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Mindful Living & Overcoming Common Obstacles

Joseph offers practical guidance on walking the path to mindful living with more wisdom, ease and lightness. Includes a 15min mindfulness practice.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm just so delighted and truly honored to have with me today Joseph Goldstein. Joseph has really been a pioneer in bringing Eastern wisdom to the West. And he's certainly one of the world's most respected Buddhist teachers. He's been practicing meditation, I think, since 1967. Joseph? That's right.

So, over 40 years and under the guidance of some of the world's really eminent teachers in Burma, in India and Tibet. And then he went on to found, or co-found the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts. And he's also the author of several really wonderful books on mindfulness, meditation, and conscious living. The latest title, which I think anyone watching this summit would be particularly interested in, is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening. So, Joseph, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom today.

It's really a pleasure to be here. And so as I see it, we have such a gift having you here because you have walked the path to mindful living that so many of us are, and so many people watching this summit have really just started to walk on or they're kind of a little ways up the path, but it's really wonderful, because what I'd like to talk to you today is, you know, maybe you can point out to us the little pitfalls that we could watch out for and give us these little pieces of advice that could perhaps make this journey more skillful, more easeful and, you know, we could walk this path with some more wisdom. So that's what I'd like to kind of talk to you about. But my first question to you is about this book title, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening. And so my question to you, Joseph, is awakening from what? And maybe even awakening into what? Well, there are many ways to describe the culmination of the path, which is really, in some sense, the goal of the practice in terms of the teachings of the Buddha.

As we know, the mindfulness now is spreading in very secular domains, which is wonderful. It's really getting out there as a technology for living more mindfully. But in the context of the Buddha's teaching, it actually is about a path to awakening. And I think it's probably most pragmatically described as that freedom of the mind that is purified of greed and hatred and delusion. Those are the three unwholesome routes in the mind of all unskillful actions.

So that's what we would be awakening from? We would be awakening from those mind states. We could call it afflictive emotions or mind states, and we could say awakening into peace, awakening into love, awakening into wisdom, into compassion. And so those mind states of greed, delusion, and hatred, they would be suffering, right? So we would kind of be, those are the things that cause suffering. So you could say we were waking up from suffering and into... Exactly.

And I like that formulation because it's very pragmatic. It's not dealing so much in some abstraction of the highest good. It's very specific. And given the choice of being more greedy or less greedy. Okay.

Let's, let's go for less greedy. Or less anger or less ignorance. Right. So it's, it's very applicable to our lives. Right.

And that strikes me as something that's actually quite, a practitioner can really see that, that's something that you can really investigate and it's quite, well, not exactly tangible, but it is really, you can investigate yourself and go well, is there these mindsets present right now? Exactly. And I think that's the great power of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the tool for that kind of introspection. It's really a methodology for looking inwards at our minds. Yeah.

And so coming back to asking you some advice about what I'm really interested in hearing from your perspective, from your own experience, and from your years of teaching, what do you see are the common pitfalls or the common challenges that sort of you've seen come up again and again? And any advice on handling those with more skill and ease? Well, one of the very common pitfalls, I think, is people forgetting that this is a practice, which means we need to begin again and again and again. It's not as if we suddenly get the teachings and then it's a linear path upward to greater and greater enlightenment. There are a lot of ups and downs on the path. There are times when we're aware and then we forget. A common pitfall is for people either to get discouraged in the face of that, or begin to doubt or to have self judgement.

Oh, I can't do this. It's too hard. It's not for me. It's good, but it's not for me. Right.

A whole range of self doubt can come in, or self judgment. So I think it's really important to reinforce the understanding that these ups and downs are part of the path, that everybody goes through them. And we can learn from the times when we fall off or fall back. And to realize that in any moment, the practice is to simply begin again. And we do that repeatedly.

So I think that's very helpful to begin to free the mind from getting lost or believing the self doubt or self judgment. Right. Realizing the commonality of how the path unfolds. One thing I've noticed with that and I'd be curious to know whether you've seen this as well is that people who are very committed, very deeply committed to the path to conscious living, they often seem to feel like they have failed somehow when they suffer deeply or when they do something, they behave in a way that that's reactive rather responsive. It wasn't their highest, but they feel, I think, so discouraged and so deeply.

Like self-judgment comes in and self-criticism so deeply at that point where they feel like they've failed. But in fact, is that what you're saying is that's not a failure. It's part of the natural ebb and flow. Well exactly. And not only is it natural and everybody goes through that, but perhaps equally important is that, for me, those are the times that can provoke the most interest and the most investigation.

And so when I find my mind in a state of some distress or suffering or something, this reactivity. Yeah. Instead of going down the path of self judgment, for me especially over all these years, I get tremendously interested in, okay, what's going on in the mind that's causing the suffering. Where am I attached? Where am I pushing away? What am I holding on to? And very often it's the times of the greatest suffering that lead to the greatest insight. But we need to cultivate that quality of interest.

And for me, interest has been, I think, the most beneficial quality in the mind to sustain the practice. If we're interested in what's happening, whether it's in wonderful states of mind or really difficult ones, if we're interested, then it really leads to understanding. That really resonates with my own experience. There's so much to learn when out of situations of the suffering. And, of course, it simply reflects in a very direct way the Buddhist teaching on the four novel truths.

The truth you could say of suffering or unsatisfactoriness, some difficulty. And then it goes on. Okay, what's the cause of it? And there is an end. What is the path to the end? So it's all aware in those moments. It's like, at that point it's not Buddhist philosophy, it's our lives.

Right. Yeah. And that's what brings it to life. Yeah. I love that.

And yeah, like I say, that really resonates very deeply with my own experience of that curiosity being, that fascination in what's going on. It brings, I guess, it opens inner space as well to relate to that experience so differently. Yes. That's it. So I love that.

So one thing that we can do in those times of challenge, when things aren't all roses and pancakes, so to speak, it's getting gritty, is we can bring curiosity to that experience and actually use that as a time of greatest insight and learning. Yes, I mean first, we can learn or we can really hone in on precisely what it is that's going on. And so instead of just a general feelling of suffering or unease, we say, okay, what actually is this. Is there jealousy, or envy or aversion, or fear, or pride, or it could be any one of a number of things. And so mindfulness allows us to become quite specific in recognizing what it is.

And then the second step, which is a key component of mindfulness, which may often be forgotten, and that is it's not enough to simply recognize the present experience, but we also need to look at how we're relating to that experience. Because a common tendency would be, for example with an unpleasant emotion, and I worked with this a lot myself with the emotion of fear, and so that was my primary historical difficulty. I would see it come up in so many different situations. And I thought that by recognizing it, I was being mindful of it. But the recognition was just the first step.

And it took me a long time to realize that yes, I was recognizing it and even noting it, all the time, wanting it to go away. Right. So but actually there was aversion to it. So in that situation, we're recognizing it, but we're not actually being mindful. Right.

We're not allowing it to be as it is because we're trying to... Exactly. And it's that step of acceptance which actually allows it to pass through, that's the freeing aspect. Yeah. So I think that's a very important component of mindfulness to call to mind how we are relating to what's happening.

Yeah. And another thing I'm really curious about is as we, as practitioners, begin to walk this path, or again, for many people who have been on the path for some time, are there, as you see it or from the Buddhist perspective, are there stages that we can expect to go through and what would that look like? Hmm. Well I think the unfolding of the path can be marked in different contexts. So there's one unfolding of meditation. And as the mindfulness gets stronger, there are very distinct stages that are well mapped.

And so for people really involved, particularly in intensive practice, where they spend periods of time perhaps on retreat, then the mind just go through different stages. And a lot of the progression of the stages has to do with, in some way, a refinement of the understanding of change and impermanence. So, so many of the stages can be marked by how deeply and how clearly we're seeing the impermanent momentary nature. And of course that leads to the deeper understanding of selflessness. Right.

Which is very hard, but the impermanence is easy to understand. The selflessness is not easy to understand conceptually, but we begin to get a taste of it in our practice. Yeah. But that's the meditative unfolding. I think the unfolding of the stages we can see in our lives as we practice really comes down to some very basic things.

So are we becoming less judgmental? Are we more at peace? Are we more accepting? Is there more compassion in our relationships? More loving kindness? More equanimity? So that they really do mark the unfolding of the path in terms of how it's expressed in our lives. Yeah. How careful are we with our speech? Yeah. That's a huge area. Going back to your first question of pitfalls? Yeah.

Just something else is coming to mind. I think one of the pitfalls that people may fall into is thinking that mindfulness is limited to a meditative skill. Right. We're mindful when we're sitting in meditation and then the rest of our life is something else. But it's really realizing that mindfulness is what we want to cultivate in everything we do.

That it's not at all limited to just sit in practice. And one of the big areas of interest for me, a wonderful place to practice is from, what I just mentioned, in terms of becoming mindful of our speech. Because we talk a lot in the course of a day. How tuned in are we to our motives, into the quality of it, into the usefulness of it? So I'm a big fan of that arena of practice. Yeah.

I've heard it said quite a few times by teachers that I really respect that if there was just one practice that you could commit to, it would be mindful communication because we're such social creatures and there's so much opportunity for stuff to come up when you're communicating, especially with your nearest and dearest. Plenty to observe. Yes, that's very interesting. It's very interesting to watch just in the normal course of our lives and interactions are very often speech just comes tumbling out before we really are paying attention to, okay, what's behind it. Is it coming from a place of goodwill or something else? That there really is a lot to learn and to practice with it.

I'm curious too, we mentioned that, we just spoke about stages of awakening, but also the natural ebbs and flows of the journey and my experience and my observation is that sometimes there's moments of dramatic sort of realization of either selflessness or the interconnectedness of life. And so, though that is also seems to be a natural part of the path too. Doesn't it? These moments where you have the a-ha moment and then it sort of ebbs back into... Yes. And I think one way of understanding what that would be as we practice and we open, we'll have glimpses in this way of really insight, then to understand the path in some way as a path of integrating those insights into our lives.

So it doesn't simply become a peak experience, but it actually transforms the way we're living. And that's why it takes practice. Right. But there's a teaching by an 11th century Korean Zen master, his name was Jinul, and he framed the whole teaching in a way that I really love. He called it sudden awakening, gradual cultivation.

So it acknowledges that possibility of a sudden awakening, on whatever level, just an awakening to something we didn't understand, but then the need to have the gradual cultivation of that understanding. And so it just combines the two aspects. Yeah. I love that. That's beautiful.

And it reminds me, I was listening to an interview that you did with Sam Harris a little while ago. And in that you spoke about one of the challenges that you had, I think, when you were doing vipassana of having one of those very, I think you described it as having a body of light. You really have this lightness of body and then spent two years really grasping to try and get that back. So I think that's another thing I'm really glad that we can speak about this because I feel like that's another thing that can often happen for practitioners of conscious living. We kind of have one of those experiences and then we're like, oh, I'm not there anymore.

Therefore I've failed or this is not working or whatever. So, yeah. No, that's a really important point because it's so easy to become attached to a wonderful experience. So, even a genuinely transforming one, but then we become attached to it, forgetting that everything is subject to the law of change, and that will inevitably change. And that the fact that it changes is not incorrect practice.

The holding onto it is the incorrect practice. Right. And, and so learning that just to be with it as it unfolds, knowing that the peak experiences are not going to last in the same way, but that they still can have impact in our lives. Yeah. That's, I'm glad that we spoke about that.

Are there other misconceptions or misunderstandings that you commonly see either from practitioners, but also maybe from the outside, from people who don't really know much about meditation? What are the common misconceptions that you think people have about what meditation can and cannot do or can and cannot deliver? And any thoughts on clearing those misconceptions up? Well, I mean, one common misconception, I think on the one side, is it's going to suddenly enlighten us and we're going to be in a state of bliss. Forever and ever and ever. Yes, or even for the next sitting. Yeah. And so equating meditation or the purpose of meditation as being some blissful state, and then of course it's disappointing when we realize that that may come from time to time, but that's not either what happens or really is it the purpose of it.

All of the teachings and really the deepest, deepest understanding of what mindfulness can bring comes from a spiritual perspective, although this is a spiritual perspective that manifests in our daily lives. But all the practices, all the methods, all the different traditions, they're are all in the service of non clinging. And in the Buddhist teachings, for example, very often you find the phrase 'liberation to non clinging.' And so I think it's important, as we undertake the practice, that that's the context in which it's understood. Yeah. Because sometimes people can get attached to a method.

They think this is what's important, forgetting that the method is simply in the service of this freeing of the mind. There was a writer whose pen name was Wei Wu Wei, and he wrote many books. He actually was a European who lived a long time in Asia. And he had some very deep realization as is evidenced in his books. We have a lot of very short aphorisms which was captured at different points.

And one of them was what are many devotees doing, worshiping the teapot instead of drinking the tea. And so this again is something that if we really understand that, I think it undercuts perhaps the tendency to sectarianism. Yeah. Where people get attached to a particular way or a particular method, forgetting that it's all a skillful means for not clinging, because that's where the freedom of mind is. And that's universal.

And that can be accomplished in so many ways. I love the simplicity of that saying, that's really beautiful. And I'm also really interested in your take on this as well. I've really noticed, I really have a real love for looking at all the world's different wisdom traditions and spiritual teachings. I'm just fascinated by the whole, the different ways that people do that.

And what I've noticed, and I'm curious to see whether you've noticed this as well, is that what you were saying just then about not clinging, that seems to be the teaching that's everywhere. For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, when they talk about karma yoga, it's just doing things consciously without any attachment to the fruit of your actions and that teaching just appears as far as I can see in almost all the world's wisdom traditions that I've found. Do you think, Joseph, that there is a perennial philosophy, one universal? Is that a universal thread as you see it, or? I can't really say with any authority since I haven't done a study of all the world's religions, but it certainly is a thread in many of them. And so, certainly in the ones that I'm familiar with, I think that that captures the essence. And in fact it was that very teaching from the Bhagavad Gita that in some ways set me on this whole path because I came across it when I was still in college.

I was a freshman in college, first year, taking a course in Eastern philosophy, studying the Bhagavad Gita. This is before I knew anything about Buddha, I was still 17 years old. We were reading the texts and that line, for some reason, to act without attachment to the fruit of the act, in some strange way, it just resonated so deeply within me. I think that was the seed for everything that followed. And so I think it can be found people can get inspired from teachings in many traditions.

Yeah. And we also both know as well that there's also been in some traditions as well, they've been overlaid with some what seems like extraneous matter. But it's wonderful to talk about the heart of the harder things. And yeah. Yeah.

If you were to have the opportunity to travel back in time and knowing everything that you know now, and you could go and sit beside your younger self that was just about to sit for the first time and you could give some advice, what advice would you give? I think I would give the advice that my first teacher gave to me when I first began to sit. And it was something that he said many, many times. It was kind of his mantra. And it was such a helpful reminder to me over many years. This phrase kept coming back again and again.

He said, Be simple and easy." Simple and easy about things. And so simple and easy. Yes, simple and easy. So when we take things in that way, we're simple and easy, it becomes simple and easy. And it's not that things are always that we don't have difficulties, but can we hold it with that kind of naturalness.

Yeah, the whole, all lives are an unfolding, as we said earlier, with a lot of ups and downs. Yeah. So in a way, it's learning not to overdramatize our lives or our experience, not to exaggerate in some way what's happening, but rather to be fully engaged with it in a simple and easy way. Yeah. Even in times of suffering, oh, there's fear here or there's desire.

Whatever it may be, can we be with it in that way which allows us to really develop a wisdom? Because there are many other kinds of advice that one could give too, but that one has really, I so appreciate it. Just that those qualities were very helpful to me. Yeah. And I'm sure that advice will be very helpful too, to a lot of other people watching this as well. It really has to do with the quality of learning to be accepting and nonjudgmental.

All of that is implied in being simple and easy. Yeah. And it's interesting, even as you said that, I don't know if you notice, but even when you just gave that piece of advice, my whole body just kind of went, oh yeah. It does undercut that and undercuts many things, a lot of self judgment or doubt, but also kind of an unskillful striving where we get caught up in a wanting that's not helpful. Yeah.

Oh yeah, just be simple and easy. Be with what's happening. Yeah. I love that. Is there anything else that you would like to share? Anything that sort of come to mind or you think is really important that we should know about this this journey to more conscious living? Well, I guess there are two things that come to mind.

The first, is something mentioned before, but I think is worth emphasizing, right? It's really about the totality of our lives. That it's the practice to become more aware in whatever we're doing. Whatever activity just throughout the day, are we practicing coming back to the moment and being mindful? In an easy and simple life. Exactly. And realizing it's not going to be perfect.

We'll get lost many times, but we just beginning again. And so having a very comprehensive view of how mindfulness can be practiced. The other thing that I think is really important is the understanding that it is a practice, that it takes some discipline and perseverance. It's not, I don't know whether this happened in Australia, but quite a few years ago, maybe it was in the seventies or eighties, there was a movement, or workshops being presented, enlightenment weekends. Damn, I should have gone.

Yeah, exactly. You know, you go to this weekend and you get enlightened. And there may be something of value that you gain, but I doubt that it was enlightenment that the Buddha was talking of, in terms of the uprooting of greed and hatred. So it's understanding that we're talking about a vast transformation of consciousness. And we can have, and I have, just a tremendous, almost a sense of awe, in the undertaking of the path.

We realize this is a huge thing. This is not, it's not a hobby. It's something that is our lives and the exploration of the nature of consciousness and what creates suffering and what are the avenues to peace. So having this appreciation of the magnitude of the undertaking and therefore the need for some discipline and perseverance, or a kind of courage, I think. Yeah.

I love the sense of bringing courage to the path because it's kind of that strength of heart that's willing to go through and be with the ups and the downs and the difficulties. And so having that very large vision of the undertaking to me is tremendously inspiring. My own personal feeling about this path is that it's a really grand adventure. And in any good adventure, there's ups and downs. And it doesn't always go to plan.

And sometimes it's the unexpected and wonderful things and unexpected, all kinds of things. And then, but the adventure kind of dust themselves off and they have that courage to face the things that come up and yeah. So I see it as a path of mindful adventures. Yes. Yeah.

Well, I'd love to invite you, if you'd care to, to lead us through a practice. Sure. How long would you like this to be? Maybe say 10 minutes or 15 minutes. That's fine. Yeah.

Always need to frame it, otherwise we might be sitting for an hour. Yeah, 10 to 15 minutes would be wonderful. Good. Okay. If everyone listening who wants to practice together can find a comfortable sitting posture.

It could be right in this chair that you might be sitting in or sitting in some posture on the floor. And gently close the eyes. Perhaps start by taking a few deep breaths, intentional, deep breaths as a way of settling into the body. And then letting the breath come to its own natural rhythm. And begin by simply feeling the body sitting.

Experience the felt sense of the body sitting. You might even make a kind of a mental note of sitting, or a phrase that I like to use is, here is a body. So we get a sense of the whole body sitting. Sit and know you're sitting. And within that framework of the body sitting, you might become aware of your body breathing.

Breathing in, know you're breathing in. Breathing out, know you're breathing out. It's really that simple. You might noticed where in the body you feel the breath most clearly. Is it the air passing the nostrils? Is it the movement of the chest or abdomen? You might become aware of different sounds arising and passing away.

When they call at your attention, they become the object of awareness. You might become aware of other sensations in the body, places of tightness or tension or pressure or vibration or tingling. When the mind is called to those sensations, they become the new object of mindfulness. Become aware of those sensations and notice what happens to them. Do they get stronger or do they get weaker? Do they disappear? When they're no longer predominant, you can settle again into the awareness with the whole body, there is a body.

Becoming aware of the body breathing. Whenever a thought our image arises in the mind, become aware of thinking, of seeing. You can use a soft mental note: thinking, thinking. If you tend to image, seeing. Notice how the thought arises and vanishes.

Simply sit and know you're sitting. Aware of the body breathing. Breathing in, know you're breathing in. Breathing out, know you're breathing out. Simple and easy.

Opening to sounds, other sensations, thoughts and images. Just becoming mindful of them as they appear and disappear, like clear space of the mind. Notice when you become mindful of thoughts as they arise in the mind. To become aware after they're already over. Become aware in the middle.

There is sometimes mindful just as they begin. Simply to take interest in mindfulness of breath. Settling into the awareness of the body and the body sitting. There is a body. Aware of the body breathing.

We're being mindfully aware of predominant sensations, of sounds, thoughts and images as they appear and disappear. Awake, open, aware nature of the mind. When you're ready, you can slowly open your eyes. Reconnect with the world around you. Thank you.

And thank you so much for spending this time today to share with us. It's deeply appreciated. You're very welcome. A pleasure. Is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close? Nothing in particular except to encourage people to either begin or continue this great practice of mindfulness.

It leads to so many, as you say, new adventures of understanding oneself. And there's just one more question that I have that I'm asking every person that's taking part in this summit and that is that it's been said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out, one person at a time. In fact, I think you might've said that. Well many people have said that. I think I might've gotten that actual phrase from something that you said, but I'm curious to know.

They say that mindfulness has hit mainstream, I think the idea of it is entering mainstream, but I certainly don't think it's hit any kind of critical mass yet. If it was to hit critical mass, what kind of a world do you think that would create? Well, I think obviously, as we said, just in the beginning of our talk, that it really does serve to weaken and finally uproot, it's combination of forces in the mind that created so much suffering in the world. Mindfulness can help us to reduce the greed, the acting on greed, or reduce the hatred or enmity in the mind. Yeah. Reduce our delusion so we actually wake up to what is really happening and often it's waking up to the problems that are there and the suffering.

So it can only bring tremendous benefit. All right. Well, thank you again for your time. And thanks everybody for tuning in. I highly recommend you check out Joseph's book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening.

We'll see you next time..

Talk

4.8

Mindful Living & Overcoming Common Obstacles

Joseph offers practical guidance on walking the path to mindful living with more wisdom, ease and lightness. Includes a 15min mindfulness practice.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm just so delighted and truly honored to have with me today Joseph Goldstein. Joseph has really been a pioneer in bringing Eastern wisdom to the West. And he's certainly one of the world's most respected Buddhist teachers. He's been practicing meditation, I think, since 1967. Joseph? That's right.

So, over 40 years and under the guidance of some of the world's really eminent teachers in Burma, in India and Tibet. And then he went on to found, or co-found the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts. And he's also the author of several really wonderful books on mindfulness, meditation, and conscious living. The latest title, which I think anyone watching this summit would be particularly interested in, is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening. So, Joseph, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom today.

It's really a pleasure to be here. And so as I see it, we have such a gift having you here because you have walked the path to mindful living that so many of us are, and so many people watching this summit have really just started to walk on or they're kind of a little ways up the path, but it's really wonderful, because what I'd like to talk to you today is, you know, maybe you can point out to us the little pitfalls that we could watch out for and give us these little pieces of advice that could perhaps make this journey more skillful, more easeful and, you know, we could walk this path with some more wisdom. So that's what I'd like to kind of talk to you about. But my first question to you is about this book title, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening. And so my question to you, Joseph, is awakening from what? And maybe even awakening into what? Well, there are many ways to describe the culmination of the path, which is really, in some sense, the goal of the practice in terms of the teachings of the Buddha.

As we know, the mindfulness now is spreading in very secular domains, which is wonderful. It's really getting out there as a technology for living more mindfully. But in the context of the Buddha's teaching, it actually is about a path to awakening. And I think it's probably most pragmatically described as that freedom of the mind that is purified of greed and hatred and delusion. Those are the three unwholesome routes in the mind of all unskillful actions.

So that's what we would be awakening from? We would be awakening from those mind states. We could call it afflictive emotions or mind states, and we could say awakening into peace, awakening into love, awakening into wisdom, into compassion. And so those mind states of greed, delusion, and hatred, they would be suffering, right? So we would kind of be, those are the things that cause suffering. So you could say we were waking up from suffering and into... Exactly.

And I like that formulation because it's very pragmatic. It's not dealing so much in some abstraction of the highest good. It's very specific. And given the choice of being more greedy or less greedy. Okay.

Let's, let's go for less greedy. Or less anger or less ignorance. Right. So it's, it's very applicable to our lives. Right.

And that strikes me as something that's actually quite, a practitioner can really see that, that's something that you can really investigate and it's quite, well, not exactly tangible, but it is really, you can investigate yourself and go well, is there these mindsets present right now? Exactly. And I think that's the great power of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the tool for that kind of introspection. It's really a methodology for looking inwards at our minds. Yeah.

And so coming back to asking you some advice about what I'm really interested in hearing from your perspective, from your own experience, and from your years of teaching, what do you see are the common pitfalls or the common challenges that sort of you've seen come up again and again? And any advice on handling those with more skill and ease? Well, one of the very common pitfalls, I think, is people forgetting that this is a practice, which means we need to begin again and again and again. It's not as if we suddenly get the teachings and then it's a linear path upward to greater and greater enlightenment. There are a lot of ups and downs on the path. There are times when we're aware and then we forget. A common pitfall is for people either to get discouraged in the face of that, or begin to doubt or to have self judgement.

Oh, I can't do this. It's too hard. It's not for me. It's good, but it's not for me. Right.

A whole range of self doubt can come in, or self judgment. So I think it's really important to reinforce the understanding that these ups and downs are part of the path, that everybody goes through them. And we can learn from the times when we fall off or fall back. And to realize that in any moment, the practice is to simply begin again. And we do that repeatedly.

So I think that's very helpful to begin to free the mind from getting lost or believing the self doubt or self judgment. Right. Realizing the commonality of how the path unfolds. One thing I've noticed with that and I'd be curious to know whether you've seen this as well is that people who are very committed, very deeply committed to the path to conscious living, they often seem to feel like they have failed somehow when they suffer deeply or when they do something, they behave in a way that that's reactive rather responsive. It wasn't their highest, but they feel, I think, so discouraged and so deeply.

Like self-judgment comes in and self-criticism so deeply at that point where they feel like they've failed. But in fact, is that what you're saying is that's not a failure. It's part of the natural ebb and flow. Well exactly. And not only is it natural and everybody goes through that, but perhaps equally important is that, for me, those are the times that can provoke the most interest and the most investigation.

And so when I find my mind in a state of some distress or suffering or something, this reactivity. Yeah. Instead of going down the path of self judgment, for me especially over all these years, I get tremendously interested in, okay, what's going on in the mind that's causing the suffering. Where am I attached? Where am I pushing away? What am I holding on to? And very often it's the times of the greatest suffering that lead to the greatest insight. But we need to cultivate that quality of interest.

And for me, interest has been, I think, the most beneficial quality in the mind to sustain the practice. If we're interested in what's happening, whether it's in wonderful states of mind or really difficult ones, if we're interested, then it really leads to understanding. That really resonates with my own experience. There's so much to learn when out of situations of the suffering. And, of course, it simply reflects in a very direct way the Buddhist teaching on the four novel truths.

The truth you could say of suffering or unsatisfactoriness, some difficulty. And then it goes on. Okay, what's the cause of it? And there is an end. What is the path to the end? So it's all aware in those moments. It's like, at that point it's not Buddhist philosophy, it's our lives.

Right. Yeah. And that's what brings it to life. Yeah. I love that.

And yeah, like I say, that really resonates very deeply with my own experience of that curiosity being, that fascination in what's going on. It brings, I guess, it opens inner space as well to relate to that experience so differently. Yes. That's it. So I love that.

So one thing that we can do in those times of challenge, when things aren't all roses and pancakes, so to speak, it's getting gritty, is we can bring curiosity to that experience and actually use that as a time of greatest insight and learning. Yes, I mean first, we can learn or we can really hone in on precisely what it is that's going on. And so instead of just a general feelling of suffering or unease, we say, okay, what actually is this. Is there jealousy, or envy or aversion, or fear, or pride, or it could be any one of a number of things. And so mindfulness allows us to become quite specific in recognizing what it is.

And then the second step, which is a key component of mindfulness, which may often be forgotten, and that is it's not enough to simply recognize the present experience, but we also need to look at how we're relating to that experience. Because a common tendency would be, for example with an unpleasant emotion, and I worked with this a lot myself with the emotion of fear, and so that was my primary historical difficulty. I would see it come up in so many different situations. And I thought that by recognizing it, I was being mindful of it. But the recognition was just the first step.

And it took me a long time to realize that yes, I was recognizing it and even noting it, all the time, wanting it to go away. Right. So but actually there was aversion to it. So in that situation, we're recognizing it, but we're not actually being mindful. Right.

We're not allowing it to be as it is because we're trying to... Exactly. And it's that step of acceptance which actually allows it to pass through, that's the freeing aspect. Yeah. So I think that's a very important component of mindfulness to call to mind how we are relating to what's happening.

Yeah. And another thing I'm really curious about is as we, as practitioners, begin to walk this path, or again, for many people who have been on the path for some time, are there, as you see it or from the Buddhist perspective, are there stages that we can expect to go through and what would that look like? Hmm. Well I think the unfolding of the path can be marked in different contexts. So there's one unfolding of meditation. And as the mindfulness gets stronger, there are very distinct stages that are well mapped.

And so for people really involved, particularly in intensive practice, where they spend periods of time perhaps on retreat, then the mind just go through different stages. And a lot of the progression of the stages has to do with, in some way, a refinement of the understanding of change and impermanence. So, so many of the stages can be marked by how deeply and how clearly we're seeing the impermanent momentary nature. And of course that leads to the deeper understanding of selflessness. Right.

Which is very hard, but the impermanence is easy to understand. The selflessness is not easy to understand conceptually, but we begin to get a taste of it in our practice. Yeah. But that's the meditative unfolding. I think the unfolding of the stages we can see in our lives as we practice really comes down to some very basic things.

So are we becoming less judgmental? Are we more at peace? Are we more accepting? Is there more compassion in our relationships? More loving kindness? More equanimity? So that they really do mark the unfolding of the path in terms of how it's expressed in our lives. Yeah. How careful are we with our speech? Yeah. That's a huge area. Going back to your first question of pitfalls? Yeah.

Just something else is coming to mind. I think one of the pitfalls that people may fall into is thinking that mindfulness is limited to a meditative skill. Right. We're mindful when we're sitting in meditation and then the rest of our life is something else. But it's really realizing that mindfulness is what we want to cultivate in everything we do.

That it's not at all limited to just sit in practice. And one of the big areas of interest for me, a wonderful place to practice is from, what I just mentioned, in terms of becoming mindful of our speech. Because we talk a lot in the course of a day. How tuned in are we to our motives, into the quality of it, into the usefulness of it? So I'm a big fan of that arena of practice. Yeah.

I've heard it said quite a few times by teachers that I really respect that if there was just one practice that you could commit to, it would be mindful communication because we're such social creatures and there's so much opportunity for stuff to come up when you're communicating, especially with your nearest and dearest. Plenty to observe. Yes, that's very interesting. It's very interesting to watch just in the normal course of our lives and interactions are very often speech just comes tumbling out before we really are paying attention to, okay, what's behind it. Is it coming from a place of goodwill or something else? That there really is a lot to learn and to practice with it.

I'm curious too, we mentioned that, we just spoke about stages of awakening, but also the natural ebbs and flows of the journey and my experience and my observation is that sometimes there's moments of dramatic sort of realization of either selflessness or the interconnectedness of life. And so, though that is also seems to be a natural part of the path too. Doesn't it? These moments where you have the a-ha moment and then it sort of ebbs back into... Yes. And I think one way of understanding what that would be as we practice and we open, we'll have glimpses in this way of really insight, then to understand the path in some way as a path of integrating those insights into our lives.

So it doesn't simply become a peak experience, but it actually transforms the way we're living. And that's why it takes practice. Right. But there's a teaching by an 11th century Korean Zen master, his name was Jinul, and he framed the whole teaching in a way that I really love. He called it sudden awakening, gradual cultivation.

So it acknowledges that possibility of a sudden awakening, on whatever level, just an awakening to something we didn't understand, but then the need to have the gradual cultivation of that understanding. And so it just combines the two aspects. Yeah. I love that. That's beautiful.

And it reminds me, I was listening to an interview that you did with Sam Harris a little while ago. And in that you spoke about one of the challenges that you had, I think, when you were doing vipassana of having one of those very, I think you described it as having a body of light. You really have this lightness of body and then spent two years really grasping to try and get that back. So I think that's another thing I'm really glad that we can speak about this because I feel like that's another thing that can often happen for practitioners of conscious living. We kind of have one of those experiences and then we're like, oh, I'm not there anymore.

Therefore I've failed or this is not working or whatever. So, yeah. No, that's a really important point because it's so easy to become attached to a wonderful experience. So, even a genuinely transforming one, but then we become attached to it, forgetting that everything is subject to the law of change, and that will inevitably change. And that the fact that it changes is not incorrect practice.

The holding onto it is the incorrect practice. Right. And, and so learning that just to be with it as it unfolds, knowing that the peak experiences are not going to last in the same way, but that they still can have impact in our lives. Yeah. That's, I'm glad that we spoke about that.

Are there other misconceptions or misunderstandings that you commonly see either from practitioners, but also maybe from the outside, from people who don't really know much about meditation? What are the common misconceptions that you think people have about what meditation can and cannot do or can and cannot deliver? And any thoughts on clearing those misconceptions up? Well, I mean, one common misconception, I think on the one side, is it's going to suddenly enlighten us and we're going to be in a state of bliss. Forever and ever and ever. Yes, or even for the next sitting. Yeah. And so equating meditation or the purpose of meditation as being some blissful state, and then of course it's disappointing when we realize that that may come from time to time, but that's not either what happens or really is it the purpose of it.

All of the teachings and really the deepest, deepest understanding of what mindfulness can bring comes from a spiritual perspective, although this is a spiritual perspective that manifests in our daily lives. But all the practices, all the methods, all the different traditions, they're are all in the service of non clinging. And in the Buddhist teachings, for example, very often you find the phrase 'liberation to non clinging.' And so I think it's important, as we undertake the practice, that that's the context in which it's understood. Yeah. Because sometimes people can get attached to a method.

They think this is what's important, forgetting that the method is simply in the service of this freeing of the mind. There was a writer whose pen name was Wei Wu Wei, and he wrote many books. He actually was a European who lived a long time in Asia. And he had some very deep realization as is evidenced in his books. We have a lot of very short aphorisms which was captured at different points.

And one of them was what are many devotees doing, worshiping the teapot instead of drinking the tea. And so this again is something that if we really understand that, I think it undercuts perhaps the tendency to sectarianism. Yeah. Where people get attached to a particular way or a particular method, forgetting that it's all a skillful means for not clinging, because that's where the freedom of mind is. And that's universal.

And that can be accomplished in so many ways. I love the simplicity of that saying, that's really beautiful. And I'm also really interested in your take on this as well. I've really noticed, I really have a real love for looking at all the world's different wisdom traditions and spiritual teachings. I'm just fascinated by the whole, the different ways that people do that.

And what I've noticed, and I'm curious to see whether you've noticed this as well, is that what you were saying just then about not clinging, that seems to be the teaching that's everywhere. For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, when they talk about karma yoga, it's just doing things consciously without any attachment to the fruit of your actions and that teaching just appears as far as I can see in almost all the world's wisdom traditions that I've found. Do you think, Joseph, that there is a perennial philosophy, one universal? Is that a universal thread as you see it, or? I can't really say with any authority since I haven't done a study of all the world's religions, but it certainly is a thread in many of them. And so, certainly in the ones that I'm familiar with, I think that that captures the essence. And in fact it was that very teaching from the Bhagavad Gita that in some ways set me on this whole path because I came across it when I was still in college.

I was a freshman in college, first year, taking a course in Eastern philosophy, studying the Bhagavad Gita. This is before I knew anything about Buddha, I was still 17 years old. We were reading the texts and that line, for some reason, to act without attachment to the fruit of the act, in some strange way, it just resonated so deeply within me. I think that was the seed for everything that followed. And so I think it can be found people can get inspired from teachings in many traditions.

Yeah. And we also both know as well that there's also been in some traditions as well, they've been overlaid with some what seems like extraneous matter. But it's wonderful to talk about the heart of the harder things. And yeah. Yeah.

If you were to have the opportunity to travel back in time and knowing everything that you know now, and you could go and sit beside your younger self that was just about to sit for the first time and you could give some advice, what advice would you give? I think I would give the advice that my first teacher gave to me when I first began to sit. And it was something that he said many, many times. It was kind of his mantra. And it was such a helpful reminder to me over many years. This phrase kept coming back again and again.

He said, Be simple and easy." Simple and easy about things. And so simple and easy. Yes, simple and easy. So when we take things in that way, we're simple and easy, it becomes simple and easy. And it's not that things are always that we don't have difficulties, but can we hold it with that kind of naturalness.

Yeah, the whole, all lives are an unfolding, as we said earlier, with a lot of ups and downs. Yeah. So in a way, it's learning not to overdramatize our lives or our experience, not to exaggerate in some way what's happening, but rather to be fully engaged with it in a simple and easy way. Yeah. Even in times of suffering, oh, there's fear here or there's desire.

Whatever it may be, can we be with it in that way which allows us to really develop a wisdom? Because there are many other kinds of advice that one could give too, but that one has really, I so appreciate it. Just that those qualities were very helpful to me. Yeah. And I'm sure that advice will be very helpful too, to a lot of other people watching this as well. It really has to do with the quality of learning to be accepting and nonjudgmental.

All of that is implied in being simple and easy. Yeah. And it's interesting, even as you said that, I don't know if you notice, but even when you just gave that piece of advice, my whole body just kind of went, oh yeah. It does undercut that and undercuts many things, a lot of self judgment or doubt, but also kind of an unskillful striving where we get caught up in a wanting that's not helpful. Yeah.

Oh yeah, just be simple and easy. Be with what's happening. Yeah. I love that. Is there anything else that you would like to share? Anything that sort of come to mind or you think is really important that we should know about this this journey to more conscious living? Well, I guess there are two things that come to mind.

The first, is something mentioned before, but I think is worth emphasizing, right? It's really about the totality of our lives. That it's the practice to become more aware in whatever we're doing. Whatever activity just throughout the day, are we practicing coming back to the moment and being mindful? In an easy and simple life. Exactly. And realizing it's not going to be perfect.

We'll get lost many times, but we just beginning again. And so having a very comprehensive view of how mindfulness can be practiced. The other thing that I think is really important is the understanding that it is a practice, that it takes some discipline and perseverance. It's not, I don't know whether this happened in Australia, but quite a few years ago, maybe it was in the seventies or eighties, there was a movement, or workshops being presented, enlightenment weekends. Damn, I should have gone.

Yeah, exactly. You know, you go to this weekend and you get enlightened. And there may be something of value that you gain, but I doubt that it was enlightenment that the Buddha was talking of, in terms of the uprooting of greed and hatred. So it's understanding that we're talking about a vast transformation of consciousness. And we can have, and I have, just a tremendous, almost a sense of awe, in the undertaking of the path.

We realize this is a huge thing. This is not, it's not a hobby. It's something that is our lives and the exploration of the nature of consciousness and what creates suffering and what are the avenues to peace. So having this appreciation of the magnitude of the undertaking and therefore the need for some discipline and perseverance, or a kind of courage, I think. Yeah.

I love the sense of bringing courage to the path because it's kind of that strength of heart that's willing to go through and be with the ups and the downs and the difficulties. And so having that very large vision of the undertaking to me is tremendously inspiring. My own personal feeling about this path is that it's a really grand adventure. And in any good adventure, there's ups and downs. And it doesn't always go to plan.

And sometimes it's the unexpected and wonderful things and unexpected, all kinds of things. And then, but the adventure kind of dust themselves off and they have that courage to face the things that come up and yeah. So I see it as a path of mindful adventures. Yes. Yeah.

Well, I'd love to invite you, if you'd care to, to lead us through a practice. Sure. How long would you like this to be? Maybe say 10 minutes or 15 minutes. That's fine. Yeah.

Always need to frame it, otherwise we might be sitting for an hour. Yeah, 10 to 15 minutes would be wonderful. Good. Okay. If everyone listening who wants to practice together can find a comfortable sitting posture.

It could be right in this chair that you might be sitting in or sitting in some posture on the floor. And gently close the eyes. Perhaps start by taking a few deep breaths, intentional, deep breaths as a way of settling into the body. And then letting the breath come to its own natural rhythm. And begin by simply feeling the body sitting.

Experience the felt sense of the body sitting. You might even make a kind of a mental note of sitting, or a phrase that I like to use is, here is a body. So we get a sense of the whole body sitting. Sit and know you're sitting. And within that framework of the body sitting, you might become aware of your body breathing.

Breathing in, know you're breathing in. Breathing out, know you're breathing out. It's really that simple. You might noticed where in the body you feel the breath most clearly. Is it the air passing the nostrils? Is it the movement of the chest or abdomen? You might become aware of different sounds arising and passing away.

When they call at your attention, they become the object of awareness. You might become aware of other sensations in the body, places of tightness or tension or pressure or vibration or tingling. When the mind is called to those sensations, they become the new object of mindfulness. Become aware of those sensations and notice what happens to them. Do they get stronger or do they get weaker? Do they disappear? When they're no longer predominant, you can settle again into the awareness with the whole body, there is a body.

Becoming aware of the body breathing. Whenever a thought our image arises in the mind, become aware of thinking, of seeing. You can use a soft mental note: thinking, thinking. If you tend to image, seeing. Notice how the thought arises and vanishes.

Simply sit and know you're sitting. Aware of the body breathing. Breathing in, know you're breathing in. Breathing out, know you're breathing out. Simple and easy.

Opening to sounds, other sensations, thoughts and images. Just becoming mindful of them as they appear and disappear, like clear space of the mind. Notice when you become mindful of thoughts as they arise in the mind. To become aware after they're already over. Become aware in the middle.

There is sometimes mindful just as they begin. Simply to take interest in mindfulness of breath. Settling into the awareness of the body and the body sitting. There is a body. Aware of the body breathing.

We're being mindfully aware of predominant sensations, of sounds, thoughts and images as they appear and disappear. Awake, open, aware nature of the mind. When you're ready, you can slowly open your eyes. Reconnect with the world around you. Thank you.

And thank you so much for spending this time today to share with us. It's deeply appreciated. You're very welcome. A pleasure. Is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close? Nothing in particular except to encourage people to either begin or continue this great practice of mindfulness.

It leads to so many, as you say, new adventures of understanding oneself. And there's just one more question that I have that I'm asking every person that's taking part in this summit and that is that it's been said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out, one person at a time. In fact, I think you might've said that. Well many people have said that. I think I might've gotten that actual phrase from something that you said, but I'm curious to know.

They say that mindfulness has hit mainstream, I think the idea of it is entering mainstream, but I certainly don't think it's hit any kind of critical mass yet. If it was to hit critical mass, what kind of a world do you think that would create? Well, I think obviously, as we said, just in the beginning of our talk, that it really does serve to weaken and finally uproot, it's combination of forces in the mind that created so much suffering in the world. Mindfulness can help us to reduce the greed, the acting on greed, or reduce the hatred or enmity in the mind. Yeah. Reduce our delusion so we actually wake up to what is really happening and often it's waking up to the problems that are there and the suffering.

So it can only bring tremendous benefit. All right. Well, thank you again for your time. And thanks everybody for tuning in. I highly recommend you check out Joseph's book, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Awakening.

We'll see you next time..

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