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Teleseminar with Sylvia Boorstein

Teleseminar with Sylvia Boorstein

Visionary: Sylvia Boorstein

Host Cassandra Vieten talks with author, psychologist, and spiritual teacher Sylvia Boorstein, who shares ways to bring spiritual practices into every day life. From standing in line at the grocery store to driving in heavy traffic, she suggests we repeat: “May I (“you” or a specific name) be peaceful; May I be happy; May I be free from suffering.” We can not stay upset or annoyed while repeating those words to ourselves and Sylvia provides a wonderful analogy to exemplify the practice: “You can’t drive your car in forward and reverse at the same time.” She ends the interview with a brief meditation.

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Institute of Noetic Sciences: All right, so we are at the top of the hour, and I would like to welcome you, for those of you who are new to Shift in Action, I'm Angela Murphy, the Shift in Action program director. And we have teleseminars every Wednesday night and every Tuesday at lunchtime. We will have the host interview the guest for approximately 30 to 40 minutes and then we'll open up the lines for your questions and answers and we'll give instructions at that time. So thank you all for joining us, we're all very happy today to have with us our host Cassandra Vieten and her guest Sylvia Boorstein. So go ahead, Cassie.

Cassandra Vieten: Well, Sylvia, I just want to welcome you to the Living Deeply Shift in Action teleseminar channel. And we've had the opportunity to collaborate a few times, most recently on the book Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life and you contributed both your wisdom to the book in the form of an interview with you and you also contributed a practice of loving kindness meditation to the DVD that accompanies the book, Living Deeply: Practices from the World's Transformative Traditions. So I really thank you for what you've already contributed to this effort, and I know that one of the things that I'm really excited about is your most recent book, which I think is your fifth book, Happiness is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life, and I understand that it is on the nonfiction bestseller list in the Bay area, and congratulations on this new book.

Sylvia Boorstein: Well thank you very much Cassie. I'm very pleased to be part of this teleseminar. Just as we were getting started and people were saying, This is so-and-so in Toronto, and this is so-and-so here, and so-and-so there, I had such a moment of uplift in my mind of the extraordinary new vistas of possibility that I couldn't have imagined when I was a child of sharing information and really holding hands as it were with people all over the world. Here I am sitting in my living room looking out the window in Northern Sonoma County and you're probably forty miles away from me, and other people are thousands of miles away from me, it's incredible that we can do this.

CV: It is, it's really, really wonderful. I'm just going to dive right in, for those of you who aren't familiar with Sylvia, Sylvia Boorstein teaches mindfulness and leads retreats across the U.S. and probably around the world actually. She is a cofounding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Wood Acre, California, and also a senior teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Barrie, Massachusetts, and also a practicing psychotherapist, and a couple of your previous books are It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness, and Don't Just Do Something, Sit There. And I know that you have two sons, two daughters, and five grandchildren. So it's just wonderful to be able to talk to you with all of your life wisdom, and then all your wisdom in several spiritual traditions, I think most closely Judaism and Buddhism.

SB: Well thank you very much for that, it's a very wonderful introduction. I have seven grandchildren actually.

CV: Oh wow, that's great! Your bios are quickly becoming outdated.

SB: (laughs) So when they hear this I want them to know that they were included, I have seven.

CV: Absolutely, wonderful. So the title of your new book, Happiness is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life actually implies a couple of things that I wanted to start by delving into. First thing is that one's happiness is something that is generated from within, and the second is that cultivating this kind of happiness from within may take some practice, and I just wondered if you could speak to those two things.

SB: Well, I can. It's really become my biggest passion these days, not just because this book is out, but in fact as a preface to writing this book really made this clear to me, sometimes I think to myself, I should have, as I read this book at gatherings and I teach from it, I think to myself, Oh, I know this much better now than when I wrote it, I should have known this before I wrote it, but in an extraordinary way telling about this has taught me as I'm going along, so I'm very glad for this opportunity. Well, there are lots of ways I think to talk about achieving peace of mind, and the possibility through meditation of developing states of tranquility, states of calm, states of clarity through which things become clear to us. What I have particularly chosen to do in this book because it is my most clear understanding of practices at this point in my life, is focus on what the mind does, how it relates to myself and to the people around me and to the world in general, when it is clear and calm and really it starts with a thesis, which I believe to be true, that when my mind is calm, when anybody's mind is calm, I think this is true by and large of healthy human beings, I'll put that in because someone may want to come back and ask about that, but healthy human beings I think as a species, we are innately friendly, I think we like to companion each other, I think that our natural bent, our natural inclination when we're not frightened is to befriend and to console and to appreciate other people, and then happiness really, as I'm defining it, is feeling oneself in warm relationship in that way, in friendliness, in compassion, in appreciation, with other people, with one's self, with people that we know, with people that we don't know, with people that we hear about in different parts of the world in different situations and we feel that our heart goes out to them. That I think is a special condition of our brains, a gift of human beings that we have the ability to be empathic, and I think when my empathic ability is able to manifest itself in that caring way, when I'm not so preoccupied with some demand that may have startled me or confused my mind, when I'm not too preoccupied to feel my own good heart, then I really can feel that connection, and I think that's actually what accounts for happiness, it means that in those moments when I feel warmly connected, I don't feel frightened, I don't feel lonesome, I have a wide sense of my life, even as I'm now getting older and I'm aware of that in different ways, and I think, Well, that's the way of the life cycle, and new people are coming up and here go me and my people at the other end of life, but there's a kind of way in which I hold even that in a friendly kind of an understanding when my mind is relatively at ease and relatively clear.

CV: And so if I'm hearing you right, I'm wondering if, and this is something we talked about a little bit in our book, it almost sounds as if the friendliness and compassion and wisdom and equanimity, that in some ways it's not so much about cultivating those things directly but rather cultivating a calm mind and then those attributes arise naturally. Would you say that, or...

SB: I would say that, I would indeed say that; that's I think one of the really exciting things, makes me happy just to think about that. I think we are, just by virtue of the fact that we're human beings, inclined to benevolence, and that when we're not confused or self-absorbed, we manifest that in our relationships with other people and with ourselves. In many ways, from small ways of appreciating the people we come into contact with all day long, everybody going about their business in the bank or the supermarket, keeping themselves comfortable and warm in the wintertime, or taking care of their children, or all the ways people are going about living their lives, and feeling as we come into contact with them a kind of pleasurable benevolence, if we could be sending everybody greeting cards we'd be doing it, we are in fact with our minds and our intentions in that moment. And it's that very inclination of the mind towards kindness and caring which I think is the source and the basis of feeling happy inside. We can not be going around feeling warm and loving and compassionate and appreciative feelings about other people and be miserable inside, it's really the manifestation of a not preoccupied inside, of a relaxed inside, at least relaxed enough to notice what's going on out there.

CV: I'm wondering, Sylvia, what would you say to the notion that it seems, you know, certainly in my own life and I think in other people's lives there's also a feeling of natural inclination towards not-so-helpful states, you know, that it feels almost like what you're expressing as, Oh that's me on a good day; and on a not-so-good day I feel naturally inclined towards fear or toward difficulty or toward my mind racing. What do you think about that?

SB: (laughs) Well, I was thinking as you were going along that you were saying, Naturally inclined to get irritable, more than fear, I'm not frightened about that. There's a chapter in the book I'm looking at right next to me called "It's very easy to become annoyed."

CV: (laughs) That's good.

SB: I'm making fun, but it's extremely easy to become annoyed. We are set with a neurology, it's good for us actually to have this neurology, because it's part of the whole neurological system that sets up an alarm when we really do need to take care of ourselves, when things aren't going well, we have a very alert neurology that's in there, as it is with all animals, to take care of us. If traffic gets suddenly very crowded on the highway, we get first of all a little bit startled, Uh-oh, you know, they're going very fast, I'm hemmed in all over the place, and then maybe that goes into a little bit of madness, Why is everybody out here on the highway driving themselves in a car, it's such a reckless use of fuel and resources and it clogs up the highway; I think that sometimes to myself when I'm alone in my car. It's really ridiculous, the lengths that the mind will go on an irritable tirade if it wants to do that and if it's startled. No, no, it's very easy for the mind to become startled and annoyed and irritated, and so my premise, the basis of my practice these days, and actually that's what the book is about, is that I, and I think most of us, are continually challenged by things that are happening in life; and that the essence of spiritual practice for me is recognizing that I've been challenged, that I've been broadsided with a challenge large or small, and that I have the wherewithal to not get carried away with the challenge and escalate it up to a major confusion in my mind, but instead recognize that challenge, deal with it skillfully, calm myself down, and continue on with myself and everyone around me in better regard, not annoyed with myself for having left home too late, or getting involved in those traffic jams, saying to myself, Look what's happening, I didn't expect this. Well, next time I'll be smarter; now look at all these people, and deflecting the thought, Why are they all alone in their car? but with the wisdom, I have no idea why they're all alone in their car, why am I alone in my car? No one else is going where I'm going, maybe no one else is going where they're going. There's a way of paying attention to my mind having gone down the road to irritation, and putting it back into some sort of a road of well-wishing.

CV: And it sounds like what you saying is that it's a choice that you can make opposed to the earlier, which is a reaction.

SB: I think it is, I think that's the whole point. Frequently we use the words, "spiritual practice," Cassie, very loosely I think, but I'd like to actually define it as anything that I do that intentionally is returning my mind to a state of relative clarity and relative ease so that at least enough wisdom to keep my mind cordial can manifest itself. And let's say, I would say, having a meditation practice that I do every day, it certainly is spiritual practice; not watching too much television is also a spiritual practice, if I think if I watch too much television my mind will get frazzled and I won't be clear. I like to put everything in the category of spiritual practice if its intention is to keep my mind clear so that I'll be in cordial relationship. Does that make sense to you?

CV: Yeah, it's just great, and I had this question I had noted for myself to ask you, that I do think that, and we've run into a lot of people in our studies on transformation, that some people who have tried sitting meditation or silent meditation really feel quite tortured by their thought processes, you know, they're not attracted to sitting meditation or silent meditation as a practice, and I wanted to ask you if you think it is in fact beneficial for everyone, and if so what would you say to these people who might benefit from it but have trouble tolerating it?

SB: I would actually take it from, I would start earlier back; I wouldn't find a sitting meditation or a quiet venue. I wouldn't push that as the venue of practice or a style of practice because I really think that it's the intention of the practice, what do I want to do with this practice? If what I want to do is to habituate my mind to cordial response, then maybe it would happen if I sit quietly, if I'm that sort of person. I'm that sort of person pretty much, I like to meditate and I like to be quiet; for some people, for a variety of reasons, it's not so comfortable. I also like, and most people like, to think of the situation of being on a bus or being on an airplane, being on some public conveyance where I'm going to be there for some little while at least with the folks that are there that I don't know, and then my practice can be looking around at one and then the other and then the other and then the other, and without knowing them at all, what I know is they each of them have a life, and everybody's got a universe of important things or things they're worrying about and things that frighten them that are going on inside of them, so sight unseen, I mean really inside sight unseen, just outside seeing them I can wish them well, just because they're human beings. Whatever is with you, may you be peaceful, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease, any of the standard phrases of loving kindness meditations, or ones that I make up as I'm going along. If I see a mother riding along with one child really young and she's carrying an infant in her lap on the bus and there's a small child sitting next to her, and I remember how it is to be juggling small children and traveling, I can think all kinds of things to her, like They're going to grow up, you'll be okay, may you be peaceful, may you be happy, and I'll enjoy feeling connected to her in that way. It will pick up my mind, it'll make my journey more pleasant, and I don't know whether she's going to feel more pleasant or not, I hope so; I like to think that making intentions into the world that way makes a difference. But I'm not positive; I'm positive it makes a difference to me.

CV: Hmm. And it's a lovely practice because it's something you can do all day really, you can do it anywhere.

SB: All day. Standing in line in the supermarket, because the alternative is to get irritated at how long the line is (laughs), and how someone in front of you has 12 things in a ten-item lane, or how much time the checker is taking having a conversation with people, all kinds of things to get irritated about, or get worried about, that you'll miss your dental appointment; but there you are, stuck in a line, you can't do anything else about it, but you can keep your heart in a good shape by wishing yourself well or other people well. May I be peaceful, may I be happy, may I be free of suffering; you can not be really honestly feeling those good wishes and remain turmoiled and angry inside, they don't exist in the mind at the same time.

CV: It almost sounds like an antidote to irritation.

SB: I think it is the antidote to irritation; I mean it's a fascinating way to say that, if you ever do it as a didactic teaching, you would say loving kindness is the antidote to aversion. But it is; it's much more homely to say you can't drive your car in forward and reverse at the same time (laughs).

CV: Right, good.

SB: It's absolutely true.

CV: In the book you say that one of your favorite prayers is: May I meet this moment fully; may I meet it as a friend.

SB: Indeed. I like that a lot.

CV: I like that quote. What would you say to people who, you know, if it's a moment that you really don't like? I mean, we've been talking about these moments on the freeway or in the grocery store or in a waiting room when you've been waiting too long, and these are definitely irritating moments that can cause a little bit of suffering; but what would you say to people who are asking, How can I make friends with a moment that's truly painful, or you know, that's really, really got me?

SB: Well actually this is a very important question. I'll answer it a couple of ways. In all the situations you mentioned, you're in a waiting room and it's taking too long, you're actually, you've just had the mammogram and you're sitting and waiting for them to tell you whether or not you can go home or you'll have to have another scan taken, you're waiting outside in the waiting room in the hospital while someone you love is having surgery, it's a very scary and difficult moment. If I say to myself in those moments, May I meet this moment fully, may I meet it as a friend, it doesn't mean that in that moment I've forgotten that I'm frightened or that the outcome of these few minutes or whatever news I'm going to hear at the end is not vitally important; it means that in this moment I can at least allow my mind the relief of relaxing for one moment, and another moment, and another moment, just one moment at a time, because there you are in a situation where what has to happen is that time has to pass until the resolution to this situation happens, and between now and that time, there are only moments in which we can either be completely distraught or in full cognizance of while we're waiting to know or waiting to experience, we can at least take these moments in a more spacious way, not make the mind more traumatized by it. Does that make sense to you?

CV: Yeah, it almost sounds like, almost a maternal feeling towards yourself or a grandmotherly feeling toward yourself, in the same way that you might not try to make a child's pain or suffering quiet, you wouldn't just say, You know, come on, be quiet. You'd recognize that it was there, and you'd also have a loving disposition toward that and have that sort of feeling of guiding the child moment by moment through the situation.

SB: I think that's such a lovely metaphor, Cassie. First what I want to tell you is the line that pops into my mind when you say that comes from the sermon on loving kindness from the Buddha, and it's just the line of this, Just as a mother would give her life to support her one and only child, just so should we towards all beings boundlessly open our hearts. It's a wonderful line, isn't it? But I was thinking about the situation which anyone listening can relate to, I think, of sitting with a child, as you suggest, that is your child or someone else's child or a friend or an elderly person who's in pain, anyone who is dear to you, and holding them through some period of difficulties and saying to them soothing words which we hope, a lot of the time can be, This is going to be better soon, this is going to be all right soon. In that moment the pain is the same, but one hopes that the other person's mind is not so frantic, that you are reminding them that soon this is going to get better. See the difference between the mind that's not only in pain but distraught about it and the mind that somehow can bear the pain a little better because help is on the way, or help is on the way. I was also thinking as you said that, as I repeated it back and started with or chose again with the elderly, even when help is not on the way, you know, I've been with a few of my friends over the last several years who have died of illnesses that they knew they were dying of, and in the end it's sometimes been painful for them, and to be able to be with them and to say with great love, This will soon be over, you won't need to suffer very much longer; and so even in people's ends of their lives, their minds can be eased, not about whether or not they're going to live or die but the kind of instinctive fear that comes up in our bodies when we're, and in our minds, when we're in pain. That extra fear can be quelled, somebody else is holding them, touching them, and saying, This is all right, this is just the way it's supposed to be.

CV: Well part of what I love about how you teach this, Sylvia, is that I think many of us, out in the world practicing with spiritual practices, in some ways think to ourselves, Boy, I hope that I someday get to be like that, through all this meditation, I hope that someday I am like that, and the idea that that is actually the practice, that that is the practice to choose this loving kindness and this loving attitude and this sense of warm connection as often as possible, towards ourselves and toward others, that it's not necesssarily an outcome, that's the outcome and the practice.

SB: Well you know, I think just as you said that last sentence, it's the outcome and the practice; I think that practicing doing it makes it habitual, or more habitual, and I also want to say, to make sure that everyone has the clear understanding, that I don't dwell in total equanimity all the time, that was really one of the points I wanted to make in the book.

CV: You don't? (laughs)

SB: (laughs) Alas! You know, sometimes I go someplace to teach, and I teach regularly at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, of course, and people know me there because I have a regular class that meets for so many years, and they know quite a lot about me, but sometimes I'll be somewhere in some city where people don't know me but perhaps they've read one of my books or they know something about me and they come to a talk that I'm giving, and I'll tell some stories and then at the end of the talk, people will sometimes say, and I really am touched tremendously when they say, How is it to have peace of mind all of the time? And I say in the kindest way so it doesn't seem to be a put-down in any way, I say, I wish I knew, because I truly don't, you know; or sometimes I say, and it's playful and they know it, I say, You know, I could have the most sublime mind states in the whole world, and I am only two minutes away from becoming confused and distraught, and somebody, we can see people leaning forward a little, two words away, what could those two words be, that can end such a sublime mind state, and I say, what has to happen? The phone has to ring, ring, ring, and I pick it up and someone says, Hello, Ma? and (laughs)...

CV: (laughs) Yeah.

SB: But that's it, and it never ends (laughs), because my children are all grown, and my grandchildren are all old enough to call up and say, Hello Grandma in such a way that my heart falls down. I think that is the normal thing for human beings, I'm elated when I hear good news and I'm tremendously disappointed when I hear bad news; so it's not about going around tremendously tranquil and calm all the time, but it's about recognizing when I have become confused by those things of emotion. I can even get very excited or very sad and not be confused; it's when I'm startled and overwhelmed and I don't know what to do, then I sometimes become confused and plan not the best kind of response but really the responses we were talking about before where the mind goes off and rants and plans revenge in some way; just because of that I'll do this or say that. Sometimes when I find myself and my mind in confusion or lost in a rant about something or another, the moment that I recognize it, I say to myself, I really do say this, I say to myself, Sweetheart, you're in pain, and I'm actually talking to myself at that time. Because wherever I am angry or envious or jealous or so despairing that my plan hasn't come to pass or so fatigued by what I feel has been so inordinate demands, whatever the state of my mind, some kind of afflictive emotion that I'm telling myself a story about, they all have one common denominator, they are painful, those afflictive emotions. And I can get stuck in one and carry it along and fuel it with more and more stories about why I'm entitled to have this mind-state and what normally I also might do about this mind-state, until the moment when I realize that I'm actually in pain, and that that's the bottom-line truth, and I really do say to myself, Sweetheart, stop! you're in pain. Take a breath, take another breath, take another breath, pull it together, and we'll figure out what to do. And actually I teach that to people quite a lot; I say, You don't need to say to yourself, "Sweetheart," if that doesn't work for you, you can say "Honey" or you can say "Cassie" or whatever you wanted to say. But sweetheart works for me because I want it to be an endearment, I want to remind myself that even if I have fallen into a despair or an anger or a jealousness, that it's not my fault, that something has startled my mind in a way that I didn't anticipate and that I am vulnerable just like everyone else and vulnerable to afflictive emotions just like everybody else, but that it's still a possibility for me, and this is the thrilling part, that it's a possibility for me to notice that I have fallen into some afflictive state and then to be able to have the confidence that I can sooner or later say, Let's not continue in this direction, let's do something else.

CV: There's such a gentleness about not making those afflictive emotions or thought patterns the new enemy or having antagonism toward them even, that even those can be met as a friend or can be met with empathy.

SB: Indeed, and they should be because, and we've even translated the word kelatia which is the word in the Scriptures for those afflictive emotions, we've translated it up into "hindrance mind-states" but hindrance in a way, in my opinion, is a little bit too soft; they're really afflictive, they hurt if you fall into a jealousy or an envy or an anger, they're really afflictive, and it's not our fault, the mind does that just because it's what the mind does. Something happens, I didn't anticipate it. You know, one of my great stories I like to tell is I was in the auditorium at UC Irvine in, I think it was 1989, on an evening when the Dalai Lama gave a talk in this great auditorium, six thousand people, it was the night before he was awarded the Nobel prize, and he sat alone on the stage and one by one people came up to the microphone somewhere in front of the stage and asked their question and he responded to their question as if it were a conversation in a living room and he were the only person there with that particular questioner; this went on a little while and then a questioner came up and said, "Your Holiness, do you ever get angry?" and he laughed, this spontaneous laugh that the Dalai Lama has that probably people have heard or remember, it's kind of like "Hehhh," this sprightly little laugh, and he said, "Of course," he said, "things happen, it's not what you wanted, you didn't expect it, anger arises." And the hush went all over the room and then he said, "But it doesn't need to be a problem." And then he laughed again, that "Hehhh" little laugh at the end; and it was a great moment because it really made the point that we are human beings and everything arises, anger and really envy and just desire in all its forms, we're human beings, that's what happens. But they don't need to be problems, they need to be situations that we face and deal with.

CV: Hmm. I wanted to ask you, how has your writing or your teaching or your thinking changed over the years? I mean, now you're a grandmother of seven grandchildren. Are there things that have changed even recently about the way that you think about these things?

SB: I think there are. I think I have more and more, I think what's changed about me is when I first began to teach meditation, which is now been 25 years I guess, I was more formulaic about teaching sitting meditation or walking meditation, and I probably stressed more the development of calm and tranquil states through that kind of meditation in a still place, using quiet as a support and using as a focus a neutral object like the breath as a support. I don't not think those are important and I do have them as part of my life; I think it's also true for me that more and more I see the whole of our life as the venue of practice. It's important for me not to get irritated at the driver in front of me, how many times a day I have that opportunity, or to watch my mind as I call an airline company and once again get put on hold and they say, "We anticipate we'll pick up your call in 21 minutes," to watch my mind and see what it does at that point and see if, at that point, I can feel myself breathing and saying to myself, May I meet this moment fully, may I meet it as a friend, I'm certainly glad I don't have a job as a person who's going to pick up the phone after the 21 minutes, probably they get a lot of flack all day from people, may all phone sellers of airplane tickets be happy wherever they are. It's not, I don't know how the phone sellers or the airplane ticket sellers are going to be from there, but I'm going to feel better sitting there and waiting for someone to talk to, and I'll be nice to them too when they get on the phone. So I think that what's changed about me is I'm much more ordinary in my talking about this changing of the habits of the mind from impulsive response to a thoughtful, kind, it would be an impulsive reaction to a thoughtful, kind response, that's what it would be.

CV: Wonderful.

SB: I think I've felt less mysterious, Cassie, that's it.

CV: Yeah, less mysterious, yeah.

SB: (laughs)

CV: Well this is why, in the book Living Deeply we, and I think this is the chapter where we quote you in one of the chapters we quote you in, is that it seems to be across all the traditions and across people's experiences that there's a development in people's transformative process or in their lifelong spiritual development where there comes a time where their spiritual practice isn't a part of their lives but it becomes their lives, and their life becomes the best fruit for practice and development as well. So I'm wondering at this point if we could open up the phones to questions from people who are on the line, Angela.

IONS: Yes we can. So we'll take the phones out of presentation mode, and we do have quite a few people on the line, so it's very important that you please press *6 to mute your own phones and then you can press *6 again to un-mute it to ask either Sylvia or Cassie a question, then after your question is asked please press *6 again to re-mute your phone so we don't hear all the background. So when I count to three, I'll ask you to press *6, one, two, three. (…) All right, we heard a lot of beeps there, so who has the first question?

Q: Well hello, this is Fred. Can you hear me? Fred in Modesto, Maryland.

IONS: Yes, Fred, we can hear you.

Q: Okay, thank you. Well, thank you for that overview of your work, I really appreciate it. I wanted to follow up on the question that was raised about moving versus sitting meditation, if you wish, or meditation in place versus in other ways. Maybe you could elaborate on that, because I'm one of those that has a hard time sitting for very long.

SB: Well I can, Fred, and in this way. I think it's a very good thing if it works for people to have some designated time of day, certainly designated time of week, put aside to cultivate a certain relaxed and clear mind. I think this is a little bit, and I'll just mention it briefly, I think that's why spiritual traditions in the ages often have sabbaths, when you recognize that the mind going at the pace of everyday life gets overwhelmed. I think of meditation on a daily basis as a small sabbath in the day, in which the mind has a chance to regroup, relax, and is then better able to meet challenges. For those people for whom sitting still doesn't work, either because their mind races or they feel uncomfortable or for some people because their body hurts if they sit still, they actually don't feel physically well for some reason, that they can perfectly well go for a walk, and I say to people, Pick yourself a place where there aren't a lot of people and it's quiet, like you could walk in your house and walk up and down the living room and just take 20 minutes of walking back and forth, without music, without doing anything, just feeling your body walking back and forth and back and forth, it's actually a very time-honored, if you will, method of calming the mind because you'll remember all the movies we saw as children where people who were in the hospital corridors waiting to hear news paced the halls, pacing relaxes the mind and it's an alternative to sitting.

Q: Well thank you very much, I'll give that a try.

SB: You're welcome.... I lost everybody.

CV: Anyone else out there with a question?

Q: Hi, this is Marian in Massachusetts.

SB: Hello Marian.

Q: Can you hear me?

SB: Yes, I can, Marian.

Q: Hi. First I wanted to say thank you, I've read some of your earlier books and I'm partly through Happiness is an Inside Job, and the books have been really profoundly important for me, and have shown up at important times in my life, so I'd like to express my gratitude for that.

SB: Thank you very much.

Q: And my question is the whole concept of loving kindness, I sometimes find easier to apply or extend toward other people than to extend toward myself and my body. I've been living with a chronic illness for many years, and it has profoundly shaped my life, both in terms of physical experiences and in terms of, it's created a lot of social isolation. And I think that being kind to myself has been much harder than being kind to others, I carry around a lot of anger to my body and to my situation. Do you have any suggestions on applying methods to oneself?

SB: Well first of all, I want to say that I'm sorry that you have this physical difficulty, so I just am sorry for you, that you have this and I hope that you are eased in all the ways that you can be in working with it. So I want to say two things; first of all I really want to tell you it's very hard to keep your mind in a cordial mood when your body hurts, it just is. So I don't want you to feel extra bad for yourself about your finding it difficult to not be in an adversarial situation with your body, and when your body hurts a lot, it really upsets the mind much faster than we really can work to deflect it from being upset. I think actually it's wonderful to think about wanting to be in a more spacious relationship to your body, since it's the source of so much pain, but I would do two things. First of all, spend some really dedicated time actually to sending goodwill to other people and not yourself if you're isolated and you need to be at home with whatever is your limitation, but I'll suggest this particular meditation. You sit and you feel yourself breathing in and out and in and out, on each breath say the name of somebody you know about and care about in the world. So everybody has relatives and people that they know, and see how long you can go saying one name on each breath, thinking about that person and that person and that person and that person. So you don't even have to make a blessing, May you be well, may you be well, may you be well, you can be breathing and thinking, Naomi, Thomas, Rachel, Susan, Peter, and all the while you're thinking that you are actually lifting your spirit up thinking about this one and this one and this one, and especially when the body is limited, the spirit gets to teach. So I think it'll make you feel a little better and maybe at the end of some period you'll be able to say, And for me too, and for me too, and for me too.

(We're at question and answer about ten minutes away from the end.)

IONS: And may I interrupt for a second, whoever said, "We're at question and answer, we have ten minutes until the end," your line is not muted. Please mute your phone unless you have a question right now. Thank you.

SB: And with Marilyn, yes?

Q: Marian.

SB: Marian, sorry. Really I think, to whatever degree, and I don't know your exact situation, but that particular meditation which I really would suggest for everybody, just lifts up the heart because in that moment just thinking about all the people to whom one is connected out in the world seems to have an uplifting effect on one's own mind and one's body feels a little bit relaxed. When it does, you might notice that and wish yourself well; if your situation is complex, so that you can't really say May I be healthy because you don't know exactly what's going to be the outcome, just May I live with this well, may I live with this well, may I live with this well, say the kind of thing that you could to yourself, imagining maybe that you met someone who was very kind and made that blessing for you. I hope that's helpful to you.

Q: Thank you. It is, yes.

CV: Thank you Marian. Does anyone else have a question?

Q: Hi, this is William in California.

SB: Hello William.

Q: I'm helping to organize the IONS consciousness cruise, and I want to know if there's something you would recommend for a group of three hundred people for one hour.

SB: You mean a practice?

Q: Yes, a simple practice.

SB: That three hundred people are going to come together in a room...

Q: Yes.

SB: ...and do. Yes, they can do a variety of, is the whole hour going to be a meditative hour?

Q: Doesn't have to be, but I'm, we've got ten hours of practice and I was hoping you might have a suggestion.

SB: Well, certainly it's a long time to sit for an hour, but actually if people were up for it, I would structure the hour into twenty minutes, twenty minutes, and twenty minutes and I would say in the beginning, I would give a formula, I would say, Here's a rubric to practice, think about the person or persons you love most in the world and include yourself and think on each breath "May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be strong, may you live with ease, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be strong, may you live with ease." At the end of twenty minutes I'll ring a bell, and then get up and walk around the perimeter of the room or outside and around the block and come back, and all the time you're out you're saying those four phrases, May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be strong, may you live with ease; and then I'll ring a bell again and we'll sit for another twenty minutes and do that for twenty minutes at the end. I think people will find that they very, very much feel different from how they began, and they will have learned about who they put into their group of people that they wish well, who they left out, they'll learn a lot about themselves, whether they included themselves. It's a tremendously insightful practice as well as a soothing one. And I wish you well with it.

Q: Thank you, excellent.

SB: You're welcome.

CV: Thank you William. Are there any other questions for Sylvia? I'll take this quiet time to just mention that if you have a dog barking in your environment, then your phone is also not muted.

Q: This is Heidi in North Carolina.

SB: Hi Heidi.

Q: Hi. I was just wondering if you could comment a little bit. Sometimes we tend to think about meditation or kind of prayer or a time away as kind of getting peace in one kind of way and I'm thinking about, I appreciated your sharing about the idea connecting with kindness and compassion and that that clearly leads to that, as opposed to leading to isolation. At the same time, sometimes it feels like that compassion, when we connect to our empathy, the word "compassion" means suffering with, so sometimes it feels like we're less happy or we have a different kind of un-peace when we do let the world in and when we do let other people's cares become our own. So it's not just that kind of superficial peace of kind of ignoring others and, you know what I mean? The kind of ease that you're talking about is a perspective but it, there can be a type of turmoil or pain by having that compassion.

SB: I think, Heidi, that you bring up a very important point. That it's not easy, that it's often not easy to keep one's own mind genuinely compassionate, you really wish well for this other person in a framework of wisdom, which for some people means this moment or this time in their life is really difficult, and you can actually feel compassion without feeling debilitated by it. It's really a very important point because sometimes the amount of suffering and pain that we're exposed to seems so compelling that after a while our ability to stay steady with it is quite difficult; and really you're right, it then becomes a question of really finding a way to calm one's own mind down, take a little time away from it, that the world is overwhelmingly challenging, if we really look at it. You know, one of my favorite poems in the world, I'm glad to say this to everyone, is a poem called "Keeping Quiet" by Pavlo Neruda, and it's one of the three pieces of poetry that I carry with me when I teach anywhere in the world, I don't actually take prepared notes, but I take it with me because I often want to read it and it makes the point, it begins with the line, "And now we will all, I will count to ten--twelve--and we will all keep quiet" and it makes the point that if the world would stop we'd see how we are all hurting ourselves and each other so much and I think the point you're bringing up Heidi, about there being so much difficulty out there, there's a point at which it's overwhelming. I think actually, I'd like to imagine a time when we, actually all of us, could look at the world and the ways in which we are living that are so not in keeping with our innermost hope that the world thrive and the planet thrive and all human beings and other beings on it be well, that we would, all of us, stop the ways that we behave that are not just or that don't share or those that don't keep in mind the well-being of all beings. I actually think that the end point of this practice of trying to stay steady enough to see the suffering in the world, is actually to develop incredible compassion so that we'll change the ways of the world. I really think that the future of the world depends on the changing of individual hearts so that we all live in a way that keeps this world and this very planet alive. You brought up a very important point, thank you so much for it.

Q: Thanks.

CV: Thank you. Is there anyone else? I think we have just a few more minutes here, for maybe one last question.

Q: Hi, this Sony ben Salmo.

SB: Hello Sony.

Q: I just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful talk, it's sort of like a nutritional thing for the soul, and I so appreciate your wisdom and experience and I think the silence you hear at the end of these things is people just absorbing the nutritional wisdom that you've given us, it's not that we haven't got questions, it's just that we're absorbing. So thank you again.

SB: You're very kind Phillipe. You know, I actually think that talking to each other, I say to people when they say to me, What are your spiritual practices? I tell them I have a sitting meditation practice and a walking practice and a bicycling practice and a parenting practice and a grandparenting practice and a service practice and a political activist practice and I have a practice most important of all of talking to my friends. Because I think it is when we echo back to each other what we know is true, the world can be desperate and our own particular circumstances at that moment might be quite challenging, but there's a way in which echoing the truth back and forth between us is very sustaining, so I thank you very much for saying that.

CV: And maybe on that note, Sylvia, I'll just ask that, if you're willing to do maybe a two or three minute guided meditation for the last part of this call.

SB: Yes, of course. Let's think, I imagine that probably everyone is sitting down, you might be standing, you don't have to be sitting but wherever you are, relax your body. Actually when we've been paying good attention, even listening closely, the shoulders tend to come up a little bit and get a little tense as we're straining to hear. Relax your shoulders, if you want to put one hand on your belly and take some deep breaths so your belly goes out and in with your breath, a deep breath down to your belly is really relaxing, you can feel it if your hand's on your belly. If you want to, close your eyes and you'll find you feel your whole body a lot more clearly when you close your eyes, get an interior feel of it. And because we've all been listening, thinking for an hour (static) body is alert. You don't need to do anything but notice it. And we might do this, bring (static) blessing for yourself and for everyone you know and care about and for all the people in the world that you don't know but you know that they, like we, really want to be well and content and happy. And imagine with each of the next ten breaths that you breath out that blessing of peace and well-being, for yourself, for all the people that you know, for all the people that you don't know, for all the beings of this world and I'll sit quietly, and Cassie, you as well. You count out the ten breaths until the call is finished.

(Silence)

CV: Okay, well thank you everyone. Thank you Sylvia for taking the time to share with us this morning and thanks to everyone who came on the call. I'll turn it over to Angela now to host the remainder of the community portion of the call.

IONS: All right, thank you Sylvia and thank you Cassie, this was really wonderful, and thanks for the meditation Sylvia, that was great.


 

Related Sets
"Living Deeply" Teleseminar Series

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Publication Date:
2008-03-11
Length:
00:59:40
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