MF 48 – Mindful Communications with Gregory Heffron

MF 48 – Mindful Communications with Gregory Heffron

MF 48 – Mindful communications with Gregory Heffron

Gregory Heffron MFA owns and manages Green Zone Conversations Retreats. He is the only certified teacher of Mindful Communication authorized by author and Buddhist teacher Susan Chapman MA.

He has been teaching Mindful Communication workshops with Susan since 2009, and has been a mindfulness meditation teacher in the Shambhala Lineage since 2005.

In 2005, he apprenticed with senior Mudra Space Awareness teacher Craig Smith, and became authorized to teach this unique mind-body meditation technique. In 2007, Smith and Heffron taught this practice in a workshop for fourth-year students in the Dance Division at The Juilliard School in New York City.

His background is in creative writing, having earned an MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from the University of Iowa in 2003. He is a student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and lives in Santa Monica, California.

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

How did your path to meditation start?

When I was in my 20’s and had just broken up with my girlfriend. It hit me in just that way that shook my world. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t have any tools to work with that, I was into art and literature, done therapy. I just couldn’t quite hold it all together. I came to meditation like many people through struggle and pain and challenge. Luckily I knew some people in meditation groups. Shambala Buddhist meditation group.

It struck me as being a sensible thing to experiment with. They were kind enough to bring me along. It’s been 17 years since then.

When you got attracted to that particular tradition and practice, was there anything in particular that stood out to you in that tradition that helped you with your breakup?

I found there was something about just resting with my emotional experience, without having to resolve it. Without having to come up with the big solution. I think that was the most powerful part of the practice for me, even though it was quite difficult. Quite challenging. At that time I was going through a tumultuous time.

The more I did it, I gradually gained confidence, that it could be done. That I could sit in chaos and confusion, complexity, and the richness of my emotional experience. And that it was OK to do that. Instead of finding it to be something that violated the rules of reality. It was reality, and it was OK to feel really tumultuous. There is something calming and soothing and sensible about that, that I could handle complexity and chaos and not freak out about it.

And I imagine with most meditation practices, that is a big part, to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, not knowing, not having the answers and like you said to be OK with chaos. Not something that most of us can just learn in a few periods of meditation sitting. 

Yeah, the length of practice, and repetition of practice is crucial. Otherwise it is sort of like picking up an exercise regiment and doing it for a couple of days, you just feel kind of sore. And you don’t get very far. But if you keep it up, something happens.

How did your practice evolve from there. Did you find it was helping you in other situations, or areas of life?

Sure..I found greater ease entering uncertain situations. Situations that were unclear, where I felt anxious. That was really encouraging.

I can think of particular situations, walking in somewhere, where I thought, “Oh boy, I’m really nervous”, and then feeling that bubbling energy, that anxiety. And then enter anyways, with a certain kind of equanimity. That was ground-braking for me. There was always that sense before that, of trying to stuff down my anxiety. Trying to suppress it, which of course only makes it worse.

Suddenly I had a different way to relate. That actually allowed me to at least feel a little bit calmer. So then I was inspired as I saw those results. So within a year I did a week retreat, and then as time went on, a month retreats, and longer and complex retreats as time went on. Until that whole process became more of a passion project.  I was really interested to see where this would go. And I still feel that way now.

So your continued practice is in part led by curiosity about what else there is to learn about this practice?

Yeah, which is what else there is to learn about myself. To some degree there is more to learn about the practice itself, but really. In a way it is just applying what I’ve learned so far. Relaxing into the practice….and seeing what I can see.

Since you talking about bringing your meditation practice into your daily life. You got into mindfulness and mindful communications. Maybe you can elaborate on how you moved into that direction..

In 2009, I met Susan Gillis Chapman, who’s a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. She was teaching mindfulness communications. She conceived that type of teaching from being a marriage and family therapist, as well as a Buddhist teacher who in the Shambhala tradition was in charge of one of the longest and most sophisticated retreats in our tradition, the 3 year retreat at Gampo Abbey. Pema Chodron put her in charge of that retreat. I met her after that period.

She with her range of experience not only as a therapist, but also, she worked in a  maximum security prison with sex offenders, she worked in domestic violence shelters. From this range of experience, she put together a unique set of materials, that she calls mindful communications. Which eventually ended up in the book, The Five Keys to Mindful Communication: Using Deep Listening and Mindful Speech to Strengthen Relationships, Heal Conflicts, and Accomplish Your Goals

I met her when she was starting to teach seminars on this materials. And she invited me in to teach a mind-body meditation that I have a background in, called Mudra Space Awareness that comes out of the Tibetan tradition. I was going to teach the mind-body component, and then she was going to teach mindful communications.

We did that for a few years, and in that process I began to learn what she was teaching. I wasn’t even sure at first. It was startling to me, the material she was teaching. It was based on the one hand on some of the highest Buddhist teachings, but it was also very pragmatic, very useful. You just felt like you had a way to understand very simple interactions and situations, that before had been completely confusion.

Maybe you can give a couple of examples, and elaborate on what you mean with Mudra Space Awareness….

It’s essentially an acute direct practice of experiencing your mind and body together. That comes out of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Rooted in Tibetan monastic dance training. That the monks would do in the monasteries in Tibet.

In terms of mindful communications. The easiest way to understand it is, that we’re already born with innate sensitivity to understand what is happening with our communication with others. That is the primary point of view. Not so much that mindful communication is building up a set of skills that you have to try to remember and get better. But actually in some ways it is the opposite process. That we are stripping down the kinds of habits that cover over our innate sensitivity to communication. That actually could allow us to steer very naturally, spontaneously, and accurately in our interactions with others. 

So do you have examples of habits or habit patterns that cover up what we already innately have available to us. 

One of the ones that causes the most trouble for most of us, is not recognizing certain primary states in communication. Like for example, failing to recognize when communication has shut down between ourselves and someone else. For whatever someone has broken off communication. They might still be in the room, or even speaking with us. But we can feel that something has broken down in the communications. Up until that point, there was a kind of natural interchange. We have this natural open kind of communications that we naturally carry out with others. Like over the counter in the post office or grocery line. Very simple, nothing elaborate.

And yet, there comes a moment where that can break down, and we feel it. We feel it almost immediately. We said one thing, someone thought we said something else, and they’re offended.

A miscommunication…

Or we said something, and someone didn’t hear it, so they don’t respond to us. There are a variety of ways that communication breaks down. Maybe they are overwhelmed. And whatever we said makes them even more overwhelmed. So they just tuned us out. That is a good fundamental example to go with.

You’ve spoken and someone is not responding, and there is that gap, where we don’t understand what is going on. Usually in that moment, we feel anxious. There is a subtle, a feeling of being socked in the gut. A vacuum in the room emerges, where that happens…”Now what should I do…not sure what’s going on.. is the sense. ”

What most of us do out of habit that causes trouble, is that we plow forward, as though it wasn’t happening. If what we said overwhelms that person, we might say it again, or saying it louder or elaborating more. Which of course makes this other person feel even more overwhelmed. So communication shuts down even further.

Or could be defense. Or we could cut it off. Because they didn’t respond, we feel like I’m not going to speak to this person again, now they’ve offended me. There is a variety of things, we could try to seduce them into being more friendly, or tune them out, or become angry.

All of this misses the point. The reality is very simple, there was a communication breakdown, and we felt it. No-one is telling us what is going on. We can actually feel it. It doesn’t mean we know what is going on at some deeper level per se. But we’re pretty good at knowing what is going on.

Just being willing to be mindful at such a moment is incredibly powerful. To stop the forward momentum, and just be curious. Just explore…like looking at this person’s face. If they are speaking, listening to the tone of their voice. Paying close attention to our self, to our own emotions that are rising up. Maybe we do start to feel anxious, and then feeling that. Being willing to let those feelings come through, because they are information. They are our own sensitivity.

In many ways, and in our many interactions with others, we have this sensitivity, that could allow us to slow down, and become a little more careful. And steer more accurately. But we have to remember to let go of our patterns, our habits that we build up over time.

I think it’s good you elaborated on the various things that can happen in those few moments. When you pause enough, those things can happen, but if you don’t know how to pause, that can bring problems. The ability to pause is a huge component of that. 

It’s very radical to pause. In our retreats we do a pause practice. Where randomly we ring a chime. When people are in small groups, and talking, and the instruction is to just stop for 3 breaths….nothing. Getting used to being interrupted by something unexpected..and then you resume. It’s just life interrupts us. Instead of that being a bad thing, often the idea of being interrupted in communications is upsetting. Instead, if we can reverse that tendency.

And feel that being interrupted could allow us to restart fresh. And tune in a little bit more. 

And a big part is too that a lot of us forget to breathe deeply. Just that mindfulness bell is a wonderful opportunity to get back to your breath, the here and now, your body, everything….

Absolutely, I think it’s originally adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh. Susan calls that a positive interruption. In communication we could have positive interruptions.

Interestingly enough, when we get really fixated, stuck and trapped in our habits, sometimes the best thing possible is a positive interruption.

Suddenly a hummingbird flies by your head..You’re in the midst of something, like being shut down, angry or whatever, and suddenly something just breaks you out of it. It’s not something you can organize or plan for, but you can go with it when it happens. It could just be the taste of your coffee. While you’re upset or trying to be upset, and you get interrupted. You realize suddenly your coffee just tastes so good! For an instant you forget to be furious. We can take these opportunities and go with them. Start fresh.

In terms of mindful communication. You’ve already mentioned curiosity, listening with full attention, giving full attention. Which is also a good skill to learn. A lot of people have a hard time listening to someone else, without having agendas, maybe preparing a counter argument at the same time while the other person is speaking.

Right..The fundamental material that is in The Five Keys to Mindful Communication, covers this somewhat systematically. But essentially, just being present is one whole set of skills. And then listening is one whole set of skills.

There’s 2 ways of listening. There’s listening at a level of accuracy and information, the content of the conversation. And then there is listening at a heart level, to the emotional truth of the conversation. Which includes things that are maybe not spoken, but that you can feel them as they change.

And then there is skills around speaking, and being able to be truthful, without neither exaggerating, nor suppressing. How can we say true things without being either harsh or coy about them. So there is training around all these different elements.

Is this training that someone would do over the course of a period of time, or.. what does that look like?

We offer courses, from just a talk, or for that matter reading the book on your own, to longer retreats, like weekend retreats, or 5 day retreats. These are all on our web site Green Zone Talk.

But they do need to be worked with, and trained with. It’s easy to think about all this stuff, but much harder to get it down into your bones so to speak. So that when you’re in a challenging situation, you can apply them.

Making it part of a natural response or muscle memory that you’ve trained yourself in..

And I’ll add that one of our fundamental trainings is mindfulness meditation. If we can’t connect with the present moment, and what is arising in our senses, in our emotional faculties, what’s arising in terms of our thoughts. Then there is nothing to work with. We have to connect first and foremost with the present moment.

Anyone of us who’s done mindfulness training knows, we have to train! If you don’t train, you lose the acuity. You lose the richness of that connection, that has tremendous potential if we develop it. And then if we do develop that, then we can aim that awareness in various directions, including towards communication.

Since we’ve had such a contentious election. Maybe you can walk the listener through this example. You’ve got two groups, one on the right, and one on the political left, and they start discussing politics. And within no time at all, people part ways in anger. Walk us through how someone might approach this using your mindfulness communication techniques. 

That’s a great topic right now. So many people are deeply distraught over the level of discord in this election, and it’s historic. I think we’re living through a historic event. A lot of us are really challenged by that.

First and foremost is to just acknowledge that we are living through this unusual historic moment that is pushing these buttons even more than usual. But I would use one of our fundamental metaphors in mindful communication, which is the traffic light. We use the traffic light because it is so simple, very basic, easy, and helpful. You can teach this to children. The traffic light is good, because when we get upset, we get a bit simplistic. The more upset we get, the more childlike we actually are, not necessarily in a positive direction. We lose our intelligence and sophistication. I bring this up because it is so useful and simple.

What happens in say talking about this election, if you run into people who have different views than oneself.  We already carry around with us anxiety about the state of the world, the state of the nation, and our place in that, our future security, our freedom, and sense of connected-ness to the culture in the US say. So there is already a bit of anxiety.

Which in the traffic light metaphor, when we’re open and connected with ourselves, which automatically connects us with others. As soon as we’re really connected with ourselves, we’re already in the room. We already realize that we are interacting with our environment. Even when we’re alone. Not to mention that when we’re with others.

But as our anxiety level rises, it takes us out of the green light state of openness, into the yellow light state. The yellow light state is very much connected to fear, uncertainty and confusion. Like I don’t know what’s happening, what is going on, I don’t understand! That kind of feeling.

And when we enter the yellow light state, we’re suddenly living in a different world, than we were just a minute before. When we were feeling very connected. We’ve entered a situation where we can’t handle as much as we could just a few minutes ago. A different state. We become in some ways weakened. And our sophistication, and all of our big theories about the world, the way we want to be as a human being in the world, they get scaled way back. We get into a kind of fight or flight sensibility.

We need to recognize this when this happens. Politics triggers this in us. Because the stakes are high, and we have these big concerns. There are moral issues, that really touch us at a deep heart level. Maybe they have a different morality that we don’t understand, that we don’t share. So we’re in the yellow light. Usually already, just to find out that someone has a different view from us is already threatening to a lot of us.

Now when we’re in the yellow light, we’re already feeling quite overwhelmed. We don’t want to absorb far more information than we already have. Since we’re already overwhelmed, we don’t want to take on an even bigger task at that moment. Because we already got disconnected a bit from our self, we start to lose touch with our heart, lose touch with our senses. It’s when we go into our head, and stop paying attention to the room and the feeling in our body. Basic truths. We stop seeing what our eyes are actually seeing in the room, because we’re in our minds. We’re starting to worry and go off into the future. What if this political situation happens, that could be tragic, etc…

So because we’re disconnected, due to our anxiety, we have to realize we’re a little limited on that moment. Our top priority at that moment is to reconnect. Our top priority is not at that point to continue the discussion or get an opinion down someone else’s throat. Or to sit through a discussion that for whatever reason we don’t feel like we can tolerate at that moment.

We need to protect our-self a little bit at that point. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s not the fault of the other person, or the other political party. We have become disconnected from our own mind and heart a little bit. Not even our fault, it just is.

So the question is what do we do?.. And what we need to do is get a little protective, and perhaps get ourselves to a safer space. Whatever that means. This may mean literally opting out. “Please continue without me!” or it could mean, just saying, “I’m not doing very well with this, and I don’t know if I can continue talking about this at this time.” Whatever it is, we need to reconnect.

Once we can get or are able to get back to the present moment, reconnect to our senses, to our heart, to the intelligence that we carry as human beings…Then we can have any kind of sophisticated political conversation.

We need to recognize that we go in and out of this. Anxiety may bring us to a certain state were we are not going to make a lot of progress..Until we soothe our-self, and calm down, and reconnect. That is the important part. And that others are going through this as well. Driving someone into a state of anxiety, while maybe no-one’s fault. But if they are in a higher and higher state of anxiety, the conversation is not going to be that fruitful.

Yeah, it’s only going to escalate, get more reactive and reactionary…

What we don’t want, is for the situation to progress to what we call the, “red light”. The red light is when we fully shut down. The yellow light we’re sort of in-between, we’re fearful, getting disconnected, but we haven’t really gone for it. But the red light is where we tip into fully shut down. That’s when we lash out, or go silent. Give someone the silent treatment. Or could take different forms. Could be arrogance, or hyper competitiveness. I don’t care what is true anymore, I just want to win, no matter what. That kind of thing.

These are habits, no-one’s fault, but we carry them out because we’re afraid essentially. And we’ve run away from our own fear, into this shut down state. That is where more harm can happen. Both to ourselves and others. And we don’t want to do that. We want to find our way back out. Instead of pushing ourselves so hard to where we shut down, we just need to naturally recognize our limits. And pull back a bit. We might even be able to continue the conversation if we pull back a little bit. Maybe a few minutes break, get some more snacks for example at a holiday party. Allows us to reconnect a little bit, and we can actually say what we really mean, instead of having things come out of our mouth that we don’t mean.

And continuing to see each other’s humanity, seeing a common ground. Some of these conversations, people end up completely alienated from each other. That’s sad!

Absolutely. The worst part about that, from my point of view, is that we then don’t understand what is going on with this other person. If we’d been able to slow down, step back a bit, and allow the conversation to progress on a more human level, instead of trying to win, or trying to prove that this person is morally bankrupt, or something. We could then ask them to, “tell me more about your world, what do you believe.”

That’s how we do break down those barriers. Instead of the world progressing into a kind of red light state, where suddenly there’s whole groups of people who are considered as inhuman. “Those people” on the other side. “I don’t even think of them as human beings anymore. ” Instead we realize that shared humanity, like you were saying.

And then we go, OK, well I don’t really agree with them, but I understand what they’re thinking. I talk to this person, and they told me their view of the world. Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you want your candidate to win, and theirs to lose, That’s fine. But even then you need to understand who you’re up against, and what they’re into. How they see things.

So it’s effective, it’s not just ideological, not just being compassionate in a moral way. If you want to get things done, you need to know the world in which you are trying to get things done in. 

Even in congress, the complete failure of communication across the isles and how it’s turned into a stand still. In a lot of different situations, to learn to be more mindful and communicate better would have a lot of fruit and benefit. 

I saw an article recently on that, that charted it across decades, and how fractured it has become now. That is in terms of the democrats and republicans, no longer being able to work with each other.  You look back 50 years, and it was a different world.

That is where you see that our own troubles and habits around communication breaking down, they turn into world history. It’s exactly the same as what is going on within us, but it is a bunch of people who happen to be in congress, or whatever other government body, or military body for that matter in the world, that they have the same trouble that we do.

And that when they shut down into the red light, suddenly if that is the wrong person shutting down, you’ve got a war, and a 100.000 people die. Because of that one moment of shut-down. It’s that simple in a way. It comes down to one moment where someone said, I’m not going to connect with my experience. I’m going to turn this other person into an object, I’m going to objectify this other country, or another. And now we can attack them. But it’s now different than our own experience.

Yeah it’s an important practice. I imagine you also work with marriages in your practice..

That’s an interesting one, because here’s someone we’re so close to in intimate relationships to. We’re so close is that the irony is that we feel every grain of disagreement. As if there were little bits of sand, that if you weren’t absolutely pressed up against each other, you wouldn’t feel a little grain of sand. But because you are, every little bit can become some huge drama. Some huge disagreement. It’s only because we’re so invested, and we’re so close, that that’s the case. Which is a bit unfair way to judge our relationships. We’re doing our best, they are doing their best. And yet we’re judging it by this very extreme standard.

Do your retreats emphasize couples, or do you have a variety of emphasize different aspects of life, different situations?

Yeah, we have a number of retreats. The one that is focused on relationships is called, “the four seasons of relationship”. This looks at the cycles that relationships go through. In terms of every relationship is like a year. In the sense that, we start out alone, and then we go through a kind of spring time, where a courtship that happens. You meet someone, and you start to assess whether there is a connection. And if there is a connection, you continue into the summer. And summer is this sense of deepening the connection, and committing to the connection. And even to the point of making vows to each other, in whatever sense. Whether literal or coming to understandings, of what the nature of the connection is.

And then at some point, even if it is just over the course of a human life, where of course we’re going to die at the end of our lives. There is a coming apart. Or could be breakup. There is a natural point where the connection has to come apart, and this is true even for ongoing relationships. That we could recognize that even walking into a room with someone in the morning we go through these seasons. We were alone, and we walk in to have breakfast or something, and there is that meeting point where we come together, and begin a conversation, or whatever that is. And then there is the full breakfast time, where we’re really deeply engaging. And then we split of into different directions for the day.

So this 4 season cycle happens in a lot of different ways. Not just in romantic relationships. It could be someone you meet on the bus and have a conversation with.. So that retreat covers that material.

We have a whole retreat about conflict, and the 4 stages of escalation into conflict, and how to undo each of those 4 those stages. We have a whole retreat on the chemistry of emotions. How the emotions manifest in the 3 different traffic lights. Open emotions (green), the yellow light emotions of fear and anxiety, and then finally the shut down emotions of the red light.

And we have a retreat (called the stories of our lives) that is all about looking back at our life story, and re-configuring our life story. Telling it in different ways, in order to cut through the complaint a lot of us have about our lives. “My life should have gone a certain way, instead it went a different way.” And to actually look at our lives, and say, “ah, this is a hero’s journey.” In which there are tragic moments, and disappointments.

It’s a bit like an opera, but it’s a spiritual journey in some sense. We’re going through a lot of experiences, some of which are quite painful. In order to live a heroic life.

So the retreat helps you to learn to appreciate things that you formally didn’t really appreciate about your life.

Yes, that’s it, recognizing that our lives are rich. They’re not necessarily a vacation. They’re not for sissies so to speak! Life can be quite intense, and yet we could really view it as a powerful experience. Including all the troubles that we’ve had. Those could all be crucial parts of the story.

Could you mention the book one more time, so folks who are interested can follow up and learn more about this practice.

Yeah, it’s,The Five Keys to Mindful Communication from Shambhala publications by Susan Gillis Chapman. And there is going to be another book, a workbook, hopefully in the next year.

Great..so people can do some homework, and implement it. 

Exactly, because a lot of people are interested in doing that, and this will make that more explicit and give you more of a path to travel through the material.

That’s great, that’s what we’re all about, applied meditation.

Thanks so much!

Resources

 

MF 34 – The Benefits of Self-Discipline in Cultivating a Meditation Practice

MF 34 – The Benefits of Self-Discipline in Cultivating a Meditation Practice

MF 34 – The Benefits (and Challenges!) of Self-Discipline in Cultivating a Meditation Practice

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

Kristina and I reflect on what it takes to cultivate self-discipline in our meditation practice. What are some of the challenges we have come across, and what are some of the benefits of doing a regular consistent practice. We start off with some quotes.

Self-Discipline is needed to get up out of bed early to enjoy the sunset!

Self-Discipline is needed to get up out of bed early enough to enjoy the sunset, to enjoy the world waking up!

“Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.” Dhammapada

“With sustained effort and sincerity discipline and self-control the wise become like islands which no flood can overwhelm” Dhammapada

This type of effort of course requires commitment, consistency, patience, courage, determination, and enthusiasm.

In, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron understands sila/discipline to be a “process that supports us in going against the grain of our painful habitual patterns.”

She notes that:

“Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess. It provides the encouragement to step further into groundlessness.

….What we discipline is not our “badness” or our “wrongness.”

What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In other words, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment. What makes this discipline free from severity is prajna (wisdom).”

Sunrises

Self Discipline, or self-control  has somewhat negative connotation in the west I think. But I wanted to talk about self-chosen discipline instead of externally imposed discipline.

Discipline is often associated with punishment. However, the latin root of the word means learning disciplina teaching, learning, from discipulus pupil. 

Sure, there is a dark side of discipline that is too serious, too restrictive and narrowing. I think too much of that can lead to a separation, where it could move away from intimacy, and turn into too much coldness and detachment from the world, and therefor another type of separation.

That is not what we want to talk about today. Perhaps, calling it cultivation, instead of discipline. For example, the cultivation of moment-to-moment mindfulness sounds nicer than calling it, the discipline of mindfulness. But really what it means to me is simply to practice something regularly and consistently in a structure that I chose on my own volition (or my community), and make it a priority, make time for it.

Spiritual Practice Community

For example, without discipline, we wouldn’t brush our teeth. But because we don’t like getting drilled, we decide to give some of our time to the discipline of brushing our teeth. (Kristina shares her thoughts) 

For me, when I was a teenager, I wanted the benefits of meditation, such as peace, and equanimity, but I did not have the discipline, or some might say, serious enough intent and humility to practice regularly.

I didn’t realize how serious I would need to take the practice in order to really start transforming my afflictions etc. Now I’m not saying meditation is a serious practice, simply saying that we do need to take our practice seriously, but then enjoy and take joy in the practice. You can have both serious and joy at the same time, recognizing these opposites can co-exist at the same time is part of maturity.

Back then, I’d sit whenever I felt like it, do it with eyes closed, try multiple meditations traditions and practices at once, didn’t seek out a mentor, read a lot, etc. (Kristina shares her thoughts)

As I got into meditation formally, and got feedback from a teacher and a community of practitioners. This formal at-home, as well as community practice helped me see the various gaps in mindfulness, the times where I lacked of composure. Some might call those gaps leaks. And the practice is about doing our best to create a gap-less practice. 

As I practiced more, I uncovered and became aware of more and deeper levels and areas where I was stuck, or clinging, or afflicted, or forgetful, etc. So that further provided the fuel and motivation to continue to practice. I’d become aware of the tendency to hold onto illusions of separateness, fear of change, desire to grasp onto illusions, “nostalgia for samsara”, clinging to solidity of image, etc. etc. 

Can I see and treat each and every “thing” as a manifestation of the “mystery” and realize non-separation? Can I see or exclaim, “not-two!” whenever I see a flower, or perhaps a rapist, or terrorist? If not, I’d have to look even deeper, and see behind the mask, behind the veil, behind outward appearances.

Anger issues when things don’t go the way I expect or prefer. Sloppiness, forgetfulness, like forgetting keys, or forgetting to close the gate, can all lead to a lot of suffering. Not cleaning up after myself, not maintaining relationships or the possessions, etc,.

Each of those instances, are reminders to get back to practicing (or polishing that jewel that we all have). It also takes discipline to remain fully engaged in each moment, even when tired, sick, physically injured, or fatigued. It is so easy to start sliding into complacency, or some type of lazyness.

Jim Rohn says discipline is the bridge between Goal and Accomplishment. Dreams get you started, discipline keeps you going.

A mentor or teacher, community helps push us deeper into understanding. I talk some more on what I think of as non-rigid discipline. Kristina laughs and we talk some more. 

 

What’s your sense of it, what do you make of self-discipline?

 

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. @Thejasongarner 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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