen it up through their own practice?

I’m trained as a psychologist, and folks always ask what is the best therapy? What do you suggest. I always tell them, doesn’t matter what kind of therapy, just find someone with a good heart. Someone with a good heart whatever their training is, they’re going to help you get more deeply open up your heart.

You mentioned the monastery without walls, maybe you can elaborate on that..

I wrote the book with that title in 1986. It’s this idea that we each of us have an inner monk or nun, but we’re not about to join an order. But we still need to learn to listen, and create a space in our lives to receive this monk/nun inside of us. So this whole book is how do we live in the world, and make our own monastery but without walls. 

The first step is to recognize is that there is a part of us, in everyone of us, that is a monk or a nun. That needs that solitude, we need some time just to listen…to be, and to receive the presence.

Through the years, I’ve met many monks and nuns, living cloistered lives, in monasteries, and they have the same challenges as we do, living in the world. There’s no easy answer. It’s not a question of whether or not to join a monastery. It’s a questions of creating a monastery without walls. Creating your own monastery and making it work for you.

You also talk about brother body, brother death, sister rain, etc. You talk about the change in relationship with the world around you is no longer an it. Where it’s no longer me vs it, or me vs them relationship. When you dissolve that too, then the world becomes the monastery without walls too….

Yeah, the world becomes your family..I got that teaching, I become a bit of a Franciscan monk in Assisi. An incredible place. I started going in 1983, and eventually lived there for many years. But this whole path of St Francis. Brother body, brother death, brother tree, sister rock, and sister moon. It’s another way of being, that we’re all one family, living in harmony, receiving each other. 

The big thing about St Francis that most people don’t understand, is this idea of poverty. It wasn’t outside poverty so much, but this great sense of emptiness. In Buddhism you know this emptiness. But in the west, in the Judaeo-Christian world, there is no talk about emptiness. So emptiness was a big part of my path of becoming free of the mental world. This profound emptiness that’s where you begin to see brother moon, and sister sound, all the animals in nature, because it’s very present. Very intimate on some level.

Besides Italy, we spent a lot of time in Bali, with the Shamans, which is Buddhist, Hindu, but also shamanic in some ways. With emptiness they’re making offerings. They’re offering everything in their heart. That’s another thing that is missing most Western spirituality. We don’t have an understanding what offering is.

We’re missing devotion, offering, and emptiness. These three elements are key to opening profoundly to the space of no-thought. This border-less space.

We talk about “intimacy”, everything is family. These fictitious boundaries, you take away these boundaries between you and everything else, and you become more intimate. And so that practice helps you become more intimate, you realize yourself more intimate with everything. 

So for St Francis it was through nakedness. That we’re all profoundly human, profoundly naked. In our nakedness, we see each other, nature, trees, flowers, we see it differently.

We started a little order in Italy, called the “little flowers”. The community of little flowers. Were were all just little flowers, where we shine the best we can for a few moments, with a few petals, and then we disappear.. And that’s how life is. So we have a community of little flowers in 17 countries now. All kinds of people, from priests to Buddhist monks, all kinds of normal people. We just support each other in the nakedness of being a little flower in this world.

Wonderful…In your book about St Clare and St Frances, you talk about pope Francis, being inspired by these two saints right?

Right, as soon as we came back to California, from living in Italy for 12 years, we started to learn about pope Francis. We never imagined a pope Francis, it’s the first one. So I started wondering, I wonder what St Francis and St Clare would think…

So I started writing these love letters between Frances and Clare. Could a pope be a real brother of ours, could he raise the poor, hug nature, is this really real? So I wrote the book in about 3 weeks, had a great time. All these love letters back and forth. And now, a few years later, I think pope Francis is real brother. And I think the church is a muzzle. (32:05) I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a big opportunity for the church.

Yeah, you talk about a living church vs a dead church. My sense of what your’e saying here, is that you’re looking at a dead church. That the pope, and a ton of brothers and sisters who have allegiance to the church are trying to make alive again. Living rather than a dead institution that is just hoards money and isn’t really practicing what they preach. 

Exactly, the church is a very complicated place. We’ve met a lot of beautiful people, monks and nuns in Assisi living there a number of years. But we’ve also met a lot of, I feel like used cars salesmen. What are you doing??? So there’s both extremes. And the pope created a year of Mercy. Sort of like a year of devotion. Asking everyone in the church, to just practice mercy for a year, despite of what your head is telling you. Try to show mercy. He’s doing the best he can, but it is impossible. But the good part about it, is there really is a God, Mary, Jesus and angels, all these things are not just fabricated by the church.

The problem with the New Age, and people who’ve left religion altogether. They have no connection to these deities, the deities are part of us. So it’s too bad. So it’s either a dead church or no connection to everything. The Pope, Dalai Lama, and others, etc, are really a big opportunity for all of us “normal” folks.

But do you sense that because it’s so hard to relate to the institution of the church at this point. That this hierarchical structure in the end is too vulnerable to getting the wrong person floating to the top. Alienating a lot of people from this practice? Do you think this will work for future generations?

Yeah, but any organization has a little hierarchy. The problem right now, I was a teacher out here at a university. And generally the kids have no respect for teachers. They don’t understand that they are our teachers. And so it’s gone from one extreme to another. There are teachers, and the Western world, there really aren’t priests. They’ve gone to school, and learned some things, but we’ve had priests come to our retreats in Italy, ask us how do you pray, what is prayer. They were like beginners, and they were priests!

And so, that’s the problem. The western church is missing real priests. In Bali, the priests are priests. They are amazing beings, been through initiation, been through the inner path. They stick to that inner path.

So that’s part of the problem why people have trusts in most religions. Because most of the leaders are not real priests.  I don’t know what their training is, but it’s not the same.

So it’s a form of corruption that crept into these institutions. And they’re no longer trustworthy, the wrong people have come into positions of power..

Well the church in general is in my opinion no different than the culture in general. Our culture is only mental, and is missing heart. So whatever religion we’re talking about. Most of them in the west are mental, and missing a deep connection to the heart. When there’s a deep connection with the heart, then there is a religion going on. Doesn’t matter which religion it is. 

Religions are pointing to that which is beyond words and thoughts, they are not IT itself, but they’re pointing to it. 

Yeah and it’s important that people have a place to go to, to find their inner sanctuary. But most religions talk about it, thinking about it, reading about it, but not actually going there and experiencing it. And even if you’re experiencing it, that’s just the beginning. One experience doesn’t change you. You have to live out of that experience and drink it everyday. Absorb it through your whole being. And that’s a life practice. That’s a path. 

What would you say to someone who wants to go back into say a Christian church, but don’t want to go to a dead church. Who would you point them to?

We’re ecumenical, we don’t really ever discuss religion, because we live mostly in silence. But with regards to churches, I would say the same as I say with finding a therapist. Find the church with the biggest heart. Find a monk, priest, or nun, and if they have a heart, then they can lead you to the heart of that religion. 

And if they’re more intellectual or doctrinaire, or more into rules, then that is where they are going to lead you. Just find the one with the biggest heart.

And also other signs of wisdom and compassion, like trust, vulnerability, joy, etc. 

Yeah, they don’t get upset with rules, or controlling. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but what’s nice about the Catholic church is their devotion. Very deep with the Catholic church. Devotion is missing from a lot of other Christian churches. The Eucharist, presence of Mary, most of the Christian churches are also missing the divine feminine, Mary. So there’s rituals in the Catholic church that are very deep. And in Europe there’s places that are very powerful, that embody these rituals. Embody these deities.

I spend time in Holland as well, and the people are very beautiful, but all the churches are social clubs. There’s no presence, very little spirituality in most churches there. That’s too bad. A lot of Europe lost the fruit of real deep religion, spirituality. It’s deep rooted there. Whereas in America there is very few what I would call, “sacred places”. Where you can really feel that presence. There’s no Assisi in America that I’ve found. Where if you walk into town, and even normal people begin crying, because there is so much presence there.

And a church that has a heartfelt teacher or priest will create that sanctuary for people, so that you can feel it. You can’t feel it inside unless you have some support, or some place to feel it.

And you have to cultivate some stillness so you can actually be open to it…

Right, a sanctuary actually is stillness. So you walk into it, and you breathe into it, and you don’t know what is going on. And before you know it, you find yourself crying. There is something more than stillness here, there’s something special that’s here.

Coming back to Pope Francis, do you think he’ll be able to loosen the tight grip that the institution of the church has?

I have no idea, because the church is so conservative. A lot of people are spiritual, not religious. So they left the church. Just the other day, the pope was talking about having women deacons. But for many of us, that’s a non-starter. We should be having women priests, deacons, women everything..etc. So we’re starting back in the last century. And I’m living next to Google, Yahoo, Twitter…

That’s not even the real issue. The real issue is, you want women involved in the church, because women are closer to their hearts generally. And we need more heart in the church. So there is less masculine, mental energy, and more feminine heart-full, giving, caring energy of the mother. That is called, “Mother Church”. But we need more women and women leadership in the church. Women deacons is just a small step. 

So your’e saying it’s still generations away at that rate…

Yeah, and on the other hand, it could happen in the next few years. It’s not like the president of the US. The pope can do almost everything. But if he does something, then the conservatives may break away from the church and start another church. So it’s not an easy place where he is.

I think the biggest thing he does, is set an example for his own life. Which he’s doing. Like the feet washing of Muslim prisoners, women, and more..every Easter. That is totally revolutionary. It used to be just washing the feet of 12 male Catholic priests. That was it for centuries. But now it’s this whole idea, to wash the feet of the sick and the poor, people in jail, and of other religions. It’s revolutionary and beautiful.

Yes, he’s setting a powerful example. 

Yeah, I think it started a lot with Mother Theresa. She was the first person who went to the poor of the poor, and hugged them, and was with them. Nobody was talking about that before her. It really brought the poor out of the background, making us feel some responsibility. And it’s a very Franciscan idea, Francis did this when he was with the lepers. Mother Theresa was the modern Francis. Now we have pope Francis. So as a Franciscan, I think this is very beautiful.

Some folks in religions see being in the present moment, or say worshiping all creation, is idolatry. Even though creation is the very manifestation of God, or whatever word you want to use. How do you see that? That all of creation is sacred, and deserves to be fully attended to? Rather than waiting or looking forward to something in the hereafter. 

Throughout the years, we’ve had many ministers come to our retreats, and they’re almost always the most difficult people at the retreat. Because they have such a mindset, and the mind can be a real enemy of being with a simple heart, and simple peace. People who’ve been meditating forever, if they haven’t connected to their heart, they can be the most difficult people coming into silence. Both ministers and priests through the years have been the most difficult, because they make life so complicated.

I really having these intellectual conversations is without meaning. I’d rather hug the guy, and ask what are you feeling, why are you in so much pain, what’s this all about? Have you seen the sunrise this morning? It was incredible! That’s God presence. Just the beauty that we can sit here together, talking through the internet, that’s life, that’s God’s presence, beautiful. That I can meet a Zen brother like yourself. Why make life complicated? That’s just avoiding being present. Here is life, and here is God.

Great way to explain that, if people spend too much time in their thinking, they really do miss what’s right before them, whether that’s a sunrise or their partner. 

Thinking is one of the little closets in the universe. It’s terrible to spend your life in a closet.  We get so impressed with out thoughts, they’re just thoughts, but there’s much more.

You also deal with not-knowing a lot right?

The main thing we’re trying to share with people is that there is a definite presence in our hearts. Meditation is does not have to be complicated. You just need to spend some time in silence, nature, and your own sanctuary. And to really receive deeply, not just think or not think about it, or observe it, but to really receive the heart inside our heart. And that is we find that the other side is totally present on this side. God is so present inside of us. But we got this filter of our thinking world on top of it.

So when we receive this silence of our heart, we feel this vast gentleness, and absorb it into our awareness, and take a bath in it. I tell people who come to our retreat, you want to bathe in the silence so deeply, that after a few days, your skin is all wrinkled up with silence. Wet through and through. Absorb it, and enjoy it. Because silence is actually full of everything. 

Not just outward silence, but inward silence. The silence of the heart is really our mystical journey. And I tell you, it’s normal that we’re not always open like a flower. A flower is also closed, it releases it’s petals. We spend so much time judging ourselves, judging each other. 

If we can rid of one thing, I tell people to get rid of our judgments. Just to be as much as you can.

A retreat is not about always being open, and being blissful. It can have just the opposite. That’s OK. Our judgments are really heavy doors, we’re intense about each other, and ourselves. If we just lighten up on that one door, life would get a lot easier and a lot more fun.

And it’s OK that sometimes a door is closed, and you come back on another retreat, and the door can be opened a bit more. 

Sometimes the door is closed, but still you see deeply anyway. In my life I’ve had any issue like we all do. And that’s part of being a human being..

It makes us more equal, as human beings, and understand each other better..

We’re all completely human.  What’s amazing is that in our awareness is a place of incredible love. That we’re not observing, reaching for it, thinking about it. It’s just an incredible presence of love. Nothing else is really that important. That presence of love is who we are. And eventually we’re going to give up that human story, and we will be presence, we’ll be this love. We are this presence of this love that expands out forever.

That’s part of this problem of people who have spiritual experiences. And it’s a challenge to be so human at this same time. And all of us are experiencing that now, living both, knowing how divine we are.

That’s a great way to end it. It’s like you say, that thinning of the hard sense of separate self, and becoming much more transparent to that much bigger Self that we are all part of. 

Yeah, we all are it, and we all are. It is who we are. Great meeting you!


Books authored by Bruce Davis




MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam with Rose Hamid

MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam with Rose Hamid

MF 44 – The Role of Mindfulness, Gratitude, & Peace Practice in Islam – Interview with Rose Hamid

Rose Hamid in Salam Peace shirtRose Hamid is a Muslim American of Palestinian and Latin descent.  She was born in Buffalo NY, grew up in Cleveland OH, and has been living in Charlotte since 1987.  She grew up in the Catholic tradition but chose to follow Islam when she started her family.  She has been married for 33 years, has three children; Suzanne, 28, Omar, 26, Samir 24.

She has been a flight attendant since April 1985.   She is the Co-Founder and President of the Muslim Women of the Carolinas; a local organization whose mission is to bring the diverse Muslim women of Charlotte and the surrounding area together in order to get to know one another and to do good works. She is a frequent speaker about topics such as Islam and the role of women in Islam and is a guest columnist for the Charlotte Observer, writing monthly columns.

After the attacks in Paris, Donald Trump proposed the establishment of a database of all Muslims in the country. Later, Trump called for a “complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion.

Hamid told CNN before the Trump rally that she only wanted to give Trump fans “an opportunity to meet” a Muslim. “I figured that most Trump supporters probably never met a Muslim so I figured that I’d give them the opportunity to meet one” she said.

Interview with Rose Hamid. How did you get to a spiritual practice?

My mother is from Columbia, South America. And her father is Palestinian. He went to South America in 1938, when his country was in turmoil. And the economic development had a downfall. Where he met Rose’s mom, and they got married.

We grew up in the Catholic religion/tradition. Where she had a lot of questions. I remember asking nuns these questions. My biggest question was this concept of original sin. And when I grew up, this was they way it was taught, or at least the way I absorbed it. I recall that Eve in particular had tempted Adam, and they had eaten the forbidden fruit. And they had sinned against God. And that was the break between God and humanity.

Therefor people couldn’t have a direct connection with god. That’s how I understood it. Therefor I would have to talk to a priest, who would talk to Jesus, who would then talk to God. Because I was not worthy of this connection to God.

So a lot of middlemen, intermediators?

I felt at an early age that that was not fair. So we plotted along, with going to church, until right before confirmation. When she was about 12, or 13. By that time, her father started to learn about his own faith, he was a Muslim, but wasn’t practicing it growing up.

So we started to realize how the church was very different compared to what he was used to growing up in Palestine. Where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived among each other and were all considered people of the book (adherents of Abrahamic religions that predate Islam) from the Muslim perspective.

I don’t think he realized how different the teachings were, until he came to America. And until he really started to learn his own faith. So he was trying to teach us more about Islam, but we really didn’t have much interest in it, at 13 years of age. And he wanted us to wait until we were older to become confirmed.

So I really didn’t practice anything. I believed in a higher power, God. But not much else. So it wasn’t hard for her to leave the Catholic church at that time. It seemed to me that religion was being used to divide people in her experience. So I didn’t have much desire to join any particular religion.

Until after my husband and  I got married and we started a family. My husband didn’t talk much about religion, he is Palestinian. There was an assumption there was some Muslimness going on. But we didn’t talk much about it. But I was going to have to teach my kids something. I started to learn about Islam, and it answered a lot of questions I had growing up.

The biggest Aha moment, was the idea in the Islamic tradition of the story of Adam and Eve. In this tradition, the two of them. God here doesn’t make Eve more culpable than Adam. The two of them disobey God. Then when the two of them, realize what they’ve done, they ask for forgiveness. And God forgave them. So there was never a break between God and humanity. 

There was always a connection. They suffered the consequences of their actions, but they were still connected to God. That to me was monumental, to have this ability to connect to God.

Interesting..Where there other questions as well that were answered for you in Islam?

This is just what I remember, I don’t want to make the Catholic faith sound bad. I’m just telling my personal experience. I remember it seemed like God was always angry.

Yeah, the old testament God for sure…

Even in the Catholic tradition, I just feel like it’s from that concept of original sin. You just feel like you’re not worthy if you don’t do that kind of thing.

I remember a couple of things in Islamic teachings that drew me. And one of them is this idea that God is not just your judge. He’s your attorney, your character witness, your supporting friend, who’s going to be there to help you during the judgement. Seeing God in that perspective was very comforting.

Also, the concept of there’s a saying, that if you turn towards God, he comes running towards you. That idea, of a God who wants us to come to him, that felt more like the connection that I had been searching for.

And also from my own reading from the Koran, as compared to reading from the old testament, it seems like God is described as much more compassionate and forgiving.

Right, most merciful, most kind. That’s repeated time and time again.  As Muslims pray, 5 times a day. We repeat it 5 times a day 3 or 4 times within each prayer. We’re constantly saying, “In the name of God, the most merciful, the most kind…Praise is due to God, the cherisher and sustainer of the universe, most gracious, most merciful. Master of the day of judgement..Guide us along the straight paththe path of those whom You favored, not of those who earned Your anger or went astray. ”

So is something we say in Arabic. Those words, are things that, contrary what people think, that is how we see God.

Was there a particular transformative moment of grace in your journey as well? 

I wound’t call it a moment of grace, the understanding of the story of Adam and Eve was my Aha moment. Realizing, if God was willing to forgive Adam and Eve, then how should we as humans treat other people as well, as far as being forgiving beings.

My shift in the way that I saw God, and the relationship I had with God. That was really the most transformative thing. 

You mentioned the 5 times a day of prayer, which I see as a very beneficial practice. I practice Zen Buddhism, and there too is a strong emphasis on constant practice, not just once a week, but constantly. This is much more likely to help you give you a more intimate spiritual connection. 

Yes, and I know that with any faith tradition there’s a big range. There’s people who pray daily, Christians who are more spiritual daily, and try to make more connections with God throughout the day. And then there’s folks who go just once a week, and then there’s what a friend of mine calls the, “Creasters”, the folks who just show up at Christmas and Easter. So there’s a range.

The same is true with Islamic faith. People who are very diligent about prayer, and then some who not so much.

Same thing in Buddhism as well, a lot of people who paying lip service to this practice, or those who wear the clothes, but don’t practice it. And I was going to talk about that later. But to me to some extent the people who are hijacking the narrative of Islam, the actual terrorists…

…they didn’t read the whole Koran book at all.

They’re not doing anything that’s being said, and they’re very judgmental. They kill and chop people’s heads of, etc. They’re being the judge and executioner. That shouldn’t be their job at all. Based on what I’ve been read in the Koran (In the Koran God instructs the prophet and Muslims not to judge or harm disbelievers, that this is his job to deal with them). 

You probably read more than they have (laughing).

I think these folks who are in power in many places in the so-called Muslim world, are not following Islamic doctrine. When I hear about things that people have done, I can’t fathom that these people have read the Koran, or whole Koran. They might have read snippets that somebody handed them, and told them this is what it says.


Unfortunately I think that humanity is like that. If you get a new cell phone, and you get all these instructions on how to use it, but you tend to just usually go to a 12 year old, and ask them how to use it. Just show me the basics so I know how to get along. That’s what people do…they just want the quick, get it to work, work for me in whichever way I want it to work. Without really understanding the depth of what it can do…

So I take that analogy into how people understand their faith. It’s just easier to listen to whoever has the microphone, and then go, “Ok, I’ve done my studying”. And people don’t get into the depths of it.

Yeah, that’s very expedient…not doing the work themselves, kind of outsourcing it to whomever has the loudest horn. 

And another big part I noticed, I see it a lot in the old testament as well. It required me to have fresh eyes in reading it. Is the gratitude part, and how important that is. As humans we have such a tendency to take things for granted so quickly. One of the advantages…Spiritual and religious practices get such a bad rap, but there are so many good things as part of it, that would make humanity as a whole be in a much healthier state of mind. Like for example, the gratitude emphasis. 

What’s your take, or what role does gratitude play in your practice?

Part of the daily 5 prayers, there’s some parts are structured, where there are certain things you can say and do. And other parts, you can read different parts or verses of the Koran. And some people have memorized certain verses that they’ve connected to, depending on how they feel. And a lot of them have to do with gratitude.

When you’re in submission, you’re praying, and your forehead is on the floor, you’re in a state of gratitude. Thanking God for what he has provided. It’s difficult to pray 5 times a day without having an element of gratitude in it. So there’s constant gratitude.  

There’s an expression, “Al-ḥamdu lillāh”, which means, all praise is due to God. Like if someone says, “you did a great job, or other compliments, you respond with Al-ḥamdu lillāh. All praise is due to God, that to me is this gratefulness that God has bestowed on us.

There’s even a sense of, if something bad happens, it’s an expiation for past sins. So there’s even a gratitude for that. Thank you for providing me an opportunity to expunge a sin. So they’re a constant sense of gratitude for what has been given, even if it’s a bad thing. For having the opportunity to get through that.

Do you find that since you converted to a religion after evaluation rather than being born into it, and I’ve seen that with other religious traditions, that you are not taking it as much for granted, compared to folks who’ve been born into their religion/tradition?

Definitely, I think that when people learn their faith through osmosis, they learn it, because that’s what everyone else is doing. And people don’t have the sense then to go in depth and learn it. Karen Armstrong is a writer of religious books. She can’t find a big market for these books in England where she’s from, but can find much more of a market in America. Maybe I’m talking about Diane Eck, A New Religious America. 

In this book, she talks about because in America have competing religions, they almost have to step up their game, like they almost have to advertise to bring people in. So there’s more talking, conversing about it. Whereas if you’re in a country where there is a State religion, and everyone has more or less the same religion, then there is less discourse (Rose thinks a lot of European countries have that). Then there is less opportunity to investigate, to question or search, or to question ourselves. Where in America there is more opportunity because there is more competition amongst religions. At least that is what she wrote in her book.

…Interesting. It’s like it has a fresh chance to be seen again…

It also goes deeper. In America we go deeper into our faith. A lot of Muslims who come from so-called Muslim countries, who come to America. Once they realize they’re in a minority religion, they find themselves to becoming more adherent to their faith here in America, than they did at home. Because back home everyone is just following along, and learning through osmosis. But here in America, you have to really learn it, absorb it, in order to live it. Because it is not all around you. 

I heard a Jewish woman say the same thing, she’d grown up in Israel. She didn’t keep kosher, she didn’t read the Torah, didn’t adhere to her faith. Until she came to America, and became a minority. She realized that she had to be the one who knew how to be Jewish. So she learned more about Judaism in America, then she did in Israel.

I think most people come from a place, where the majority of folks come from the same faith.

I’ve seen the same with Buddhism as well, it kind of languishes and goes into auto-pilot in some of the older countries. But here in America it is much stronger, and like you said, much more seeking, questioning, and being inquisitive about it.

 What about fasting, what does that teach in your view? We had a friend who did that, and he talked about how humbling gratitude type practice that is. What’s your relationship to that?

Ramadan, I have so much will-power (to abstain from eating) when I’m on Ramadan, when I’m on a diet…not so much. I gotta have this peace of pie, not as much will-power. But when fasting, so much will-power.

My kids are young, they look forward to Ramadan, part of it is the social experience. I think it also has to do with what your environment is. We’ve been blessed with a large Muslim community, and we get together a lot during Ramadan. So we look forward to it and the concept of fasting. They all started when they were in second grade. My daughter did, because she had a Muslim classmate. They’d go to the library instead of the lunch room. My boys, not so much. They stayed in the cafeteria, because they didn’t have to waste time standing in line. They could just start talking to their friends. To them it was like a badge of honor to tell people they were fasting. There’s a sense of community at that time.

That’s the outside part. The inside part is this deep desire to connect with God. I usually end up taking vacation days during Ramadan. I try to connect more, read more, be introspective. And just try to take all of it in as much as I can.

Sounds like a retreat to me…

Yeah, people spend a whole lot of time cooking during Ramadan, making everyone’s favorite foods. It’s like having Thanksgiving every night for a month (laughing). The battle is to not allow yourself to do that, to find a balance.  You want to make it festive, you want to make it a tradition that people, in particular kids look forward to. Trying to make it festive as well as spiritual. 

So it’s not too serious…


And do you think part of it is easier because you’re doing it with a whole group together? Because if you were doing this fasting alone, it would be a lot harder..

If you’re menstruating, you’re not required to fast. But you make up those days. Making up those days after Ramadan by yourself is really hard! Or there’s a recommendation of fasting 6 days the month after Ramadan. Even though you just finished a whole month of fasting, it’s really hard. So definitely there’s this whole sense of community and connectivity the month of Ramadan brings with it.

The other thing I wanted to ask you…The Koran talks a lot about being mindful (of God). How do you see mindfulness of God. How do you practice that?

When I see a tree, I’m just enamored by trees. And I think about what goes into a tree. And God has provided us with this thing that we could benefit from in so many different ways. Just being mindful of the things that God has created, the sunset, sky, stars, moon. All of that is like mindfulness. All of that God created for us to help us.

And so there’s many verses in the Koran that talk about what God has created for us. So we have to be constantly mindful of living things. Even the things I have. If I get in my car, I’m mindful, and feeling blessed that I have a car. There’s people who don’t have a car, so I feel blessed that have a car that works.

But then my kids are now the ones taking the bus (laughing).

When I think about everything I have, I have water, power, etc. So there’s constant mindfulness, and there’s the prayers that bring me back to it.

So the prayers help you with being more mindful then…

Oh definitely. That goes without saying. I’m doing this, because we’ve asked him to. God didn’t ask us to do this because he needs our prayers, he asked us to do this, because we need our prayers.

What’s your take on this life, vs the hereafter. How does it affect your life today, to look forward to the life hereafter? Is that affecting how you live your life today?

Muslims believe in the concept of heaven and hell. We know that life is a test. How faithful we are, how we behave, how we adhere to the guidance that God has provided us. Is going to determine our afterlife. This life is very short, unlike the hereafter. 

So it’s also a constant, that you should always be thinking about the actions taken today are going to affect the hereafter. There’s a belief that every bug that you killed unjustly will speak against you on the day of judgement. Everything that you’ve done will be a witness to what you’ve done. Your hands, will testify against you on the day of judgement if you struck people. “This hand was used to strike or beat people.”

So we’re very mindful (or we should be) about how we live our lives. Knowing we will be held accountable for how we treat each other. 

So being aware of the consequences of one’s actions…

Definitely. We have the concept of free will. We are making choices in everything we do everyday.

Making conscious choices….

Sometimes not so conscious (laughing). It’s what we aspire to I should say. To realize that everything we do has consequences.

The Koran talks about disbelievers a lot. And that is something that some people in America has latched on to. My interpretation of that is that they’re afraid that Muslims see disbelievers as something bad, or trouble (and even needs killing). But from my reading of the Koran, that is not up to Muslims to decide, as that is something that is only God’s business. In other words, it’s not up to Muslims to judge disbelievers. What’s your understanding of it?

That’s exactly right. There’s a group of people in America, Islamophobic network of specific groups/people, and specific groups that are funding these people. They are working hard at presenting misinformation about Muslims and Islam.

Muslims themselves in other countries are not doing themselves any favors either, because they’re doing some stupid stuff also.

But the fact that there is this group in the US, that’s constantly churning out this misinformation. Presenting it in a way that people believe it, especially people in power. These groups have the ear of people in power.

It is quite frightening to hear some of what they say. For example, they say things like how Muslims are, “required to kill non-Muslims.” That’s not anywhere in the Koran.

Yeah, I did not read that anywhere in the Koran either…

If you look at the history how Islam spread. Not the abridged or tainted history that some present. Islam is not spread by the sword. There was different reasons why people became Muslim around the world. It was not a forced conversion. 

They didn’t kill people who were not Muslims. They were battles that were had, but is wasn’t in the doctrine to kill people who are not Muslim. There is this concept of the People of the Book, which are the people who received the messages before (Islam). This includes Christians and Jews and some other traditions that I can’t think of right now. They are given respect to the People of the Book. And there is constant reminders and guidance on how to treat and speak with people who are not Muslim. How to treat your neighbor, the believer and disbeliever.

Even in the life of Muhammad, you could see the way that he treated non-Muslims. When he migrated from Mecca to Medina, there was a treaty that he signed. That outlined how to treat people who are not Muslim. It said pretty much says that non-Muslims can administer their laws according to their faith tradition. There was rights and responsibilities for Muslims and non-Muslims. So there was a framework set right in the beginning on how to interact with non-Muslims. In a certain context then as a defense they had to kill, but that story has been perpetuated by the Islamophobic network.

And so in a way, and part of what this interview is about is as taking back that narrative. That they’ve almost hijacked narrative for terrorist propaganda for less peaceful reasons. 

Yes, whenever people hear about religious wars around the world, it’s not about religion. Every single religious conflict. It’s always about the haves against the have-nots. The people in power wanting to maintain their power. The people wanting wealth, resources, wanting to take ownership of a place, or an oil field, whatever it is. Religious battles are not based on religion, it’s based on political socio-economic struggles that people are having. It just happens that those folks have this religion, and the others have another religion. Like in Ireland, it wasn’t really about religion at all.

Right, it’s just easier to pit people against each other, if you use religion. 

Yes, it’s a great baiting hook, demonizing the “other”.

Yeah, and creating an “other”.

And that brings me to your Trump experience, because I found that a very creative way, that you showed your face, and showed you as a human being. Because this rhetoric, this constant repetition, and mis-characterization. It just takes the human face out of it. And that is when I think it becomes dangerous, when they take the human face out of it, and they’re creating something that is not really true.

I have to say, that it was not my idea to do this particular protest. There was this man next to me in the audience (in the pictures, his name is Marty Rosenbluth, (who happens to be Jewish and practices as an immigration attorney). He’s a friend of a friend of mine who I had gone with that night.

Rose and Marty Rosenbluth standing at Trump rally

They do work around social justice, immigration rights, black lives matter, voting rights, anti-hate, anti-Islamophobia. These folks do a lot of diligent work on the ground, trying to educate people. My other friend, works with Amnesty International, they do a lot of that kind of work. And it was their idea to do this campaign, called, “Go Yellow Against Hate”.

And Marty, when Trump said that Muslims should have special ID’s, and they should tracked through a database. For him as a Jewish man, that really struck a chord with him, that was very disturbing to him. So when he had seen this yellow star, somewhere in England, and he purposely made it with 8 points. And not the start of David, because he didn’t want to…

Bring up the holocaust?

He wanted people to be reminded of what happened to the Jews, he just didn’t want to use it inappropriately. That means so much for so many people, but it was painful for him, to see how things are starting to go down that slippery slope. That he recognizes that this thing started that way for the Jewish people back in Germany.

So it was also their idea to stand silently, they’d done that before.

But you were the only Muslim standing?

The group of people there were various different faith traditions. There was Marty who was Jewish, there were Christians, non-Christians. Gabril was the man shouting off to the other side, he shouted when Trump started saying, “we’ve got a problem, we’ve got a problem”. Then Gabril yelled, “Islam is not the problem.” We talked about this in advance, this was his way of protesting.

We decided it was not a good idea for Rose to stand near him, because in Akron, the crowd attacked him when he yelled. I didn’t plan to say anything, so I can’t take credit for it. I just wanted to stand silently.

It could have been a problem if you had stood with the wrong crowd though…


The other thing I read you said somewhere, that “If we all said hello with a smile, just start an encounter that way, that gesture alone can change the world.” And I think it spoke volumes by the way you stood silent, and smiled. Did you find that people saw you as more human, as a result of those actions?

Definitely. When I was standing in line, we purposely split up, so we ended up in different parts of the line. I was worried they wouldn’t let me into the rally, so I was trying to keep low-profile.

But in line ahead of me, there was a woman who caught my eye, and as we got closer to the front. She came to me, she said, “I’m so glad to see you here”. And there was another woman, who said to Rose, “I didn’t look scary, that I looked nice”.  I was wearing the shirt, “Salaam, I come in peace”. I imagined I might get my picture taken, but did not anticipate at all the amount of media attention this turned into. But I wanted my shirt to say something in case my picture was taken.

My son owns a T-shirt printing online business, That’s one of his designs, so that is what I wore. And I happened to have a matching headpiece at home, so that went well together. People thought I chose that on purpose, but that just happened to be the color of his design.

After this media frenzy, did you notice anything that surprised you as well. With the social media, etc?

My son was sending me stuff. We were out of the door, and they led all the other folks with yellow stars out as well. They were pretty aggressive with that. So my son was telling me, you are all over social media. There was a reporter from CNN, he came over to talk to me, before the rally started. He came over and talk to me where I was sitting. I purposefully sat behind Trump, because of the camera.

People were kind of criticizing me for sitting there, and I’m like, “well yeah, I’m protesting!” So he spoke to me, so as we’re escorted out, he asked me what had happened. So before we even got to the restaurant where the protesters met up again, Anderson Cooper had tweeted about me being escorted out of the Trump tower, (laughing) I mean the Trump rally for no apparent reason.

And them my niece, she’s a social media wiz, and a makeup artist (her Instagram page was taken down when she posted about it). She was sending me stuff that people were saying, mostly positive, but also…people

Yeah, behind the computer creates this invincibility, separation, which makes it easier to be verbally abusive..

Same as mob mentality. I’ve a friend who studies the genocide, and how a society can allow that, what is that makes society permit that? Behind the computer mentality is very similar to the crowd, mob mentality. Where you’re not taking personal responsibility, creating an other entity.

A mob mentality, individual gets dissolved of that, and absolved of individual responsibility. 

Exactly, when I was going upstairs, and people were yelling at me. I wasn’t mad at them, I just couldn’t believe you’re behaving that way, you’re a human. But I tried to make connections, and snapping them out of their trance they were in. But they were pretty stuck in their trance.

One of the negative things that has happened, and it’s all tied to this Islamophobic group of folks, who have labeled any valid group of Muslims as a terrorist organization. So they’ve labeled an organization as terrorist supporting organization. So anyone with a connection is then also labeled as supporting terrorist organizations, or unindited co-conspirator.

That’s a dangerous thing, for people to make these ridiculous claims. At first I was like, no one is going to believe that. But the other day a friend of mine who I work with, told me that there’s people who I know, and have known for years, that are starting to believe some of that stuff. That is the scary stuff, you’ve known me for 30 years, and you think I’m a secret terrorist? Really? It’s actually painful, because I’m thinking, what can you do about that?

Other than being a decent person you’re whole life, and then for someone to claim you’re a terrorist supporter. Now people believe it, it’s disheartening.

Like the 2nd Bush, when he said, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us”, that kind of black and white thinking that Trump appears to be doing and promoting as well. 

There’s a report called Fear, Inc that outlines who those people are, who are behind that Islamophobic campaign. But as negative as that is, I’ve also got overwhelming support, like this gift certificate I got for 100 dollars from a restaurant! So that, and people send flowers and cards, and people who say they were inspired. It’s so heartwarming, and overshadows the negative. It’s amazing support. Someone who said I was a bad-ass (laughing) rock-star. I don’t want to be seen or portrayed as a victim..

I expected to get walked out, but did not expect the crowd to turn so quickly. In retrospect I should have expected, because I saw how others had been treated.

There’s a German reporter, who’s been following Trump around for a year. And he said there is a written statement, at every rally, they say the same thing. Mr Trump supports the first amendment, almost as much as he supports the 2nd amendment.

Then they say, “This is a peaceful rally, if you want to exercise your first amendment, freedom of speech, you’re free to do so outside the door.” And if there’s anyone who disturbs this rally, the supporters were told to stand up and chant/shout, “Trump, Trump, Trump…”, and point to the person whomever is causing the disturbance, and security will escort them out.

Oh, so they’re actually being instructed, all the people that come in there?

Yes, and this reporter said that they say that every rally. But I did find out that they took away the “almost” from the first instruction. Because they must have realized how wrong it is that Mr Trump almost supports the first amendment “almost” as much as the second amendment.

What I discovered is that media has been interviewing me, like Al Jazeera, and they said, “So Americans really hate Muslims now?”. And I said, “No, no, that’s not how America is!” It’s just a few people like that, it’s not all of America.

It’s still a minority..

And I found myself having to explain to these foreign press. That’s not how America is, and having to explain the concept of the first Amendment. So this one interviewer then asked her to explain for our audience what this first Amendment is. And then I realized how significant it is, what the first amendment is, because other countries don’t have freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

So if we’re going to export anything, THAT’s the thing we could export! But us Americans often don’t realize how fortunate we are. People have said, why don’t you go protest in Muslim countries against the Muslim terrorists. And they don’t realize that who protest in these countries end up dead! People who are trying to fight these regimes who’ve taken power, they end up dead. They don’t have these protections we have here. It’s not as easy to just object to it, it’s a battle, like the Arab spring, but it’s just not as easy, then you end up not knowing who are the good guys and the bad guys.

And were you contacted by any conservative media after this Trump event?

Not really, I’ve had about 30 interviews. And they’ve been very supportive. There were a few things that they inaccurately. So some misinformation, but it’s all been positive. There were people who interviewed me, and then there were people who didn’t interview me and just took information and quotes from the main interview that was posted right after the rally.

And then the negative stuff, I don’t know where they got that from, or what they were looking at. I’ve created a web site to archive all those things.

I write a monthly column for a local newspaper that addresses a lot of questions that a lot of people have, like why do women cover, what the Muslim holidays are like, how Muslims celebrate those. Basically, what it’s like to live in America.

A know a lot of folks have the question about the hijab, and you mentioned you find the head covering liberating, freeing, could you share your thinking about that?

For me the hijab is an act of worship. That’s one aspect of it, I”m doing something that God has asked me to do.

It also sends a message, that my value and my worth to society doesn’t come from my physical attributes. That who I am as a person, is how I behave, and how well I follow the dictates of my faith, and how well I do  my job, or whatever it is I do, and how I treat people. Those are the things I should be measured by, not by my physical attributes.

In that regard it is very liberating, because I can pretty much put together whatever outfit I want, I have scarfs that match every outfit. I feel like I don’t have to adhere to whatever the latest fashion trends are, and I can pretty much wear whatever I want.

And it also feels like protection to me. And I also feel protected. We only have to cover in front of men who are not family. For example, a neighbor comes over, I have to cover. But not with my kids, dad, uncles and family. And I also don’t have to cover in front of other women.

However, I would not feel comfortable to uncover with someone whom I don’t trust. So even though it’s permissible to uncover among other women, especially other Muslim women. But I’m more careful about uncovering with non-Muslim women. I’d have to evaluate. Because I feel more protected.

You also mention you’re still do your job as an airline attendant, this continues without problems?

Yes, I’ve never had a single passenger do or say anything negative to me. If anything, people have been extra nice, is what I’ve noticed. I might get a funny look, like, “look at that!”. Not in a bad way. And I see hundreds of people everyday, never seen anything threatening to me.

That’s really good to know..

Last question…What is your deepest wish for the future?

I wish people would follow their faith, whatever their faith is. Because if you look at the guidance the creator, God has sent. Whatever faith tradition there is, if people followed their faith tradition, and not the leaders necessarily…who they think are their leaders. But actually learn what their faith tradition says. And follow those guidelines, we would have a much better world.

There’s nothing in these teachings that permits the way that we’re treating each other in so many ways. Like the ways that we treat people who are “different”, whatever that difference is, in a negative way.

There isn’t a faith tradition out there that promotes that kind of mentality.

I agree, that’s my wish too…a wonderful way to end it.

Thank you so much for your generosity in sharing!





  • Fear, Inc. 2.0 Behind the network to manufacture Hate in America “These two reports reveal how a well-funded, well-organized fringe movement can push discriminatory policies against a segment of American society by intentionally spreading lies while taking advantage of moments of public anxiety and fear. We are seeing this dynamic play out yet again in the aftermath of the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as former elected officials and certain media commentators have used the terror attack as an opportunity to call for increased profiling of the American Muslim community……

    A number of these misinformation experts are still able to disproportionately influence public policy in America. From hate-group leader David Yerushalmi’s impact on anti-Sharia legislation across the country to Islamophobe William Gawthrop’s influence on the FBI’s training manuals, it is clear that the well-funded and well-connected individuals within the Islamophobia network still have the ability to promote bad public policies that ultimately affect all Americans.”…”Islamophobia in the United States takes many shapes and forms. It takes the form of a general climate of fear and anger toward American Muslims, as seen in the “civilization jihad” narrative, the religious right’s rhetoric, and the biased media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. It comes out in cynical political efforts to capitalize on this climate of fear, as seen in state-level anti-Sharia bills introduced across the country and in far-right politicians’ grandstanding…..And perhaps most dangerously, it manifests itself in institutional policies that view American Muslims as a threat, as seen in the FBI training manuals that profile Islam as a religion of violence.””Although the American public largely dismisses such prejudiced views, the Islamophobia network’s efforts to target American Muslim communities remain significant and continue to erode America’s core values of religious pluralism, civil rights, and social inclusion. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, offers the Islamophobia network a new opportunity to leverage unrelated geopolitical events in order to create a caricature of Islam, foment public anxiety, and push discriminatory policies against American Muslims. The Islamophobia network’s new effort to equate mainstream American Muslims with the perverted brand of Islam promoted by ISIS is a reminder of the ongoing vigilance needed to push back against the anti-Muslim fringe.”





MF 43 – Guided Meditations to Help Develop a Regular Meditation Habit with OMG I can Meditate! co-founder Lynne Goldberg

MF 43 – Guided Meditations to Help Develop a Regular Meditation Habit with OMG I can Meditate! co-founder Lynne Goldberg

MF 43 – Guided Meditations to Help Develop a Regular Meditation Habit with OMG I can Meditate! co-founder Lynne Goldberg

Lynne was stressed-out, sleep-deprived, type-A businesswoman, and ended up a renowned meditation coach. As she talks about in the interview, when she started meditating, no one would have labeled Lynne Goldberg “a natural”.

Lynne had a series of devastating life blows, including the loss of twin baby girls, her mother, her marriage, and her job, coupled with years of infertility treatment and multiple failed adoptions, she counted on overworking and wine to help her survive.

But in the quiet moments she was forced to face the fact that, ultimately, she was still alone, unhappy, unfulfilled, and disconnected. Something—in fact, everything—was missing. Dragged kicking and screaming by a friend to a yoga retreat, Lynne reluctantly abided by the meat-free, alcohol-free diet and sat through the meditations simply because there was nowhere else to go.

But as she found her stress and anxiety slowly dissipating, the reluctance transformed into acceptance, and acceptance into appreciation and outright enjoyment. There was no denying the transformative effects this balanced, healthy approach was having on her life. She felt calm, capable, and in control.

Lynne course-corrected her life onto a path to understanding and embraced  a new healthy and balanced lifestyle, studying along the way with Deepak Chopra, Sri Dharma Mittra and Tony Robbins.

Today she is a certified meditation coach, yoga instructor, strategic interventionist, and author of the book “Get Balanced. Get Blissed.”

Her passion and life mission lie in helping others transform their lives and discover true happiness, peace of mind and fulfillment through meditation and personal growth. Her ability to compassionately connect with others, and her accessible, everyday approach to teaching meditation, have led her to copach people from all walks of life, from celebrities, athletes, and business executives to 80-year-old cancer patients and five-year-old children.

Lynne’s meditation programs and curriculum have been implemented in elementary and high schools, special needs schools, and hospitals.

Lynne Goldberg is also co-founder of OMG. I Can Meditate!, a mobile and web meditation app that can teach anybody how to meditate in just 10 minutes a day. Lynne’s simple and clear teaching style has brought the joy of meditation to stressed-out business executives, soccer moms, eighty year olds, kindergarten kids, and everyone in between. She is the author of the book Get Balanced. Get Blissed.

When Lynne is not helping people find their bliss, she is living her own doing the things she loves most: being in nature, hiking or biking, traveling the world, cooking, or enjoying time with her husband and kids.

(What follows is a summary transcript of the interview. Listen to the episode for the full conversation)

(Above: Guided Meditation video by OMG I can Meditate! Lynn Goldberg)

What was your life like before you started a meditation practice?

Lynne was not a natural meditator at all (stresses this point). So many folks are intimidated by meditation, and look at other meditators and think, “oh, I could never do that”. She came to meditation by accident. Her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. At the time when Lynn’s mother went through all her cancer treatments, her doctor recommended she try meditation.

And simultaneously, Lynne was going through infertility treatments. She thought, while her mother was having difficulties with her treatments, if it can help her mother, maybe it can help her as well. And when you’re pregnant, people like to tell you, just relax, and you’ll get pregnant. So she looked at meditation as a way to help her relax, as well as deal with this stuff that was going on as well.

And over time, meditation with practice became easier.

And you mentioned that you had a lot of other dramas in your life as well, with your business as well. Were you attracted to meditation because you could see another way of dealing with these issues?

She didn’t have any plan. What she noticed was that she wasn’t coping as well as she’d like to cope. Lynne noticed that she was waking up at 3 am having panic attacks. Sleep was difficult for her. Her self-worth was very low. Lost her job, her marriage started to fall apart. She did not feel very good about herself.

And one of the things that really made a difference was meditation. It started to give her another sense of self-worth. As she started meditating more, those feelings of self-doubt, those inner voices that you tend to hear all the time, started to diminish. So it really helped.

Thich Nhat Hahn talks about the radio stations in our minds, how with time and more meditation, you can turn the channels to a less anxious channel/frequency.

Yes…I call it my automatic thought machine, my ATM, which unfortunately doesn’t dispense a lot of cash. (laughing) Rather it dispenses self-criticism. Over time, the self-talk can become a bit more realistic, little less self-critical.

So the story about yourself is less one-way, less rigid, less negative. It begins to open up…

Exactly. .

What kind of meditations did you start with and how did it evolve?

Lynne’s first experience with meditation, she was going through infertility treatments. And she used a cassette tape guided meditation recording. That was more like body scan, that type of meditations. She wasn’t physically capable of doing silent meditations, of doing anything but guided meditations. Over time it didn’t really change, she’d have moments of peace and tranquility. But it wasn’t immediate.

Further down the road, as she started to develop that attention muscle, she could get more silence in those gaps. So she could develop that practice more. But, she admits, her mantra for a long time was, “When will this be over, when will this be over!”

So during your meditation practice, it was still future was still about getting to another place..

Absolutely, yes, and there was an emphasis on the future, and also there was an emphasis on, I was not doing it right. A strong feeling that other people probably had more tranquility, silence, space in their thoughts than I. A lot of comparison, not feeling good enough in the meditation. And a sense that this was something that only I was failing at.

Which was really important to us, as we developed our app. We really tried to address those concerns, that most people have when they meditate. And then give up, because they think that they’re not doing it properly. We wanted to reassure people, that this is it.

There’s thought, thought, thought, thought, thought…And then you go back to the object of your attention, and you have some more thoughts. And as you continue to do that, eventually it becomes a bit more accessible. A little bit less though, and a little bit more space. 

And it sounds like you’re putting components of self-acceptance in your app’s guided meditations. So that people aren’t as hard on themselves, as you were on your former self.  

Did you also have teachers along the way?

My first experience, was a meditation retreat. It was a funny situation, my girlfriend dragged me kicking and screaming. Reluctant to go with her. I found out there was no alcohol there. And it was basically Vegan. (laughing) I was hoping to stay in a nearby hotel. So I was stuck there for a whole week.

But I submerged myself, and thankfully so. Because that was the beginning of a love affair.

Did you see it differently at the end of the retreat than at the beginning of the retreat?

I’d love to say that I did..What I did notice, was that I had been craving, hoping to achieve a certain state. Peace and quiet type of state. I noticed that that peace that was so elusive, was accessible for periods of time. And I could access this state of mind, more when I was allowing myself to be still and quiet than when I was not.

And so I counter-intuitively I always thought I had to work really really hard to achieve a certain state. If I do this, then maybe I can get there, or have that. But what I recognized, is the less I did, the more peaceful I actually felt. So that was that shift in me. I wouldn’t say that it, boom all changed all at once, but that realization was really helpful and important.

Yeah I think that is the case with many people, it doesn’t just go from one day to the next. But they may read a story that says it should happen a certain way, so pretty quick it turns to self-doubt, and then it turns into thinking there’s something wrong with oneself. 

Did you end up going to more retreats in the future?

Yeah. I’m a retreat junkie. They’re fun, I like them. But it’s also very important to develop my own practice. But it was over time that it became a love affair that became consistent. That consistency was difficult for me.

That’s another thing we try to help people with. Even though I knew that some of my behaviors were not necessarily beneficial for myself, I still did that. Example, I know clearly, if I had a drink when I came home from work. It might be better if I meditate for 20 minutes after work.

Strong habit patterns…

Yes, old habit patterns. But hard to shift. So those habits, and getting to the place where I wanted to change the habits was also a long process, didn’t just happen. Still I’d come home, and still reach for a drink after a hard day.

I find it helpful to make a daily meditation practice habit. From habits that are not self nourishing, to habits that are self-nourishing. Getting myself in that regular habitual practice, that over time, did become a habit. Now I can’t imagine a time where I don’t meditate.

It’s a healthy habit, rather than a destructive habit. Did you also find that your attitude towards certain events would also change as a result of meditation? Like your response or how you deal with a very negative event for example?

Absolutely. That story that I tell my kids all the time. My favorite kid story. This farmer comes into his backyard, and his whole backyard is completely destroyed, how horrible! And his response is, “maybe good, maybe bad.” That is sort of how my own practice has helped me as well. Lynne’s dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer, a tumor in his lung. And there was that moment of understanding that this is something that is potentially life-threatening. But then after surgery, they find out that, Oh, it’s actually not cancer. And then he found out after that while he had internal bleeding, that developed into Pneumonia. And now he’s recuperating. And it’s those waves, and recognizing that it’s temporary, it’s what it it is.

Rather than getting caught up in the moment to moment events. Just being present with whatever is happening. And just enjoying the time, being able to be with my father. And have truly alone time with this man, where he’s truly lucid, and able to communicate and able to share feelings. And probably very poignant, and wouldn’t be said under any other circumstances.

Truly a gift. And being able to see the gift in whatever is happening at the moment, was a huge shift for me. 

I see how if your mind thought it was too real, and you get caught up in these situations, then you wouldn’t have as much time to be fully present for the person who is actually undergoing through this pain. There’s a huge advantage for the people around you, when you’re able to be more present for them, and not caught up or swallowed up by the stories. And at the same time you’re still able to grieve, but it doesn’t have the added mental stuff to it.  

How does this meditation practice affect you as a parent?

My oldest son is 20 something, and my daughter is about 11 at this time. Different parenting rules and regulations at this point. I’m certainly grateful to my older son, for letting me practice on him (laughing). One of the things that was very important to me, was making sure that my kids had a contemplative practice of their own. The ability to step back.

Because my kids were not interested in learning from me, (laughing) as a parent, we really did our best to get the schools to put in meditation as part of the curriculum.

A very creative way as a parent to get your kids to do something you want them to do! (laughing) And at the same time, you’re helping the schools too. 

Yes, it was a win-win for everyone. And I did this at different schools, because Lynn’s kids were at different schools. Her oldest son as ADHD, with learning disabilities. That’s all about your executive functioning, and the inability to concentrate. Making rash decisions, and not necessarily thinking things through.

Having meditation not only helped the teachers, as well as him, and myself. I’ve certainly relied on it as a parent. One of the stories was when her son was at school a few years back, and they called Lynne, telling her that he was on the way to the emergency. When they call like that, usually it means something bad has happened. It ended up that he had blown up the science lab, and part of his arm was injured as part of that experiment gone wrong.

But that practice for me, being able to step back, not getting caught up in the whole drama of the situation. Have a bit of calm and clarity with the situation. This has really helped me get out of that habit of the shame and blame that a lot of parents get into. Like, “why did he do that, how could he do that to me!” And then it becomes all about me, my ego, I’m so worried and I’m so upset. As opposed to just recognizing this is a kid who’s just being a kid, experimenting.

Have you noticed any changes in him as a result of his meditation?

It’s a work in progress (laughing). So he’s 20, and it’ll be interesting, because no one necessarily wants to do what their parents want them to do. He now has some meditation skills that he’s learned, and whether he chooses to use them, and when he will use them is up to him. When he’s ready, he’ll know how..he can make a choice.

Yeah, it has to come from within..

How did the guided meditations from going to schools, to fine-tuning them, making them better, and then taking them out into the world (through the OMG I can Meditate meditation app)?

We had things people would say repeatedly, like a common theme a lot of people complained about was, “I don’t have enough time”. So when we were developing the app, we wanted to give people an alarm, so they could just wake up with the app, and start meditating right away. So there were certain comments, which allowed us to put together a wishlist. If I could have everything in the world, what would it be to help people to have no more excuses to meditate. That would make it simple, and completely accessible and available. We were lucky that we have lots of people gave us lots of information.

Another thing besides the alarm, was the fact that it was daily and progressive. Also, we noticed that if we gave too much information up front, there wasn’t necessarily the sense of continuity. They wanted bite-size pieces, that they could have on a daily basis. This was more important. Consistency and continuity were very important. As opposed to how I did it, going to a full week meditation retreat, one week on, and then not consistent. It was a work in progress.

Was it like a year later that you decided to create the app?

Yes, it took a year of writing, and also making sure on the technology side getting it all put together.

Was it then at the kitchen table, where you decided to, your husband had already done all kinds of things like apps or ringtones right?

His claim to fame was (as he put it), developer of the Fart Ringtone (laughing). He wanted to do something in this chapter of his life that had a little more meaning than that! Yes, he had several technology companies and he had developed web content and content for mobile phones and mobile apps, prior to Apple. So he had been at this for a long time.

So he just thought, I can just take these meditations, and add the technologies with the bell and timer etc..

Yes, he knew how to make something that was consumer friendly..

And also now in airplanes, Air Canada, and Delta…how did that come about?

That’s his doing as well. We’d fly together, and the first 20 minutes you can’t really do anything anyway. And it was just like this, “we should be meditating right now, wouldn’t it be cool if….”. So he was the one to make that happen as well.

Seeing your app in the plane was amazing to me. When I took an international flight recently, I saw so many video screens on all night. Because now you can watch shows and movies all you want. So unlike the past, where folks slept during these international flights, now many people just watch one show after another, and get even less rest. There’s so much more distraction and things then in the past. So your app in a way helps counter-act that, and gives folks permission to rest and meditate. 

Do you find the guided meditations from the store app, have different popular guided meditations, vs the meditation app in the planes?

We also wanted to make sure that we could address, each of the meditations on the app are situation specific. Anywhere from the, “my boss is a jerk” guided meditation, which teaches self, and other compassion. To standing in line at the grocery store. Like a 2 minute meditation. Very specific to whatever you need at the moment.

On a plane, if you have fears, or you’re worried about flying, concerns. Or if it’s just for rest and relaxation that would be another one. We have different ones that are specific to what you’d be going through when you’re flying.

That’s great, because in the past you might have to read through a whole book, or take a whole class before you get to the point that is relevant to a particular situation.  And everyone has a different situation, and a different thing  you might need at that moment. That’s a really wonderful thing about these apps, just-in-time learning, just in time needed, something that’s needed at that moment. 

Love that…

Any other surprises, or things you’ll be doing in the future, as a result of seeing the usage of your app?

It’s just been truly the most gratifying process I could ever imagine. We’ve met some wonderful people, like you..It’s just incredible to have met a community who share our interests and passions. But we’ve also seen the changes and differences that meditation can make in people’s lives. We’ve received some very gratifying letters from people, who’s lives have been improved and have been touched, by their own words. That’s the most special thing I can imagine.

Yes, very gratifying, makes your life meaningful too…

That’s why I get up in the morning, very meaningful. Makes it feel like there’s a sense of purpose. Very special.

Do you have any other plans, or keep building on what you have?

Right now the intention is to develop this further, we’re constantly releasing new content. We’re working with people who help us develop things that are important to them and giving us insight into what issues they have. So we’re very interested in continuing to grow that. We’re interested in developing our distribution network. That’s really the goal right now, making it useful.

You’re definitely succeeding at that. Any final tips for folks just beginning with practice, or struggling with practice?

The most important thing I can think of is consistency. Permitting, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, as opposed setting a lofty goal of an hour. Better off, biting of 10 minutes at a time, and committing to that, and doing it consistently over time. That’s what the research shows, helps develop the attention muscle. You get your practice underway. Baby steps, be gentle with yourself. This is a practice that takes time. Not having expectations, that might be unrealistic. Just committing to it.

Also recognizing what your intention for starting the practice is in the first place. 

Yes very good tip..

Recognizing this is why I’m doing that. And honoring that. Coming back to that, whenever there’s a moment when you feel, “Ugh…do I really want to do this!”

Yeah…rain or shine..


Do you see a community component coming up in the future?

Yes, so that’s our ultimate goal. But that’s secret (laughing). That’s an exiting possibility.

Thanks so much for sharing!

The popular guided meditation, “Blanket of Love Meditation” is played at the end of the interview to finish the episode.




MF 42 – A Lifelong Zen Meditation Practice and Perspective with Sandy Haskin

MF 42 – A Lifelong Zen Meditation Practice and Perspective with Sandy Haskin

MF 42 – A Lifelong Zen Meditation Practice with Sandy Haskin

(This is a summary transcript, listen to the episode for the full conversation)

Sandy Haskin practices Zen meditation with the Three Treasures Sangha of the Northwest. She currently lives and works in Spokane, Washington. She works as a Nurse Aide at a home for mentally ill adults, and also sells books, DVD’s, CD’s on Amazon with her sister. She has worked at the former for 10 years and the latter for 5 years.

What was your life like before taking on a meditation practice?

Sandy remembers how she began to meditate and when, she had just left the town she grew up in, Spokane, WA. And she moved to Olympia. And found out because of her family history, she could get some help via friends through the 12 step program, so she joined (ACoA) Adult Children of Alcoholics and began to work the 12 steps. This was in 1986. And she thought moving away from her hometown would help her take care of her problems and her dissatisfaction with her life and herself.

What she had done was move to Olympia, and create yet another  dysfunctional relationship, like she had had in Spokane. So she was disappointed that it repeated itself and where her life was headed at that point.

And you mean by relationship, with another?

Yes, with another man. So she was confounded what to do with her life, and how to make her life work. So she read a book called, Women Who Love Too Much, by Robin Norwood. And she said, if there’s any alcoholism in your family, look up a 12 step group. And I said, well, I qualify! (laughing) It was just an afterthought, last chapter in the book. So Sandy went to ACoA, and found her home.

12 steps is all about finding a spiritual answer to your life, to your problems. And it is not an option, that’s the whole basis of the 12 step program. But they don’t tell you what it is going to look like, that is your job to find the answer.

So Sandy began to meditate at home, watching a candle flame. That particular meditation just so happens to be the one she began with. She then ran into a friend, Pamela Lee who invited her to meditate with her in Seattle. So she began sitting with a group, which was fundamental for Sandy. To start a practice, and be connected with a group, a schedule, a teacher, and a community. That was back in late ’86. And she’s been meditating ever since, off for about 5.

Was meditation part of the ACoA, or is it all find it on your own?

I called myself not an alcoholic, but ACoA, I was in 4 different 12 step programs. But yes, the 2nd step is coming to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. And the 11th step is through prayer and meditation seek to improve your conscious contact with God as I understood God to mean. Praying only for knowledge of God’s will, for me to carry that out. So yes, prayer and meditation are very basic, I made them basic to my program. But it is not necessary, but it is part a path you could learn.  Other folks go to church and don’t meditate, and yet others do go to church and meditate. You gotta find your own way, finding your own spiritual path. 

And you were in 4 different 12 step programs?

I was, I was quite the addict! (laughing) In fact I was ordered to go, my best friends were there, it was so much fun. I was going to treatment for my alcoholism, which I love, I love the attention to myself. And the counselor said, when we’re finished with your treatment, you will go to AA. And I said , I will not, I’m already in another 12 step group, I love it, and I’m getting it. So she couldn’t finish her treatment there. She started out in one group and ended up in quite a few others.

So what kind of meditation group did you end up in?

Her friend had sat extensively with the Three Treasures Sangha, a Zen meditation group in Seattle, Washington. They’re under the umbrella of Robert Aitken’s Diamond Sangha in Hawaii. And she has been with them ever since.

What did you find in particular very helpful about a Zen group like the one you’re going to?

I guess the focus is totally on meditation, and not so much what you do or don’t believe. In fact, the people that introduced her to this practice, are Catholics, and don’t even want to be called Buddhists. So the focus is on the practice. Doing the practice, and committing to it. Sandy liked what she saw in these people, they were adults, her age. She seemed to really settle into just meditating. Not too much of read this, follow that person, there wasn’t so much asked. Then when there was a teacher, you could listen. It wasn’t like sermons in church. More focus on meditation, which fit her personality more.

Where there insights during this journey, maybe early on that made you realize you wanted to keep coming back to it. In other words, that kept you motivated to keep coming back to it?

Yeah, one thing about meditation that is hard for our culture, is I don’t believe that there are typically not instant results. There are subtle results, like over time, her personality started to calm down. From the outside, for example, you wouldn’t guess that I have a lot of anxiety. But I did, I was tongue tied, I was very self conscious, worried about things I would say, etc. And meditation seemed to calm things down, but it took a long time.

I remember a strange story. I was sober and looking for God, looking for a program for a few years. And I wasn’t getting it…Like where is God, or the spirit, whatever. I was miserable.

When you go into meetings, Jamborees, retreats, etc. With all these people that seem so happy, and I wasn’t so happy. So I was asking God for a sign. I was desperate. I was like, there is nothing happening, there’s nothing here, I just wasn’t getting it.

And..I was, maybe I need this, maybe some people don’t need to get what I got. So I asked for a sign, but I did, I was up in the middle of the night. I had been sober for a year, religiously doing the steps. And I was on the toilet crying in the middle of the morning. Sometimes you have those nights! About a half hour after that, I started to smell smoke. I lived in an apartment, and I opened the door, there was smoke coming down the hallway, and one of my neighbors apartments was on fire.

So I went back to my apartment, and we ran to get everyone out of the place. I went back and locked my door. It was a mess, my place was a mess, they smashed my door, so don’t lock your door if you’re ever in a fire!

So anyway, I was at a friends house that night. And I was just thinking about everything that happened that evening. And I realized that the day before the fire, I had done this motherpeace Tarot card game. And the I had gotten this card of a person, a woman sitting in meditation, and she was surrounded by flames. I know this is new agey, its weird, but the moment I remembered getting that card, I felt the presence of God. I felt a peace about my life, that this was supposed to happen to me. I don’t know why, I don’t understand. But I gained something through understanding that in spiritual terms this was the way my life was supposed to go.

And her friends would say, aren’t you going to cry? Your stuff is trashed! But she would just say Wow!

So anyway she gained a tremendous amount of peace. I just believe that when we sincerely want answers, that when we sincerely seek, that we do get answers. That we do find guidance, on the spiritual path. Even if it is not what we expected. So yeah, I’ve had ups and downs. But you just have to follow through. I think anyone on any spiritual path, is going to find it is not going to be easy. But the alternative, I don’t want to go back to my old life, and how I used to feel, it was pretty ugly.

Great story..

Yeah, you get your answers along the way, I guess if you ask in all sincerity.

I’m sure you’ve had more moments along the way..and it just continues to unfold…

Yeah, in the Zen tradition, it’s liked by some people, because it’s not heavily promoted that you have to believe the ancestors. Or that you memorize books. But the longer I meditate, the more I see the world the way they see the world. That it is very satisfying. I know this is because of my meditation, not because of my intellect. They’re talking about a spiritual plane, and it is not something you can intellectualize.

Yes, and I’ve had some whoppers of experiences, that helps one to keep going. But I also think human beings, human contact, having a teacher, are so so important to having a meditation practice. If I had not met that woman, who meditated and who connected me to a meditation group, it would have just been on my list.  Oh yeah, some time I’ll meditate….

To be in a group with a schedule, and needs your help, volunteer, do service work, getting involved, it’s crucial. Because I’m self-centered, just want to live my own life, and I still just want to be left alone! (laughing). So involvement in a group is crucial for the long haul of sticking to meditation practice. 

At some point you also started to attend retreats, can you highlight some of the benefits of retreats, as opposed to just group gatherings?

Yes, I would go on these 7 day retreats a year, which really solidified my in practice. The experiences in Sesshin (long retreat intensives) are that one is very much supported in turning around your attention to look inwards and do your practice. And it’s really rare to have that opportunity in our culture, because even if we’re home alone, we feel compelled to be productive. 

So to have some place to go, where you have permission. It’s set up to not have to thinking, talking, planning, or writing. It’s very helpful. So that year when I started retreats fixed me into practice. The benefits I would say.

When you’re in retreat, you’re with the same people sitting, eating, snoring for 24 hours a day. And it’s easy to get critical or judgmental with people. But going with other people, really opens you up to accepting other people, and being able to help them in their practice. I’m often judgmental with others, but when you’re on retreat, you communicate on a level that is not intellectual, it’s not verbal. 

You almost get to experience what I would call love, a unity, and a co-traveler type thing with all of these people, maybe half of whom you’ve never met before. So it’s an experience that speaks for itself. Just having value in the quit time and doing that with a group of people.

Maybe you have an example of an experience that you had during a retreat that stood out for you..

I’ve been over to Mountain Lamp retreat center in the past few years, where her teacher Jack Duffy and partner Eileen Kierra teach retreats there. The weather can be very chaotic, raining, storming, sunshine, hailing etc all in the same day.

So this one day it was storming around around us, and we’re sitting in this zendo (meditation hall), and I was like 5 days in a 7 day retreat. And towards the end of the evening, I’d been listening to the storm, letting it flow in and out of me. And after a while I realized that I was no longer sitting there on the cushion in my body. I was raining. That is just the reality, I was no longer a person, I was rain!

Yeah that’s great. (laughing)

It was fabulous. Yeah, you’re talking about the boundaries that we’re conditioned to think of ourselves as, were dissolving, you no longer ended at the edge of your skin. 

And we don’t meditate to “get experiences”, but certain experiences come along. But when they do, you know that you’re really settled. And that was wonderful.

And I think it’s good to see what’s possible during retreats, rather than reading from a book. It’s nice to hear examples of what can happen during a retreat. 

I’m always surprised at how much energy we take, to do social greetings, to smile at people, to always have the right composure, etc. All of that takes energy. And when you’re in a group, that the focus is taken care of, and not expected, so you can turn inward. That is a huge freedom.

And it’s very difficult to do alone. When you meditate with a group, there’s a power, a strength to keep going, because everyone else is. So you can do more with a group than you can do alone. It’s just what I found to be true over the years.

Same here…

It turns into a way of life, which is so wonderful. I set my life up more now on retreats, than on vacations. It’s a lifelong practice. It’s very wonderful to have as I grow older.

When you come out of retreats, do you get the sense of wanting to mingle or integrate that into the rest of your life? 

I think in retreats I think you can become rather naive and you’re feeling a certain way, a certain zone of vulnerability. I tend to fall for it every time, I tend to think it’s going to last forever. But it doesn’t. I guess what I take with me, I re-integrate is slowly, have a peaceful the day after a retreat. And I recognize how my judging people stops.  I appreciate the work of everyone who’s made the retreat happen. Those are the things I take into my life hopefully. The ability to watch my mind, and lessen the judgement of others.

It’s just a habitual way to separate. It’s not even true. It’s about my ego, having one-up over yours.

That sense of peace is there for a while, but I can’t keep it for a long time. But I think of it later, let that person alone! Don’t hassle him in my own head!

It’s a gift to have a practice.

What would you say to someone who struggles to have and keep a meditation practice?

I strongly urge people to get together with a group. (If you’re into Buddhist meditation practice), check out the web site called Buddhanet. If people are trying to sit alone, it can backslide. It’s very difficult to do that. But if you try a group, like on the web site above, you’d be amazed how many groups there are in the US. So my first idea is don’t sit alone, do that, but also connect with other folks, and talk about your practice.

The motivation I’ve had, was that I was emotionally miserable. The more miserable you are, the more you may want to seek out a spiritual path. It is very difficult. It may not be obvious that you’re growing, or that you’re getting it. And that’s just the way it goes.

Yeah, like a crock-pot slowly cooking….

Yeah, right, but in the end it’s worth it. And it’s good to reflect back. That’s the 4th part of the 12 steps, “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.” It’s good to look back, and look at why you are where you are. I don’t owe it to myself, I owe it to AA and 12 step groups.

Thanks so much!





MF 37 – Awakening from the Illusion of Separation with Lama Surya Das

MF 37 – Awakening from the Illusion of Separation with Lama Surya Das

MF 37 – Awakening from the Illusion of Separation with Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das is one of the foremost Western Buddhist meditation teachers and scholars, one of the main interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, and a leading spokesperson for the emerging American Buddhism. The Dalai Lama affectionately calls him “The Western Lama.”

Lama Surya Das Surya has spent over forty five years studying Zen, vipassana, yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with the great masters of Asia, including the Dalai Lama’s own teachers, and has twice completed the traditional three year meditation cloistered retreat at his teacher’s Tibetan monastery. He is an authorized lama and lineage holder in the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism, and a close personal disciple of the leading grand lamas of that tradition. He is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its branch centers around the country, including the retreat center Dzogchen Osel Ling outside Austin, Texas, where he conducts long training retreats and Advanced Dzogchen retreats. Over the years, Surya has brought many Tibetan lamas to this country to teach and start centers and retreats. As founder of the Western Buddhist Teachers Network with the Dalai Lama, he regularly helps organize its international Buddhist Teachers Conferences. He is also active in interfaith dialogue and charitable projects in the Third World. In recent years, Lama Surya has turned his efforts and focus towards youth and contemplative education initiatives, what he calls “True higher education and wisdom for life training.”

Lama Surya Das is a sought after speaker and lecturer, teaching and conducting meditation retreats and workshops around the world. He is a published author, translator, chant master (see Chants to Awaken the Buddhist Heart CD, with Stephen Halpern), and a regular blog contributor at The Huffington Post, as well as his own blog site where he shares his thoughts and answers questions from the public each week.

Surya Das has been featured in numerous publications and major media, including ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Post, Long Island Newsday, Long Island Business Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, The Jewish Free Press, New Age Journal, Tricycle Magazine, Yoga Journal, The Oregonian, Science of Mind, and has been the subject of a seven minute magazine story on CNN. One segment of the ABC-TV sitcom Dharma & Greg was based on his life (“Leonard’s Return”). Surya has appeared on Politically Correct with Bill Maher, and twice on The Colbert Report (see links below).

Surya is the author of thirteen books, the latest: Make Me One With Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken from the Illusion of Separation (May 2015) See the rest of the book titles and links in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Lama Surya Das resides in Concord, Massachusetts.

Interview Transcript

(This is a summary transcript, please listen to the episode to enjoy the full conversation)

Maybe you could start us off with a guided mini-meditation? (I usually do a short mini-meditation before all interviews)

Maybe we’ll just keep silent for the whole 45 minutes! (laughing)

Yes, let’s have a little instant meditation, very American. Friends, Meditate as fast as you can (laughing)!

  1. Breathe in first, and say “Ahhhhhh” 3 times, the seed-syllable of Dzogchen, Tibetan Meditation. And enjoy a moment of mindfulness and contemplative sweetness, of just being. Getting of the threat-mill of events, and momentum of our conditioning and drivenness, and just breathing, just sitting, just being.

Present attentive. Lucidly aware.

Mindful, rather than mindlessly sleepwalking through life.

Just sitting, natural body is Buddha’s body.

Let it be, relaxed and at ease.

2. Just breathing, natural breath is letting go, letting if flow.

Awaring…Awareness is a verb.

Aware of physical sensations in the body.

Mindfulness of breathing,

3. Aware of awareness itself. Aware of thoughts, memories, moods, not trying to suppress them.

Mindfulness of thoughts is meditation. Not trying not to think.

Incandescent presence. Choice-less awareness. Nowness awareness is the true Buddha within.

Letting everything come and go, letting be, as it is.

Aware open, friendly accepting.

And enjoy the joy of natural meditation.

This breath as if the only breath, this moment as if the only moment. Enjoy the joy of naturalness, of genuine meditation.


Tibetan chanting follows…

“May all beings be happy, peaceful, in harmony, fulfilled and serene.

Healed and whole again.

And may we all together fulfill the promise of this spiritual journey.

One family, one sangha community, One world.

All beings, love to one and all.

And I bow to the Buddha in your seat, don’t overlook her. “

I like that, as a substitute for God Bless America some times. 

Yes, that’s what I say, “God Bless Everyone”. Let’s be a blessing in the world, a light, rather than a blight on the landscape. The world needs it.

Thank you..

That was a little natural meditation. You can find these in my books, which are like work books full of practices you can do.

Like breathe, relax, center and smile. 4 steps to instant meditation. Not that complicated. There’s 2600 years of ethics, practices, wisdom, and meditations behind all that.

3 pillars of natural meditations behind it. Just sitting, just breathing, just being aware. These are great practices for today. Secular, non-sectarian, no beliefs or conversions needed.

How did you get on a a path of meditation?

I grew up in the 50’s and sixties, and went to college in New York at the university of New York, university of Buffalo. And his best high school friend, Allison Krause, was shot and killed in may of 1970, along with 3 other students, she was 19. It was a big tragedy. She was running away from the  part-time soldiers, the Ohio national guard. Who shot the students who were demonstrating the secret bombings of Cambodia and Vietnam by Nixon and Kissinger during the Vietnam war era.

That turned his head around about fighting for peace, and the radical anti-war movement. Lama Surya Das wanted to be for something positive. To make peace, become peace, be a peacemaker in the world. Rather than fighting for peace. Which became increasingly a contradiction in terms.

Like today we have suicide bombers, killing in the name of God. I don’t think that is exactly what God has in mind for us. Nothing new about this fanaticism, it’s been going for millennia and centuries. It’s part of our human society, we have to deal with it.

I went to India after graduation from college 1971, went to Zen retreats, meditation, encounter groups, legal and otherwise consciousness research. Hitchhiked across Europe, and middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, India, etc. Went to his first Vipassana course, insight meditation course.

That was in August 1971, with people like Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Coleman, and many of our current mindfulness teachers in America. Then met his first Tibetan teachers, Lamas. His first Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him his name Surya Das.

Surya Das was there throughout the 70’s and 80’s.  Became a Buddhist monk, went to tibetan buddhist training for lamas. Did that twice in the 80’s, learned Tibetan. Was then invited to teach by some of the Vipassana teachers in America. Taught these teachers Dzogchen. His lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, starting in 1989.

By the 90’s started to write books and teach in Europe and America, started Dzogchen centers in America. That’s what he does, teaching, writing, and social activism. Spiritual service, or activism. Make a positive difference in the world. Be a Bodhisattva, an edifier, an awakener. A light in this world.

Now as he gets older, a spiritual elder. A role we sorely need today. Young folks don’t necessarily want authorities, religious leaders. Or trust political leaders. And yet..

We’re all thirsty for for this timeless wisdom, self knowledge, inner teacher, inner peace, outer harmony. How to heal the planet and climate issues. Not very esoteric. Everyone is interested in this today.

I did read in your book, you read a line as a teen, that “the whole universe is my body, all beings are my mind”.  At that time you may not have realized it very deeply, but you were attracted to it right?

Of course, when I was in college, I was a Woodstock. Everyone he knew went to Woodstock. He read books like Aldous Huxley’s Perennial philosophy, Tibetan book of the Dead, Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui way of knowledge, about his teacher Don Juan.

So he read that, but had no idea, was a kid, a jock, not interested in religion. Had no idea, just studied philosophy in college. He was into psychology, political science, creative writing. So now even now when I look at those notebooks from that day that I wrote down. Maybe I remember some of that. It’s amazing how much was there, and how little I understood about it when I was a kid.

Hormone driven, anti-counter-cultural, Vietnam era. But then it all starts to come back as you open your third eye. When he came back from India, even in the bible, of course humanism, of course Judaism and Christianity, there’s was plenty in there. But growing up, we weren’t that interested in it. Nobody taught us really how to meditate or pray to bring that into our bodies or into our lives.

It was more like oh on Sunday, where you listen to an old person give a boring sermon while reading a book in your lap about a totally different subject.

Right, I was the same way..

That’s what we did. I’m Jewish on my parents side, I was Bar Mitzvah, went to Hebrew school.  There was nothing of interest for me. When he asked all his millions of questions, they would say, “Sheket! “, translated quiet little monkey! Shhh, Shh. OK, I’ll try..

When he landed in India, he went to the meditation course, 10 day mindfulness course, silent for 10 days with S.N. Goenka. Not many questions. Teacher gave one hour talk everyday. Which the insight school is carrying on these days in America. Tara Brach, Jon Kabat Zinn is an offshoot of that. Terrific mindfulness training.

When he was with his first lama grand old masters of Tibet Kalu Rinpoche, he was Dalai Lama’s teacher of the 6 Tibetan Tantric Yogas. He used to pepper him a lot with questions, he had a lot more work and teaching, refuge camps, building schools and infirmaries.

So when Surya Das asked him, is it OK if I ask you all these questions? He said, “Ask me all of your questions, then one day you too will know.”

That was very empowering. Quite different then my, “religious upbringing”. He also gave me practices, self inquiry, ways of thinking, basic Buddhist philosophy and psychology. How to meditate and look into his mind, his feelings. Ways of looking into relationships, ethics and moral precepts. How to develop virtues, like generosity and patience.  Not just believe in them.

Oh Jesus could love the enemy, well I don’t know how? But he taught us how!

To exchange self for others, called Tibetan Tonglen practices. Put yourself in the other’s shoes, equalizing yourself and others. And mindfulness and awareness practices.

I encourage people to question, seek, inquire. Find out for yourself, don’t just belief everything on blind faith. Of course most of us won’t, since many of us are Americans.

Do you think we have to journey into separateness, into a sense of self and other, so we can fully appreciate non-separateness?

Yes. That’s really the universal pageant. It’s a little hard to talk about, so let me talk in English.

God created the world because he/she was lonely. Likes a good story. That is one amusing way of looking at it.

The whole journey back to the Garden of Eden, or oneness or God or beyond separation. First you have to be separate to experience Union, otherwise you have no perspective. 

Like the poet, mystic Saint Kabir of India said, “The fish doesn’t know the sea that there in. ”

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.

You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real!”
― Kabir

The bubble has to burst to return to the sea, but it has never been apart.

So we’re conceived and we cut the umbilical cord and become separate, and grow up and individuate and become independent. These are healthy stages of development. But then we also have to have a healthy ego, not be an egotistical bastard.

And then, start to recognize interdependence and interconnection. And have autonomy within interdependence, not just be independent like a teenager wants.

Find autonomy and freedom within interdependence. Recognize that we’re not separate, that we’re all interconnected.

As we see in the global level today, with the global economy, environment, ozone layer, rising seas. We’re all connected, we can’t just worry about what’s going on in our village in our own country anymore. And not worry about the bigger issues.

And also individually, nobody can do it alone today. It’s not the age of isolationism of specialists anymore.

Belief me, I’ve tried as a Tibetan monk in monasteries for 8 or 9 years.

We need each other, to develop compassion, empathy, loving-kindness Not just wisdom from the far head up.

The whole journey is about coming home to oneness or ourselves. The subtitle of my book, make me one with everything, is “Buddhist meditations to awaken from the illusion of separation”.

So we have to experience separation in order to come back, just like with love. You can’t know love unless we feel a little separate. Then we can experience the oneness and the union of being one and together, as we come together and apart in a healthy relationship dance.

When you became a monk for those 8 years when you still thought that it was a separate journey, was there a point that you realized that you perspective was shifting from that sense of separate individual journey to we’re part of a larger whole. 

Well it was very gradual in the sense that growing up I was always on sports teams, stayed in one neighborhood, being with my buddies. That was great, and then also in college, and later, a little bit more inner, with hallucinogens, started to write poetry, creatively, songs, develop my inner. That was a little more of the separate. Self growth, self development. Although still with friends, women.

My teachers in India, Nepal, Tibet, even in Japan where Lama Das studied Zen and teaching English. Mostly monks or monastic style, they wanted us to become monks and nuns. Like the Kalu Rinpoche started the first 3 year western training in the west. But I never believed I’d be a monk my own life. I wanted to come back to my own culture. And place and time  and make a difference. Not be an ex-pat in foreign country. It’s different if you’re part of the scene there, like you as a Dutch person married here in America.

But in India it was more separate, like sahibs and memsabs. Like the British invaders. I wanted to go back to my own time and culture, and starting teaching counseling, writing, and organizing, social activism.

As a monk that is very hard to imagine continuing to do that. I didn’t intend to stay a monk forever. As a monk, it gets really complicated. Not being able to do many things. It’s not my vocation anyway. I’m more of a people person, Bhakti, as they say in India. A lover of life, people and of God. God in people, God in nature, God in animals.

So when the 3 year retreats were over after 8/9 years, I gave up my robes.

My message is if I can do it, you can do it, everyone can do it. I’m not different, I’m not the Dalai Lama, I don’t want anyone to idealize me. Just a Jewish jock from Long Island. Like a player coach, let’s do these practices together. It’s a wonderful joyous spiritual path. 

I love this journey of kindred spirits together. I love the beloved community, the Sangha, the Satsang. So gradually I got used to this idea. Starting to see, this is not the time, it’s never the time for selfishness. But self-growth, isolationism, and closing my eyes, and going inward, and being silent for years.

This is the era for integration, collaboration, of the 99% occupying the spirit. Not just the 1% percent waiting for the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa to do it. 

This is very important, so that is why I wrote this book about co-meditation, inter-meditation, awakening together.

I could tell by the way you wrote it, you want to take the “me” out of Meditation. So you created the new word, inter-meditation. 

Yes from Me-ditation to We-ditation. Not just with people, but with nature, with animals, with the lake, trees, the sun, the sky, with the sound of the waves. And let them do it for you, wash over you and through you. Relax a little, be open, not just close our eyes, and try to get away from it all.

Be with it, not trying to get away from it. Be with it, be open, not against it. Be with it!

Loving kindness means friendliness and openness. And also be friendly and open to what comes up within us. To our own inner phenomena and noumena, the mental stuff, bodily feeling. Healthily integrating it all into our open heart and Big Mind.

It’s the Big Mindfulness. Re-Mindfulness, remembering through member what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Not just trying to getaway from it all or stop thinking.

To me the sense of integration, that you talk about, is we used to spend a lot of time developing or nurturing the little self, the ego, ignoring the big self. And now when the Big Self is in the foreground, and the little self is in service of the big self. At the same time we need to develop our own unique expression of the Big Self, which is non-repeatable, which has it’s own talents and skills that still need nurturing. Some might think they have to kill their ego, or toss it away. Because the world needs everyone to be there, authentic to show up. 

Authentic, effective, yes. Authentic is a hard word to define. But it’s so important. No need to kill anything or kill your ego. Anti-ego is just another crime. Egotism, “I’m the worst”, or “I’m worse than anybody else!”

I think Buddhist greatest teaching is the middle way. Not too much and not too little. Not ascetic and not indulgent. There’s a lot of room in between, it’s not a razor’s edge. There’s a lot of lanes in the great highway of authentic awakening.  And the awakened life. The mindful life. The beautiful loving true life that everyone deserves. Not in an entitled way, that everyone can have and participate in equally.

There’s a lot of lanes in this great highway of life, let’s just try to stay away from the ditches on either side. Nihilism, nothing matters. Vs Materialism, everything is as real as it seems. If we can’t weight it or see it, it’s not real. That’s materialism. Nihilism and materialism are extreme views, the ditches off the highway. Extreme views. Killing for God mentality.

There’s a lot of lanes in the great highway including the different religions, like humanism, and atheism. Atheists and Agnostics are some of the most spiritual people I know. There’s room for all.

Suicide bombings and genocide, not so much room in my mind for that. We have to deal with that for sure. It’s part of life. And the inequalities and injustices of life make the problem worse. So we have to make some systemic changes, not just change ourselves.

When I become clearer, everything becomes clearer. That’s Buddha’s basic premise. That’s why we meditate, concentrate, self-inquiry. But still we have to work on the outer level, as well as the inner level. 

It’s election year, an important time to step up, speak out, and vote. If you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear you complaining about what’s wrong with politics in Washington.

Being an informed citizen is a co-meditation in a way.

Participating. If you’re a parent you got to participate with the children, not just send them off to school, and hope someone else do the parenting. Stand up for them, going to the school, and being involved.

This is a time for integration, not getting away from it all.

Of course having said that, I got away from it all for a long time. I still lead silent meditation retreats year-round. You can see my schedule, see below in the resources. But I still talk a lot about integration and selfless service, seva.

Linking our hands, hearts and heads. We’re all in the same boat, we rise and fall, sink or swim together.

We got a lot more to do, with terrorism, school shootings, separation and alienation. 

Yes, it’s terrible. The education system in North America. But the gun problem is even more of a crisis than the education crisis. There’s some pretty entrenched lobbies around that issue. Maybe we need to implement more mindful anger management in law enforcement. So people can think before they respond. More mindful management amongst teachers and institutional leaders. And with children. But it’s coming.

Mindful anger management can go a long way to reducing the violence that is becoming so endemic to our society.

These school shootings and mass killings are becoming like a national characteristic. It’s infuriating. Doesn’t happen in Canada. In this country there’s more guns then people! Don’t know why.

Inner peace and outer peace and harmony have to go together. I’m all for it.

You mention in your book, there’s a massive movement towards mindfulness , but folks miss out on some of the spiritual benefits, if they only go for the more mindful this or that. Effectiveness training.

It’s probably always been this way, com-modifying. Different societies generalize the things they import, like Yoga, that came into the 50’s and 60’s. Now probably in the armed forces.

Yoga just for exercise and health is missing out on the real meaning of Yoga, which is Yoga as Union with the Oneness, God, the highness. Missing out on the spiritual dimensions. The 8 limb yoga. Not just physical yoga.

Similarly meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness for effectiveness, mindfulness for relaxation, for stress relief is terrific. But mindfulness is also part of the Buddhist path of awakening. Brings enlightenment, brings other benefits. Brings wisdom development, less selfishness, more openness. Wouldn’t want us to lose out on those aspects.

If prayer would be only for what you want, like kids petitioning Santa. It would be a big loss.

If mindfulness becomes only about us getting what we want, like feeling a little better, getting a bigger high, reducing blood pressure and stress. It would be a loss from the point of view of wisdom cultivation and development.

Awareness, self-knowledge development, attitude transformation, and so on. Other aspects of mindfulness. When Surya Das teaches, he also teaches about 6 kinds of mindfulness. It’s a very rich subject.

It’s also about soulfulness and heartfulness. Not just about the mind. That’s very American, we love the mind and thoughts. We’re think-aholics! Addicted to thinking. 

But there’s life without thinking! Sometimes we’re having an experience and we’re still there, but not thinking. Like in the throws of ecstatic love making, or other situation, extreme exercise, or lucid dreaming.

Thoughts are a good servant, but a poor master. We’re too much under it’s power. Which is why I stress awareness.

I really appreciate my uncle who was a priest at the time. We were on a boat, about to go under a bridge, and I was standing on the boat about to get my head sliced off. He swore the most highest profanities at the time to get me to immediately bend down, or my head was about to get sliced off. That response was very appropriate!

Yes, you can’t legislate that. We call that wrathful compassion, not anger. He saved your life by cursing at the top of his lungs. If your children run into the street, you scream. You don’t just tiptoe, mindfully, silently toward the street to save them. That would be insane.

Spiritual life practice make us more sane, not insane. 

Meditation is a good friend with benefits.

I wouldn’t want it to be just mindfulness for effectiveness or yoga for health.

And that does require a balance between taking the practice seriously, but holding it lightly..another balance you gotta learn over time. 

Life aint much fun if we’re taking ourselves to seriously. That’s one of the downsides of religion today. It’s become so intimidating, so sectarian. I believe we need to really work to transform the atmosphere of spirituality. Apply it to daily life in many different ways, like mindful anger management, health and stress reduction is all good.

We need to lighten up, as well as enlighten up.

Joy is one of the four boundless virtues of Buddhist practice. Also joy in the good fortune of others, rejoicing. Joy is an important virtue to cultivate. Not just thinking this world sucks, waiting for the next world. 

And your book title, “Make me one with everything”, maybe you can mention this joke.

Here’s the joke! BTW, I’m proud that, “Serious Das” (his wife used to call him that when he got too serious about his practice) has the only book title that I know of, in which the title is the punch line of a joke.

So you probably don’t know what the Dalai said to the hot-dog vendor?

The Dalai Lama walked up to the hot dog vendor and said, “Make me One with Everything!”

But there’s more! So then the vendor starts making the hot-dog, the sweet relish, the crappy onions, bean sprouts, mustard, ketchup, etc.

Then the vendor hands over the hot-dog to the Dalai Lama, and then the Dalai Lama hands over the 10 dollar bill. Then there’s a pregnant pause, a silence, are they meditating? Staring contest? What’s going on? Misunderstanding?

The Dalai Lama then finally gives in, speaks first, “What no change?”

The hot dog vendor responds, “Change must come from within”….:-)

Lightening up, while enlightening up. Not taking ourselves too seriously, and also cultivating the joy. Life is a miracle, we didn’t create it. Everyday we get up is a good day, we’re not dead. We all know folks who are younger and have died or dread diagnosis. In parts of the world where people are in slavery, poverty, wars, famines all the time, or most of the time. etc.

The beautiful nature around us, the freedoms we have in this great country. Increasingly diverse.  Religious freedoms, freedom of speech and so on. Let me add, especially if you’re a white person.

I practice this kind of reverence and gratitude everyday. That makes my heart more joyful. I’m more resilient. Less brittle, less fearful, less cautious. More free and spontaneous. I can give and take. I can breathe in and out. Co-meditate with the difficulties, as well as with the people I like. Have much more resilience, forbearance and tolerance. Joyous, it’s a buoyant awakening.

And the meditation practice is what helps you with these benefits like resilience..

Yes, I’ve been meditating since 19791, when I did that first mindfulness course. Like that American expression, don’t leave home without it. I take it with me everyday, wherever I go.

Sometimes twice a day, sometimes in retreats all day. Sometimes I take part of the Sabbath off to take some time off to meditate. Meditate pray chant. Walking meditation, natural meditation, or sky gazing, lie down, dissolving into the sky, or co-meditation with water. Walk outside without earbuds. Co-meditation helps us integrate, inter-meditate with everything, every moment, even if we’re in a busy place. 

It seems like the lack of appreciation is one of the reasons why there’s so much depression, why people have problems with the world. 

It’s the difference between seeing the half of glass that’s empty and the half that’s full. Or, if things are never good enough for you, if you’re a perfectionist. Or worse insatiable craving or addiction. How those things cycle. It’s hard to get out of it by more of the same things that you’re stuck in. You have to make a quantum leap. Not just a little adjustment.

I’m  not an alcoholic, I’ll just drink less. Well good luck to you if that works. From my understanding, the 12 step program at stopping totally, is the best and almost the only solution for alcoholics. I’m for the middle way, but sometimes you have to be all or nothing with certain things.

With the bad habits, afflictions, things like depression, or other pathologies, maybe we need some psychiatric help, or chemical intervention. Maybe we need to change our diet, or lifestyle. If we can’t change our ways of thinking.

Back to what I believe in is experiential practices. Not just converting to another religion, or converting to another political party, they’re so much the same. But doing the inner work, on oneself, and together. And asking for help, getting help from others who have more experience can be very helpful.

So meditation, self inquiry, support groups, therapy, Tai chi, yoga, or your favorite hobby. Maybe kneeling in the sun in your garden is your way of being closest to the One, rather than kneeling in the church where you have all kinds of other associations. Maybe some creative art is it for you. Authenticity, we have to be honest with ourselves, or imitate someone else’s way. If we’re truth seekers. Not fool ourselves, learn and apply. With our youngers, with our elders, with other species etc.

As a teacher what issues do you see your students struggle the most with?

I shouldn’t tell on them (laughing) from their private consultations, etc. It’s no secret, that westerners mostly struggle with mental stuff. Less so with poverty and disease that you see in other parts of the world. Like genocide, being refugees, or having your family members disappeared, kidnapped.

A lost of his students struggle with relationships. The search for love and wholeness. The feelings of incompleteness, feelings of loneliness and isolation. Meaninglessness, what’s it all about in life. Why bad things happen to good people. People with various cancers, ill children, parents, to take care of. These are things that people struggling with, and have always struggled with.

That’s why I’m thinking about co-meditation. The difficulty or challenge. Being with it not trying to get away from it. The “enemy”, like a disease. To be with it, breathe with it, learn to tolerate it, be more patient less resistant.

See through the illusion of separation, is a great antidote to all this mental suffering. 

You don’t just mean intellectual..

Breathing with it, tolerating. Like befriend anxiety, if you have difficult feelings. Not fighting it, thinking it has to go away. Or over-medicating it away. Like sweeping crap under the rug. Where it festers. Throwing radioactive waste into the ocean. So we don’t have to deal with it. Of course our children would have to deal with it. Breathing through physical pain. Moving your attention can move your world in a positive direction.

Recognizing the inter-connectedness, putting yourself in others shoes. If your “enemy”, “bad” boss, (bad is subjective) employee, neighbors, if you have a problematic relationship. If you put yourself in their shoes, you might see yourself very differently.

We might have been the Hitler youth, if we’d been brought up in Nazi Germany. With the boy scouts, everyone was in the Hitler youth. You have to say that these extremists from the middle east. I don’t know that I’d be a terrorist. But they’re very loyal to their parents, their schools, just like we were. They’re not that different. They have the universal commonality of human beings, we love our land, our children, etc. We gotta find some common ground. Doesn’t mean we have to have the same religion.

Look at our gridlocked separateness in our nation’s capital. The partisan politics. Nobody can get anything done. It’s a real problem if we can’t find a third or fourth way, and see through the illusion of separateness. And get to the greater common good.

We have to take relational actional steps, learning, inquiring steps.

This Tibetan practice about riding the breath is very helpful and important today. Breathing in the difficulty, with Tibetan Tonglen practice is very important. Equalizing self and other.

You mention the shootings, it’s about what we’ve been talking about. Why do people do it, it’s about feeling separate, excluded, meaningless, victimized, pushed out, no one will listen to me. I’m gonna make a statement, extreme statement, because I’m not heard. We need to address these issues.

And the spiritual practice and path is a timeless and evergreen path to addressing these big life questions. 

What further encouragement would you give someone listening who’s not fully committed or sure why they’re practicing?

Nobody fully understands it, I don’t pretend to fully understand. Life is a mystery.  We have to live it. It’s like love, who fully understands love? But some are better than others, they become good lovers, good loving people. Like Buddha or Christ like love. Buddha said only go where invited, and when people ask. You can’t push people. So if people ask, then I share the best that I can.

In general I don’t need people to be different then they are. If they’re interested and looking where I’m looking, then we can start to “co-meditate” together. Discuss, and practice together. I’m not that square that I think everyone should meditate. There are people who should not meditate, like extreme introverts. They might do better with a relational spiritual practice.  Being involved with others, like sing and dance and chant.

Tai chi was a big one for me when I was young. A martial art, not an us/them martial art, an internal martial art. 

Yes, that’s more like contemplation in action, it’s a very good competitive sports. They train kids in ethics, character, self empowerment, courage, I advocate that for sure. Also, as my wife used to say it’s un-american to sit quietly and do nothing. Tai Chi, Chi gong, yoga. Especially with the younger people. It’s a little late when kids are already in college, their habits are already entrenched. It’s hard to change.

Since I was in college I’ve been working in this self-growth and transformation biz. And it’s still hard to change!

But a little acceptance goes a long way to transform your relations, which is the point. Self-acceptance, other acceptance. radical acceptance. I love Tara Brach’s, Radical Acceptance book. Much recommended.

So there’s definitely a discernment where you can’t just shove down each person’s throat to meditate.

Yes, that’s aggressive. Only teach where asked, not intervene. Maybe you don’t really know better than them. People used to say, how can I get my family to go to church, eat vegetarian, do this or that, etc. How can I get them to do what I want them to do. That’s not my situation. What we’re talking about is a journey where you can easily be their travel agent. Not for everyone, inner travel.

So it’s important for everyone today to take a breath, and slow down, breathe, relax, center and smile. Have a moment of prayer, connect with yourself. Not always thinking or looking down the road into the future. Sit in the car and feel the feelings in your bud cheeks and in your hands, not just thinking about where you’re going to arrive.

More fully inhabit your body and mind, and spirit, energy and soul. And then see about authenticity, inquiring into about what you’re deceiving yourself about. Or denying, or “bad habits” that you always wanted to change, but never can.

This is all part of working on ourselves, very doable. Just wise and sane, and the world needs that.

The head is the office, the heart is the home.

Try to live from the heart. Be kind and compassionate to others. 

And then the method doesn’t matter, as long as you’re moving towards the heart. 

And it’s an infinite journey, so there’s no hurry. Hasten slowly, and you shall soon arrive as the Chinese proverb says.

Life moves fast, you must move slowly. 

That’s what this podcast for me is about to, I like to interview folks from very differing backgrounds. I have a more Zen background, I do believe that everyone has to find what works for them. As long as it makes them more loving and move towards non-separation, then whatever works for them. 

Right as long as it doesn’t intrude on others. We all have the right to be as eccentric as we want to be, if it fits. If the Nazis want to march, but they’re not to genocide.

We have to live by that, and also for ourselves. We have to respect others, and respect ourselves. We don’t want to fit into someone else’s mold. That’s imitation. Not just sit there like ice cubes in a tray, like in a Zen monastery. Everyone on a cushion, same position, at the same time.

If you’re a single mom with 3 kids, that’s probably not going to be your practice for the next 20 years. There’s got to be another way. There’s a million ways to worship and to reverence and to be beautiful in this world. All different kinds of flowers in “God’s Garden”. Not just one kind, just roses, not just lotuses. 

And a lot of gardeners. 

If you have a ending poem that helps people feel less separate. 

Let me chant out my millennium prayer that I wrote and said on the radio of Y2K.

May all beings everywhere, with whom we are inseparably interconnected

And who want and need the same as we do

May all be awakened, liberated, healed, fulfilled, and free

May there peace and harmony in this world, and an end to war, violence, injustice, poverty, and oppression.

And may we all together fulfill the promise of the spiritual journey.

All together now, one family, one sangha, one beloved community, all one.

In love, the heart of the matter.

And I bow to the Buddha in your seat, don’t overlook her.. friends.

Thank you.


Lama Surya Das Books 

(PS, thanks for supporting the podcast by purchasing through the links above! Amazon will give the podcast a little bit of credit without affecting what you pay for the book!)

MF 35 – Why Authenticity and Getting Real Matters – Mark Shapiro of the One & Only Podcast

MF 35 – Why Authenticity and Getting Real Matters – Mark Shapiro of the One & Only Podcast

MF 35 – Why Authenticity and Getting Real Matters – with Mark Shapiro of the One & Only Podcast

A former marketing director at Showtime Networks Inc., Mark left his six-figure corporate job and is on a mission to bring more authenticity to the world, with a goal to inspire and empower 100,000+ people to be true to themselves and “live an epic life they’re proud of.”  He is the Host of The One & Only Podcast on iTunes, creator of the Be You authenticity workshop, a heralded transformational trainer, coach speaker, and a vocal Alzheimer’s advocate.

(This is a summary transcript, please listen to the episode to enjoy the full conversation)

How did you get on a a path of meditation?

Mark Shapiro

Mark Shapiro

Mark was like many feeling he couldn’t’ meditate. But keep hearing it over and over how great it was to meditate. But he went to transformational workshops where meditation was used, and fell in love with it this meditation practice, and then learned to meditate and start practicing meditation.

He considers himself emotional and flexible and wants to be present for the people around him. Needs to check with himself, so he doesn’t give his power away. Meditation allows him to ground himself and his breath,  who he is, and check in with himself.  To be himself vs to be one with the changing winds.

Was there a particular moment where meditation clicked for you?

Yes, there was. He was doing a sound bath, and went deeply into a meditation state. He felt so light and clear and in touch with himself, his life, and at peace. He was able to see that from a different trajectory. He could watch these thoughts as they were moving down the street.

What is a sound bath for those who don’t know this?

It is different crystals, gongs, and even a little bit of guitar. That brought him into a deeper meditative state, easier then doing sitting himself. He could then tap into that space easier after this sound bath. The sounds help to quell his thoughts.

So the sounds help to mitigate the thoughts. Yes, I’ve also experienced these sound baths here in So Cal, and it is a beautiful experience. 

Yes, it’s easy to surrender to it. I find it healing and soothing. Easy to focus on, light, and to get lost in.

I like the chanting in our Zen retreats. It’s another way to let go of the trance of thoughts, and become part of a bigger body, the body of the group, community. Music is a wonderful way to get introduced to meditation.

What is your meditation practice like now?

Unregimented currently. At least 3-4 days of the week. It’s a priority for Mark though. He sits outside his house on the front deck. Close eyes, for 15-20 minutes. Listening to breath and birds, lawnmower, walking dogs. That’s just part of it. Continue to listen to it. Present to whatever sounds that come his way, he’s practicing being OK with all of that.

For example, in a public space, I also close my eyes and meditate and also drop into a meditative space. I couldn’t have done that a couple of years ago when he started meditating.

Do you also practice mindfulness or sense more presence in the rest of your day to day life?

Yes, usually when feeling anxiety it ‘s a reminder to take a few breaths. To be appreciate and re-ground himself. Whenever he feels anxiety, he’s either in the future or in the past. It’s just a reminder to see what’s around him. What’s around me that I can appreciate?

You also talk about the burning man, how this also helps you to be more and more present. 

Mark loves Burning Man. It’s so incredibly unique and magical. Learned so many lessons, a years’ worth of emotions in one week. So much stimuli, synchronicity. Open to all the possibilities that present themselves. He’s more likely to communicate with people at Burning Man than at a grocery store for example. He’s more open to the possibilities in the situations at Burning Man. He does do his best to apply what he learned at Burning man into his daily life.

What are some of the other interesting things you’ve learned as a result of Burning Man?

The following is from

The 10 Principles of Burning Man

Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.

Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Join the conversation in the 10 Principles blog series.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

Interview continues…

Mark: Giving for the sake of giving. It’s a gifting economy. People are giving things, expecting nothing in return. Example getting water when you just need it. So with 70K people attending, it’s a powerful experience. It took a couple of years, to bring the principles of burning man back into his daily life.

He loves entertaining, giving out books in daily life, and giving parties.

The other one is creativity and contribution. Burning Man unlike other music festivals is that everyone is a participant, and contributor. VS a traditional festival, where you have the performers on the stage, and the people experiencing the performance.  But in Burning man everyone is a contributor, bringing gifts, artistic expressions, climbing walls, possibilities are endless.

There is also an element of creativity and self-expression. Encouragement of trying new things. Like talking in song is what Mark likes to do. Just being free to be himself.

Sounds like there’s a real sense of freedom that allows people to uncover their own innate creativity..

It’s way more than just a party. Lots of misconceptions about Burning Man. It’s a transformational experience. To grow in addition to having the best week of his year.

Yes, I wouldn’t want to disregard Burning Man. Some say it trashes the desert, others that it’s a freak show. We need to experiment as human beings, and occasionally let go of the personas, the rules we don’t even know where they came from etc. Authenticity is very important. To stop and pause and try something completely different.

Yes, that was my take-away this year at Burning Man. Applies to my life in general. To be real with myself and be real with others. I’ve found with all the masks that I wear that support me. In his 33 years on earth so far, he’s learned through experience what works and doesn’t work. The various masks, podcast host mask, friendly guy mask, professional mask etc.

He talks about his emotional experience with his best friend and ex. He tried to be detached, but it really did hurt. So it caused him to question himself. It had to do with older hurts, his divorce, his dad with Alzheimers. So when he went to that place and was truly real with himself, that is when he got to let go of a lot of pain and hurt that he didn’t even realize he was carrying around.

Being real with others, is about creating a safe space to dig below the surface with those that we love. Not to settle for one-word answers. Asking open-ended questions. Letting friends know that you are here for them, that you love them.

Yes, an authentic way of relating..

Yes, the stuff that isn’t going well in the world. In order to see what’s working and isn’t we need information. We need to see the entire picture. There’s so much happening under the surface, under our feelings. And if we’re not sharing our feelings, what we’re going through with each other, then how are we supposed to know. We’re then only seeing part of it.  I’m a big advocate for creating that space, so we can best support one another.

And you’re also sitting outside reflecting on it, looking back into your life. That’s part of what retreats are like. To take a temporary refuge in another safe place, to step outside of the river of life, and looking back in to see what’s going on. 

And also in relation to the school shootings,  a lot of these shootings are a reflection of deep alienation. Not connecting on a deeper level. 

Yes, by connecting with others, we give each other permission to be authentic and real. To share what’s really going on. I find that incredibly liberating. It feels so good to let it out.

Whether it’s the fear of this new career path. I left a 6 figure corporate job at Showtime networks to be in service of others full-time. It’s going really well, and very fulfilling. But also very challenging!

Continue to go through all the emotions. This morning, I felt some anxiety,  going to be on your podcast. But I meditated, brought myself in the present, and was good to go.

Yeah, and you get yourself out of your own way. 

Yeah, I use that doubt and fear as motivation to challenge myself how committed I am to my goals. When I get to that place where i’m hard on myself. I ask myself, what have you not tried yet? It unleashes creativity in me. I come up with 5-10 things I haven’t done yet, whether like reaching out to guests, or reaching to companies, or reaching out to increase my consulting business. It’s a motivation to get back in the game.

What made you decide to make a podcast about authenticity?

Mark was running away from his own authenticity for the first 30 years of his life, and didn’t even know it. I played it safe, got the corporate job, the marriage, and when that came to an end. I had to get back to the drawing board. Who am I? What’s next? What am I capable of doing. I’ve always had the desire to live an epic dream life. He knew he wanted to be his own boss, my own kind of company. Didn’t have an idea, didn’t know what value I could provide. Meanwhile doing very well in my corporate job.

Meanwhile when standing in front of a room, I was coming across as scripted and inauthentic. Lewis Howes (, his mentor said, he was all professional, and monotone. This feedback hit him with a ton of bricks. That didn’t seem like part of him. He was so obsessed with getting it right, and looking good, that he didn’t let himself shine.

That example could be stretched across his entire life. He was playing it safe, focused on fitting in. Looking good, saying what he perceived to be the right thing to say, vs what he really felt. And other people could sense that he was inauthentic. That is what got him pursuing authenticity. That became a big part of his core values. Started practicing this a couple of years ago.

Learned so many valuable lessons.

  1. When he has the courage to say what he really feels, that it feels amazing. Feels so good when he says what he really feels. When I have the courage to be myself, it builds my confidence, and this helps me feel empowered. And then I can do anything. That’s the first big lesson.

2. Second, when I’m myself, I don’t need to try to fit in. I’m naturally going to belong. Brene Brown has been saying this for years.

3. If in every moment I’m choosing to be authentic, saying how I feel. Really checking in with myself. Then over time, my life is going to resemble the life I’ve always wanted. Now after a few years, that’s what’s the results show. I’m my own boss now. I’m heading in this direction because of the courage to be authentic, and in this moment.

You’re living into your question…

4. That when I’m being authentic, I create immense value for others. Whether creating a space for other people to be real with themselves and real with me. But also, if I express how I really feel to someone., that that could be exceptionally valuable., because maybe everyone else is just blowing smoke up their ass.

You’re giving permission to people to be more authentic..

Absolutely. Those are my big 4 takeaways from practicing authenticity.

With your podcast you ask other people what their sense of authenticity is, what have you learned that you didn’t know before you started your podcast?

I’ve learned so much.

  1. Pretty much every one has said. If there’s something you want go out there and get it. Don’t ask for permission.
  2. Just to have the courage, and take a risk.
  3. Failure is part of the game, part of the process. The fear of failure should not deter you. You learn from both what works, and what doesn’t.

Yes, we’ve stigmatized failure. Fear of failure, of looking bad. 

I have that all the time.

What are some of the practices to go into places that are uncomfortable. Its something you have to really lean into, if just once in a while, it’s much harder. You have to nurture it and tend it. 

Yes, I found myself changing my relationship with fear. But I realized from overcoming so many fears, what is available on the other side of fear. And that is tremendous celebration. New ground and opportunities.

Social anxieties and fears I used to have as well. After practicing authenticity, I realize we’re all in the same boat, we all have the same fears, insecurities. Now I find myself having deep conversations, and relationships in just a few minutes for example during social situations, and parties.

You also do workshops to help other folks draw out their authenticity, describe that?

It’s an experiential training, of about 2,5 hours of exercises. Where I primarily ask thought provoking questions. Such as, if people really knew me, they’d know this about me. Or these are my biggest fears about sharing how I really feel. How does my life look today, in relation to my biggest goals. In a scale of 1-10 how happy are you with the way you spend your time. If totally happy, they’d rate it a 10, but if 6, then what do you think a 10 is like?

Then the next question is what steps do you need to take in order to get this 10. Great way for people to check in with themselves. Also valuable for them to see how they measure themselves. They can see how hard they are on themselves, compared to other people.

Is the inner critic a big part of it?

Yes, inner critic is huge. In conjunction with going through this experiential workshop with many other people. Makes them realize we’re all in this together. We all have such similar private conversations with ourselves that may or may not serve us. When we get real with each other, and share those things. It makes me feel so much more comfortable and less alone.

It connects everyone under the surface. We’re very external focused society, not realizing what’s going underneath the persona’s. If we do realize underneath, the same fears and emotions. And connect, then it takes away a lot of the separation. 

Yes, that is the way I’ve found to create the deepest relationships, is to get Real with one another!

Easier said then done!

Yes, requires two to tango. I want to lead by example, lead with vulnerability, lead with authenticity. Aim to create a space where it’s reciprocated. Sometimes I get met with resistance.

There’s a difference between transparency vs authenticity as Brene Brown talks about. To me sharing absolutely everything is more transparency than so much authenticity.

Yes, everyone’s definition of authenticity is different. Some refer to it as being present, open, like a tiger in the jungle. Then others look at it as nothing is authentic, because we’re born into the world with so much conditioning. I think it’s important to have balance. I look at it more of a barometer. And as a practice.

In terms of transparency vs authenticity. Authenticity doesn’t mean I have to share every thought I have. When someone asks me a question, it’s my natural instinct to answer it exactly how I’m feeling. But I do sometimes say out of respect, I prefer to keep that quiet.

What about you?

For me as a teen, one of the first books that drew me into finding out who I was by Ramana Maharishi. I wanted to know who I was at bottom. Not just in relation to, but at bottom. The Self the true self. Not just us as individual expressions of that Self. But also the larger Self, where we’re all parts of. I consider myself a student of this great mystery that we’re all part of. 

To me that’s a lifetime practice. Both a spiritual journey, as well as individual. The individual part is also important. My teacher’s teacher says we’re all at the headwaters of our own unique streams. So it’s important to me to uncover my own self, and move from my own center. Instead of from a script or societal expectation. 

So two parts, the boundless mystery, and the individual sense, contribution, expression of it. There’s only one Mark, and only one Sicco. But we’re all connected in the deep, that’s our Big and boundless and formless Self (or whatever you want to call it). 

100%, yes, it’s our job to be ourselves. We’re irreplaceable. 




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