Sometimes people might think, oh, there's this joy boy, but it's deeper than that.
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Dotcom subscribe. Go for it. Hello, in my humble opinion, purveyors of joy can often come off as oily and unctuous, even in the best of times, like walking impersonations of Rainbow Brite. But in hard times, such as the ones through which we are living right now, arguing for joy can seem Pollyanna ish or downright clueless. Our guest today, however, reframes Joy as supremely relevant and eminently doable. His name is James Beras. He's the co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, author of a whole book about joy called Awakening Joy.
And this conversation, we talk about why Joy gets a bad rap, why it's not a feel good project, but instead a feel everything project and the role of meditation in taking on pressing global issues such as climate and race. Also, stay tuned for a great cameo from our producer on this episode, Morissa Shneiderman, who weighs in quite bravely, in my opinion, with a personal question.
Here we go, James Beras. All right, James Joy, welcome to the show. I know that moniker is at least semi facetious, but.
I'm super interested when you talk about Joy, what do you mean, because when I think of joy and I think I might have said this before in the show, on most superficial level, I picture those Toyota commercials from the 80s where somebody just bought a Toyota and they're leaping into the air.
What do you mean when you invoke the word joy?
Well. In Buddhism, the word joy or different flavors of it are quite prominent, it's one of the seven factors of enlightenment. It's a variation in the four divine abodes. There are suka, happiness, and there's pamoja gladness and lots of different expressions. For me, I'm talking about. All the states of well-being and there's a continuum of that from deep peace and contentment to rapture and bliss and everything in between, there's a place inside of us that longs for happiness and that when we discover it, it's right inside.
So truly, I'm talking about well-being. It's just not as catchy to say awakening wellbeing is awakening joy, but it covers the whole range. How does one access joy? What can I do to get more joy? Probably the most direct route is getting out of your head and into your heart. I would say because it's usually in the head that's trying to figure things out or solve problems as useful as that is, as important as that is. When the mind starts spinning.
It gets contracted and when there's a kind of spaciousness and ease and relaxation. That natural state of being can be accessed and we came into this world with that state of well-being. You see a baby who's. diapErEd and fed and given a little bit of love, they squeal with delight. Wow, there's wonder, there's openness. And we were all. That baby, but it gets covered over with, so it's really quieting down and giving enough space to get in touch with that natural goodness and aliveness that's spread inside one of my main formulas.
I've got a few, but one of my main ones is first. Authenticity being right where you are. And having a connection to that, a genuine presence to where you are and out of that authenticity and connection, there's an aliveness that comes. And that's the beginning of opening to Joy. I would say. I'm going to push you, I'm going to go into character as I do my role as the fidgety skeptic. Bring it on. I try not to be cynical.
I do like being skeptical.
The Buddha said skepticism was very good. Good.
Thank you, Buddha. I was there for the birth of my son and he came out purple and slimy and screaming like an undersea creature that had been brought up from the bottom of the Marianas Trench and did not want to be here. And so, I mean, I've you know, he's now five, but I remember what it was like and he's a baby. And yes, there were times when he was cooing with delight and then there were times he was puking in my face.
That's a little glib, but I guess what I'm trying to get at is, you know, this authenticity that you.
Reference this getting out of your head and into your body and then the piece that's available there in, et cetera, I don't know, like I said, and meditate quite a bit and find myself continually stuck back in my head or confronted with all sorts of my own ugliness, et cetera, et cetera. So I don't know that I feel like this joy is as easy as, you know, like hailing an Uber.
No, it's not. It takes practice and it takes some understanding of how the mind works. And the first step in the process is making friends with what's here. If you're trying to bypass it and say, oh, give me the joy, you know, give me out of this confusion and I want some joy. You're very attitude of grasping the wanting of aversion to what's here is going to work against you. So in whatever way possible to get a sense of spaciousness and acceptance and compassion around what you're going through.
Compassion is a key doorway to awakening the heart so you can't bypass. That's where you have to start to come to terms first with what your actual experience is and actually. The pain and the confusion and the Doka, as we call it in Buddhism, becomes a doorway to joy. It's one of my favorite lists of all the lists that the Buddha has. He has this one list, A, you can impress your friends with it called transcendental dependent arising where he says that suffering he starts with suffering, which is what he started doing when the first noble truth is suffering in the world.
And he says suffering can lead. To face. Not necessarily, but it can and often does. Faith can lead to gladness, gladness can lead to joy, can lead to contentment, concentration all the way up to awakening, but it starts with suffering being the causative factor for faith. Sometimes people say, well, how is that possible? And I often ask people who have a quizzical look on their face how many people here have come to their spiritual practice or come to looking for deeper answers to life through suffering and most every hand goes up.
So it's not to bypass the confusion and all the things that get in the way, but to have tools to work with them so that we can have some space and understanding and that loosens things up and creates enough openness that we can access. What's deeper inside?
I could see people getting hung up on the word faith, but by faith, I imagine you mean a trust and confidence that this endeavor is worth embarking upon.
Exactly. The word sarva is translated as either faith or trust or conviction or confidence. There's something bigger than my own small story of the world in this moment, and there's a kind of inspiration that we can get from opening up to a wider perspective.
So how would work? And I'm saying this aloud, hoping that you'll correct me would be you can find in meditation that you're suffering, you know, either it's a leg cramp or some murderous itch just above your left nostril or falling into the same habitual thought patterns that have been with you since. You know, that argument you had with your mom at age seven or whatever it is, all of that comes up and yes, it can suck, but also knowing and getting the increasing sort of bone level.
Axon and dendrite level confidence that. This suffering will arise and inevitably pass impermanence in this aspect can be your friend, that can be the doorway to the other sort of more fun links in the chain of faith, confidence, joy, etc..
Definitely. That's one access to it. You know, as you probably have heard many times in the practice, it's not what's happening. It's our relationship to what's happening. That's really the key. So it's developing a wise relationship to your experience, whether it's a pain in the knee or memory from 30 years ago? Oh, can I have a wise relationship so I'm not completely lost in my reactions and then I can respond appropriately and wisely.
So why for you, did you fasten on to the joy aspect?
Because if I'm hearing you correctly, everything that we've just discussed is you start as your teaching emphasis with joy, but then it very quickly becomes a meat and potatoes Buddhism. And please correct that if that's incorrect. And if it's not, then the question I guess I have is like, what about your life in your mind? Encourage you to fasten on to the aspect of joy and all of this?
Hmm. Mm hmm. Well, I have in me my natural bend before I came to Buddhism was there's a part of me that always did like to celebrate life. And before I got in touch with Buddhism, I was deeply impacted by name. Kirrily Baba Ramdas Guru Maharajah. You read be here now in nineteen seventy one and it changed my life and that really appealed to me. However then I discovered the Dharma in nineteen seventy four when Joseph Goldstein first came back from Asia and that first summer at Naropa he and Jack were there and Sharon to I felt like I came home.
I was thrilled that I found a path to get there and I had what is called a long honeymoon period where I just wanted to tell the world, you just have to be mindful. You just have to be mindful.
And then at some point. I lost my joy. I became very serious about my practice, dead serious emphasis on the dead, and I did lose my joy. There are some teachings that I. Misconstrued, which could easily be misunderstood and went through some internal conflict with what did the Buddha really teach? And I went through a period, it was a difficult period for a few years. Until I realized, wait a second, I'm not. In alignment with who I really am, I saw the Buddha as this kind of stern taskmaster that said it's not OK to love life and have fun.
And then unfortunately, instead of turning my back on the teachings, I said, well, what did the Buddha really say? Because he was called the Happy One. And the Dalai Lama in his book, The Art of Happiness. The first line in this book is The Purpose of Life is to be Happy. So I started to take a look and I say, OK, what did the Buddhists say about happiness not just on the cushion, but in one's life?
And I found some beautiful teachings. That made sense to me that I hadn't quite heard packaged that way, that I then started practicing and bringing myself back in conference both with my true nature and with the teachings.
What are the teachings that you started practicing that? Helped nudge you toward the aforementioned congruence. I'm glad that there were three, really, which is the basis of the book that I wrote and the course that I've been teaching for quite some time. The first is the Buddhist teachings, unwholesome states. The teaching on why is effort. There are four. Aspects of his effort to having to do with unwholesome states are costilla and to having to do with wholesome states.
So the unwholesome states are costilla, greed, hatred, delusion, jealousy, envy. You know those guys. And he says, guard against those if you can guard against them from a rising. When they do arise, which is just part of being human, learn how to overcome them and then the two Holcim are cultivate costilla wholesome states, loving kindness, generosity, compassion, joy, all of those, he says, cult mindfulness, which is the key to the whole thing, cultivate those wholesome states and the fourth, which doesn't get a whole lot of airplay.
He says when there's a wholesome state that's arisen to maintain and increase that wholesome state is a good thing. So that was the first one, and now you might say, well, wait a second, if you've got a whole state and you're trying to maintain and increase it, isn't that just grasping? But the tricky part is. As soon as you're trying to hold on to a wholesome state. It's just turned into an unwholesome state because any kind of grasping is a kusler, so the trick is, rather than trying to hold onto it, how you maintain and increase a whole substate.
Is to simply be very present for it. That mindfulness itself not only is a wholesome state and cultivates others, but when you apply it to a wholesome state that's here without grasping, you give it life and you actually amplify it, enhance it. The first one is understanding where happiness really lies. That's wholesome. States tend to be really present for them. Second, teaching, which is a relatively obscure teaching that I came across in in one of the suitors in the middle length's discourses, he says.
There's a gladness, a feeling of uplift. That's connected with the whole state and it gives the example in this discourse, he says, if you're in the middle of a generous act, think to yourself, I'm being generous now. He says this is a good thing, not, oh, I hope everybody sees how generous a guy I am, but rather, oh, just notice how good it feels for generosity to move through this being. Oh, it feels so good.
And the line in the suit, he says that gladness connected with the wholesome. I call an equipment of mind to disarm all hostility and that gladness, one gains inspiration in the meaning, inspiration in the truth. So he says, pay attention to that gladness. It's a really good thing. And then the third. Teaching is a fairly well-known teaching, again, in the Middle Ages courses where he says whatever one frequently thinks and ponders upon. That will become the inclination of their mind, and so in modern neuroscience, the saying goes, neurons that fire together wire together.
So it's all a matter of habit. And when I. So all of those three. It occurred to me. To look at the different wholesome states that are spoken of in the teachings, I picked 10 particular ones that seem to follow a logical sequence for me as far as developing. And if you do it over time and you cultivate a wholesome state and you're really paying attention to it, and you do that over a course of several months as your practice.
You start to notice your mind shifts from seeing what's wrong, to start to notice all the good, and it creates space for you to open up to all the difficulties. So that's what I did.
So evolution left us with this sometimes useful, but often. Not so helpful negativity, bias or hyper vigilance, scanning the horizon for threats.
It sounds like you're nudging us toward a rewiring, reframing vigilance for the positive. Exactly, that's it. I know you've had Rick Hansen on, he's a dear friend, and as he puts it, the brain is like Teflon for positive experiences and Velcro for negative ones. So it takes some training to be on the lookout for the good and not only notice it, but to be present for it mindfully. Not just as a thought, oh, this is a good moment, I'm happy now, but actually to be mindful in your body.
So instead of knowing, oh, I'm feeling good right now to notice, oh, this is what it feels like to feel good. And just with a few moments of turning your attention to that so that there's a visceral experience is tremendously powerful. That's what we do over over the course of time.
I'll give you an example just for my own life and tell me if you think this is an appropriate operationalising of what you're talking about. I will preface this by saying that my family and I are extremely privileged. If you want a less PC term, just lucky.
During the pandemic we were when it hit for the first three months, we were living in New York City with our five year old. It happened that our lease was ending and we had the means to be able to get out of the city with my cousin, who also lived in the city. And as a single mother of a child is my son's age. Her daughter's six, my son's five. And we were able to get up to the suburbs, which is incredibly fortunate thing.
And I have this little rule.
I met a woman named Lucy Diaz last year whose leader in Mexico of this movement of moms who are searching for the, by conservative estimates, 40000 missing people in the country of Mexico, it's probably closer to 120000 anyway. Lucy's son is one of the disappeared and she's been leading hundreds of other moms to go out and look for mass graves. And she's just an incredible person. And one day we were talking and I spent quite a bit of time with her.
One day she said something like, you know what? Never turned down an opportunity to spend time with your family.
And so the little rule that I've generated is that unless there are extremely.
Extenuating circumstances, if my son knocks on the door of my office and says he wants to play, I will do it at least for a little while. And this is a long story. Sorry. We first moved up to the country. There was a snapping turtle we saw in our front yard. We were so excited and she was baring her eggs.
90 days later, the little turtles showed up and they were in the backyard, but they were going in the wrong direction. And we found two of them and we marched them over to a nearby pond. And then we found a dead one along the way. And my son, he was asking me, I hope Alexander and Shayna, that's his name and his cousin's name, they had named the turtles that he said, I hope Alexander and Shane are doing well in the pond.
And he said it also, Dan. And I said, Dan, he said, yeah, that's the dead one.
Oh, he's got a sharp sense of humor inherited from I'm sure it's his mom anyway.
All of which to say even in those moments when my mind may be calling me elsewhere, I've been trying to pay attention, not to the thought of, OK, this is fun, Harrison, tune in, but also just that it feels good in the body and the whole system to be taking a few moments to spend time with this kid who is, by the way, not going to be five forever. Long story. I apologize, but does that sound like an application of what you're talking about?
Exactly how did it feel when you felt it? Oh, this is what it feels like. What a great feeling.
It feels good even when I feel proud of my son for burning me.
I love that. And probably even just in recounting the story. Yes. It brings it to life. Yes. Which is another very interesting principle that sometimes we. You know, we think, oh, I'll never feel joy again, and all you have to do is remember a moment like that and there it is, it's much more accessible than we realize, but that's exactly it. And in fact, that's one of the reasons why. Being around kids can be if we can set aside our agendas, can be such an excellent doorway because they have a sense of wonder and they're playing with the world, we forget how to play often and we become.
Doing important matters of consequence, and so a lot of it is bringing a sense of wonder to the world, like Jesus said, he said, unless you become like children, you will not know the kingdom of heaven. You know, there's an Einstein quote. He says, There's two ways of going through the world. One is seeing nothing is a miracle and the other is seeing everything is a miracle. So it's like bringing back that natural aliveness and curiosity and really being present for it once there is.
One more very short story. This one, I promise, just to accentuate your point about playfulness. I love it. Yesterday, we went back out in the rain. To look for more turtles, we didn't find any, but I heard my son singing, it's raining, it's pouring, the old man is boring referring to me.
So yes, I mean, he senses it, too. You know, as you get older, you can have those, you know, very important things to do. In fact, he sometimes marches around the house saying, I'm important. Damn imitating his dad. So, yes, the playfulness is really important. And I wonder, just to make this really practical for listeners, are there specific ways of meditation or even just an orientation in our basic meditation that we can use to accentuate these Kosala qualities that you're describing?
Oh, definitely, there's lots it's the 10 wholesome states that I chose from the teachings, they're all ways to cultivate well-being. Mindfulness brings them about naturally. There's these wholesome factors and unwholesome factors. And then there's some that are neither wholesome or unwholesome. There's 52 mental factors into the psychology. And one model, the one unique property of mindfulness, is that it is the only one that both when there's mindfulness, you're weakening unwholesome states. Suppose you have sadness or worry or anger when you're mindful in a wise way, you are weakening the unwholesome state.
You're giving it space. You're not getting caught up in it. And there's a kind of opening, which is, by the way, one of the key components of the wholesome states. There's a spaciousness of relaxation and all the unwholesome ones are contracting. So mindfulness weakens the unwholesome states and it strengthens the wholesome states automatically without you even realizing it. But when applied, you can call up a wholesome state, say, loving kindness. You do some lovingkindness practice, you just inclining the mind towards wellbeing, towards wishing well, and then you're really pressing for it.
That's cultivating a wholesome state, you can tune into compassion, which is a wholesome state, even though it requires suffering when you feel that. Quivering of the heart, that resonance in the heart and you feel that sense of caring and your present for it, that is a wholesome state of well-being, one of the most direct ways is gratitude. The Buddha in one discourse and the blessing suit says to be content and grateful. This is a blessing supreme.
So a direct way towards wellbeing is to think of something that you're grateful for and be very present for it. If you like, I can take you through 30 seconds of wellbeing if you're up for it. Yes, I do. Like OK. All right. Close your eyes. Go inside, bring to mind. Some blessing in your life. Someone that you're grateful for or some circumstance that you're grateful for, just be quiet and call up the blessing.
And now have an image so that you are even a bit more in touch with it. That person or situation. Now give a simple, silent thank you right from your heart to that person or to life. Thank you. And now just relax and enjoy that feeling of gratitude, feel it in your body. Oh, thank you. And just marinate in it. Thank you so much. OK, you can open your eyes. So two things to say, this just came to my mind and it won't surprise anybody.
To hear me say that the thing I'm most grateful for is my son, and this morning he came in to my office after he was soaking wet, he came in to give me a hug. And yeah, I can feel a lot of gratitude to him, to the universe, to the IVF doctor, to my wife. And then I also feel fear, you know, that something would happen to him, et cetera, et cetera. What do you make of that?
You're human. It's great that you can see it carefully so you can pass out. The gratitude and the joy and see the subtle conditioning of fear and attachment that can block that, it happens all the time. Sometimes people are afraid to love or afraid to really let go and let themselves feel fully their joy because they're afraid the other shoe's going to drop and so they can sabotage their well-being out of fear. Or as you probably know, when we're feeling better, when we're feeling loving kindness, the near enemy of loving kindness.
What disguises is loving kindness is attachment, and so they can get mixed, very intertwined very easily. And so the important thing is to see how that works in the mind. So you're not subject to that very deeply practiced conditioning and work with the fear. Don't pretend it's not there. Really see it and name it so it doesn't have the power that it often does over you. So you can just hold it wisely and then go for that true well being.
Much more of my conversation with James Berra's right after this. Staying informed has never been more important, the information is coming at us faster than ever. So how do you make sense of it all? Start here. Hey, I'm Brad Noki from ABC News. And every weekday we will break down the latest headlines in just 20 minutes. Straightforward reporting, dynamic interviews and analysis from experts you can trust. Always credible, always solid. Start here from ABC News 20 minutes every weekday on your smart speaker or your favourite podcast app.
So I think you've brought us very nicely to a pivot I want to do in this conversation, because another issue people will inevitably have and this won't surprise you at all. And I'm happy to make this pivot because you have a very good answer and a very good track record. One big issue that people have with the emphasis on joy is in a world that is deeply I'm not allowed to swear, so I'll say messed up. I might have chosen another word.
In a world. Such as the one we happened to Occupy today, there's a lot to be really angry about, to be scared of. So what role does Joy play in a messed up world?
Yeah, that's the big question. And as maybe, you know, I'm besides being involved with joy and teaching about joy, I'm also very involved in things that have to do with making this a better world and dealing with all the suffering. You know, climate is a big issue for me and and certainly these days, between the virus and race and injustice and a country that seems like it's. Possibly going off the cliff or else maybe we'll go in the right direction, doing everything I can to make sure the letter comes true, that it's one important to do what we can to make it a better world, but not be so overcome with our fear and our outrage and our anger so that we can be more effective.
Because, as I said, in the teachings of the Buddha says, hatred never ceases by hatred. Hatred ceases by love alone. This is an ancient and eternal law. When you're around somebody who's filled with anxiety and worry and outrage, which can be any of us at any time, I mean, I can definitely get into those places. That's not where I live. I take in my share of news to be informed and it can you know, those things can be activated.
But when you're around somebody in your environment who is expressing that. How does it feel you might have compassion for them or commiserate with them or say, yeah, this really is a terrible world, but it's not going to. Be leading to the wisest response when you're around somebody who cares deeply about the world but has balance and equanimity and also sees the good in the world, it affects you. Just like fear is contagious. So is balance and centredness.
One of my friends says we're in a race between fear and consciousness, and you don't want to get caught up in the fear. So the more you can. Be realistic and see what's out there and address it wisely, but come from a place of love, come from a place of gratitude, come from a place of seeing all the goodness in the world. Then your actions will be much more effective and you'll also magnetize inspiration. So it seems like it's it's one of the most important things to do to stay in touch with what's good, along with seeing what's difficult.
One thing that occurs to me a number of years ago when I first got into the climate. Issue, I read a Bill McKibben book, Earth, and I have been aware of climate and it was troubling, but I just kind of put it on the back burner and I read that book, Earth with Two Eyes, to see the different kind of earth that we were about to enter. And it shook me. It shook me deeply for really about a year to really take in the enormity of what we might be facing.
And I was with a friend of mine who was a Dharma practitioner and also the head of a climate program for World Wildlife Fund. And I said, hey, Lou, I've got to do something. But I've just been teaching Buddhist meditation and joy for the last few years. You know, I don't know what I have to bring to this. And he looked at me and he said, James Joyce might be the most important thing we need to remember now.
And I'm just getting kind of shivers remembering and it made such sense because. You don't want to be putting out despair and fear and worry, as important as those things are to metabolize, we want to come from love because underneath all of that, worry and outrage is care. And if you can get in touch with the care, with the love, with gratitude for the life and this planet that we've been given, that's much more. Inspiring and magnetizing, I really want to hear what you have to say about something.
I was on a panel the other day, Mashable, which is a big website. It was doing a big panel on mindfulness and was me, another mindfulness teacher, and Diane Bondie, who's an African-American female yoga teacher. And I was doing a little bit sort of a much less articulate, less skillful version of your rap about the importance of joy and and and trying to have a careful relationship to anger in this moment, given everything that's going on in our world, from climate to race to politics to the pandemic.
And Diane, the yoga teacher, she said something that really stopped me in my tracks, which was she she didn't use these words. Exactly. She was quite careful about how she said it, but this is how I heard it. She basically said it's frustrating for her when wealthy white men talk about the utility of anger because of anger. She was saying really helped her see things clearly and get moving. And by the way, what's happening out in the world is genuinely infuriating.
And I had to agree with her, but I also agree with what you're saying. So I've said a lot of words there.
Where do you land on all of this? Both true. They're both true. That anger is not only human, but important in that it offends to see injustice and cruelty and just unfairness on so many levels and ignorance. But it's not a sustaining kind of emotion, it gets one going. The outrage is important to get us out of our complacency, but if we're stuck in anger, if that's the only thing that's fueling our actions. It is not a sustainable nor magnetizing.
Quality that we're putting out, so I think it's absolutely essential to get in touch with our anger, get in touch with all of those feelings of outrage, but as I said, go underneath them to the place that it hurts. That's why this anger is a kind of protection from the hurt inside, because we care, because we love because we want this to be a kinder world. Permits and talks about getting underneath to the soft spot, that place of vulnerability, so that we're coming really from love, although the anger is what has gotten us going and has woken up, and it's absolutely essential to honor the anger and honor the outrage.
It's just not as effective as action coming from that place to go underneath and come from the caring that it's really trying to protect us from.
You know, love can be a at least for me as a skeptic, can be a bit of a stopper as a word because it can sound grandiose. But you invoked earlier on in this conversation that you I believe you invoked your impishly who was on the show a few weeks ago, great meditation teacher in the Tibetan tradition. He was talking about love as like just the way you are, that it doesn't need to be grandiose, you can look at every shift in your chair, every effort to be more comfortable as a form of love if you just think of love as just giving a crap or caring.
And so, yes, tuning into that being the undergirding force, anger being secondary to that. Yeah, the anger is the response to the outer world and there's a contraction, but underneath is something much deeper and. When I say love, there's lots of different words, and this is one of the things about Awakening Joy that I'm quite aware of, words are really important. So you want to be able to communicate the words that people can resonate with.
That's why I have a lot of different definitions for joy right off the bat when people are doing that. But love can be caring is kindness. Like the Dalai Lama says, my religion is kindness. Most people can relate to that or basic goodwill just wishing well so it doesn't have to be flowery. In fact. It can be a little bit tricky if you're trying to, you know, do a walking, skipping through a field of daisies and saying, oh yes, this is all wonderful, but that basic deep caring which is there and compassion as well, which is in the face of suffering all of those qualities of wishing well and having a sensitivity and a connection with life.
Those are all Costilla.
Those are all wholesome states as you try to. And I want to emphasize, you've done a lot of work on climate and race as well. As you try to walk this line. Of emphasizing joy and leaning into sort of engagement with the. Injustices of the world, do you ever see in your own mind or in other people's minds and emphasis on joy leading one to a kind of Pollyanna esque denial? Definitely, there's bypassing in so many different ways in the spiritual journey.
And when I start my course, I say this is not a feel good program. This is a feel everything program. And so what being does is give you a larger context to process all the different feelings that are there. There's nothing left out, as sometimes I say, in Buddhism. And so you have to honor. That's why I said before, authentically being where you're at and feeling the connection with it, then you can have some space around all the painful feelings and the hurt feelings.
In fact, one of those 10 steps, there are 10 steps in my book in my course, the fourth step after gratitude, after you gone through intention and mindfulness, and then gratitude is the third. And that gives you the space to then go into the fourth step, which is opening up to the difficult that's an essential piece of opening to Joy. So you're not living in denial. You're not covering up what's here. That's why the Buddha started the first noble truth.
There's suffering in life. And until you're ready to really open up to that, you're going to be living in denial and avoiding. So they go right together.
I hope she's not mad at me for this, but I want to bring in Marissa, who's producing this episode, who you were talking about, the difficult when she was on a retreat with you, where she had a real insight around dealing with difficult emotion, around shame. Marissa, would you be willing to come on and just tee up a question for Mr. Beras about that?
Oh, how exciting. How could you. Hi. Hey. So, yeah, I did the three month meditation retreat, and James was my teacher for the first six weeks, and the retreat ended and I did not it was very challenging and I realized that's why I was doing the retreat. Made me understand the power of the triple gem and why Sandip matters. And Songa isn't just being in a room silently with people. It's like having spiritual community to support you.
And the retreat ended and essentially things got very complicated with who I thought maybe was my spiritual community. And I basically have been in shame about that ever since. So holding a lot of shame about that for two years now, you know, talking with James and pre interviewing him and seeing this would be a good fit for the show. And he said, how is your retreat? We haven't spoken since then. And it's sort of like the floodgates opened up because one I realize had been holding this with me for so long and just felt so much shame around it, because I think that can get really tricky with spiritual communities.
Like almost we try to bypass when there's a problem because, you know, these people are spiritual and they practice. And James told me, he said shame is a misunderstanding of an emptiness that really stuck with me. So I guess the question would be to explain what that means and how that can be a value to people who experience shame and suffering, which I think all people do. Well, first of all, I'm so glad that just through this arranging of this interview, we got a chance to reconnect and process what you went through.
And I'm so sorry that you did go through that. And I'm glad that we can work with it because it's all workable as soon as you start having a wiser relationship to what happened. And this is not just you, this is for all of us, then there's a healing. And as we were talking. And I've really enjoyed reconnecting and talking and exploring. What I said was, when we have shame, we're stuck in thinking, oh, I.
Was a bad person or I am a bad person or I did something that it's hard to forgive myself for. I don't want people to see who I really am. The mind might say, but that's not who you really are. And so when I said that it's a misunderstanding of Ainata, Ainata is the concept of we are the selfless nature of reality that taking whatever we're feeling is who we are and taking ownership of a particular feeling that comes up is a misunderstanding.
We have all of these feelings that come and go. I know what shame is like. I know what Sera's like. I know what self judgement is like. And in fact, processing that and seeing, oh, this is part of being human has enabled me to be there.
For others who go through that, it's just part of the human experience. And so to look back and see, oh, I just didn't understand. I just wasn't seeing clearly really in Buddhism, the way I see it, it's not so much evil is just not understanding, not seen clearly. That's the definition of a person to see things clearly. It's ignorance is the real villain, ignorance in the most respectful way, and that we do things because we're confused.
And so to forgive the confusion rather than to blame myself for what happened or what I did and even to forgive the confusion if we can get to it when we're ready in other people who have their own confusions and dharma teachers are included in there. So that's where the healing really occurs. What I hear in that in mersa may have follow ups, but what I hear in that, and I I confess to only having episodic passing understandings of selflessness or not, is sort of impersonal nature of the various emotions or mental qualities that wash through us.
Shame personalizes any ignorance or greed or whatever and makes it all about you, even though there isn't really a you there. And instead to see.
Oh yeah, well, I was caught in something else, maybe not so wholesome like an ignorance or agreed, but it's not so much that I am thorough going rotten because there's nothing thoroughgoing about you at all. I wonder if one could hear that and say, well, is that a way to disavow responsibility?
Yeah, yeah, well, first, very well put, I like the way you just explained a lot, it's all just arising and passing, arising and passing. How many different moods have you had today? You're on the East Coast, so you've got three more hours on me, but you probably have gotten a lot of different places, your moods and your thoughts. How many different thoughts have you had and which one can you point to and say, Oh, that's who I really am.
You know, you see your son and you get happy, you get an email and you might get grumpy or whatever. So it's all just coming and going and coming. Going. But as far as responsibility. If you don't know any better, then you don't know any better, but once you do know, once you do see I have a choice here. This is one of the both the blessings and the curses of awareness that you can't pretend you don't know anymore.
And once you see where is this leading to? If you see that, you have a choice. This opens up a whole world. And so as far as responsibility, you know, all of karma is based on intention and on understanding what your intention is behind your actions. Most people are not in touch with their intentions. So precisely. And so they just keep on creating more trouble for themselves by acting out of greed, hatred, confusion. But once you see that, you can choose.
Then that changes everything, if you don't want to create suffering, you'll choose a different way. It's one of my favorite teachings of the Buddha, he says to the Calamus. He says, I don't believe anybody. Don't believe that teachers. Don't believe the authorities. Don't believe the Buddha. Don't believe your own views. But when you know for yourself, this leads to suffering. Then if you don't want to suffer, don't do it, and when you know for yourself that this leads to happiness and if you want wellbeing and happiness, then go follow it.
The choice is yours. So the responsibility really comes from seeing more clearly that your actions have consequences. But until you don't until you know, you don't know. So I look back on my life, for instance, I write about this in my book, all the mistakes that I made when I was in my. Twenty's. Particularly in my 20s, I look back. And I went on one lovingkindness retreat, my first lovingkindness retreat, may I be happy, may be peaceful.
And I thought of all the awful things that I did in my life. This is very common that this happens. It's a kind of purification. And it was like, oh, my God, I can't believe I did that. Oh, I can't believe I did that. It got so bad. I said, OK, I'm going to name the 20 really awful things I did in my life and just get it out. Fortunately, I only came up with 17, which was this tremendous relief.
But what I learned as I cringed each time, oh God, I can't believe it did that. And then it occurred to me, oh, cringing is really a good thing. It means I'm not that person that I was anymore. I wouldn't do those things now, but I didn't know any better than I was so confused. And there was this wave of self forgiveness, genuine self forgiveness. Oh, gosh, you were confused. You were trying to do what you thought was.
Well, you didn't think at all, and there was that healing and seeing I didn't know any better if I could have done it better, I would have. And now I know. Hallelujah. I see another way. Yeah, and I appreciate grounding it in that because it feels more practical, because Dan, basically to James, you know, first I was like, I'm never meditating again. I hate this. That was my initial after the retreat.
I was like, this just brings more suffering, but then sort of trying to bypass and say, well, we're just a heap of foam and samsara anyway. My pain and hurt isn't valuable. I just need to accept some sorrow and move on. But, you know, in this world as laypeople and we have to meet that with the heart, I guess, even if I don't want to.
That's where the healing really comes in until you do, you're just stuffing it or not wanting to go there. But when you see oh yes, oh, I see what happened. I see my confusion and their confusion. Perhaps you don't have to go there before you're ready to. But I understand. And even feeling that pain and like I say, metabolizing it, then there can be a real healing and transforming it into genuine compassion. This has been a great interview, I'm just giving some space in case we missed something or do we feel like we've covered everything?
I guess one thing that occurs to me is seeing that we all want to be happy inside. Even those who say. Well, I like being grumpy, that's just their way of being happy, so everything we do, there's something inside of us that's really rooting for our happiness and well-being. And then to get in touch with that very pure place, whether you call it the Buddha inside or your true nature or the kingdom of heaven within to get in touch with that, that there's this goodness in us that wants to come out, that we the more we can appreciate and celebrate and listen, listen, rather than figure out listen to the wisdom inside that says, oh, what will truly be a benefit to me and to the world, not just to me, but to me and the world, then it's listening to the Buddha or Companion or Jesus Mother Mary within listening to it and letting that goodness motivate you and whatever you do.
Then we'll all benefit and your own well-being becomes a gift to everybody else because it helps awaken that in others as well. James Beras, thank you very much. Also, thank you to Marissa, I keep dragging her into the various episodes, but I don't feel guilty about it all.
I'm just grateful to big thanks to James. And just a plug here. I mentioned this the other day, but coming up on the 1st of October from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Seven Selassie and I will be doing a live stream event. It's a benefit to support the New York Insight Meditation Center and also the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. If you want more information, you can go to NY, IMG and search under events and to make it much easier for you.
We also put a link in the show notes and as always, a big thanks to the team. These people work incredibly hard on this show. Samuel Johns is our senior producer. Marisa Schneiderman is our producer. Our sound designers are Matt Boynton and on Yoshiki from Ultraviolet Audio, Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We drive a lot of wisdom from our colleagues such as Jen Point, Toby Ben Rubin, Liz Levin, and, of course, a big thank you and salute to my ABC News colleagues Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohan.
We'll see you all on Friday for a bonus.
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