Next Monday, April 12th, we are launching a two week series about hope as we head deeper into spring and vaccines go into our arms, we here on the show are going to argue that hope is actually a skill one you can get better at. And not only will we be exploring hope on the podcast, we'll also have bespoke meditations from our podcast guests dropping in the 10 percent happier app so that you can actually practice hope as a skill. If you don't already have the app, you can get it now.
Just download it for free wherever you get your apps and get started. From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. To inject a little sunshine in perspective and some wisdom, we thought it might make sense to repost one of our favorite conversations of the last year. This is straight up meat and potatoes meditation talk from the one and only Joseph Goldstein. In this chat, we explore three profoundly useful meditation strategies, including mindfulness of thinking, awareness of rushing, a deeply ingrained habit for many of us, including your host and the genuine insight that can emerge from everyday activities.
For the uninitiated, Joseph is one of the founding teachers on the 10 percent happier app. He's a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and he is the author of several books, including the recently reissued The Experience of Insight A Simple and Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation. Speaking personally as a friend and student of Joseph's, any time I have spent with Joseph is time well spent, and this conversation is no exception. So here we go with Joseph Goldstein. Hello, Joseph, I did.
Thanks for doing this. Good to be with you. Likewise, likewise. So in chatting before we started officially rolling here, we identified some areas of potential discussion. And one of the things you said that's been on your mind of late in your own practice is noticing the quickly passing little thoughts that zipped through the sort of consciousness, our mind, and that we often don't notice it by saying that correctly.
So this really came came about for me when I was on I was on a cell free trade, and I was just going for a walk, you know, so I wasn't doing at that point the slow meditative walk, but I was taking a walk reasonably mindfully. I noticed something quite vividly that I must have noticed beforehand, but it never stood out and quite the way it did, you know, at this particular time. And that was as I was going for the walk, I noticed that there were many, many quickly passing thoughts that went through the mind, you know, maybe listing 15 seconds or 30 seconds.
So not long and no big dramas. They weren't particularly problematic. And because of that, what I noticed was that I wasn't really being mindful of the fact that I was thinking during that time. It's like they were just coming, passing through and leaving. But what I noticed was in those times, for the duration of the thought, as short as it was, I was not aware that I was thinking I was dropped into the content. I dropped into the story.
And then 15 seconds or 30 seconds later, it's like I come out from being lost in that quick little thought and back, you know, mindful of my body and mindfulness walking. And it highlighted to me how often during the day we do drop in unknowingly, you know, to the stories we make up in our minds about our experience.
So for me, for example, it might have been just some planning or maybe remembering something or maybe a quick little comment about what I was seeing. So it could be just the ordinary activity of the mind, you know, in our daily lives and how frequently these quickly passing thoughts happen and how, for the most part, I hadn't been mindful in those short durations. And I realized a few things from this. One is that. These unnoticed thoughts would, in a very subtle way, be conditioning different emotions and maybe a thought would make me a little more interested or sad or excited or whatever and all in a very mild level, which is why we generally don't notice it.
But what I saw was that every time we're in these thoughts and mindfully, you know, we're like we're lost in the dream for that short period of time. It is creating an inner mental environment. It's conditioning our inner environment. And even though it's for short durations, it's many, many times a day. So it was very interesting for me to see how our minds get conditioned very often unknowingly, you know, in these seemingly innocuous stream of thoughts.
And there was one other little piece that stood out from me that a lot of our ordinary thoughts in one way or another. Or self-referential. You know, it's a memory I had or a plan that I have or, you know, a reaction or a comment. And so every time we're lost in the dream of those thoughts, it's as if we're dreaming ourselves into existence over and over again.
So that's why it just was very as I said, it was very vivid for me at this particular time. And since then, I've just made it a practice as I'm going through the day as best I can just to keep an eye out, you know, going for a walk or doing some activity and just noticing, you know, when thinking happens and whether I'm actually aware of it or not. And it's become a very vibrant practice for me. I'm.
Putting myself in the shoes of novice meditators, not hard for me to do because those are pretty much my shoes and I'm thinking partially for myself and partially on behalf of the audience.
You know, look, when I sit to meditate, I'm mostly lost in thought. So that's when I'm meditating. Never mind when I'm just walking around during the rest of the day when I'm pretty sure thoroughly lost in thought.
So is what you're describing after many years of meditation personally and being on retreat, is that scalable to the daily lives of civilians like us?
It's definitely scalable. But as with all practice, I think it's important not to have expectations about doing it perfectly or even near perfectly at first. I'll just give you an example. So this morning I got up and took a shower and I was noticing just in the taking of a shower, you know, because it's kind of pleasant to go there in the hot water and it's refreshing.
And and for some moments, you know, I was really quite mindful of the whole experience of the shower. And then my mind started thinking about something and I couldn't remember whether I had actually shampooed my hair, not yet, which I had just done like 30 seconds before. But while I was doing it, I was lost in a thought. And then after that, I just wash my hair. So it's just these little things. And it's really important to have a sense of humor about one's mind, about everything it's doing, because if we have that attitude, then it's more conducive for interest.
So it's not about judging or having some big expectation. It's just taking an interest in these very ordinary daily activities.
And it will be easy when we're doing something. We would not engage with other people because then it will be harder. You know, we'll probably more likely be lost in the content of whatever we're discussing. But when we're doing things like taking a shower or going for a walk or even just walking from one room to another woman's apartment and just all those simple moments, that could be a place to watch for this. And I think of people do it and even.
Kind of notice it a few times of how these thoughts are coming, and we're either aware of them as they come or we realize, oh, I was just lost for that 15 seconds. If we can do that even a few times, I think that will spark the interest to actually begin to make it a practice throughout the day. So we just start wherever we are and we get a few hits of it. And if we do, I think it really will become interesting because in a way, it's highlighting very explicitly the difference between.
Delusion and wisdom. Right there, we can just see when we're lost in the story, unmindful, we don't know if it was lost. That's delusion in the moment of becoming aware o thinking. So that's a wisdom. And so it's really pointing to a profound difference, even though the objects may seem very ordinary. This practice sounds like counterprogramming against the habitual exactly, but good phrase there, Dan, I may use that. I don't know how to meditate, but I'm pretty good at marketing.
So just to put a fine point on it or walking around living our lives, ideally, this is best practice, not in you know, when we're in the throes of human interaction, we're walking from one room to the next. We're washing dishes. We're taking a shower with interest, not with gritted teeth. Notice the little thoughts that bubble up and notice how we get lost in them. And that act, that simple, friendly act is the counterprogramming.
Yes, yes. And it's very revealing. And just to reiterate, just a point that I had made is to begin to notice over time if people do find this of interest, to see how these short moments in subtle ways are conditioning, how we feel about things now, because this is another kind of big area of meditative inquiry that is the relationship of thought and emotion.
These to a very interconnected. And the more we understand how thoughts condition different emotions and the reverse, that's also kind of a doorway into greater freedom. So if we can catch the really if we if we make a habit of sometimes catching these subtle and not dramatic little thoughts, we can see that those are often the beginning of a chain that can lead to more dramatic thoughts and then big overpowering emotions.
Yeah, not necessarily. They don't even necessarily have to escalate into bigger, more dramatic thoughts before it triggers emotions. So I'll give you an example that came to mind actually just recently of a situation describing this very thing I'm talking about.
So this is somewhat by way of confession to to you and everybody listening. Well, I'm going to all of a sudden use some Hail Marys afterwards. OK, so one of the things I do to relax at times is just to watch a good murder mystery on TV. Me too. That's OK. That's a favorite genre. And at a certain point I realized. That's what was most conditioning my emotion as I was watching it was the background music. And mostly.
Until I had really explicitly noticed that I was unaware of that, you know, I was just watching the story and thinking that what I was seeing. Was creating the emotion, but it really wasn't that at all, it was the music in the background, and I'm sure it's used very effectively to manipulate our emotions, you know, and they want to create some suspense or some anxiety or whatever it is, you know, eliteness. The music changes.
And as soon as I started focusing on the music as well as what I was seeing. It really freed the mind from that unknowing mental reaction and so our background thoughts are functioning almost exactly the same way as the background music to our lives. They're pretty continual. Or continuous, wanted it to and and they are influencing how we feel, just like the music, watching something, but we're unaware of it, you know, and so that it really just opens up a whole.
A whole place of greater freedom. Because when we are caught in these emotions, which, again, can be conditioned by these often subtle, slippery little thoughts that are just in the background, then at least for myself, that's where I you know, if I'm owned by some emotion that has the whole chain has happened outside of my visibility, from subtle thoughts building to an emotion that I do a lot of stupid stuff.
Absolutely. You're confirming that I do stupid stuff like this. No taste. But it does do that. But even short of that, it's the cause of a lot of suffering, you know, because it's like our emotions are being manipulated by things were unaware of, you know, and as soon as we become aware. So then there's just a much greater spaciousness in the mind, you know, and there's much more a place for discernment and choice. And we're not at the mercy of the background music.
This whole notion of responding instead of reacting, of not being owned by raw emotion, this is what got me interested in the practice in the first place. So it's very powerful in any way into that is intriguing to me.
Yeah. That's why for me, this whole thing we've been discussing has been so interesting because often, you know, in meditative circles. Even though we say the practice is really a whole life and it's the practice being mindful throughout the day, you know, the emphasis is usually on more formal meditation practice and what we learn from it. What was interesting to me in this particular exercise was that there was a depth of insight and understanding. It was not superficial from very ordinary activities.
So it really started infusing our life with the sense of, yes, this can be practiced in a significant way, not just in a you know, in a superficial way.
And again, you know, it's not I would caution people who are listening not to take this on with the idea, OK, today I'm going to catch every quickly passing thought that goes through my mind.
That's way too much. What I would suggest is just taking very short periods of time, like five minutes, OK, for the next five minutes, something to really keep an eye out for it. So that's, you know, with capacity and energy and we might actually see something very clearly. And then we can do another five minutes, a little later on. And like that, we build slowly from the bottom up. If we take, you know, give ourselves too hard a task in the beginning, then we just get discouraged and we give up.
I mentioned that we chatted before the we started officially recording here, and I was asking you, you know, kind of what's up in your own practice? And you mentioned the notion of quickly passing thoughts. But the other thing that you said was on your mind these days is the tendency we have. In meditation, even to be leaned into what's coming next, you know, sort of constantly scanning for a better option. So, again, this whole understanding even that I had noticed that tendency for years, so just how, you know, with the in breath but leaning already into the outbreath or feeling some sensation and leaning into wanting to make it more comfortable or maybe being with an emotion and people got different leaning into either leaning into wanting to get rid of it or leaning into going deeper into it.
But some way that our practice is anticipating and leaning into and having some desire for what the next moment will be. And the next moment. I had been noticing this in my practice, but it really came to life for me a couple of years ago, you know, on a self retreat where a thought came to mind.
It's it's a line that is found very frequently in the Buddhist discourses.
So I had read it a million times and it's a very obvious statement. And so I thought I really understood it. And the line is whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away. I had read that, as I say, many, many times. And yet that's an obvious statement of impermanence. You know, of the militarize will also pass, but at this particular retreat and sitting. So I was just in my practice in the flow of phenomena, of sensations and sounds and the breath and everything that was happening.
And this line came to mind. Whatever has been there to terrorize will also pass away. But instead of it staying up kind of in the intellect and just kind of understanding conceptually, for whatever reason, that very line, it's as if it dropped right into the midst of the unfolding process. So it kind of took on a big life within the meditation. There was a startling conclusion. Whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away. Therefore, there's nothing to want.
And there's nothing to want in this context, really is about the meditative process, so I'm not talking about wanting other things in our lives or whatever. I'm talking about how we understand what the meditation is about. So it dropped into the process. There's nothing to want because whatever it is that they want out of the practice will also pass away, you know, if I want this sensation of tightness to ease. So that's a common one. Yeah, kind of.
That could be a slight aversion and wanting if there's something unpleasant. And so we're we're we're kind of we're kind of mindful of it.
But again, leaning into the next moment. But then when I thought, oh, whatever has the nature to will also pass away, therefore there's nothing to want, I could feel my mind dropping back from any one thing at all. It was like dropping back from entanglement in the process. And then it was just things arising and passing unfolding in their own way. But I was not entangled in it and no longer leaning forward. And there was a visceral feeling of that dropping back.
Basically, from any identification with the process at all, you know, then things were just coming and going in their own time according to their own laws, and then it got even more interesting because I realized. That there's nothing to want is actually the essence of the whole practice, you know, after the Buddha's enlightenment and here's the verse that supposedly came to his mind, and this is in the text where it said.
Realized is the unconditioned this is after his great enlightenment realized it's the unconditioned achieved is the end of craving. Which, of course, this is all about the four noble truth, you know, the truth, the suffering and the caused which is craving and the end of suffering, which is the end of craving and how to do it, the Eightfold Path. And so just in that moment, I would have, as the nature to will also pass away.
Therefore, there's nothing to want. And feeling the mind dropping back in just for that moment and even for just a moment, not wanting. Right there, we're touching into the deepest part of the practice where we're actually experiencing the third noble truth in a momentary way. We can taste the end of suffering in that moment of not craving, none wanting anything. There was a powerful seeing might be interesting for people, you know, if there's any interest in this particular perspective just to play with us and maybe maybe just, you know, letting that phrase come to mind.
Either the whole phrase, you know, whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away. Therefore, there's nothing to want. And after a few times of that, maybe just shorten it to there's nothing to want, which is I still use that in my setting from time to time, I'll just. And very often. Even now, after all these years, in fact, this other is nothing to want, and I can feel that momentary release from a one thing I didn't even know was there.
It gives us a real taste of. I've also heard you truncate the phrase right down to not wanting just as a little mantra to drop into the mind. Yeah, so, again, your comment, I think, points to also the invitation for people just to experiment for themselves, you know, to kind of get the general principle and maybe try these suggestions. And then each person may find their own phrase, which, you know, has that effect.
So we can be creative in that way. More of my conversation with Joseph right after this. In 2021, it's finally OK to talk about our mental health, but what is therapy? It's whatever you want it to be. Maybe you're feeling insecure in relationships or at work or not very motivated right now. Whatever you need, it's time to stop being ashamed of normal human struggles and start feeling better because you deserve to be happy. Better Help is customized online therapy that offers video phone and even live chat sessions.
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In our pre show chat, you had asked me how my practice is going, and I said I would hold off on giving you the answer to that until we're recording. My thinking was maybe would be interesting to give people a little bit of an insight what it's like when a teacher in his or her student are talking in this case often, you know, you know, a lot of like slapping in the face and berating me for being a horrible student, getting.
But to answer the question now, because I do a lot of I use a lot of these little phrases that you use in your own practice, in my practice, and a version of I think maybe of what we're talking about here is a phrase I've heard you use is.
Nothing to do, nowhere to go, something along those lines, something along those lines, but when I see it again, that's what I've been doing in my head.
But no, I think that works. But there are two kind of phrases that kind of unrelated. One is from actually John Mutasa, who was quite an iconoclastic Thai monk of the last century and actually wrote a very interesting book called Heartwood of the Body to John Buddha Dassa. He was kind of revolutionary for a time, and he was very open minded, kind of Drouyn from a lot of different traditions, which is unusual, you know, in that context.
But he said there's nothing to do, nothing to be, nothing to have, nothing to do, nothing to be, nothing to have. So, again, that's pointing to that of just dropping back, letting the process unfold. And then there's this other couple of lines from a very short poem by the Chinese poet Lepo, where he says, Sitting quietly doing nothing. This may not be from Lepo. I'm just I may be confusing about, but the line is sitting quietly doing nothing.
Spring comes and the grass grows by itself. Just sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself, so it's all pointing to the same thing.
Yes, I don't think I for me, in my own practice, I spent a while, maybe a year and a half, two years really focusing on, as you know, on the Brahma virus or the four immeasurable heavenly abodes, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, sympathetic joy, those styles of practice, which really were dominant in my practice for a while, I've been more recently focusing on just sort of an open awareness noting practice. So I practice a lot outside since my family had the great luxury of having our lease and in New York City and being able to lease something else in the suburbs.
So I often sit outside. There's so much going on, so many crickets and birds and lawn mowers that it's not really conducive for me at least to concentrate at practice so that I just let whatever's coming. I'm just try to be aware of whatever's coming up. KNOFF And I'll note it with a little phrase like hearing, seeing, thinking.
But I do notice that there is a leaning in. There's a trying to be good at this. There's a not liking whatever is coming up and wanting the next thing. And so using little phrases like my bastardized version of the two lovely poetry lines that you just quoted have nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just it jars me out of this kind of teeth. Gritted leaned forward. I'm going to win that meditation attitude. And at least for a nanosecond or two, it's everything's unfolding on its own.
A couple of comments, this is this is where I get told up to about my mistakes. Go ahead.
Now, it's a point that I think is really important for everyone, and that is. We want to interweave times of. We could call it directed awareness and choiceless awareness, or we could call it even more effortless practice and making an effort. So in what I'm suggesting, there's nothing to want or there's nothing to do. It is good to practice with that for periods of time and other times if we find that, you know, our minds are just very distracted, we're just getting lost, or there's really a decision to cultivate a particular state, whether it's concentration or those primary horrors, there definitely are times in the practice where we do want to be making an effort, you know, an effort at directing the mind in a certain way.
So I don't know if this example will fit exactly, but maybe, you know, if you're going for a bike ride, you know, there are times when you want to pedal hard, you know, and build up speed and build up the momentum. And then at other times, you can just coast for a while, you know, and just let the bike roll on by itself. And then you need to pedal again, you know, to get the momentum.
And so it's kind of like that in our tracks. I wouldn't want to, you know, have people get the idea that, oh, we should never be making effort because that's going to the other extreme. It's really interweaving these to and kind of getting an intuitive feel for what at a particular time. OK, so which approach, you know, is helpful, which is exactly what you did. You know, I'm kind of sitting outside. You know, you kind of naturally fell into this more open choiceless awareness at other times you might choose.
Now I'm going to just be with the breath for this time or adjust with the mental practice.
So one second point to your description, another phrase that might actually work better in that context, which it's possible it would cut through even that background tendency you noticed of. Wanting to do it perfectly or wanting to do it better. Just to hold the question in the mind, sort of moment after moment, what is being done? Just what is being done, because then there's just the connection to that arising moment. It has nothing to do with what went before, what's going to come after.
If you're just sitting there, OK, what's being done?
And it's not that you necessarily have to keep repeating that phrase, but you could use the phrase judiciously, occasionally just to remind yourself that that's the framework, you know, that you're creating just what's being known. And that's something also that can be used in going for a walk. It's very interesting. And it reveals so much it's really quite a powerful practice because we get a very immediate. Deep sense of the moment, momentary phenomena, you know, when we're just what's being known moment after moment.
Oh, a sound, a sight, the feeling of the wind on the face, you know, a warmth, coolness, sensations in a body seeing something for a moment. If the moment we're just noticing that everything we take to be self is just this progression, this flow of changing objects. The what we call self is the flow, it's not it's not that the flow is happening to someone. That's the power, and I'm quoting back to you things I've heard you say either privately to me or in teaching context, the power and I've really felt this in my own practice of the passive voice using the passive voice as a mantra in your own mind, what is being known as the being known takes the you out of it.
I'm leaning in and knowing all of this stuff.
If you look for what is knowing.
And again, I'm quoting you back to you, if you look for what is knowing, you won't find some little homunculus between your ears, and that is just that little act is bumping up against the mystery of consciousness, which is pretty revolutionary.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, so again, these practices are really simple but profound and that they can be applied even for short periods of time and that that's the point I'd really like to emphasize. We don't have to think, oh, if I can't do it for the whole day or even for a whole hour, then it's not worth doing that. Sometimes just, you know, these very deep insights for a few moments, really planting a very powerful seed with within us of understanding.
Let me ask this is me exercising my prerogative as the host to ask a question that may not be applicable to everybody. So I apologize in advance.
But I've noticed that for me recently. I'm writing a book. I've been writing a book for several years. I will be writing this book for several more years. It's basically like being on a medieval rack for several years. It's terrible. And since it's a memoir, it's often very difficult or embarrassing or shame inducing stuff. And I notice that while I'm writing, I've overcome. Sometimes it's just sort of fatigue.
And so it's not uncommon for me to just lie down on the floor and do a noting practice. Does lie, I know that lying down was one of the four classical postures in Buddhism, and so it's you know, traditionally there's not a you know, there's not sort of injunction against lying down, but I still feel a little guilty when I do it.
Like, I should be setting up ramrod straight when I'm meditating. What's your take on that?
My take is my take on a lot of things. This is one of my All-Purpose mantras. Whatever works, you know.
So as you're lying down, what you really need to notice is you're in that position. Are you as alert as when you're sitting up or are you tending to doze off? You know, if the mind is going into a kind of hazy confusion, then it might not be the best posture. You know, if it's not if the mind is really awake and alert, seems fine and may be lying flat on the floor, you have to see.
But if it were tending to doze, there are other relaxed positions which may be not quite such a complete reclining, you know, maybe sitting back in a recliner, you know, so your body's supportive, you're really comfortable. So there's that level of relaxation, but you're not kind of in a sleep position. But this still to experiment with for different people, it'll be different. It's whatever works. And it's totally fine to find, especially at times, a comfortable posture, you know, a relaxed posture.
There is a value to a not so relaxed posture, you know, where you're sitting either cross legged or in a chair, but upright, because those kind of postures actually take some effort. It's not as effortless as just lying back in a recliner. When I talked about how we want to interweave times of more direction or more effort and then more effortlessness or choice lessness, but one of the principles not only in meditation but in life is that effort creates energy.
So an easy example for understanding this is if we're feeling tired and then we make the effort to go out and exercise, we generally feel much more energized afterwards than before because we made the effort to do it. This applies to the meditation practice, and I've seen this very often in different contexts, that by making an effort, we're raising the energy level in the whole system.
And as that happens, then it becomes easier to. I'll say this word cautiously to coast in a more effortless manner, but by coast I don't mean unmindful. I mean that it's happening more by itself without making the effort, but it's having made the effort, which gets us to that point of momentum where that can happen. And that's why I talk about this interweaving of times of making effort, whether it's by a more formal posture, or it could be the effort of coming back more frequently to the primary object rather than openness and choiceless awareness, because it takes an effort to do that know.
And then, as I said, the energy really gets stronger in the whole system. And then we can settle back in a more choiceless effortless way. So it's so interesting.
I mean, I hope for me, you know, what's fueled all of these years of practice. So it's been about five million now.
And it is just so interesting, you know, to watch or to understand what our mind bodies are doing and how they're relating and how this affects that and what leads to suffering, what brings greater peace. So it's that kind of interests which can really create a lot of energy for practice in terms of what practice we do when.
Just to pick up on what you're talking about there in the spirit of whatever works, I do notice that it's more art than science, obviously, but playing with different types of practice, given the circumstances of my life and in my mind. So if I'm writing and I'm feeling just awful, which I know is, you know, the body is basically revolting against, you know, this process of looking where I probably shouldn't or just telling me this is hard.
Take a break. So then, yeah, maybe I will lie down and just do a more relaxed, open awareness practice. Then sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, you know what, I have a little time right now. I could sit inside where it's pretty quiet and do more directed me to practice or just be with the breath and really tune up my concentration. And then other times I'll think, you know, it's a beautiful day.
There's not too much sun on the side of the house. Maybe I'll sit there and just tune into whatever is happening outside or you know what? I'm a little sleepy. I want to practice. So I'll do a standing or a walking practice. And it's really just it's taken me a while, a little bit over a decade, which I know compared to you isn't that much practice. But it's not nothing to just figure out what is appropriate when.
Now, you know, and I think this really, in a way, points to the intuitive nature of the whole process, so it's almost. Learning to trust our intuition in these different situations, because usually our intuition is not infallible for sure and sometimes going to have intuitions that are off.
But I would say generally, at least in my experience, generally, they've been guiding me in the right way. And so it's learning to trust that. But I did want to make another point to you, what you described of, you know, sitting and writing the book and then getting into all the stuff of your life in your mind in the book and then feeling maybe exhausted by it all. Maybe before you go to the let's relax on the floor what came to mind as you were describing it.
Would be a little reflection on your motivation for writing the book, you know, because it can easily. But as you know, I mean, anybody who's practiced knows we have a lot of mixed motivations. One would have to be a saint to have totally pure motivation all the time. So that's kind of a given the challenges that we become aware of, the range of our motivations rather than controlled by them.
You know, so especially in writing a memoir. I could well imagine that at times you really connected with your initial motivation that would be of some help and and be of some service to people, you know, in your description and at other times maybe that motivation is forgotten.
And to use your words, these are not my words about you. These are your words about what a jerk I am. You are so right there.
We've gone from altruistic motivation to a lot of self-loathing in the very same activity of writing the book. So it would be interesting to notice when you're beginning to feel exhausted by it all. I would just see what happens if you kind of realign with your initial motivation for it and see if even just by doing that, that changes your energy. You know, I'm really glad you brought this up, because I think it's applicable not just to the rather narrow category of people who are working on a memoir, but it's applicable to everybody.
And I'll just tell you, I've been thinking a lot about motivation because I've been talking to you about motivation for a long time. And these conversations come back, in my mind, not infrequently. And so I've been doing two things.
One is to try to in the morning before I do anything else, just. I say to myself, all right, what is my motivation? And I don't have a I mentioned it on a podcast, I don't have like a mellifluous phrase, but it's something along the lines of my goals do work that helps other people live better lives. And in the process of doing that work, to have positive relationships said more skillfully or pithily by the lead singer of the indie rock band Apples in Stereo.
It's to make awesome. I think he used swear words, but I'll say stuff and be kind in the process and I try to just bring that to mind. And then I had a piece of paper that I put up on my computer recently that said two things. One is go easy. And the other was try to remember how helpful this could be. There I think these reminders, I think, are really helpful. So I just came across a story, I think it was in an article in Tricycle magazine, so I'll just paraphrase it because it made a point that I think we don't pay enough attention to.
So there's a story about, you know, in the book this time. And there was this young Brahmin kid, you know, that I kissed in ancient India who was just very kind of spoiled, you know, and he would always get whatever he wanted. And so he happened to be near the Buddha and the Buddha was receiving some mom's food.
And somebody gave the Buddha an Indian sweet, you know, put in his bowl. And this little diamond kid said. I want that LoDo Lawder, what's the name of the street, I want that lighter and the Buddha said, I'll give it to you if you say I don't want the lotto. So the government could say, I don't want the lotto and the Buddha gave it to him and it still goes on about some other things, but afterwards, kind of the monks were asking, what was all that about?
And the Buddha is saying, you know, for me, this is in the context of traditional, you know, Buddhist, Hindu cosmology, you know, of many lifetimes and all that.
But it's also applicable to a single lifetime. He said for so long, this Brahmin kid had just been indulging all this once, you know, this once. And so just to have him say for that moment, I don't want the ladoo according to the story, you know, the Buddha saw that just that one articulation. I don't want the LoDo was planting a seed of letting go or renunciation that in some future life was going to result in. That young Brahmin kid, some future life, becoming a monk or deigning becoming fully enlightened.
I just love the story, apocryphal as it probably is, but just the idea that even small seeds of wholesome thought. I think we under appreciate the potentiality within a seed, you know, and sometimes it is quite remarkable. I mean, it's obvious all around us how you take a seat, an acorn, and it becomes a huge tree. But you look at the A.I., that seems so insignificant. And yet the potentiality within it is immense.
Well, our minds even more so and so we shouldn't overlook. Just taking any opportunity like you do when you wake up in the morning and just planting these seeds. I have a firm belief that they do have tremendous power and not necessarily immediately. But they bear fruit in their own time, so it's important to do and it's not hard to do know just it's just one little seed and one little seed every time we're doing the metal practiced 11 times and we're just repeating the phrase, you know, maybe it is may be happy to be free of suffering.
We're just repeating that it's seeds, seeds, you know, and over time they grow.
I have three little things to say based on the foregoing. One is just noticing that I miss doing. You know, I spent so much time where my whole practice was dead, including a couple of full like nine day retreats, one of them with you, where that's all I was doing was the meter practice. And I could see that my mind is different now than that. I'm not doing it as much. That's just the baseline level of warmth is a little lower.
The other thing is the. That whole setting of intention or, you know, putting up a sign on my computer like, you know, look, I know the me of 11 years ago would have, you know, had a little, you know, like vomit up in his throat, hearing that, you know, like it's cheesy or whatever. But it really is helpful in my own experience that. Yeah, I'm not motivated purely by altruism at all, but to the extent that I can shift the ratio, even just a few percentage points, that altruism burns so much cleaner as a motivation than the how am I going to look?
How many books are people going to buy? What are the critics going to say? And blah, blah, blah. I mean, that's all there still. But just turning down the volume on it incrementally is incredibly useful. And then the third thing to pick up on the seed, what brought to mind when you were using that analogy of the seed is that, you know, the as I understand it, the ancient word for meditation. Bhavana translates to cultivation.
And that is what we're doing here is like over and over and in so many different ways.
That's what you're as I understand your career as a teacher to being about just giving us all these tools to do this cultivation from as many angles as possible so that we can you don't have to believe in future lies. Fine. I've seen no evidence, but I'm open to it. But I'm certainly not pounding the table saying it's true. But in this life, you can just see the fruit. Absolutely, and I want to go back to something you said before, which just raised an interesting point for me when you're talking about putting a little sign on the computer, whether it's cheesy or not.
But, you know, you actually found that helpful. It's helpful in a couple of ways.
One is that it's just a reminder, you know, it's planting the seed, but it's also helpful in the same way. That formally taking the precepts is helpful, you know, generally and, you know, in the Buddhist teachings, there are five basic. Preset ethical precepts for laypeople. You're not killing and that's stealing and not committing sexual misconduct and not lying and not taking intoxicants, which just confuse the mind. OK, so those are the basic five ethical framework for living.
What I found is that by formally taking them, whether some people maybe take them every morning, you know, or once a week or once a month, whatever it is, but by formally taking them and articulating them, not only are we planting the seed in that moment, but what I found is that having taken them when I'm about or if I'm about to break one of them, having taken the precept, it sort of works like a mindfulness belt, you know, so that highlights, oh, do I really want to do this?
This is you know, this might be breaking a precept and I use it a lot comes to mind a lot with speech because that's the easiest to the others.
You know, it's not that hard not to kill and not to steal for most people, you know, but in speech and maybe for the sexual misconduct precept, for some people, that might be also a very powerful reminder, but it really comes into play in the moment when we're about to break them.
And so that's how I understood that same the same power of putting a little note on your computer or giving voice to it. You know, just having articulated it will really serve you, I think, throughout the day as it'll come.
As a reminder, you know, at critical moments, sometimes the little expression that I heard recently that I can keep using both in my own life and and on the show, and maybe it's even the title of the next book.
I don't know who said this, but a guest on this show recently told me something that was said to her by a teacher when she was complaining about lovingkindness practice. The teacher said to her, If you can't be Cheezy, you can't be free. Great line there. And by the way, then, are you leaning into your next book?
Yeah, I'm trying to think I was going to say a thousand percent, but maybe a million.
OK, I want to watch that one.
So this is a good example. So the difference between having a thought arise about the next book. And seeing it as just a thought coming and going or having the thought arise and capturing you and taking you on a little emotional ride about the next book, so that's the difference. So the thought may be the same, but are you leaning into it or are you seeing it for just what it is as a thought in the moment? So write it and then you can just extend this to everything.
This is why awareness of thought and, you know, going back to the discussion we started with, being aware of even the quickly passing ones can have such a profound influence on how we're living, because mostly we are leaning into the story and it's taking us for a ride.
Yeah, it's not a joy ride, so.
Have I given you the opportunity to say everything that's on your mind, or did I commit malpractise in any way I like to ask you some questions.
No. There's often not much in my mind until you start provoking it a little bit.
That's why I need you. Then I guarantee you the arrow of need points in the in the other direction primarily. Um.
I mean, this is going to sound weak and perfunctory to even say it, but it is genuinely a pleasure to talk to you. Yeah.
And always, it's always great. Thank you. Big thanks again to Joseph and a reminder, he's got that newly reissued book, The Experience of Insight, a simple and direct guide to Buddhist Meditation available now from Shambhala or wherever you get your books.
This show is made by Samuel Johns, Cashmere, Kim Bickham, Maria Wartell and Jan Plant with audio engineering from Ultraviolet Audio. As always, a hearty salute to my ABC News colleagues Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Friday for a bonus.
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