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Mindful Living & Overcoming Common Obstacles

Joseph Goldstein & Melli O'Brien






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Mindful Living & Overcoming Common Obstacles

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

I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm

just so delighted and truly honored to

have with me today Joseph Goldstein.

Joseph has really been a pioneer in

bringing Eastern wisdom to the West.

And he's certainly one of the world's

most respected Buddhist teachers.

He's been practicing

meditation, I think, since 1967.


That's right.

So, over 40 years and under the guidance

of some of the world's really eminent

teachers in Burma, in India and Tibet.

And then he went on to found, or

co-found the Insight Meditation

Society and the Barre Center for

Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts.

And he's also the author of several

really wonderful books on mindfulness,

meditation, and conscious living.

The latest title, which I think anyone

watching this summit would be particularly

interested in, is Mindfulness:

A Practical Guide To Awakening.

So, Joseph, thank you so much for taking

the time to share your wisdom today.

It's really a pleasure to be here.

And so as I see it, we have such a gift

having you here because you have walked

the path to mindful living that so many

of us are, and so many people watching

this summit have really just started to

walk on or they're kind of a little ways

up the path, but it's really wonderful,

because what I'd like to talk to you

today is, you know, maybe you can point

out to us the little pitfalls that we

could watch out for and give us these

little pieces of advice that could

perhaps make this journey more skillful,

more easeful and, you know, we could

walk this path with some more wisdom.

So that's what I'd like to

kind of talk to you about.

But my first question to you is

about this book title, Mindfulness:

A Practical Guide To Awakening.

And so my question to you,

Joseph, is awakening from what?

And maybe even awakening into what?

Well, there are many ways to describe the

culmination of the path, which is really,

in some sense, the goal of the practice

in terms of the teachings of the Buddha.

As we know, the mindfulness now

is spreading in very secular

domains, which is wonderful.

It's really getting out there as a

technology for living more mindfully.

But in the context of the

Buddha's teaching, it actually

is about a path to awakening.

And I think it's probably most

pragmatically described as that

freedom of the mind that is purified

of greed and hatred and delusion.

Those are the three unwholesome routes

in the mind of all unskillful actions.

So that's what we would be awakening from?

We would be awakening

from those mind states.

We could call it afflictive emotions or

mind states, and we could say awakening

into peace, awakening into love,

awakening into wisdom, into compassion.

And so those mind states of

greed, delusion, and hatred,

they would be suffering, right?

So we would kind of be, those are

the things that cause suffering.

So you could say we were waking

up from suffering and into...


And I like that formulation

because it's very pragmatic.

It's not dealing so much in some

abstraction of the highest good.

It's very specific.

And given the choice of being

more greedy or less greedy.


Let's, let's go for less greedy.

Or less anger or less ignorance.


So it's, it's very

applicable to our lives.


And that strikes me as something that's

actually quite, a practitioner can really

see that, that's something that you can

really investigate and it's quite, well,

not exactly tangible, but it is really,

you can investigate yourself and go well,

is there these mindsets present right now?


And I think that's the

great power of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the tool for

that kind of introspection.

It's really a methodology for

looking inwards at our minds.


And so coming back to asking you some

advice about what I'm really interested

in hearing from your perspective,

from your own experience, and from

your years of teaching, what do

you see are the common pitfalls or

the common challenges that sort of

you've seen come up again and again?

And any advice on handling

those with more skill and ease?

Well, one of the very common pitfalls,

I think, is people forgetting that

this is a practice, which means we need

to begin again and again and again.

It's not as if we suddenly get

the teachings and then it's a

linear path upward to greater

and greater enlightenment.

There are a lot of ups

and downs on the path.

There are times when we're

aware and then we forget.

A common pitfall is for people either to

get discouraged in the face of that, or

begin to doubt or to have self judgement.

Oh, I can't do this.

It's too hard.

It's not for me.

It's good, but it's not for me.


A whole range of self doubt

can come in, or self judgment.

So I think it's really important to

reinforce the understanding that these

ups and downs are part of the path,

that everybody goes through them.

And we can learn from the times

when we fall off or fall back.

And to realize that in any moment,

the practice is to simply begin again.

And we do that repeatedly.

So I think that's very helpful to begin

to free the mind from getting lost or

believing the self doubt or self judgment.


Realizing the commonality

of how the path unfolds.

One thing I've noticed with that and

I'd be curious to know whether you've

seen this as well is that people who are

very committed, very deeply committed

to the path to conscious living, they

often seem to feel like they have failed

somehow when they suffer deeply or when

they do something, they behave in a way

that that's reactive rather responsive.

It wasn't their highest, but they feel,

I think, so discouraged and so deeply.

Like self-judgment comes in and

self-criticism so deeply at that point

where they feel like they've failed.

But in fact, is that what you're

saying is that's not a failure.

It's part of the natural ebb and flow.

Well exactly.

And not only is it natural and everybody

goes through that, but perhaps equally

important is that, for me, those are

the times that can provoke the most

interest and the most investigation.

And so when I find my mind in a

state of some distress or suffering

or something, this reactivity.


Instead of going down the path of

self judgment, for me especially over

all these years, I get tremendously

interested in, okay, what's going on in

the mind that's causing the suffering.

Where am I attached?

Where am I pushing away?

What am I holding on to?

And very often it's the times

of the greatest suffering that

lead to the greatest insight.

But we need to cultivate

that quality of interest.

And for me, interest has been, I

think, the most beneficial quality

in the mind to sustain the practice.

If we're interested in what's

happening, whether it's in wonderful

states of mind or really difficult

ones, if we're interested, then

it really leads to understanding.

That really resonates

with my own experience.

There's so much to learn when out

of situations of the suffering.

And, of course, it simply reflects

in a very direct way the Buddhist

teaching on the four novel truths.

The truth you could say of suffering

or unsatisfactoriness, some difficulty.

And then it goes on.

Okay, what's the cause of it?

And there is an end.

What is the path to the end?

So it's all aware in those moments.

It's like, at that point it's not

Buddhist philosophy, it's our lives.



And that's what brings it to life.


I love that.

And yeah, like I say, that really

resonates very deeply with my own

experience of that curiosity being,

that fascination in what's going on.

It brings, I guess, it opens

inner space as well to relate to

that experience so differently.


That's it.

So I love that.

So one thing that we can do in those times

of challenge, when things aren't all roses

and pancakes, so to speak, it's getting

gritty, is we can bring curiosity to that

experience and actually use that as a

time of greatest insight and learning.

Yes, I mean first, we can learn or

we can really hone in on precisely

what it is that's going on.

And so instead of just a general

feelling of suffering or unease, we

say, okay, what actually is this.

Is there jealousy, or envy or aversion,

or fear, or pride, or it could

be any one of a number of things.

And so mindfulness allows us to become

quite specific in recognizing what it is.

And then the second step, which is a

key component of mindfulness, which may

often be forgotten, and that is it's not

enough to simply recognize the present

experience, but we also need to look at

how we're relating to that experience.

Because a common tendency would be,

for example with an unpleasant emotion,

and I worked with this a lot myself

with the emotion of fear, and so that

was my primary historical difficulty.

I would see it come up in so

many different situations.

And I thought that by recognizing

it, I was being mindful of it.

But the recognition was

just the first step.

And it took me a long time to realize that

yes, I was recognizing it and even noting

it, all the time, wanting it to go away.


So but actually there was aversion to it.

So in that situation, we're recognizing

it, but we're not actually being mindful.


We're not allowing it to be as

it is because we're trying to...


And it's that step of acceptance

which actually allows it to pass

through, that's the freeing aspect.


So I think that's a very important

component of mindfulness to call to mind

how we are relating to what's happening.


And another thing I'm really curious

about is as we, as practitioners, begin

to walk this path, or again, for many

people who have been on the path for

some time, are there, as you see it

or from the Buddhist perspective, are

there stages that we can expect to go

through and what would that look like?


Well I think the unfolding of the path

can be marked in different contexts.

So there's one unfolding of meditation.

And as the mindfulness gets

stronger, there are very distinct

stages that are well mapped.

And so for people really involved,

particularly in intensive practice,

where they spend periods of time

perhaps on retreat, then the mind

just go through different stages.

And a lot of the progression of the

stages has to do with, in some way,

a refinement of the understanding

of change and impermanence.

So, so many of the stages can be marked

by how deeply and how clearly we're

seeing the impermanent momentary nature.

And of course that leads to the

deeper understanding of selflessness.


Which is very hard, but the

impermanence is easy to understand.

The selflessness is not easy to

understand conceptually, but we begin

to get a taste of it in our practice.


But that's the meditative unfolding.

I think the unfolding of the stages we

can see in our lives as we practice really

comes down to some very basic things.

So are we becoming less judgmental?

Are we more at peace?

Are we more accepting?

Is there more compassion

in our relationships?

More loving kindness?

More equanimity?

So that they really do mark the

unfolding of the path in terms of

how it's expressed in our lives.


How careful are we with our speech?


That's a huge area.

Going back to your first

question of pitfalls?


Just something else is coming to mind.

I think one of the pitfalls that people

may fall into is thinking that mindfulness

is limited to a meditative skill.


We're mindful when we're sitting

in meditation and then the rest

of our life is something else.

But it's really realizing that

mindfulness is what we want to

cultivate in everything we do.

That it's not at all limited

to just sit in practice.

And one of the big areas of interest

for me, a wonderful place to practice

is from, what I just mentioned, in

terms of becoming mindful of our speech.

Because we talk a lot

in the course of a day.

How tuned in are we to our

motives, into the quality of

it, into the usefulness of it?

So I'm a big fan of

that arena of practice.


I've heard it said quite a few times

by teachers that I really respect

that if there was just one practice

that you could commit to, it would be

mindful communication because we're

such social creatures and there's so

much opportunity for stuff to come up

when you're communicating, especially

with your nearest and dearest.

Plenty to observe.

Yes, that's very interesting.

It's very interesting to watch

just in the normal course of our

lives and interactions are very

often speech just comes tumbling

out before we really are paying

attention to, okay, what's behind it.

Is it coming from a place of

goodwill or something else?

That there really is a lot to

learn and to practice with it.

I'm curious too, we mentioned that, we

just spoke about stages of awakening,

but also the natural ebbs and flows

of the journey and my experience

and my observation is that sometimes

there's moments of dramatic sort of

realization of either selflessness

or the interconnectedness of life.

And so, though that is also seems to

be a natural part of the path too.

Doesn't it?

These moments where you have

the a-ha moment and then it

sort of ebbs back into...


And I think one way of understanding

what that would be as we practice and

we open, we'll have glimpses in this way

of really insight, then to understand

the path in some way as a path of

integrating those insights into our lives.

So it doesn't simply become a

peak experience, but it actually

transforms the way we're living.

And that's why it takes practice.


But there's a teaching by an 11th

century Korean Zen master, his name

was Jinul, and he framed the whole

teaching in a way that I really love.

He called it sudden awakening,

gradual cultivation.

So it acknowledges that possibility of

a sudden awakening, on whatever level,

just an awakening to something we didn't

understand, but then the need to have the

gradual cultivation of that understanding.

And so it just combines the two aspects.


I love that.

That's beautiful.

And it reminds me, I was listening

to an interview that you did with

Sam Harris a little while ago.

And in that you spoke about one of

the challenges that you had, I think,

when you were doing vipassana of

having one of those very, I think you

described it as having a body of light.

You really have this lightness of

body and then spent two years really

grasping to try and get that back.

So I think that's another thing I'm

really glad that we can speak about

this because I feel like that's

another thing that can often happen

for practitioners of conscious living.

We kind of have one of those

experiences and then we're

like, oh, I'm not there anymore.

Therefore I've failed or this

is not working or whatever.

So, yeah.

No, that's a really important point

because it's so easy to become

attached to a wonderful experience.

So, even a genuinely transforming one, but

then we become attached to it, forgetting

that everything is subject to the law of

change, and that will inevitably change.

And that the fact that it changes

is not incorrect practice.

The holding onto it is

the incorrect practice.


And, and so learning that just to be

with it as it unfolds, knowing that

the peak experiences are not going to

last in the same way, but that they

still can have impact in our lives.


That's, I'm glad that we spoke about that.

Are there other misconceptions or

misunderstandings that you commonly

see either from practitioners, but also

maybe from the outside, from people who

don't really know much about meditation?

What are the common misconceptions

that you think people have about

what meditation can and cannot

do or can and cannot deliver?

And any thoughts on clearing

those misconceptions up?

Well, I mean, one common misconception,

I think on the one side, is it's

going to suddenly enlighten us and

we're going to be in a state of bliss.

Forever and ever and ever.

Yes, or even for the next sitting.


And so equating meditation or the

purpose of meditation as being some

blissful state, and then of course

it's disappointing when we realize

that that may come from time to time,

but that's not either what happens

or really is it the purpose of it.

All of the teachings and really the

deepest, deepest understanding of

what mindfulness can bring comes from

a spiritual perspective, although

this is a spiritual perspective

that manifests in our daily lives.

But all the practices, all the methods,

all the different traditions, they're

are all in the service of non clinging.

And in the Buddhist teachings, for

example, very often you find the

phrase 'liberation to non clinging.'

And so I think it's important, as we

undertake the practice, that that's

the context in which it's understood.


Because sometimes people can

get attached to a method.

They think this is what's important,

forgetting that the method is simply in

the service of this freeing of the mind.

There was a writer whose pen name was

Wei Wu Wei, and he wrote many books.

He actually was a European

who lived a long time in Asia.

And he had some very deep realization

as is evidenced in his books.

We have a lot of very short aphorisms

which was captured at different points.

And one of them was what are many

devotees doing, worshiping the

teapot instead of drinking the tea.

And so this again is something

that if we really understand

that, I think it undercuts perhaps

the tendency to sectarianism.


Where people get attached to a

particular way or a particular method,

forgetting that it's all a skillful

means for not clinging, because

that's where the freedom of mind is.

And that's universal.

And that can be accomplished

in so many ways.

I love the simplicity of that

saying, that's really beautiful.

And I'm also really interested

in your take on this as well.

I've really noticed, I really

have a real love for looking at

all the world's different wisdom

traditions and spiritual teachings.

I'm just fascinated by the whole, the

different ways that people do that.

And what I've noticed, and I'm curious

to see whether you've noticed this as

well, is that what you were saying just

then about not clinging, that seems

to be the teaching that's everywhere.

For instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, when

they talk about karma yoga, it's just

doing things consciously without any

attachment to the fruit of your actions

and that teaching just appears as far

as I can see in almost all the world's

wisdom traditions that I've found.

Do you think, Joseph, that there is a

perennial philosophy, one universal?

Is that a universal

thread as you see it, or?

I can't really say with any authority

since I haven't done a study of

all the world's religions, but it

certainly is a thread in many of them.

And so, certainly in the ones

that I'm familiar with, I think

that that captures the essence.

And in fact it was that very teaching

from the Bhagavad Gita that in some ways

set me on this whole path because I came

across it when I was still in college.

I was a freshman in college, first

year, taking a course in Eastern

philosophy, studying the Bhagavad Gita.

This is before I knew anything about

Buddha, I was still 17 years old.

We were reading the texts and

that line, for some reason, to act

without attachment to the fruit of

the act, in some strange way, it

just resonated so deeply within me.

I think that was the seed

for everything that followed.

And so I think it can be found

people can get inspired from

teachings in many traditions.


And we also both know as well that

there's also been in some traditions

as well, they've been overlaid with

some what seems like extraneous matter.

But it's wonderful to talk about

the heart of the harder things.

And yeah.


If you were to have the opportunity

to travel back in time and knowing

everything that you know now, and you

could go and sit beside your younger

self that was just about to sit for

the first time and you could give some

advice, what advice would you give?

I think I would give the advice

that my first teacher gave to

me when I first began to sit.

And it was something that

he said many, many times.

It was kind of his mantra.

And it was such a helpful

reminder to me over many years.

This phrase kept coming

back again and again.

He said, Be simple and easy."

Simple and easy about things.

And so simple and easy.

Yes, simple and easy.

So when we take things in that

way, we're simple and easy,

it becomes simple and easy.

And it's not that things are always that

we don't have difficulties, but can we

hold it with that kind of naturalness.

Yeah, the whole, all lives are

an unfolding, as we said earlier,

with a lot of ups and downs.


So in a way, it's learning not to

overdramatize our lives or our experience,

not to exaggerate in some way what's

happening, but rather to be fully

engaged with it in a simple and easy way.


Even in times of suffering, oh,

there's fear here or there's desire.

Whatever it may be, can we be

with it in that way which allows

us to really develop a wisdom?

Because there are many other kinds of

advice that one could give too, but

that one has really, I so appreciate it.

Just that those qualities

were very helpful to me.


And I'm sure that advice will

be very helpful too, to a lot of

other people watching this as well.

It really has to do with the

quality of learning to be

accepting and nonjudgmental.

All of that is implied

in being simple and easy.


And it's interesting, even as you said

that, I don't know if you notice, but even

when you just gave that piece of advice,

my whole body just kind of went, oh yeah.

It does undercut that and undercuts

many things, a lot of self judgment or

doubt, but also kind of an unskillful

striving where we get caught up

in a wanting that's not helpful.


Oh yeah, just be simple and easy.

Be with what's happening.


I love that.

Is there anything else that

you would like to share?

Anything that sort of come to mind

or you think is really important

that we should know about this this

journey to more conscious living?

Well, I guess there are two

things that come to mind.

The first, is something mentioned before,

but I think is worth emphasizing, right?

It's really about the

totality of our lives.

That it's the practice to become

more aware in whatever we're doing.

Whatever activity just throughout

the day, are we practicing coming

back to the moment and being mindful?

In an easy and simple life.


And realizing it's not

going to be perfect.

We'll get lost many times,

but we just beginning again.

And so having a very comprehensive view

of how mindfulness can be practiced.

The other thing that I think is

really important is the understanding

that it is a practice, that it takes

some discipline and perseverance.

It's not, I don't know whether this

happened in Australia, but quite

a few years ago, maybe it was in

the seventies or eighties, there

was a movement, or workshops being

presented, enlightenment weekends.

Damn, I should have gone.

Yeah, exactly.

You know, you go to this

weekend and you get enlightened.

And there may be something of value

that you gain, but I doubt that it

was enlightenment that the Buddha

was talking of, in terms of the

uprooting of greed and hatred.

So it's understanding that

we're talking about a vast

transformation of consciousness.

And we can have, and I have, just a

tremendous, almost a sense of awe,

in the undertaking of the path.

We realize this is a huge thing.

This is not, it's not a hobby.

It's something that is our lives

and the exploration of the nature of

consciousness and what creates suffering

and what are the avenues to peace.

So having this appreciation of

the magnitude of the undertaking

and therefore the need for some

discipline and perseverance,

or a kind of courage, I think.


I love the sense of bringing courage

to the path because it's kind of

that strength of heart that's willing

to go through and be with the ups

and the downs and the difficulties.

And so having that very large

vision of the undertaking to

me is tremendously inspiring.

My own personal feeling about this path

is that it's a really grand adventure.

And in any good adventure,

there's ups and downs.

And it doesn't always go to plan.

And sometimes it's the unexpected

and wonderful things and

unexpected, all kinds of things.

And then, but the adventure kind of dust

themselves off and they have that courage

to face the things that come up and yeah.

So I see it as a path

of mindful adventures.



Well, I'd love to invite you, if you'd

care to, to lead us through a practice.


How long would you like this to be?

Maybe say 10 minutes or 15 minutes.

That's fine.


Always need to frame it, otherwise

we might be sitting for an hour.

Yeah, 10 to 15 minutes would be wonderful.



If everyone listening who wants

to practice together can find

a comfortable sitting posture.

It could be right in this chair

that you might be sitting in or

sitting in some posture on the floor.

And gently close the eyes.

Perhaps start by taking a few deep

breaths, intentional, deep breaths

as a way of settling into the body.

And then letting the breath

come to its own natural rhythm.

And begin by simply

feeling the body sitting.

Experience the felt sense

of the body sitting.

You might even make a kind of a mental

note of sitting, or a phrase that

I like to use is, here is a body.

So we get a sense of

the whole body sitting.

Sit and know you're sitting.

And within that framework of the

body sitting, you might become

aware of your body breathing.

Breathing in, know you're breathing in.

Breathing out, know you're breathing out.

It's really that simple.

You might noticed where in the body

you feel the breath most clearly.

Is it the air passing the nostrils?

Is it the movement of

the chest or abdomen?

You might become aware of different

sounds arising and passing away.

When they call at your attention,

they become the object of awareness.

You might become aware of other

sensations in the body, places

of tightness or tension or

pressure or vibration or tingling.

When the mind is called to

those sensations, they become

the new object of mindfulness.

Become aware of those sensations

and notice what happens to them.

Do they get stronger

or do they get weaker?

Do they disappear?

When they're no longer predominant,

you can settle again into the awareness

with the whole body, there is a body.

Becoming aware of the body breathing.

Whenever a thought our image arises in the

mind, become aware of thinking, of seeing.

You can use a soft mental

note: thinking, thinking.

If you tend to image, seeing.

Notice how the thought

arises and vanishes.

Simply sit and know you're sitting.

Aware of the body breathing.

Breathing in, know you're breathing in.

Breathing out, know you're breathing out.

Simple and easy.

Opening to sounds, other

sensations, thoughts and images.

Just becoming mindful of them

as they appear and disappear,

like clear space of the mind.

Notice when you become mindful of

thoughts as they arise in the mind.

To become aware after

they're already over.

Become aware in the middle.

There is sometimes mindful

just as they begin.

Simply to take interest

in mindfulness of breath.

Settling into the awareness of

the body and the body sitting.

There is a body.

Aware of the body breathing.

We're being mindfully aware of predominant

sensations, of sounds, thoughts and

images as they appear and disappear.

Awake, open, aware nature of the mind.

When you're ready, you

can slowly open your eyes.

Reconnect with the world around you.

Thank you.

And thank you so much for spending

this time today to share with us.

It's deeply appreciated.

You're very welcome.

A pleasure.

Is there anything else that you'd

like to share before we close?

Nothing in particular except to encourage

people to either begin or continue

this great practice of mindfulness.

It leads to so many, as you say, new

adventures of understanding oneself.

And there's just one more question that I

have that I'm asking every person that's

taking part in this summit and that is

that it's been said that mindfulness has

the capacity to change the world from

the inside out, one person at a time.

In fact, I think you might've said that.

Well many people have said that.

I think I might've gotten that

actual phrase from something that

you said, but I'm curious to know.

They say that mindfulness has hit

mainstream, I think the idea of

it is entering mainstream, but

I certainly don't think it's hit

any kind of critical mass yet.

If it was to hit critical mass, what kind

of a world do you think that would create?

Well, I think obviously, as we said,

just in the beginning of our talk,

that it really does serve to weaken

and finally uproot, it's combination

of forces in the mind that created

so much suffering in the world.

Mindfulness can help us to reduce the

greed, the acting on greed, or reduce

the hatred or enmity in the mind.


Reduce our delusion so we actually

wake up to what is really happening and

often it's waking up to the problems

that are there and the suffering.

So it can only bring tremendous benefit.

All right.

Well, thank you again for your time.

And thanks everybody for tuning in.

I highly recommend you check

out Joseph's book, Mindfulness:

A Practical Guide To Awakening.

We'll see you next time..

Included in

The Mindfulness Summit  null Playlist · 23 tracks

The Mindfulness Summit

Playlist · 23 tracks4.9

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