Ep 31 – From Rags to Riches to Opening the Heart with Jason Garner

Ep 31 – From Rags to Riches to Opening the Heart with Jason Garner

Jason Garner – From a Life of Matter to a Life that Matters. From Rags to Riches to Opening the Heart

Jason Garner spent the first 37 years of his life, “running through life holding his breath”. Raised by a single mom, moving from house to house, working really hard in school and later in business, he believed, “that to be loved I had to be the best. I scrapped my way from a weekend job at a flea market to owning my own concert company and all the way to becoming an executive at a Fortune 500 company (CEO of Global Music at Live Nation),  producing over 20.000 concerts a year, and hanging out with rock and sports stars. Jason was twice named to Fortune magazine’s list of the top 20 highest-paid executives under 40. He was married twice, divorced twice, raised two children largely as a single dad. He made a bunch of money and then … a series of events centered around the sudden death of his mom brought, “my life to a halt and my ego to its knees.”

Jason took a break from the endless treadmill of his life and got to know himself by learning from various teachers. Through studying his health and spirituality and the inner-workings of his mind, and a meditation practice, he for the first time in his life … really breathed.

He is now integrating this insight into daily life and shares his treasure in his own unique way. Jason has a great blog, and has also published his first book through his writing, through him sharing himself.

Jason Garner’s new book is called, … And I Breathed, My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life That Matters. Please see the links to his work at the bottom of this page. You are also invited to leave a comment as well.

Note: This is an almost full, but not complete transcript of the interview.

What brought you to a practice of meditation. Joseph Campbell talks about the 3 stages of the Hero’s journey, Separation, Initiation, Return. Tell us a little bit about that first leg of your journey, the rise to the top, from rags to riches.

Jason was born and raised by a single mom, lived in a trailer park. No money and no involvement from his father. There was a sense of loneliness, and poverty. What Jason took from that as a little boy, was that if they had more money everything would be OK. This was his narrative that he took with him. So making money would solve that. And that is what he did up to 35 years old.

He started selling gum on the school yard, and getting more and more entrepreneurial, then up to flea markets, and then starting a concert company. All the way up to CEO of Global Music, managing concerts globally. This non-stop sprint to get as much power and money as he could.

At the time it was a very sub-conscious thing. He was just doing what the American dream was telling him what he was supposed to do. He reached this place where he was very successful in his career.

He kept achieving more, but then he also kept wanting more. Everything was then tied up into his identity as “Jason the achiever”. And he was in the middle of his second divorce, and his mom had stage 4 stomach cancer, with 6 months to live. His mom had that same kind of work ethic as Jason, she was driven to save the world. Where his ethic was to get as much money. She’d spend her live giving and giving of herself.

Jason saw the similarities with him and his mom, and began to realize he had to make some changes. That hero’s journey’s moment where you realize that there is maybe a different path, this realization came to him as his mom took her last breaths in his arms. There was this realization that there has got to be more than endlessly seeking money, or seeking perfection, or seeking to save everybody. There has to be more than this endless seeking. 

Not too long after that, he exited his job. And he went on a journey, a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey. He studied with wonderful teachers including the Chan (Zen) monks and Shaolin master Wang Bo at the Shaolin temple in China, studying with Bruce Lipton, Guru Singh, Sharon Salzberg, David Wolfe and others.

Jason really wanted to dissect his life and put back together a life that he thought was more conducive to happiness.

For Jason it all comes down to self-love. A hard thing for men to say, and a hard thing for men to hear. 

We’re either aware of our need for love, or we have a unloved little boy inside of us, subconsciously driving all of our decisions. Either way we need love, and we’re seeking to find that love.

And whether we believe we find that in business, or we can stop and be honest with ourselves. And figure out ways through our lifestyle to deliver the love to us. We are seeking that love, and we are in need of that love.

And now 5-6 years from my mother’s death, I realize for me it all begins and ends with self-love. I’ve tried to build a life that fosters that self-love, and create platforms to share that self love with others.

It’s interesting to me in society it’s pushing us to more separation rather than towards more open heart and oneness. 

Yes, the whole American dream culture is set up that we are separate, that we are in competition. That we are only loved when we do something. Usually that something that is good when tied to the system. If you get everything in line, make your money, then go out and spend your money. Constantly buying what’s lacking. When you’re constantly trying to buy what is lacking, then that is how the system is set up. It’s wonderful that more and more folks are jumping in the water to swim upstream. All of this is swimming upstream. It’s not quit as lonely to be swimming upstream.

We’re seeing more companies and business leaders and engaging in a more compassionate form of business. Employees matter, peoples feelings matter, customer’s needs matter, just as much as profits.

For Jason that is very inspiring. His former Live Nation boss and mentor Michael Rufino, Arianna Huffington. People who are open about the fact that compassion is part of their business plan.

After you depart from your job, you’re in this naked state where you no longer could hide behind an identity. Describe that experience when the dolphin was following you while you were on the beach. 

Jason was in a depressed state that day, that day must have been an anniversary of his mom’s passing. He was just kind of feeling sorry for himself, looking down as he walked. He looked up and saw this dolphin right in pace with his stride, gently swimming with him along (his mother’s favorite animal). He took this as a reminder that sometimes we’re alone, there are other people walking with us. But sometimes we just have to look up, look around, and realize that we’re not really alone.

We’re taught that compassion is finding ourselves in others. But sometimes we have to look at it from an opposite place too. Its not just being nice to others that we can find compassion. We can give others a chance to be compassionate with us, by allowing our pain to be not so unique.

That day as I was walking along the beach, there were probably millions of people feeling sad about having lost a loved one. There were probably millions of people feeling a little bit lost and alone in their lives. We find compassion towards others, and there is this opportunity for us to open our hearts and experience a bit of that oneness that you were discussing. Sometimes we jump to fast to oneness, we just have to be nice to each other.

In this case can we start with, my pain is not that unique. I can find a place of commonality with others by understanding that they’re in pain as well. 

When I first read that I thought the dolphin was your first meditation teacher, as it taught you about right here is where life is, in the present moment. (laughs) So how did you go into a meditation practice from here?

When Jason left work, and starting a spiritual journey, he went to a Christian church. He had trouble with some of what is being taught, but he was OK with it. Until the gay marriage issue came up. His mother later in life had married a woman. That was a very moving experience for him, watching his mom’s courage, as she married with protesters picketing her. The Christian church didn’t flow for him anymore.

Then he found a man who became his father, Guru Singh. He met his yogi, and knew he was home. He just knew that he was supposed to be there. He asked why Jason was there, and he said he wanted to know who he was, and know God. His meditation felt like forever that day.

He’s meditated every day since then. And been blessed to be studying with great meditation teachers since. Like Sharon Salzberg, her loving kindness meditation really touched his heart. So many wonderful meditation teachers, who gave him a toolbox of meditation techniques to sit down and be on that journey of getting to know himself and getting to know the greater We. 

You talk about breathing a lot in your book, “And I breathed…” Have you noticed the quality of your breath change throughout your life?

Jason Garner on Breathing

I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe before (laughing)!

I say that somewhat facetiously, but not really. I think that when I reflect back on my life, and talk to people still in that day-to-day grind of their lives. There is a real distinction between the breathing that I do now and the lack of breathing that happens. Because you’re in fight or flight mode. You have to remember when you look at people who are desperately striving, that they’re own self-worth, and their love is tied up in that striving. So how can you breathe? When you’re literally fighting for your life.

Definitely, it’s not safe to send that message to your body that all is well, when you belief that all is not well. All is well…only when you get this next deal done.

Also I think if you don’t feel good enough. As I think a lot of us feel, that we’re also not feeling good enough to take a deep breath.. 

That’s right I think we find that carried along into our spiritual practice. Jason gives example of meditation class, and someone was having trouble breathing, but was nevertheless gutting through the meditation. Here we are in this environment of oneness, and we’re not OK enough to cough or get up and excuse ourselves. Probably because we think we’re not good enough.

This experience is not limited to business. It’s part of the western experience, its part of Original Sin, part of my goodness comes out there. It’s part of a daily journey, which is why we refer to meditation as practice. And for me, I believe that what we’re practicing is loving ourselves, and giving ourselves that permission to breathe, to sit and be OK.

Did you have any other practices that helped you befriend yourself? It’s a journey to go from not feeling deserving of love, or until you do x, y, z.  To the point where’r you’re OK, and you’re at home with yourself and the world. 

The moment that the concept that we’re practicing self-love really clicked for me, was when I went to Maui to go to Ram Dass. Sharon Salzberg was teaching there as well, so I sat down to the first meditation class with Sharon, a guided meditation. She said something that is now his mantra, “and during this meditation, you will probably get lost. And when you catch yourself spinning out, catch yourself getting lost in thoughts.

That point is the whole point in this meditation. She said not because you caught yourself, but because you have a new opportunity to begin a new relationship with yourself. So you welcome yourself back with a gentle with a gentle, “I love you”. This made him cry. Up until you then, there was still a striving part of him in meditation. He wanted to be a good meditator. He’d been a good business man, now he wanted to be the best meditator in the world.

And part of it wasn’t jiving before, but after what she said, everything clicked from that point forward. From then on his daily practice of Yoga, meditation, and nutrition is all about 100% about loving my emotional, spiritual, and physical body. And welcoming himself back again and again, by telling himself that he’s loved. And sometimes it comes in the form of words, and sometimes in the form of stretching, or a smoothie. But all these ways a ways to reinforce to himself that he matters, that it’s ok to sit, that it’s ok to breathe, and that he’s loved.

Wonderful. In terms of your relationships, how did that change as a result with your family, extended circles, job. 

It was in the midst of his second divorce, and after he began his meditation journey, he met his wonderful wife Christy Garner. Now the two of them, and their kids have a daily meditation routine, and they all do their own type of meditation. It’s a wonderful family time for them. Everyone shows up in a way that’s authentic for them. It’s really beautiful, because the practices become not just self love, but the practices of family love.

So in that sense when you change yourself, it ripples out. 

Yes, with the kids it’s not one more have-to-do, but more allowing your life to be an example, and let the kids come along. Jason’s kids have their own teachers, and they’ll join them for retreats. But they really allow their kids to have their own exploration of life together, vs everyone has to meditate for this long. They’ll rebel. We don’t want to be the people they rebel against. It’s been a validation of what conscious parenting can be, because the relationship is just so fulfilling.

If you were going back to your old work today. What would you tell them that is a different way of being? What would you tell yourself and other leaders if you could give them some insight.

First of all that company (Live Nation) has someone with a high level of consciousness, a vegan with compassionate leadership. What I would tell myself if I could go back in time, and what I do say to other business leaders, who maybe were feeling similar feelings as I was feeling in his job. It begins with a deep breath, if we can give ourselves permission to take a few deep breaths. Then we can meet in a place in the heart.

Hey you matter! Your feelings & health matters as much as the health of the business.… Click To Tweet

The real message I like to share, is “Hey you matter!” Your feelings, and your health matters as much as the health of the business. And when we can get in touch with that place where we matter, then we can go on an exploration of what’s going on. We can then talk about the inner child, our need for love, and maybe how we can pursue love through business. Giving ourselves permission.

One of the reasons why we don’t explore these things because we don’t have space in our lives. 

The power of the breath is that it creates space on so many realms for us to begin this exploration. A deep breath, and then an I love you.

What would you say especially to entrepreneurs in particular who feel like they’ll lose their edge, if they take pauses, breaths. They won’t be able to compete and come out on top any longer?

I have a lot of friends who say that to me. They’ll say, “I don’t want to meditate, because I’m worried I’ll become a monk!” And I’ll say to them, “You are sooo far from being a monk. (laughing) we’re not talking about you going off into the monastery or an ashram.”

We’re just talking about you taking a few breaths and 10 minutes of meditation a day. Sometimes we tend to be extremists in these areas. You can go as far as you want into yoga and meditation. But you can also build up a nice daily practice of a few minutes of Yoga and meditation, and taking care of yourself through nutrition. That can really fit into a lifestyle. It’s not like everyone needs to get off into the mountains. The message is not, everyone needs to become a monk.

Its just, can you embrace that part of yourself that is a monk, and give it a little bit of love each day? 

We don’t go out and shoot baskets in the weekend, and think we’ll become LeBron James. If you sit down today on the cushion, and become the Dalai Lama.

Also in a sense that if you can open your heart a little bit more by taking care of yourself, then the work that you produce, will benefit yourselves and others….

Yes, that’s right, and as entrepreneurs, we already know so many of these “life laws” already. If we abuse the business, if we abuse your employees, we know it will fall apart. And the same is true if we look at our personal lives. These same questions that we ask to ascertain the health of our business, we have to ask the same questions in our personal lives.

And when we find deficiencies, we can treat them the same way as an entrepreneur would treat them in our business, apply the same intelligence bring that to ourselves.What changes is the tactic.

Where an employee meeting might be necessary at work, meditation might be necessary in our personal lives. And where a review of the compensation plan might be necessary at work, a review of our diet might be necessary in our personal lives.

We possess these skills, its just a matter of creating a little space in our lives. And taking the extra step of understanding that YOU MATTER. Just as much as your business, your bank account, etc, that your feelings matter too.

Then you take the skills that you already possess, and you can build a life where you’re both successful and fulfilled. And I think that’s what we’re all looking for in life.

You mentioned in your book about intuitive eating, and about how eating less sugar and caffeine is one way you can settle your monkey mind right there, tell us a little more.

Jason’s friend and teacher, Ron Teeguarden, the master of Chinese herbs says two things. You’re either in the benevolent cycle (treating yourself and body with love and care), or the viscous cycle. The way out of the vicious cycle, is to take three benevolent steps towards yourself.

We are creatures of habit and so all that happens is that we begin to eat certain foods, like addictive foods, refined sugars, perhaps too much coffee everyday, and before long it just becomes a habit. So to get out of that habit is to take 3 steps into the direction that you want to go. Perhaps it is tea instead of coffee, or a green smoothie.

And before long, you build a new habit for yourself. There’s a moment of pain..

Jason has a diet that tries not to harm other beings with their diet. Fill ourselves with as much nutrients as possible. But I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything. I’ve just built this habit and allowed my tastes buds to feel good, not to martyr ourselves.

When we find ourselves into a habit that doesn’t work for ourselves anymore. This is another entrepreneurial trait. When it doesn’t work for you anymore, your mind’s racing, your health isn’t good, your weight is not what you want it to be, you just replace it with a new habit. And we make our new habits, steps in the right direction, into the direction, something that’s benevolent, compassionate towards ourselves.

And your body eventually signals, “I like that, I like how you’re treating me.”..

Yes, but that’s the hard part, you can’t hear that when it’s racing with caffeine, sugar etc. But there does come this point, my first teacher David Wolfe. He told me “listen to your body”, I had no idea what he was talking. And now a few years later, that really is how I run my diet, I listen to my body, trust what it is telling me.  And I feed it something compassionate.

On your new journey, what can you say where you’re heading now, in terms of reinventing yourself, and finding your authentic voice. 

Jason is having a lot of fun being a student, and fun writing. And this is a lot of what fulfills me, learning with teachers and with himself. And then sharing how that shows up for him in his daily life. He wrote his book, and I breathe…Which is kind of the story up until a few years ago.

And also weekly essays on my web site, Jasongarner.com. And I’m just sitting down to start working on a second book, and intermixed are beautiful interactions with teachers, friends, and great people. A bit of a Thoreau moment for me in my life. Going away for bit and recharging. In Chinese medicine we’d call it, in the middle of a Yin cycle. Replenishing, loving myself, and bringing new sources of wisdom, and then the Yang part is then, sharing with others.

Your next book , when are you thinking that will be ready?

Laughs, the last book was a story that wanted to tell itself. This next story is more working on me, then me working on it.

Maybe some final thoughts especially for men, that you could tell them that you wish you had heard sooner?

I just think its’ OK to take care of ourselves.

It’s OK to admit you’re scared sometimes.

Sometimes you have to admit that to yourself before admitting it to others.

It’s OK to admit that you need to be loved.

This idea that our feelings really matter.

The job is great, and part of a life well lived is a creative expression that often comes through our jobs.

But there is another side to us, an internal side that has to be cared for just the same.

Too many us, know people who are working themselves to death. It’s so sad to see these great men, who have accomplished so much in their lives, leaving this planet at age 50 and 60. So sad to see people, who’s only way out of this endless treadmill is a heart attack. Jason would see his friends at the hospital, great business leaders leaving.

All that is an invitation for us to look a little beyond the bravado, a little bit beyond the story that men are just warriors.

And to embrace the fact that we’re both warriors and monks. We haven’t been caring for the monk side very well. Today is the day that we can start that.

That we really matter, and we deserve that kind of care from ourselves!

Thank you..

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Ep 30 – Liberation from Mental Suffering with Buddhist Female Monk Ven Pannavati

Ep 30 – Liberation from Mental Suffering with Buddhist Female Monk Ven Pannavati

Ven. Dr. Pannavati, a former Christian pastor, is co-founder and co-Abbot of Embracing-Simplicity Hermitage in Hendersonville, NC. A black, female Buddhist monk ordained in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions with Vajrayana empowerments and transmission from Roshi Bernie Glassman of Zen Peacemakers, she is both contemplative and empowered for compassionate service. 

An international teacher, she advocates on behalf of disempowered women and youth globally, and insists on equality and respect in Buddhist life for both female monastics and lay sangha. She was a 2008 recipient of the Outstanding Buddhist Women’s Award. 

In 2009, she received a special commendation from the Princess of Thailand for Humanitarian Acts and she ordained Thai Bhikkhunis, on Thai soil with Thai monks as witnesses. 

In May 2010 she convened a platform of Bhikkhunis to ordain the first 10 Cambodian Samaneris in a Cambodian temple, witnessed by Cambodian abbots including Maha Thera Ven. Dhammathero Sao Khon, President of the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks of the USA. 

Ven. Pannavati continues to visit Thailand each year, ordaining, training, offering support for the nuns and assisting in their projects.  In 2013 she arranged for 500 books to be sent to both elementary and secondary schools in Rayong.  She is also raising funds to improve security at the compounds, as this is an utmost concern in some areas of Thailand.

Pannavati is a founding circle director of Sisters of Compassionate Wisdom, a 21st century trans-lineage Buddhist Order and Sisterhood formed by Ani Drubgyuma in 2006.  

In 2011, Venerable adopted 10 “untouchable” villages in India, vowing to help them establish an egalitarian community based on Buddhist principles of conduct and livelihood, providing wells, books, teachers and micro-loans for women.  Approximately 30,000 people live in these villages.  She has sent funds to complete their first educational center.

Ven. Pannavati founded My Place, Inc. in Hendersonville, NC, which has housed more than 75 homeless youth between the ages of 17 and 23 over the past 4 years. That effort has evolved into a separate 501(c)(3) which has its own academic platform, jobs training program, residential program and social enterprise, My Gluten Free Bread Company.

She remains committed to advocacy for the homeless, sick and disenfranchised, those who are marginalized, abused, neglected and unloved. She loves the Dhamma, lives the Dhamma and teaches the Dhamma internationally.

Note: Following is a transcript (not word for word) of the podcast interview.

Interview with Ven. Pannavati

What brought you to where you are today?

She’s asked that question a lot since she used to be a Christian pastor. There didn’t used to be much meditation in Christian practice, but now there is some contemplative time in the Christian diaspora. She didn’t have a problem with God or Jesus, but she did have a problem with you.

She found a disconnect between the heart and her mind.

There were modes of being that she wanted to abandon.

The short version is that she began to pray and ask for guidance on what she needed to do. And the answer she got, was that she needed to look outside of Christianity. That there was another way to find or come into a place that she was seeking.

It took her some 15 years, before she found the Dharma. She loved the reading.

She needed to rely on herself  to come into the fullness of who she is. If she did this work, then she could transform and do what she wanted to do. Learning meditation was easy for Pannavati. But she used to sit in silence waiting for an answer from the Lord, but now she could become aware in silence of pure presence.

With presence she found a certain wisdom comes with that. She learned that she could enter into a space where everything becomes clear. There is a settledness and clarity of heart. She could just simply see. And in that seeing she’s informed, what’s happening, and what her role is in it, and what’s required.

So its’ in the doing of meditation that it becomes clear and it becomes apparent. There’s a settling down that occurs, there’s a stilling of thought. And in that stillness there is a certain vastness of consciousness. An expansion of insight, understanding, and awareness.

And if you immerse yourself in it, you come out with a different view.

It’s like the scientists who are trying to find a solution to a problem, and after laying down, and wake up, and they get it. Meditation is like that for wisdom.

Tuition is information coming from the outside, but there is also intuition, that which rises from the inside. But we have to go there to tap and access that faculty to be better and more present.

What do you think of the difference between waiting and being present? 

I think of waiting more of waiting for an answer or to empower. But the waiting I speak of with meditation is different, it’s like a waiter standing not too close, not too far. He’s very present. He’s just waiting for the glass to move. There is something very pregnant in that presence. Right there, seeing deeply. Meditation is not relaxing, it’s an active type of engagement, investigating the structure of appearances. 

I like the word attending to the present and paying attention to what is going on in our minds, hearts. 

Yes, she likes that word too. Being a mother, she knows what it is like to attend. The connection with a baby goes beyond the gross level. Even if you’re in another room, you can sense that on an energetic level. Where do you really end? Do I end here at the end of my skin? Once you become attuned to another person, you can know how another person is thinking and feeling. Because don’t just end with our skin.

Yes, we’re so trained to think we end with the boundary of our skin bag..

And if we stop right there, then of course there is the automatic setup for me, mine, and everybody else. But if we can tap experientially into the interconnectedness that we have, it will change the focus of our thoughts, the way we think about things, and think about others. We’ll start to be able to consider others as yourself. 

Just because we have such a rigid dividing line between others and myself, that we have so many problems. I don’t want to be separate from others. When I put myself in their place, then I come away with a different idea of what’s required in the way I interact and engage.

How has this progression been from prayer to meditation, and then from Mahayana to Theravada?

Pannavati actually went from Mahayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism.  She loves the devotion aspect of Mahayana Buddhism, it allowed her to open her heart. Being vulnerable, in it we find our true strength, as human beings. But then she got a copy of the Therevada’s Majjhima Nikaya the middle length discourses.

When she read it is was so clear. She didn’t have a heart problem, but her mind/understanding was not fruitful. Her mind couldn’t always live in the field of the heart. She needed something to train/tune the mind. And she found it there in the Buddhist teachings, this wonderful mind training. Learning to look inside. Learning to be an island onto herself.

While she can’t control what happens in the external world, but she can control her response to it.

And therein lies the freedom. Therein lies the liberation from the mental suffering, how I see and respond to the present moment. 

And of course talk is cheap (laughs). We can talk all day long, but in the moment when I really need it to rescue me, is it there? And that is where practice of course comes in.

So we practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. 

We don’t know that we have it, until the moment arises where we have to live it. Then we can know that there might be more work to do in that area. No harm no fowl. No guilt associated with that, just clear seeing. Then that eliminates that whole area around falling short, missing the mark, guilt, shame, sin, etc. It has no place, it is about seeing clearly, understanding the causes and conditions. Whether I was skillful or unskillful. Volitional or not. Whether able to apply restraint, living with integrity and responding. So it’s interesting and wonderful, and so full you don’t have any time to focus on anybody else.

How has your practice evolved over time. You’re able to let go of some of those old ingrained patterns. It’s very liberating to let that go. Do you still find some of those old habit patterns peaking through?

Oh yes, everyday I find some old habit pattern that comes up. This is the work, you just keep looking.  In the beginning I didn’t expect to see that many, but I used to think whatever is wrong it’s out there. (laughs). I have now accepted that maybe there is some wrong view in here. And if I adjust how I see something, than I can also adjust my response to it. 

Here’s the thing, if we become OK with ourselves. But this practice also helps to not blame and shame others. Your whole life shifts into an ease dimension, where were you can go for days and weeks without a sense of crossness, getting upset, not feeling depressed, or in sorrow, anger etc. Just seeing what today brings, and handling it to the best of your ability. And then you can just reflect, I can improve on that. And endeavor to improve it.

The capacity for improvement increases in direct proportion to the eradication of guilt and shame. 

There’s a certain acceptance that takes place, which I think frees up resources. instead of the barrage of self-criticism. 

Yes, it’s harder because we’re such an individualistic oriented society. Achievement, being the greatest, the best, having the most. Compelling us to this neurosis. Whereas in other countries there is a more communal way of living. We’re just coming to terms with that in this young society, we’re still adolescents!

We’re having to learn this kind of coming together, that’s all this diversity conversation. I like to talk about unification of mind. A lot can be accomplished the more we see our commonalities. And engage one another. Being able to hold someone else’s view the same I hold mine. I respect my view, can I respect yours?

And if I think it is un-beneficial view, then have I developed any skillfulness to lay out an alternative way of thinking and looking at something. But if I come at you fighting.

Yeah it just escalates. I like inner disarmament. 

You’ve talked about meditation, and how it affected your life, at some point you brought it out into the world as well. Maybe we can talk about how you bring your practice into your daily life. You started ordaining women in other countries that don’t allow ordination of women, how did that work out?

When did you leave Christianity and become this. For me I just kept going on the path. If I’d been a catholic I would have been a missionary, fundraising to pay off the church. I wanted to engage more with people, and found a heart for people, being a Pentecostal and charismatic. So when I became a Buddhist 15 years later. There was great understanding, but I was looking for something that became dynamic and alive, heart in it. So I started doing what I did as a Christian.

In the beginning she’d get messages that monastics don’t do this, monastics don’t do that. People are my forest. Just made herself available. You send out a beacon, and it makes that sound, and it’s the drawing from that sound. So I just made the “I’m available sound”. She got a call from Thailand from a nun. She had someone connect with her who needed someone strong, who wasn’t timid or faint of heart, of making a change to the tradition.

Ok, so she came and helped. Pannavati serves a purpose, employing skillful means to do something useful and beneficial. Being African-american, Pannavati has a view about some things. She learned that, “If you see an opportunity for your freedom, don’t bother to ask your master, just seize it”.

She didn’t really subscribe to the notion of asking so much for the monks to accept to set in a lineage again. If the council says no, she’d use another door. They were able to use our wonderful sisters in the Mahayana tradition. Both of their lineages are Dharmagupta. She’s there to represent the Therevada. We were able to ordain them. Now we have full platforms with the the Therevadins. It has now been established, as of 2014, we have 35 nuns, or female monks. She doesn’t like the way nuns/women get diminished so she prefers to be called monk.

Males are called Bhante, which means revered teacher. Women are called Anne, which means Ante, or sister. So right there that sets an idea in motion amongst all of the people of the society in terms of worthiness. So I refer to myself as a female monk. Not from prideful thinking, just being clear and validating. Otherwise they take on that role, but they still act like ante and sister.

It seems like somehow that crept in a long time ago, based on a over-emphasis on appearances?

Yes, it is. And that’s why the Buddha cautions us to set a watch, the first part of our practice to draw our gaze in. To be careful to avoid we say sexual misconduct (3rd precept), but it really means sensual misconduct. Which means, don’t take everything you see, hear as gospel truth.

Example, of someone taking something out of context, because they only heard the tail-end of a conversation. She reminded them to not take too much stock in what you hear. You have to be careful of the assumptions that we draw, from the limited information that we got.

If we get in the habit of not doing that, we’ll have more happy peaceful minds, won’t be busybodies. We can then even overlook a slight!

These are the ways we suffer, like when you made to be feel invisible. Now it’s not that important to me, I can leave it at that, let it go. It’s not just meditation, but mindfulness as well.

We talk about mindfulness. We’re already mindful, it’s always attached to something. If we forget that, we run off on tangents, we won’t have the whole picture. A sociopath is extremely mindful. But where is his attention? And what other factors form that intention. And his developmental cultivation of compassion and care.

So there’s this 8 fold path of which mindfulness is just one aspect of that.  But there’s these other 7 that we have to tend to, starting with “right view”. If I’m still suffering, there is some wisdom I can tap into to become better. So you seek out one who is wise. Hear what they have to say. And don’t just accept it, put it in the cauldron of your own experience.  Investigate and see.

Yes, always verify with your own experience and practice. 

In terms of mindfulness, what do you think about the new mindfulness craze and it’s de-coupling from the rest of the wisdom tradition?

Yes, absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that mindfulness has become popular. But, if you take something out of it’s container, some of the efficacy is lost. And some of the benefit is lost… Yet, there has been some exposure. So i’m happy that mindfulness perhaps has moved mainstream, but we still have work to do.

Happy to see that there are other teachers, are trying to point to the complementary practices, and the deeper teachings of the sages. So that we can be all-around better, not just better with our themes. One of the reasons why we’re opening up the Balsam mountain refuge. To make sure that a more complete teaching is introduced into mainstream society, without using a Buddhist label. Or being able to tap into this universal wisdom that come out of another spiritual tradition. Being to be with one another, and discuss things, instead of coming and going with all silence, and you come and go just with your thoughts, or empty mind back into the same environment.

Good friends in the Dharma is the whole of spiritual life. The only time that we have a time to connect is when we come together at retreats. Ex. rural areas, or just coming and going to dharma centers without real connections taking place. So we think this Dharma center will bring us more back to a middle road place.

Here we all come together in silence, and not be in communion with each other. Buddha was the exact opposite, he talked about the 10 conversations we can have together.

The other thing I wanted to ask was how you’re helping the “untouchables”, the Dalit. The caste system, where people take a teaching and twist it around, and corrupt from the understanding of equality. It looks like you’ve been helping level that playing field. 

I didn’t realize that this was still going on after the anti-atrocity law (the Anti-Atrocity Act) was passed to put that to rest. But people are still in that long held custom. So the Dalits have renamed themselves to “the broken people”. And we do go there, and even though they say untouchability doesn’t exist, it still does. Like when a Brahma gets the shadow from a Dalit that he is considered polluted. Buddha tried to change that erroneous understanding back when he lived. It’s not by your virtue of birth that your status as a human is known, but by what you do in your life. So even in that day, he was working in his own way against the understanding one person being more worthy than the other just based on birth. And of course we have similar views including our own country.

Laws are for people, people are not for laws. The only way you can change that is how you relate to one another through the heart. So I get more from them than they get from me. They’re so kind and gentle, it’s a pleasure to work with them, on what they are working on.

So I take a team once or twice a year, and we do what we call “bearing witness” retreats, just showing up. Not telling what they need or teaching Dharma, but coming in solidarity with them, asking them to tell us what they need. Before we can teach anything they need water! So we’d do a well project, and then a sewer project, health program. So we have doctors that come and train on how to deal with sanitation, toilets, health and books. So one thing leads to another, but just from people touching people.

So it’s teaching dharma outside of words, in the way you’re being and in your actions…

Yes, it’s just living it (living the teaching, as opposed to just talking about it). Yes, I was in a school, and this person was suspicious of us being there (based on a disappointing experience with a group coming in to “help” years earlier). But when we came in there were 68 children, leaky roofs, and no toilets. So we started repairing, doing different things.

She wanted our help, and yet there was still that wall (based on her expectation from the past experience). And then finally last year, she said, “I just wanted to say, that the last group thought us about God, but now I see God”. What she was saying it wasn’t just talk, just doing something.

There was a heart-to-heart engagement that went beyond any physical thing we were doing, but really being One. And I think that is what we are longing for. 

We don’t know it, but we try to satisfy that longing with things, from degrees to cars. When there is really something else that the heart is yearning for, that is that interconnection with all other beings.

And the sense of belonging?

Knowing who we really are. If I think I’m less than what I am, then I don’t function fully. But if I know who I truly am, I function fully. Then there is no sense of deficiency. A happiness and confidence comes with that. That life has meaning. I can seize the essence of a human, I can see the essence, and the preciousness of a human life.

And then everything becomes precious then…

Yes…And this world that is a hell realm becomes a Buddha land.

That’s another trap then. We want to get out of this world, there might be a better one after.

Yeah. The Buddha said, that whatever the seeds you plant that is the tree that’s gonna grow. So you don’t have to be striving and praying to get to heaven. Yeah, you plant good seeds and there’s going to be a good destination. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to ask anyone can you get in, just plant the seeds and then water.

Do you have one or two more tips you want to tell people listening for the listener who would like to be more at peace with themselves and connected to the world. 

Yes, you just said it….listen.  If we just open ourselves up to listen to others, without crafting our response while they’re speaking. without thinking they don’t know I’m ,the one who knows. Without tearing apart how they said it, manufacturing in our minds why we think they said it, etc. If we can just learn to develop the practice of listening. Being able to hold our tongue and our thoughts for a few minutes, then our understanding can grow, and we can be better at how we respond.

That is part of what meditation teaches us. It teaches us to take that pause, have that down time, instead of that knee jerk reaction. We’ll become happier, our hearts become healthier. And we’ll be friendlier.

Thanks so much!

Resources

 

 

MF 29 – Thoughts and Tips for Cultivating Gratitude

MF 29 – Thoughts and Tips for Cultivating Gratitude

Thoughts and Tips for Cultivating Gratitude.

Kristina and myself talk about how we both practice gratitude through the week. For example Kristina looks at the dogs and feels gratitude, and learns from them, from their joyous being, their presence, and ability to stay present and attentive to the moment. It takes so little to make the dogs happy. And that makes them very valuable teachers. This inspires them.

Kristina also notices that when she’s very busy, and having to go off on errands. When she sits down in the car, she takes a few moments to relax and see the environment, and be grateful to look around and notice all that is around her. That she has the freedom to go anywhere she needs to go, so she feels grateful for having a car.

So that’s like a mini-meditation. She can remember all the things in her life that are beneficial. Looking at the sky and trees, and being amazed that we have so much beauty around us. And we need to remind ourselves of that.

Gratitude takes the focus, or shifts the focus away from what we don’t have to what we do have.

Even when being cut off from traffic, you can be grateful for all the things you do have, even in that moment of being cut off. For example, you are protected in the car, the car takes you from A to B, over and over again. What a miraculous piece of engineering! Just realizing those things will help you forget yourself, and decrease any destructive emotions that might arise.

Kristina says that even if you did have to walk to work, that too can be a wonderful experience. And can still be a mindful experience, take a breath and take in the beauty.

She also mentions her friend Betty, who has an answering machine message that says, “Hi, I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m busy counting my blessings. I’ll call you later”. It’s nice to appreciate that we even have a phone.

I like to stop and just think of just 10 things, just in this very moment, that pop up in my head. It gets real easy each time you do it, if you’ve never tried this before.

Kristina is grateful for her breath, due to her severe breath issues. She has lung disease. When you struggle for breath, it’s easy to forget the importance of breath. Just be grateful for breath every moment of our lives. To be alive, and be conscious of the things around us. Our breath is so fundamental, you have to be grateful for breath. Breathe in joy, and exhale the negative thinking. And turn your thoughts around. What am I grateful for?

Usually there is so much more grateful for, then there is not. Its a good exercise to catch yourself when you’re being negative.

Kristina also draws from her experience as a diet counselor for folks who had challenges with obesity and weight loss issues. She talks about gratitude for food. She talks about how we’re just eating. Learning to enjoy every bite, eating mindfully. That we have this amazing body that can taste and digest food.

I think that is one of the reasons why during retreats the eating portion is silent, which allows you to be more present for your food, by turning off at least one more channel.

Yes, Kristina says the eating in front of the television, you can’t really taste your food. Food is just something your’e doing while watching. And it’s better to just eat when your eating. And just appreciate it. One of the causes of all the weight gain, just not being conscious.

Kristina then talks a little about her own introduction to meditation through reading the Three Pillars of Zen and practicing Transcendental Meditation,  back when she lived in New York. She found lots of stimuli there, and wanted to be in touch with inner peace, harmony. She also talks about connecting and staying in touch with nature. She would have deep gratitude during those experiences. It helped her be in touch with something so much larger than herself.

 

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