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Dotcom August. Hello, I don't know about you, but I grew up with that famous Groucho Marx joke, I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member. It's one of the opening jokes and in the great movie Annie Hall. And it always resonated pretty deeply with me. As my grandfather would say, I resemble that remark. We all know that belonging to a tribe, a family, a group of any sort is a key part of human happiness.
Science bears this out. We've talked about it on the show many, many times. But my guest today, Severna Selassie, is taking this concept of belonging to a much, much deeper level to the oneness with the universe level. That's obviously one of the world's greatest spiritual clichs oneness. But in her new book, Saib unpacks and defends this concept incredibly effectively. The book is called You Belong. It's great. I read it. I highly recommend it.
And Saib, with whom many of you will be familiar. She is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn. She's a regular on the 10 percent happier app. She's also a great and valued friend, so I'm delighted to bring this interview to you. Here we go. Seven SLAC. Well, let me start with congratulations. I don't think I said this to you directly just because I just finished the book recently, but you did a great job with this book.
Oh, thank you, Dan. That means a lot coming from you. Really, it's compelling.
You've got a compelling theme and you also got incredibly raw personal stories and a lot of practical advice. So it's it's all it's the full package.
That's good to hear. I'm glad.
Let's talk about what you mean by belonging. Because of what I picked up the book, I thought, oh, this is going to be a book about the importance of having your people having interpersonal connection with a place where you feel you can belong as that word is traditionally understood. And yes, that is in this book.
But it's a way deeper, much more holistic view of the word. So can you just describe what you mean by it?
Yeah, you know, I do mean kind of the two sides of it. You're describing kind of a more personal, maybe mundane what sometimes called the relative truth of belonging, that we can connect to other people and feel that sense of personal connection to our folks. But I'm also talking about what's sometimes called the absolute truth in Buddhism, the truth of our interconnection and the undeniable fact of our belonging to everything that actually nothing is separate. And ancient wisdom, including Buddhism, tells us this, but also science points to that, that there is much more interconnection on an energetic level than we can really perceive with our ordinary senses.
Interconnection, and this is a user waters, we've played on the show many times. I've always understood it intellectually, but not really gotten it because I always still come back to like I feel like me over here and you're not me. I feel connected with you in many ways, but I'm still me. And in this book, you did a better job of helping me kind of understand that.
One of your mechanisms you use is the notion of paradox. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Yes, paradox is the truth of our reality. And this truth I alluded to, it's called the two truths of the absolute truth. And the relative truth is a central paradox of really all spiritual traditions. And in Buddhism itself, that it's hard for our minds to kind of grapple with or or wrap around the fact that we are interconnected. So science shows us the physics has shown kind of the energetic truth of non separation, that we're all kind of vibrating energy on a on a profound and deep level that we can't perceive.
And that that is true at the same time that it's true. You are you over there and I'm me over here and I'm sitting on a chair and I'm sitting at a desk. And these are objects in reality. But it doesn't cancel the fact that there's an energetic interconnection at the heart of things. And again, this is kind of goes against our logical mind. It goes against our senses. So paradox is something that we have to accept on a deep level.
Why was this theme of belonging so important to you to explore in the book? Well, I mentioned in the book that I wrote this book over a year, but I've kind of been living the themes of this book my entire life. And so belonging became important because I didn't feel it for so long. So I came to a spiritual search for it through the Dharma and through different practices. But really, I felt it on a more relative or social level from a really young age, immigrating here when I was three from Africa, from Ethiopia, and growing up black and white neighborhoods.
And I've been on this podcast before talking about kind of what that's like, that feeling that you don't belong and. I fundamentally believe that this crisis of belonging is showing up for many of us, regardless of whether we grew up in homogenous communities where we do look like everyone around us or not, because we can be made to feel that we don't belong, because we're not successful enough or smart enough, or we have ideas about how we should look or seem or be that are fed to us by advertising, by the media.
So this crisis of belonging, I experienced in a unique way, but I think all of us have greater or lesser experiences or degrees of it.
You talk a lot about in a very non sappy, approachable way, this concept of loving yourself. And what I took from that, and this may be just a straight lift is if there are parts of yourself that you're at war with, then you've got separation internally and that blocks you from feeling connected to other people. Is that an accurate summation? In some ways? Yeah, definitely.
That's a really beautiful summation. That delusion of separation only believing one side of the paradox that we're separate, that we're different, that we don't belong. That plays out both in our sense of feeling connected to others. But it also can make us feel disconnected from ourselves and have parts of ourselves that we're trying to get rid of, that we're trying to constantly change or or improve. And that doesn't mean that we don't have aspirations for growth and for transformation.
But we're not doing that in contention with the reality of who we are. We're allowing ourselves to grow in kind of a more natural way that comes from this loving care and attention. And I taca I think a few times about the contention with reality being kind of a fundamental part of the teachings and a fundamental part of not belonging when we're in contention with who we are or how we are, that causes that sense of separation or unhappiness. And we are who we are because of what we've been through.
Why would we be any different? What are the parts of you that you find difficult? Oh, my God, I don't know if we have enough time down, but I'm asking you this because you are very brave in the book in discussing this, so you can give us the abridged version or we can do a little free therapy.
I'll always take therapy. You know, it's everything from the physical reality. And that started young. I had all sorts of things I didn't like about myself. I started to be aware of my body in ways that were being observed by others. So I thought my legs were too skinny or my nose was too big or my boobs were too small or any number of physical attributes that I have contention with. And then as I started to get older, noticing parts of myself, seeing patterns that I had and really being unhappy with those that I have a lot of envy or I can I have domineering tendencies so I can tend to be, you know, it all.
I like to joke or I did joke with my roommate of many years, my best friend Peterburg, shout out to Peter that he was allowed to be right on Tuesdays and that these things show up in kind of sometimes subtle ways, sometimes not so subtle ways. But when I see them, when I see them clearly, it doesn't make me happy. I want to kind of get rid of them. And what practice and what therapy and different self-awareness techniques and teachings have taught me is to really see those clearly, but then meet them with kindness.
And that paradoxical, transformative power of practice is that when we do that, when we meet things with clarity and kindness, if they're problematic, they can start to dissolve. So what does that look like in practice, how if I'm listening at home and I want to. Try this, what does it look like? So I'll take one the need to want to be right, which shows up a lot with my partner, my husband Frederick, that for the early years and many years of our now 12 year relationship, we would kind of battle because he has that tendency to.
So our conversations would almost feel like arguments. And I couldn't really track energetically in in my body or in my mind that that was happening. I was just lost in the pattern. And then as I started to notice that pattern and also explore it with him, I could catch it a little bit earlier and just feel maybe mid. Not not an argument is in a fight, an argument. It's a very intense discussion. I could feel that energy and just sort of observe it and allow it and allow it to dissipate.
And now, more often than not, it doesn't even manifest into kind of trying to outargue. I'll notice that he says something that annoys me or I disagree with and I can actually stop before I start this pattern of speech or this habit of arguing and just allow it to dissipate and disappear. And sometimes it's not even showing up as often as it used to.
I imagine this is the fruit of formal meditation practice. In some ways as you enter the dojo, the gym of formal meditation practice, either seated or standing or lying down.
And I know you like to meditate, lying down and you watch your mind, including the stuff that's hard, probably mostly the stuff that's hard and practice over and over again instead of rejecting it, welcoming it with some warmth and some non lack of judgment so that when it shows up in that conversation with Freddie about what's the best French restaurant in your section of Brooklyn or whatever, you're able to not follow the impulse to say something that's going to have 72 hours of negative consequences for your relationship.
That's almost exactly right, except that Frederick's Italian and Danish and he would never want to go to a French restaurant.
But, yes, you know, it's so true that what we experience on the cushion is going to be ourselves in any moment. Most of our thoughts are not original. A lot of the habit patterns that we witness when we're in formal meditation or the same habit patterns we're going to bring into our lives. So for years, when I meditated even on retreat, I would kind of play out arguments in my head. You would have an argument with that person on retreat who's been annoying me for the past few weeks of retreat, or I would reimagine arguments I'd had in the past or invent ones that I might have in the future.
So that argumentative nature of mine is part of my my patterning. It's part of my conditioning. So what we see in our formal practice is usually what we're carrying into our relational life to work to our family dynamics. I'm a baby at this kind of, you know, for lack of a less syrupy term self-love, especially when compared with you, but. Mindfulness practice, and this is just my experience, is straight up mindfulness practice. We follow the breath or, you know, you're watching the breath coming in and going out, and then every time you get distracted, start again.
There are other ways to do straight up mindfulness practice, but that kind of practice didn't get me as far in this regard as Metta practice, where you're using phrases may be happy, et cetera, et cetera, and directing it toward a variety of beings, including yourself. Is that your experience as well?
You know, I think that there's parts of what you're saying that I can relate to, especially towards myself. So it might be because I'm gendered this way or racialized this way, but my meeta towards other people is maybe unhealthily so, but quite developed in the sense that I was always taught to take care of other people and think about other people first. But really, what I had to practice in terms of Matto was self Metuh. And I had a teacher actually assigned it to me as my primary practice for six months.
So I only did Self Metta for six months. This is after my first cancer diagnosis and it was really challenging for me to make that my my full practice, but that I found really helpful. But I also think that there is a way in which maybe modern mindfulness or kind of the Western mind approach to mindfulness forgets to imbue our mindfulness practice with that kindness. And technically, as far as the classical teachings say, mindfulness always arises better if it doesn't, it's actually just paying attention.
It's not true mindfulness. And we've talked about this before, Dan, that that attentional quality, like paying attention of mindfulness is really important. But that meeting with whatever we see with kindness and care is that matter. That arises with mindfulness. And in moments where I was just kind of applying the classical teachings of mindfulness, of just bringing awareness, but I was doing it in such a way that was very present, very receptive, not imbued with my tendencies for striving or trying to get somewhere that metaphor naturally arose.
It really that feeling of mindfulness that is all carrying. This brings us to another paradox that you write about, which is that. You have to study the self, I believe you said, in order to forget the self. So I have that right. Yeah, that's Dogen, so not me, a Zen master and originator of the sort of school of Zen. So to study the Buddha way, he said, is to study the self and to study the self is to forget the self and to forget the self is to become one with myriad things, with all things.
And that is a paradoxical kind of Coash saying. But in practice, I think we can have glimpses of that, that when we are fully present like that. I remember the first time I experienced mindfulness as being imbued with this metaphor, loving kindness. I was on retreat at times and this moment of this full awareness like embodied awareness of the present moment and this feeling of kindness, of caring just kind of welled up. And it wasn't about me.
It just sort of permeated everything around me. I kind of looked around me at that moment and looked at the hall and the other people and it just filled with so much care and in my awareness. Right, and so that is how we get to. And I'm just looking for you to correct my understanding here, that I think is how we when we can start. Seeing that we can heal whatever separation's little wars we've got going on internally, then that opens the door to this feeling of connection and belonging to the whole world.
All of it. Yes, on a deep level, yes. And most of the time in our daily meditation practice, we might not be feeling that. So we can know that as a possibility. We can recognize maybe small glimpses of it. And it doesn't even have to be only in formal meditation. It could be a moment of presence with our child or in nature, but we can start to be attuned to that possibility. One of the little that's not very little in my case, at least one of the wars that you identify that you've seen raging in your own mind, that I see raging a lot of my own is use this phrase the pathology of productivity.
Yeah, that's a coach I've worked with Challa Davisson. It's her phrase. And when I heard it, it was one of those phrases that is like embarrassingly apt that I could identify with it so much. But I felt a lot of shame about that, too, because I see how I can use productivity as a way to basically try and belong, try and feel better about myself, to try and feel like I'm making progress in some way in my life and my career, in my meditation practice, whatever it is.
But it does become a pathology. It becomes the way I kind of measure how well I'm doing or not. And it's a big trap. And I think with all of us kind of more attached to our gadgets than ever, I know for me it's been creeping up a lot more. I have to take really concerted effort to make breaks and to create time where I'm not being productive. And that includes my meditation practice that that's not the goal. Any advice is just this is a huge theme in my entire life.
I really have had to. Keep coming back to boundaries, especially with technology, and it's so hard right now because we're in another paradox that this is the thing that maybe is connecting us to teachings, connecting us to to others, giving us a place to practice or a way to tune in to things that we find important. But it's such a slippery slope. Each of these devices can bring us closer into just opening up another app, or my tendency is to go on to Instagram or Twitter or the New York Times homepage.
And so how do we create boundaries while also using this technology to support us in our aspirations to have more space? And then sometimes we just have to turn it off. We just have to leave the phone in another room or go outside without your gadgets. And that can be fraught, too, because sometimes I think we spoke about this on the episode about race. We witnessed racial aggression and we couldn't document it between police and some black youth in our neighborhood because we had left our phones at home because we were trying to create more space.
So their choices to be made and consequences for those choices to. How are you doing these days, and I know this is something we've talked about, but it's been a few months. How are you doing these days on feelings of belonging?
When it comes to America's racial reckoning that's happening right now. You know, it's definitely a process. I have really relished the time to have spaces for people of color and for black people and to have specific spaces to practice together and process together. And I know you've advocated for this and there are a lot of white people doing the same. And at the same time, I really value places where we're not only talking about these realities and this is kind of how we can sway between those two paradoxes.
And they're both true that we are different. We have these different realities, these different histories. They come with issues of inequality and oppression and injustice. And we are all interconnected and not just humans. We're interconnected with all beings, with with all of nature. We are nature. And depending on where we're coming from, what our tendencies are, what are versions and grasp things are we can want to lean towards one or the other more. So some people want to kind of cling to the harmony of, oh, we're all one.
Do we have to deal with this difficulty and challenge? But we can also want to cling to kind of the complexity and the difficulty and get caught there, maybe because it's our work or our calling.
But I have had sort of a longing for the practices and the teachings that really help me balance out all of that complexity and difference, too.
So sometimes you want to engage in the complexity and be really hashing these issues out, which are painful but also invigorating. And sometimes you want to be on a more.
Placide. Some fundamental level, we're all deeply connected if you want to be in that space.
Yeah. And, you know, I don't even know if it's Placid's so much as the truth of non separation. It's spacious to me more than Placide. You know, it's it's really it has a freedom about it. That is, it can feel really alive to it doesn't it doesn't necessarily have to feel calm. But there's that truth of interconnection. And again, we really need to each of us look at where we tend to gravitate towards which we understand and which we maybe don't.
And it's that constant balancing. You've been using this phrase in talking about. What's been happening for the last few months, you've been using this phrase, the revolution will not be secularized. What do you mean by that?
So in this book, I do a bit of a dive into our tendency as moderns to hold up science as the arbiter of all truth and dismiss things that we. Are less verifiable in ways that we're comfortable with and with that, I think we've thrown some babies out with that bathwater. So there are a lot of mysteries to these practices and to the truth of our interconnection.
So even science, physics being one, can't really explain some things that are known to be true.
Like the fact that electrons separated can experience the same realities of what effects one will affect the other far away, and we're talking about a few meters away, we're talking about thousands of miles away. They're doing this experiments now.
And the truth of that kind of vibrating pulse of energy at the the source of all matter, the truth that we all everything in our universe originated from a tiny, tiny point that's infinitesimally small. We can't even fathom it. So everything originated from nothing. We're literally stardust. So all those mysteries are not explainable by measurements or brain scans and the mysteries of the body of consciousness. And in some ways, this reliance on science and data and experiments has infiltrated the way we think of our social reality, too.
And how we're going to solve our problems is only through kind of logic and reason. And I believe that there's more to things like meta or heart practices, which are basically like magical thinking. You know, we sit and wish well to other people who aren't with us. And we know this has a powerful effect on on our bodies that's been able to be verified and studied. But do we believe that maybe this is having a powerful effect on other bodies and other people and beings as well?
So when you say the revolution will not be secularized, is that in any way a critique of the current BLM movement?
No, actually, I think the BLM movement itself is well aware of this and a lot of movements that come out of communities of color. You know, we always point to these these sort of powerful leaders throughout time, like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi or Desmond Tutu. These are all spiritual leaders. They also happen to be people of color. So perhaps much more rooted in the truth of indigenous wisdom, which relies on more than just the material reality.
So prayer and meditation and this understanding of non separation is has been the ground of many spiritual movements. And and many people and parts of BLM are very connected to that as well.
Just picking up on some of the strands from the last two answers of yours. The book really mounts a compelling defense of what people like me sometimes. I now see somewhat inappropriately write off as quote unquote, woo woo! Yes. So I kind of go through a conversation about how we can question and I use the phrase we were to it's not I'm not trying to police people's language that they can't use that. But just to notice when we use that, what we're dismissing and how often those dismissals run along the same lines as a lot of indigenous ways of knowing, which often are very much rooted in an acknowledgement of mystery.
And the great mystery is part of the understanding of our reality. So there's a real connection to this absolute truth of interconnection that is not necessarily recognizable by our ordinary senses. So one of the things I didn't talk about really in the book as it was happening while I was writing it, but I was doing a lot of kind of ancestral practices when I was writing the book. So every morning I would have a lot of ancestor altars, but I have a main ancestor altar with pictures of my mom and my grandparents and other people who've passed away.
And I was sort of like candles and make offerings to that altar before I wrote every morning and basically almost bully them into helping me.
I find that notion challenging in an interesting way.
What do you reckon it did for you to make offerings on an altar of pictures of your forebears?
Um, you know, a lot of creative people and writers have rituals. So part of it was just having a ritual that helped sort of frame my writing process and gave some structure to my process. I would wake up very early. I would make a cup, a match, I would come in. It would like some incense and light the candles and sort of say a little desperate prayer to them. And then I would start writing. And then when I finished writing, I would blow out the candles and know that it's done.
So having that kind of ritual for our particular processes, whether they're creative or just daily general life, I think is helpful. And then, you know, really exploring this truth that our ancestors are with us, if we don't believe it, on a kind of woo woo energetic. They're all around us in another dimension kind of way. We know it on a scientific and fundamental level. So we not only inherent our physical genetic material from our ancestors.
So your ancestors are literally inside you because you have certain color skin and eyes and certain shape your body. And but we also know that epigenetic material is handed down. So certain experiences and tendencies, including anxieties, but also our strengths, our predilections and our ways of being, are also inherited. And so, in a sense, our ancestors are here anyways. I guess one. Area where I struggle with this is just personal, which is the more I know about my ancestors, at least my sort of the ones I knew and now know more about.
I look back at my family tree is just filled with addicts and crooks and cranks.
And so, like the idea of summoning them, I don't know what assistance they could provide.
Well, we call on the best of our ancestors.
So sometimes people say our wives and well ancestors. But I say the wisdom and wellness of our all our ancestors. Right. Because you inherited maybe some of those tendencies that were seen like and probably were unskilful behavior, but were probably just survival mechanisms. Right. But you also inherited a lot of great aspects.
You know, you're a successful, intelligent, kind, good person. And some of those strengths came through from your ancestors as well, because all of our ancestors survived if we're here. Our ancestors got far enough so that we are alive today. And that means they survived pandemics and, you know, intercultural strife and war and all of the things we're trying to survive today. So we can call on that as well. I had a lot of great ancestors, too, just for the record, complicated ones, somebody was telling me recently about a great uncle of mine who used to drive around with a clergy sign in his window so we could get free parking spaces.
Well, you know, suffice it to say, a member of the clergy.
Yeah, you could say that. Said, you got your cunning from him.
Yeah, I guess so. Much more of my conversation with Seven Solecki right after this. If you like getting the story behind the story, check out start here, the Daily News podcast from ABC News every morning start here will get you ready for your day with insightful, straightforward reporting on a few of the day's biggest headlines. From groundbreaking investigative reports to urgent revelations shaping your world, recently honored with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award. Start here. Takes you inside the stories that matter and where they're heading next.
So start smart. We start here, check it out on Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast app. So speaking of me, there is a little little section in here where you write about a debate we had about the use of the term white supremacy. You want to you want to say more about the.
Yeah, I hope I hope you like that little shout out that you've got in the book isn't the most flattering Chater, but good.
Well, you know, it's interesting because I think I shared this with you that for the final pass of the book, I had to change that part a bit because, you know, the use of white supremacy has probably increased like a thousand fold in the past few months. What felt kind of daring to talk about six months ago is like old hat now that every corporation is tweeting Black Lives Matter. So I started to in what's the final version of the book, really explore what it means to maybe be able to acknowledge white supremacy externally and institutions or in about white supremacists, but not really want to explore it internally as patterns of thought or behavior that are playing out consciously or unconsciously within us.
Just to be clear so that I remember where you were, you and I were sitting in Rosa Mexicana. It's just a chain of Mexican restaurants in New York City. And you were talking about white supremacy. And I raised the issue. This is way before, you know, the recent tumult. This is before the pandemic, before George Floyd Brown, a Taylor. And I raised the question and I think I've read an earlier version of the book than the one that's coming out.
But I remember saying, you know, is there some risk to you to using the term white supremacy?
Because some of the people that you'd like to reach might get confused by that and or put off by that. And then you've activated their amygdala and you won't be able to talk to them.
Yes, I was also back when we used to go to restaurants. Yes. And let's be clear, it's white people we're talking about. And I and I do address that directly, sort of imploring the white reader and maybe anyone else who is uncomfortable with the term to really stay with me in. Why this is really important to understand, because these structures of white supremacy and other biases are within us and this process of mindfulness, of really beginning to understand clearly and meet with kindness what's going on in our minds, what's going on in our hearts.
That is the process for releasing it. And we can't solve the issue of internalized oppression or white supremacy, depending who we are and how we're experiencing it. If we can't see it clearly. And naming it is a first step to seeing it very helpfully.
I mean, this is totally consonant with just how you are and how I know you as a person. But it definitely comes through in the book.
You turn the lens on yourself and your own flaws in a welcoming way and you let you tell the story. But you tell a story in the book about your older sisters. Doctor, can you tell that story?
Yeah. So my my sister, who's intellectually disabled, I'm her guardian, was having surgery. And I had heard about this doctor that she was having to perform the surgery because her House leader had told me about her and said she was really great. And so I got to the hospital up in Hudson waiting for this doctor in the preop room with only white doctors and nurses and technicians, except for one Filipino nurse. And then the doctor walked in, the surgeon, and she was a black woman, a dark skinned black woman.
And I was totally shocked. I knew she was a woman because they had referred to her as she. But I was assuming that I would meet a white person and so I could see my own bias of how kind of these messages of white supremacy, the doctors are white, and often in the past, we would think male had sort of infiltrated my own heart and mind. And embarrassingly, for someone who teaches unconscious bias all the time to see that playing out for myself.
And I don't know if I shared in the book because cutting things for space. But the next day when Fenet was in the hospital, I stayed overnight with her in the hospital. I was waiting for the it was the weekend. So the surgeon was off and she told us another doctor was coming. And I didn't know the gender or the race of this doctor. So I was just I didn't know. I just knew the name. And that was also a black woman.
And I also was surprised in that moment. So I'm not only slow, I'm super slow.
Let's talk about another area and again, just staying with this theme of belonging where one big aspect of it is having this. Healed relationship with yourself so that you can be. Connected with other people, courage is reminding me, I don't know if I've ever told the story in the podcast before, I remember being like 25 years old, maybe even younger. And I was.
Having the dissolution of a relationship discussion with a about to be former girlfriend, and I remember her saying to me, you can't be with anybody if you're not with yourself.
And that that was coming up for me as I was reading this book.
And one sort of this may seem a little counterintuitive, but it really landed for me.
But one area that you talk about here is dancing as a mode to sort of get ourselves in this direction. How is dancing related? Yeah, we took this vast teaching in the classical teachings called SOTY, and we called it mindfulness, which in some ways is a great term. In other ways, it makes us think that it's all about our heads. So one of the things I really point to in my own teachings and really try and practice is how embodied our disconnection is and how we're only going to become reconnected and free through these bodies.
So dance is one place for me to really see how unfree I am. Some people in our culture, especially those of us who are kind of more conditioned by the dominant culture and white culture, we are not so connected to our bodies and we have difficulty with dance like a lot of people. I'm uncomfortable or was much more so in the past, dancing in public. I really didn't have a sense of my body dancing. I didn't grow up dancing and talk about kind of the colonial influences that led to that in my own family and my own lineage.
But many people grew up in churches or in religious traditions that kind of dismiss or discourage dancing and how that really disconnects us from our bodies and from a sense of belonging, like how ridiculous is it that I'm embarrassed to be in my own body and moving my own body in front of other people? I think it sounds absurd when I stated that way, but I think that's a reality that many people and again, people who might be cultured or or influenced in a particular way by dominant culture can feel that, you know, like not wanting to be the first person on the dance floor.
I don't want anybody to look at them.
And and we see how different it is for people who don't have that patterning yet, especially children.
This is a nut that I've not even begun to crack. I mean, I watch my son and how free he is when he's dancing. And last night, actually, we were with my brother. I have one brother and he and his wife have six kids, beautiful kids, just incredible. And there was after dinner, the kids were dancing for us and we were dancing a little bit with them. But I noticed that when it was my time to get up and dance with them, I felt very watched, self-conscious.
But I want to be able to shed that. This is why you and I have been talking for years. We haven't been able to get our act together or mostly my fault for me to come out to Brooklyn to do Zumba with you, which we've been talking about for a long time. And we're about to do actually, I think right before the pandemic began. I think we have a date. Yeah, we had a date to do this.
And so, yeah, this seems like a really rich area of exploration for me at least.
Well, first of all, I think we should film that when it happens and make it a special video episode of the podcast.
Well, then I won't be self-conscious at all.
But, you know, it's like anything, right? It's practice. And so often we practice on our own. That's what we're doing in meditation. Right. We're trying to bring mindfulness. We eliminate the distractions. We eliminate the extraneous realities to sort of practice something so you could practice in your bedroom and even Bianca doesn't have to be there.
This is on my list and not on a long list, on a short list of things that I aim to do. In the not too distant future. You recommend a lot of practices, you want to talk about a few that you think would help us.
My favorite practice and one that I'm trying to spread is the practice of the four elements. So mindfulness of the four elements is a traditional and classical practice. It's right there in the first foundation of mindfulness, with mindfulness of breath, with mindfulness of body. And it's not really taught a lot in kind of Western mindfulness movements. And to me, it's such a beautiful metaphor for how we are interconnected and how we are nature. We sort of talk about nature like it's out there in the woods, far away from the city.
But we are nature and this simple metaphor of Earth, Fire, water and air, which are the four elements we are mindful of in our bodies. It's a metaphor for how we're made of the same stuff of everything around us and that we're not separate from that. And it to me is such a beautiful practice and connects us also to all these indigenous ways of knowing that have been dismissed, have been kind of considered woohoo! Because the elements are in every ancient tradition of every continent.
So ancient Greece, Chinese medicine, your Vaida Qigong, you have it in the indigenous teachings of the Americas, in Africa, in ancient Egypt and Australia. And so it's also a way to come really into contact with that ancient knowing of our interconnection. So and I was so excited a couple of years ago, 10 percent happier. Let me record an element of meditation, which seemed we were probably back then, but hopefully become the norm.
Now, this notion of we are nature has really struck me over the past couple of years, and I like to use it all the time. The idea, because it does dissolve the boundaries between me and the rest of the world, but I'm particularly like using it when I'm looking at the uglier or sillier, more craven aspects of my nature.
Well, this is just nature to.
Yes, and those Kraven aspects even can be elemental, like there can be a fiery quality to some of our anger. There can be a watery quality to our depression or creepiness. And so we don't even have to make it sort of personal or psychological. We can just see that these energies are moving through us all the time. What did I fail to ask, I would just want to encourage us all to explore this balancing, you know, that we can tend as Modern's again to dismiss the mystery that's such a powerful, powerful opportunity for us to feel into something that is true and sometimes inaccessible again with our ordinary senses.
And then we can also get lost in that and not want to deal with the complexities of our the truth of our social realities. And so just encouraging people to always explore the balance between those two. Did I give you enough of a chance to sort of state the central thesis? The central thesis is that we are not separate, but we're not the same. So, you know, that balance that we are interconnected, that's the truth of our reality and we inherit the reality of our differences and all that has wrought over the centuries.
We're not separate, but we're not the same. So. I'm not exactly the same as Sevenoaks, Selassie, but it is a closing off of reality that does harm to you and me for me to think that there's no connection between us whatsoever. Yes.
And that might be easier to acknowledge between us because we're friends. But can we apply that same type of awareness to the things that we want to feel separate from? So people with whom we disagree, people with whom we have challenges, the current mess of our political and social realities, we belong to all of it, all of us. Actually, this is a good chance for you to tell you George W. Bush story, perhaps. Oh, goodness, yeah, feels like simpler times, but I was not happy with the presidency of George W.
Bush was around the time of Katrina. And a friend of mine suggested that I do matter for him. And so, you know, I sort of worked through a lot of my own anger. I wouldn't encourage someone to just go and do matter for someone else without kind of tending to their own pain or suffering. But I was sort of caught in loops of real pointed hatred. So I decided to do make up my own practice. I didn't want to do with the phrases, may you be well or whatever with him.
I really was trying to understand how I could connect to the truth of our interconnection at that point. Through many years of practice, I knew that we were all wound up together, but I wasn't feeling that. So I started this practice where I would every morning and they did this for weeks. I would kind of go through George Bush's life and I would imagine him as a fetus inside Barbara Bush. But imagine him as a baby. I would imagine him going to school and experiencing what he did from what I knew of his life, his addiction issues and then his political career.
And I just kind of did this practice every day, which is kind of a strange practice. It's not a classical practice, as far as I know. And a few weeks into it, I really understood not from a conceptual level. I already understood if I lived George Bush's life, I'd be George Bush. But on a deeper and fundamental level, I realized, oh, I would be George Bush if I had lived his life. And it really helped me see how my contention with people kind of needing them to be different than they are to see things the way I see things, which, again, was a big kind of place of my contraction in arguing that I was sort of going against reality, that there was a way in which I was creating suffering for myself by thinking that someone should be different than they are.
And that didn't solve all my problems. It certainly didn't resolve my political anger forever. But there was a shift in that moment for me and how I kind of meet the political realities that I confront, that there's a way in which I can understand that when I expect someone to be different than they are, there's also a level of superiority. And in my separation from them, as if somehow if I were them, I would think differently. But does that neuter your ability to fight for change?
No, because it's being in contention with reality of the present moment, it's not dissolving my longing for something to change in the future. It's just meeting the present moment reality without draining my energy for a better past. You know, when we're wishing for things to have been different, for someone to be different than they are, it's a drain of our energy. We can't change the past. We can't change who they are. We can't change their karma or their trajectory or conditioning.
All we can do is sometimes fight for and demand change. In this moment, we've kind of given up needing people to be different than they are. And what comes from that, and I've experienced it myself, is the sense of superiority and domination that that can kind of unleash on me. When I need someone to be different than they are. It often comes out in the form of domination. So belittling someone for how they are or shaming people for how they are.
But it's sort of prevented me from that kind of behavior.
And so just to. Name that this is kind of complex territory, and so it's not something we can explore, you know, sort of at the end of a podcast in a sound bite that this is something that the great spiritual social justice leaders of our time have talked about for ages. And so exploring the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. or, you know, some of the teachers of healing justice and social justice movements that are based in transformation, in abolition and true freedom, that we have to dive into those explorations and those conversations to really understand it well.
But I would just say and again, I know we're not going to be able to do a full exegesis of this, but. Isn't there some self-interest and enlightened self-interest in having our actions here? Turning down the volume on superiority and separation might refresh us and give us more energy to do the work we want to do. Yes, definitely.
And it's also just the truth of the nature of reality, right?
Fighting against the truth is it saps your energy. It does. And it's also not seeing things clearly. And that's what this work of Darma translated often as truth is that we are in in a sense, our aspiration is to full wisdom and it's that wisdom, that clarity that liberates. Thanks you both for an excellent interview. Do you mind if I also ask a question? Yeah, so I'm just very interested in this topic, and it's been great to hear you say a few things are coming up for me, for example.
I mean, even before knowing your book, I've just started the process of the magical art of tidying up Marie Kondo. So I did a bunch of journaling. And literally what I wrote was I've never belonged in my life. And I just said, I want to create a space where I belong. And there could be so many reasons. I don't know if it's because I'm Jewish or because, like, my mom is an immigrant or just I grew up in Los Angeles, which is not about belonging, like it could be a thousand different things.
It doesn't matter. But in this moment, I want to create a space of belonging. I also live alone and we're in a global pandemic and I don't see many people. And so I also think the comparing mind can be just hyper activated because it's constantly looking at other people or thinking about everyone that's connected. And I'm just wondering if you can offer more, especially for the like. I know you can still be married and still feel lonely, but like what it looks like to belong in isolation in this time.
Yeah, you know, I so appreciate you sharing that and the vulnerability of all of the reasons why we feel we don't belong and the ones that you highlighted and you said I never belonged. And the truth of it is that you've always belonged. You just have feelings of not belonging. And that is, I think, a fundamental challenge for any of us, especially with all the messages we get from the culture and the society about the ways. The only ways we can belongs if we look this way or act this way or have this much stuff.
And so whether we're alone, physically isolated or with others, the practice of reconnecting to that truth of belonging is similar. It starts inside. It's not about our external connections at first. Right. And it's interesting, you bring up Marie Kondo, actually bring her up in the book, because modern Western interpretation of her has been kind of dismissing the power of what she's doing, which is actually very indigenous. Some Asian-Americans and Japanese folks have pointed out that a lot of what she's doing is Shinto wisdom, that there's this way in which she honors every object and every experience that you're kind of going through as living as having a living presence.
And so we're surrounded by belonging, like we're embedded in belonging, whether with we're with other people or not. And she she kind of beautifully guides people through this very mindful, very kind of engaged process of acknowledging the living reality of everything we're coming into contact with that points to that fundamental belonging and truth. So I love that you brought her up.
I really appreciate that. Thank you, Marissa. Great question. Bravo, Marissa, as always, she was in our recent sex episode as well. I heard that it was great.
I'm so glad you didn't ask me about it. Appreciate that. Love you. Thank you.
Love you, too. Thank you both so much. It's really great. Have a great evening, do some dancing down. OK, by. Thank you again to CNN. And speaking of thank you's my team and I want to send a big thank you and shout out and gesture of support to the many teachers and others who work in education at this incredibly difficult moment and to recognize the struggles you're dealing with right now. We want to give you free access to the 10 percent happier app, hundreds of meditations on there, lots of other resources as well, including talks and courses.
And if you want free access, go to 10 percent dotcom care. That's 10 percent one word all spelled out. Dotcom care, finally, is always much gratitude to the team who work so hard to make the show a reality. Samuel Jones is our senior producer. Marisa Shneiderman is our producer, sound designers Mack Boynton and on Nashik of Ultraviolet Audio. Thanks to both of you. Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. And of course, I want to thank everybody from TVA who weigh in on what we do, including Ben Rubin's point and Toby and Liz Levin.
And I would be remiss if I didn't think my ABC News Kamaraj, Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen will see you all on Friday for a bonus.