Guest: Shamash Alidina Host: Makala Kozo Hattori Moderator: Rahul Brown
Kozo: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, everybody. My name is Makala Kozo and I will be your host for our weekly global Awakin call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. The purpose of these calls is really to share stories and to tell stories; stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire us through their actions to live a more service-oriented way and behind each of these calls is an entire team of service based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold the space. Today our special guest speaker, Shamash Alidina, someone who really embodies today's theme of mindfulness and kindness. Thank you again for joining us for today's call. Let's start with a moment of silence to anchor us into this space.
Thank you. I let that go for a little longer since today's call is on mindfulness, I figured we might as well do a little extra.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin call. Today in conversation with Shamash Alidina.Here's how the call works - in a few minutes, our moderator Rahul Brown will engage in a deep dialogue with our speaker and by the top of the hour, we'll roll into Q and A in a circle of sharing where we invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the cue right now so at any point, you can hit *6 on your hundred phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also e-mail us at Ask@servicespace.org.
The theme of today's call is mindfulness and kindness and I'm very excited about this call because in this day and age we often hear mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness at work, mindfulness in parenting... all this mindfulness and it's often detached from kindness. I'm so excited to hear what Shamash is going to share about the necessity of that pairing between mindfulness and kindness. I think mindfulness all by itself can make a really good sharpshooter for example but when you pair mindfulness and kindness, I think a lot of powerful inner transformation happens.
Today we have the pleasure of a remarkable moderator, Rahul Brown. To give you some context, I'm really excited to have Rahul on this call too today because Rahul is somebody who really puts mindfulness at the forefront of everything he does. I've known Rahul for some time now and I know he's mindful in his parenting; he's mindful in his service; he's mindful at work; In fact, Rahul, I don't know if this is still true but I heard that you have a clause at your work where you get twenty days off a year or so you can do two ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats, and you actually had that written into your contract and it was something where you laid the line down and said, if I don't get this, I'm not going to work here. So I mean that is someone who is really putting mindfulness at the forefront. Thank you, Rahul, for joining us today and I'll leave it over to you.
Rahul: Well, thank you, Kozo and yeah you know that was true; it was so important to me.
And when I think about the practice, I really think that there are three stages of exposure and maybe integration along someone's journey with mindfulness. The first is simply like having the causes and conditions to allow one to get exposed to the practice which I think is huge, right? I mean there are many people that just don't get the opportunity to even know about this or experience it. I think that the second piece is how do you actually put this into practice in terms of systematizing into your life you know in other words committing to it rather so creating the space for time to sit daily or creating the space in in work in the business of work to allow yourself the space and permission to practice. And, the last piece is really the integration, right? As you're pointing out, we hear about this-this mindfulness everywhere and it may be a bit of a function of kind of where we are in the world, this Silicon Valley where mindfulness sometimes at its lowest common denominator is viewed as brain hacking. You know in the tech industry that wants to always figure out how to make things work better and faster and cheaper. But you know it really is like the integration is if you're practicing mindfulness and you don't arrive at this idea of kindness or service at the end of it.
Then there's something that's really missing; there's a big gap in that integration and it's become some sort of esoteric practice which I feel has a tendency to devolve into just plain game. Subtle games with yourself. And so you know that's sort of why I'm really excited about this conversation with Shamash because I really feel like he's someone who has integrated this journey and this practice of mindfulness all the way through. So just some background, Shamash is actually a mindfulness pioneer in the U.K. and he's the author of Mindfulness for Dummies which has been an international bestseller. He's often found coaching speaking and practicing the modern relevant and application of this very timeless technique. He's written that "Spiritual Life isn't about avoiding things; spirituality is about facing up to your challenges with gentleness and kindness." He's also the co-founder of Museum of Happiness which is a nonprofit organization and also a physical space in London dedicated to creating experiences in the absence of happiness through kindness, community, mindfulness, and creativity. and I think what perhaps is more remarkable is that this space is located in a building for low income public housing which creates the possibility or many people who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to engage with these practices, to have access.
Personally, I was fortunate to visit the Museum of Happiness a few weeks ago and to meet Shamash whose energy I think certainly embodies happiness and kindfulness which I think is a term he might have coined. And, he does this in a way that is simultaneously very light but without losing its weight and its gravity. So, Shamash, thank you so much for joining us today especially on short notice.
Shamash: Thank you very much for all of the beautiful introduction, Rahul, I really appreciate that and I'm really excited to reconnect with you in this way.
Rahul: Before we get started, I just wanted to ask you how you're feeling today and no pressure to answer in any particular way.
Shamash: It's really nice to ask that. It's actually been quite a busy day for us today. I have been at the Museum of Happiness which as you mentioned is part of U.K.'s largest homeless hostel. It's a place where people who used to be homeless get free housing and people on low income can get housing and so we've been training people to teach the skills of mindfulness and kindness and happiness and so I had to kind of come out here a bit early but I'm still in the building so I'm a bit conscious that there might be some noises and things in the background. so yeah, thanks for asking that though I am a little bit concerned and I'm hoping that there won't be too much noise in the background as we have this call. At the same time, I'm really honored to be here and to have this opportunity to have a longer conversation with you and to give me time to actually reflect on what kindness mindfulness and kindfulness means for me because for me sometimes it comes out in the actual conversation itself. Really really excited and honored to have this opportunity so thank you Rahul and the team.
Rahul: Wonderful and no worries about noise in the background it's a pretty forgiving audience, a very kindful audience perhaps.
I want to start off with a little bit of an understanding of your experience as a mindfulness pioneer in the U.K. As I was alluding to in my introduction, my conversation with Kozo, in Silicon Valley we live in perhaps a little bit of a bubble where these two things have come together; it's more sort of commonplace. We hear about mindfulness initiatives at the big tech giants and in a way it's part of the lexicon. There's proliferation of yoga studios and there's so much dialogue around mindfulness here and there and all over the place. I get a sense that the U.K., at least from my visit there a few weeks ago, it very much isn't the same environment. It's not something everyone is talking about, it's not everywhere and in that way, you really have been a pioneer in bringing awareness of this technique. So I'm just curious; what has been supportive of your efforts at bringing mindfulness into the public domain/ public conversations? What has been your experience of the headwind or the resistance to mindfulness where you've been seeking to teach it?
Shamash: That's a great question. First of all that concept of the bubble- this a really really good question because I've spent some time in Silicon Valley and yes, I do hear the word mindfulness a lot. But actually here in London where I'm based there's also a lot of news about mindfulness if you open a newspaper, some of the more left wing type newspapers, you often find an article or something, someone mentioning it and when I give talks in London and if I ask if anyone has heard of mindfulness, usually the majority of people have. But I do still think maybe even London is in a bit of a bubble compared to the rest of the U.K. and certainly when I've given talks. I remember once I gave a talk to about a hundred people in a company in Germany and not single hand went up and it wasn't because they just spoke German (laughs). I personally feel I need to be careful as well and very much know that this is my world, teaching and training, and it's easy for me to spend other time that are into it as well.So it's hard for me to say exactly how widespread it is and how common it is but I certainly know that if I went outside of London, or even if I talked to a random person in London, I am not sure how many people would have actually heard of that concept first of all. Also maybe it would be interesting in Silicon Valley- I know you're saying that you see it a lot but sometimes the concept of, for example, if you buy a certain car, suddenly you start seeing that car everywhere.That might also be happening for ourselves because we're living in this world of learning about mindfulness and compassion. Naturally, when you actually ask people they may have heard of the word or they may not have, and even if they have heard of the word they may not know what it means.
In terms of spreading mindfulness here in the U.K., I actually didn't come to mindfulness at first. I did an Eastern Philosophy class where I learned meditation and it was about cultivating awareness, they didn't call it mindfulness at all. I only came to mindfulness because-the story in the background is that I was a school teacher teaching in a school called St. James School where all the children do kind of pose and do meditation. I've been teaching there for almost ten years and I was looking for an opportunity to spread it more widely and not just within this small scope. I researched, because I am interested in science, and I typed in 'meditation' in Google Scholar and the world 'mindfulness, mindfulness' kept coming up. I'd actually never heard of it and certainly wasn't in the newspapers and the magazines or anything like that but there was a lot of research and I thought 'Whoa! This type of meditation has got so much research and there's hardly anyone teaching it.'
I managed to find a class and I thought it was a really good simple way for complete beginners to be exposed to the concept of cultivating a present moment awareness while they're being caught up in past and future, the opportunity to cultivate a sense of stillness and silence and the importance of that. And also through movement practices and to everyday living, like really tasting the food you eat, when you're listening to the people in front of you, looking after your own health and well being as well as those around you.
I saw it was a good course so I enlisted for more training and started teaching it in my home. I actually was also doing a life coaching course where we did a little visualization about what your ideal life would be and when I zoomed back into my ideal life, I was teaching meditation in my home. Half of my home was facing the country side and half was facing the city and luckily my place was something like that so before long I was teaching little classes at my house. In terms of making it more popular in U.K., the story goes that I was interested in cognitive behavioral therapy so I was reading books on that but it wasn't making much sense. This book, CBT for Dummies, had really good reviews so I started reading it and it is actually really well written by two or three therapist and actually a really good series, much better than I judged it to be.
Then my brother suggested, 'Is there actually a book on mindfulness for dummies.' 'I'm sure there is', but there wasn't. I just sent a message saying there should be a book to summarize and bring all the teachings of mindfulness together and then I forgot about it. One thing led to another and I ended up having meetings with editors and stuff and eventually got a phone call saying ‘we would like you to write it’. When that book came out that was when, I think, the interest in mindfulness was just starting to grow here in the U.K.
There's been a lot of serious research in the National Health Service, which is the national approach to teaching for the health service here in the United Kingdom. There's a research body which looks at the research, specifically U.K. based, for recommended treatments and they were looking for a new treatment for depression because one in four people get clinical depression in the U.K., probably worldwide as well. Turns out it was a very expensive treatment and at that time they were just using antidepressants or talking therapies which are expensive as well. So they were looking for a low cost treatment and they took a risk and started to research mindfulness, which at the time wasn't that popular in the U.K. at all. The clinical trials found it to be many times more effective than the usual treatments and also much lower cost especially for people with recurring depression. So that is the recommended treatment- Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, it's called.
That was kind of starting to become popular, and this book came out, then I kind of looked into my heart, what I really really wanted to do at that time, and it was to help more people to practice meditation because that's what we loved well. I decided to do that under being proud owner of mindfulness as it was a concept which had a lot of research behind it. That was back in 2010 and since that time I've been teaching most days or training other teachers to be able to teach it. In the last three years I’m also sharing it through this project we have, A Museum of Happiness, and have written other books since then as well. I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity of these different ways of sharing mindfulness and meditation.
Rahul: That’s fantastic, and your answer was so rich, there's so many different directions I can go with from what you shared. I definitely want to get to some of the things you mentioned about the book but without jumping ahead too far, you shared some of the journey of how you started off with this, being a teacher at St James school but I think there's a bit of a backstory that you were sharing also when I was in London, about your scientific training as well, and your experience in finding mindfulness through there. It sounds like even that scientifically based inquiry was a very deep part of how you explored mindfulness. I'm wondering if you can share that color in context of how that journey at the personal level really deepened for you and maybe what the struggle was on a personal level that led to it.
Shamash: Great question. So I was going to mix in the concept of science. So in terms of science, when I say the word science, some people I can notice in their eyes, they get switched on. And some people kind of get switched off. That can be quite a polarizing thing. But I know for me personally, as a young child I had these small lazy bird books about batteries and bulbs and magnets. And I just loved as a young child doing scientific experiments and chemistry experiments in the garden and playing with magnifying glasses and settings things on fire and setting my hands (laughs) and things like that, really really having a lot of fun with science and making robots out of cardboard boxes.
I wasn't any kind of massive genius but I really loved playing in with big things in a scientific way and then I remember being at school and doing kind of exams and not being that difficult and me ended up being at the top of the class or high up in the class and I thought, Oh wow I'm doing nice. This is something that I'm actually good at and it didn't even take much of an effort and this is fantastic. Like my parents are praising me, the teachers were praising me and I was just being myself and I was just doing my thing and people seem to be happy about that. So I had this very positive association with science and it made a lot of sense to me as well. It seemed to be like with science you can have an equation and how do one answer and it is either right or there's some logic and it's wrong so it made a lot of sense to me whereas something like English or you know grammar or these kinds of arty subjects there was no right or wrong. It was very much more subjective whether the teacher liked it or not. That is how I felt.
Anyway so I like science and math for that reason and I will say that I had this positive relationship and getting me a sense of self-esteem I actually discovered later on, if I did well due to my self-esteem and if I did badly it kind of lowered my self-esteem. So I discovered that you know because I was doing well when I was at school and initially at college, my confidence was linked to that and I was doing well. So the stories that I had this idea in my head that I would become like a doctor or an engineer or some sort of scientist. I'll be very successful and I this thought process I was probably thinking now be very successful and I would be (21.39). . in that thought process I was probably thinking, I will be very successful, I'll be making a lot of money and that will make me very happy and I didn't I didn't think about that consciously. It was like an unconscious thing you must breathe in through the culture that I grew up in anyway it's just the same today absolutely. In fact I remember going to the creative advisor and saying you know I'm thinking about becoming a doctor like and my parents will be really proud of it. In Asian culture if you are a doctor you're almost like God. So I was thinking ok I will be a doctor and I remember the creative advisor saying did you know that doctors have one of the highest suicide rates and I was like really?? Oh okay so what's the next thing on the list which has a lot of income involved and money involved and it was chemical engineering and I was like oh wow, I will have lot of money if I be that.
So I looked up and signed up for that. I did not have any kind of reflection about would it be purposeful or meaningful. That concept did not come up to ask whether to think about that and so I went off to this university and as I said to you before my self-esteem was connected to my grades and how successful I was compared to others on this unconscious level. And when I went to university it's quite a good university for U.K. It's called the Imperial. So you get these people coming from all over the world and suddenly it's much more competitive and what was easy for me to be top of the class was much harder and I just managed to do it in the first year and in the second year I did all I get actually it was harder for me and I just managed to do it in the first year and in the second year. I wasn’t so good actually. It was harder for me and maybe it was less effort for someone else but for me, it was much harder.
So I thought ok that's ok because you know I'm going to have this amazing job and make money and then be happy and then I remember doing the job in the summer vacation where I tried chemical engineering and I suddenly realized that this is probably the most boring experience of my six weeks, boring six weeks of my life. I was going and sitting on the desk and they wanted me to design an oil rig in Indonesia sitting in an office in London as the same people I saw every day and I suddenly realized I don't want to create more oil rigs in the world. I want to do something else I didn't know what. I knew it didn't feel right but in the back of my mind I was getting paid and this money was going into my bank account and then I know it sounds a bit strange but I remember going to the Access Street in London to be able to buy some clothes which I thought again unconsciously I thought it would make me happy.
But I remember buying these clothes with all this money that I had in this bank account and no almost no positive feeling coming out of it, just for a few moments and I remember standing in Access street seeing all this. It is quite interesting that that was the location which is the heart of the commercial retail world in London or maybe in Europe where people buying stuff everywhere and actually feeling a real sense of loss of meaning in my life. I didn't know. This is suddenly the penny dropped like literally (laughs) the penny dropped in the sense that I spent this money and feeling the I was hoping to get the sense of well being was not there at all and I thought what everyone's been telling me that money will bring happiness and joy and this is what it's all about. But actually, I really hated this work and the feeling that I was expecting I was not getting and sounds I was a nineteen-year-old student twenty-year-old student something like that and I didn't know what to do. So I was at a loss and all that I am explaining it all now at the time it was almost like it was happening to a child so there was this conscious process like okay so money doesn't make me happy so I need to do this or that, there's no logical thinking because there was low level of mindfulness. It was me doing life was making choices it was just happening to me just like it was to a child I suppose.
This is something I'm realizing as I'm talking to you actually so anyway I was on the underground the London underground in tube as they call it and I saw a poster for a philosophy class and it was a quotation I think maybe from Socrates or someone like that saying, " A unexamined life is not worth living". That sounds really good actually and this practical philosophy class sounded like the complete opposite of the master's in chemical engineering and it was very cheap, it was like twenty pounds per student, so I thought I would go along to this class and will learn something. And quite fortunately in my case this philosophy class was excellent. I think I still remember that first class because it wasn't necessarily all philosophies but kind of blend towards eastern philosophies and it started using the words consciousness. Now I'm very used to that word now and it is very familiar to me but if you take someone, the average person from the scientific world or any average person or young person, he wouldn't normally be exposed to that word, to the concept of awareness or consciousness and they had a beautiful diagram where there was deep sleep as the last level of consciousness and dreaming sleep as a little bit higher and then no more waking consciousness which is almost like you have gone underground in London.
It's like a half awake-half asleep state. I am not sure maybe its a dream state because people are living automatically but then they said what if there is a concept of a higher level of consciousness or high level of awareness and if you cultivate this high level of awareness, feeling exercises which have been developed in the eastern world for thousands of years maybe more if we try cultivating, you cultivate high levels of awareness and you live life more fully because if low levels of awareness you are kind of half asleep or dreamy then very high levels of awareness means that you live life more in the moment and more in the here and now and experience life in a more full life and so my logical brain at that time said ya that actually doesn't make complete sense and then they did an exercise where they cause to just become aware of our other colors around us and ask us to close our eyes and go through each of our senses; sense of touch, sense of smell, the sense of sound and also that sense of silence and also helping us to actually step back from our thoughts.
Your thoughts are popping up just like clouds in the sky but you're the observer, you're the witness. There's is a space between you and those thoughts. You don't have to do what those thoughts say. You are not exactly what those thoughts tell you. You are not your thoughts, you are just the observer of it. In fact, you are an observer of all those experiences and then we came out of that little five-minute exercise and I'm so grateful and that was like a lifetime moment almost literally. In that wow just a small exercise and I feel so different. I didn't know that I was in a negative emotional or mental state. I didn't know that I felt more refreshed and more calm and more in the moment and then they tried to say that actually, the purpose of life is not about you know you get a job and then you are happy or you get married and then you get children and then you are happy or you get grandchildren and then you are happy or you live in this place but actually did you know that that sense of fulfillment and well being can be just in having a conversation on the phone like we are now or it could be just looking at the clouds in the sky or the trees around you. This again maybe very normal for the listeners listening today but for me this was groundbreaking. What you mean you don't need to constantly have this goals that you need to achieve. You can just be happy. At the moment I'm sitting on a staircase and having a conversation with you and you can actually be content that way you are right now.
I actually got so excited about this concept that I started to read every single book that's out there on you know - from the "Power of Now" to "Who am I" and Ramana Maharishi and Krishnamurthy and almost every kind of book on that subject - I was so fascinated. And I had written a blog post which i read quite recently - I almost went too far and I stopped going to university in my third year ; stopped studying. When I was driving i would almost get so conscious and so much in the moment that I actually didn't know where I was going.
I remember driving in completely the wrong direction and not being able to judge distances properly - so i almost took it to an extreme at the beginning, because i was so excited about it - it was just so totally - it’s different to - like you know when you have a computer and you change the operating system. It wasn't like that. It was like something completely different. I don't know what the analogy would be - maybe from a normal phone to a smartphone or maybe from no phone to a phone - it was like being like - having a completely different life - a life before where everything is about goals and about achievement and getting somewhere. And and that's what life is all about and living very much with automatic pilot to actually -there's a completely different way of living where actually you can find fulfillment in the now. So i was so excited about this that I wanted to teach every single person. That's why i struggled to even go to university but I managed to finish my engineering degree. But i knew that ok - i need to teach every child this because I can't believe I had to wait to be so old - twenty years old before i learnt about meditation.
And I wish I'd learnt this earlier . So I wanted to share it with younger people so that's why I decided to actually become a science teacher , but actually a teacher in a school where all the children do this. Where they pause between lessons , where they learn about these kind of Eastern philosophies and Western philosophies . Where they have time to reflect on what the meaning and purpose in life and yeah - these are the kind of aspects which go go along with field. There was a real sense of meaning and purpose that i found through these practices.
Rahul: Absolutely. I was gonna ask how parentals responded to you finding that sense of meaning and purpose, specially when it was contrasted to letting go of the goals , the achievements and perhaps the bank account.
Shamash: ( laughs) Well how my parents reacted ? They were - they were not too bad actually - I mean they were really expecting me to obviously become a doctor, engineer - that will do. And then I did the engineering but I did stay away from studying to become a teacher - they thought that was very strange.
But they kind of went along with that and then and then I think they accepted and ultimately they became really really proud of what I do and I can hear them when they speak to others in particular you like - then wouldn't say it often to my face but I can hear it when they talk to other people;
" You know - my son is doing meditation and he is doing mindfulness and he has written these books and stuff." So i am fortunate they are proud and they're proud of what I've done but they were very very skeptical at the beginning. But I'm really fortunate in that they didn't try to - they weren't too harsh on me. So they just they're just a bit curious about what is this - what is he up to. ( laughs) . I don't think they are one hundred percent convinced. But I think they are much more convinced that they were at the beginning.
Rahul : Yeah I can see why. It's interesting you're talking about you know - The upset - at having to wait till you are twenty to experience mindfulness and but it wasn't long after that that you actually ended up writing the book - if I'm following the chronology correctly. So I'm just curious like what - you shared a little bit about the synchronicity about what was happening on the national stage around research related to depression etc but I'm curious about - what changed for you kind of before and after writing that book - in terms of your work and your approach?
Shamash: Hmm..Interesting .. so in terms of - i first met meditation when i was aged twenty and I wrote the book when i was age thirty three. So it was like thirteen years of me practicing and teaching meditation and stuff . So before and after. Although I went to the school and became a teacher and I became very interested in cultivating, teaching meditation, I think even that became a little bit automatic. And that schools are very much based on routines and time, start at eight thirty, finish at four thirty and you've got this book that you need to mark and the lessons you need to teach. So it's almost like that the nine to five that other people do the almost perhaps i found i was getting caught up in that too and it was after being school teacher for about six or seven years and gradually more and more my hair was falling out and eventually all my hair fell out. (laughs). I was thinking what is going to fall off next! (laughs) I am just kind of joking there. It did have its stresses and its challenges certainly. At least training to become a school teacher is one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I was very excited on giving up on doing that and changing it to another - doing another job.
So it had its stresses and challenges, but it went from being a stressful and challenging thing to becoming just about right, to becoming easy, and eventually becoming too easy in the sense that "Ok, I'm just teaching the same class again. I know what I need to do." It became mechanical.
Then I got concerned. Teaching is all about being passionate about the subject and sharing that passion with the students. If I start to lose that passion, it is not really fair for the students. I saw that teachers that had been working there for 20-30-40 years, and some of them did have that passion, and some of them actually they've completely lost that passion and were teaching in the school in a very mechanical way, just to make the money. Just to make sure their family and stuff was all right, which is understandable.
But they weren't really there. It wasn't so meaningful. I could see it in their eyes and their behavior. And I was concerned that it might happen to me. So that was one of the things.
The other thing was that I learned about this concept of coaching which was quite new to me at the time. And I was experimenting with coaching students. So, when you are teaching a class of 25 or 30 teenage students, you don't really have much time to connect to them on a one to one basis, and everything is done in the sense of groups and group dynamics. But I had read and researched about coaching.
So rather than telling children what to do, I made it my business in my free time to actually sit down with the students and actually ask them questions like what do you most enjoy? Which lessons do you not enjoy? What do you think you are really good at? What is the one thing that you need to work on this week?
Using the training I did on coaching to actually coach students through the process. And that felt so good. I wanted to do more and more of that, but the head teacher couldn't make time for me to do that. So that was one thing.
But what was really interesting in that, I mentioned in passing, I did this because I was training in coaching as well, I had actually done this visualization of what my ideal life would be like. In this visualization, I imagined I went out into space, what the coach told us to do. And when you go back, you come back to your ideal life style. It was only when I'd done that, that I realized actually teaching children in school science plus a little bit of mindfulness is not really 100% in tune with what my heart really wants to do.
What my heart really wants to do is sharing this meditation and cultivating inner stillness all the time, as much as I can. So I wanted to make it much more part of my life. And that was a bit scary, isn't it? It was for me anyway because I got this life. I got this job, and I'm settled in. I've got this income that I've got and this particular lifestyle. And yet my ideal, what I really want to do in my heart, was not quite in line with that.
But when I don't do things that are in line with what is really important to me, it is really difficult for me. So I knew I had to make those changes. So I started taking those steps. I suppose that is one of my strengths. Like if I want to do something, I start taking small steps in that direction and see what happens. So I did do that. So for a little while I had to change to a different school so I wasn't working 5 days a week.
In fact, the funny story is I wanted to get a job. I asked the head teacher, "Can I work 4 days a week here?" And he said, "No, sorry, you have to work full 5 days a week." So then I looked in the newspaper, and there was a job for physics teacher, which is what I was mainly, 4 days a week and it was a school that was literally across the road. So I just crossed the road, did the interview. And I managed to get the job. So I worked there 4 days a week and spent that one free day starting to do more training in mindfulness and starting to teach more adults in meditation and mindfulness.
The book thing was actually not in my plans. It happened very naturally. I literally went to the website dummies.com and I just clicked on contact and sent them a very short message. It was something that was almost meant to be I think. They'd actually asked the father of mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zinn, a year before, and he said no. And somebody else had said no for whatever reason. And so they'd left the project. So when I approached them, just one thing led to another.
Another little story I'd like to share about writing which was really challenging for me, is at first I thought I'm not good enough to write this book. Why am I writing this book? So these kind of thoughts kept coming. I did use my mindfulness practice there. You know, it seems like I am the person that has been chosen to write this. Maybe that is just a limiting belief, so I had to keep practicing letting that go.
The real challenge was actually to write the book, because I remember I had to write the first chapter, "What is Mindfulness?" So I looked in one book and it had a definition and another book had a different one and another one. And I bought about 20 different books on mindfulness, and they all had a different definition of what mindfulness was.
So I remember spending a whole week trying to write the first paragraph and really struggling. So then I had this idea. Why don't a read a book called How to Write a Book. So I did that. I realized that I wasn't being mindful or kindful in my actual writing. I wasn't trusting myself. I was trying to write the perfect sentence and the perfect paragraph. I was being judgmental of myself.
And in this book it talked about just writing the flow of consciousness, just writing down whatever comes to your head and just keep writing and don't edit it. Keep writing, writing, writing. Like I told you earlier, I'm much more of a scientist than a writer at that time especially. So it was difficult for me, but then I started this process of not being judgmental to myself, which is what mindfulness is about. Just letting it flow, and it went from being a really difficult process to actually almost call it a spiritual experience--this process where I wasn't part of it and it was just coming from me. And those moments were really magical and I really enjoyed that.
It made the actual process enjoyable. And it wasn't like that all the way through, to be honest with you. They didn't give me that much time, just a few months to write as well. I was teaching at the same time too. So it was a challenging time, but finding the sense of flow and letting go of the inner judgments was a real breakthrough for me. And I enjoy writing a lot more now. So it was about practicing the mindfulness as I wrote it. So that is the story of what happened before and after.
Rahul: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. What would you say to someone who comes to you and says, "Look, I don't know how to listen to my heart. How do I start to hear where I'm truly feeling called?"
Shamash: That is really good. So I would probably say to that person...I think every person is different. It is not like I would give a standard answer. But I think today if you asked me that, I would probably ask you questions like "Ok, what do you like to do?" I just start where people are and ask them what they enjoy doing. And then from there kind of tease out what the answer is.
But with these kinds of questions, I think what is really important is to be really present to the person and the question they are asking, because if people ask the question what should I do or what should I do with my life, it could be in a very different way. It could be like "Yeah, what do you think I should do with my life?" Or "What do YOU think?" The tone of voice or the way they say it. The state of mind they are in. It should all influence my response. Probably my state of mind would affect that too.
But I'd probably start with finding out what they do enjoy doing. And if they say, "I don't actually enjoy doing anything at the moment. I hate my job. I hate my husband or wife. I hate my family." And everything is negative, then just ask them to reflect what they enjoyed when they were young.
I'd like to share this story actually. This is a nice story. Someone I met at a festival called Into the Wild. At this festival I was at there was a lot of chai being served. For some reason a lot of different people serving chai. And there was this one particular place that was serving chai. It was really delicious. And there was this old gentlemen with a big beard. And I just wanted to get in a conversation with him because he looked really interesting.
I said, "This is fantastic chai that you have made. It is really, really good."
He was like, "Yeah, yeah. This is the best chai."
He started talking about India. And he said, "Actually, I haven't shared this with many people, but this is my story." And his story was that he was actually the son of a prostitute and he went through a very difficult childhood. He had foster parents that brought him up. And when he was young, they used to get to do some gardening. He used to enjoy that as a young child and did some gardening and spending time in the garden and cutting the grass, having different plants and putting it together.
This was soothing for him. And he grew up and left these parents. And then he ended up having a partner/girlfriend and it didn't work out, so he went off to India. He was living in a cave in India with some other people. I think it was in Dharamsala near where the Dalai Lama is. And someone was serving food and stuff, and they gave this other small thing which he thought was only food. Actually, it was opium. And what this chap was doing, this Indian guy, he was getting people addicted to opium.
So then he got addicted to opium. Then he ended up getting addicted to heroin and becoming a heroin addict both in India and in the UK in London. Then he started becoming a drug dealer as well to feed his habit. And he became more and more successful as a drug addict and making lots of money, almost becoming famous for it. And very close to getting in prison. He has all sorts of stories about that. He ended up being this extreme drug addict. I think he was on heroin for eleven years. Injecting himself with heroin, can you imagine?
So eventually he ended up being in a gutter in London shooting this heroin. And someone managed to convince him to go to a homeless hostel. So he went to this homeless hostel, and he was just looking outside. And he saw that there was a few pot plants outside or a small garden. And suddenly he had this memory when he was a child and he used to do the garden. I think he might have asked himself the question, "What did I really used to enjoy?"
So anyway he stepped outside and started doing some gardening. And then his friends who were also addicted to drugs, got them to do a little bit of gardening and planting. And he described his story how people would do a little bit of gardening with him then would go off to steal something, then get some drugs, then come back and do a bit more gardening. So there was a bit of a triangle going on.
But the gardening people found soothing, and he found soothing. So much so, that he managed to quit taking drugs. And he really enjoyed empowering others. Then he started to help other people get off drugs. Then these gardens became more and more successful. And he's actually ended up doing the roof garden in one of the famous areas in London called the South Bank Center. He has also participated in the Chelsea Flower Show, one of the most famous garden shows in the world, and won a prize there with one of the cheapest gardens they have ever had. So he actually managed somehow to tune into his heart and find out what he used to love, what he used to enjoy.
And you can't really force that. It kind of seemed to have just happened in that moment. Somebody was kind to him. Got him to a place where he could rest for just a little bit. And it might have been just a quiet moment or something clicked in his head, and suddenly, he decided. And now he is actually very poor still. He told me, "I'm very poor, Shamash, and I'm very happy." And he has had lots of money in his time as well as all the drugs. But he helped to support so many people and it makes him feel so good. This is just an example of a when you can somehow have the memory or thought of what you used to enjoy when I was a child.
I think almost all of us had somethings that we really liked, really enjoyed. And maybe just start with something like that. And going from there. Just taking a few quiet moments of reflection and something will come up.
Rahul: Wow. That is a remarkable story.
Kozo: Just a beautiful story.
Rahul: So the Museum of Happiness, one of the things that is remarkable about it is the gifted space where it really feels like a gift economy experiment. So I'm very curious about how you think about and walk with this question of money and financial stability both in regards to the medium of happiness and also with regards to this work around giving the priceless teaching to people, especially people who need them the most. And feel free to tell us more about the Museum of Happiness in the answer as well.
Shamash: Sure, sure. So I will just briefly share this story of the Museum of Happiness. It came through a coincidental meeting with someone at a charity event. We were both trying to eat the same carrot. [laughter] We went to both grab the same carrot, and we just became friends. She ended up doing some mindfulness classes with me, a girl called Vicki. And we just wanted to spread the concepts of mindfulness and stillness and other values like kindness, sense of creativity, and playfulness. We feel is very important and is sometimes missing in both spirituality, as well as in the workplace and all sorts of different areas. Really, really important to have this sense of creativity and fun and playfulness, even in the most serious meditation practitioners and people who want to cultivate stillness; I think if there is not that sense of lightheartedness and playfulness, then something is missing.
So we wanted to bring all that together and so we have absolutely no idea how to do that so we just started doing small events with handfuls of people. And what happened was that we got 20 people together, 30 people, 40 people. And I think I actually been to Servicespace, I've heard some talks by Nipun Mehta, I've heard some stuff about Servicespace, I'm relatively new to it, but heard some things about it. And so we were trying to cultivate that sense of generosity and kindness and sorta the fun and the playfulness and the meditation. We'd do these different classes and things. And one year, towards the end of that year - I think it was maybe two years ago. Just before New Year’s Eve, I was on a holiday and I remember we wanted to do an event in a famous market in East London called Spitalfield Market.
We wanted to try to get 100 people, we had two weeks to share the event. We called it "The World’s First Pop-Up Museum of Happiness" and we wanted to create a space for people to explore the art and science of happiness, to learn about what does it mean to be kind and compassionate? What does it mean to be mindful or peaceful? What does it mean to have that sense of creativity and playfulness? what does community mean? Is there a science behind happiness? And what is that? So we came up with that idea and we just had that description. I put it on Facebook like I normally did and we were hoping to get a handful of registrations. And somehow something sparked in our little community of 50-60 people that have come to our 3 or 4 events. I think our heart was really into it, we were just doing it because we loved it so much, these little events that we did.
And they shared it with their friends, and they shared it with their friends. And when I tuned back in, a million people had seen the Facebook page and tickets had gone to 10,000 people and that was the limit for the ticket. So I was trying to contact my friend on New Year’s Eve but she must be busy somewhere. We've got 10,000 people, we normally have 100, how are we going to cope with this? So we got together and we decided to pull this off. I suppose we did use abundance mindset because tickets were just free or donation based. And I thought okay, the actual day of the event is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year in London, it's called Blue Monday, the third Monday in January when you get the bills from the Christmas events and just when you realize that Valentine’s Day is just coming up and you're not too sure you're going to go and who to spend the evening with. It's very cold and very dark in London at that time. It's a tough time for most people. So we decided to do it on that day, maybe that's part of the popularity. Anyway, a lot of people came and a lot of media interest and so we thought this idea has something that people are really passionate about.
So what happened was one lady came along, and she runs what's called the Canvas Cafe in East London and she said I've got some space in the back of my cafe, you can actually go from doing these pop-up things to creating a permanent home for the Museum of Happiness. It was not a huge amount of rent, and it's certainly affordable and because we've been inspired by the philosophy of Servicespace, we thought why don't we do it as an act of kindness based on generosity, a pay it forward approach. So we gift this space and we ask the teachers to gift their time if they're willing to do so and invite people to either pay it forward to the next class. But we didn't do it quite as pay it forward as more a gift philosophy. Maybe give a friend a hug, or maybe do something nice to a teacher, or maybe just say thank you to someone or just smile a little bit more. So it's just about setting these ripples of positivity and it doesn't have to be financial at all. I wasn't too concerned about the finance side at that time because it was affordable. So that's the experiment we did, and it created such a beautiful little community.
Another little story, an example of what happened is that the cafe owner also had pay it forward coffees and teas and even meals, so you can buy an extra meal for someone. A guy who was homeless and came along into the cafe and he got a coffee and he wandered around to the back and saw that we were doing a meditation class at this place called the Museum of Happiness. He was shivering and cold and he came in, Vicky was guiding the meditation and said "ah welcome, please sit down". He was shivering, some of the students said "take my coat, take my blanket" and that helped warm him up. Vicky did a guided meditation which was like a beach meditation so they imagined the warmth on your feet, on your legs, and on your belly and on your back. This beautiful warm visualization, he started to feel warmer physically too and he started to warm up and really smile and participate in the other bits of meditation they did. Then he actually shared that two weeks earlier he was seriously suicidal and he just felt like he could not connect with anyone in London. And those two weeks were really tough for him. And he kept on coming over the next few weeks, all the different classes we had in the evening. Whether it was things like yoga or mindful art and so he really got this sense of community from that space. I think this wouldn't have happened if we didn't have this approach of welcoming people and having this donation based approach in that place. So some really nice stories like that came up which kind of inspired us and motivated us to keep going. So thats where we are.
Now to be honest it's a bit more challenging because we're in a place which is much more expensive and there's some salaries we need to pay for as well. But we're still thinking of trying to do that as much as possible. Between you and me, we haven't announced this publicly but we're looking forward to doing Awakin Circles at the Museum of Happiness which will obviously be gifted in complete philosophy of the Awakin Circle that Servicespace has. We also started a Kind Club which is also a gifted experience where people come along and we explain the philosophy of pay it forward and they make a gift. And they give that gift to people in the local area who are homeless or to a friend or neighbor or someone. You make this gift, you put books in and you put positive messages in and you make this nice box together and you spend some time creating a card which you kind of color in as well. Get your creative juices flowing and this links with our values of building community, creativity, an act of kindness and there's a sense of mindfulness and presence. We will always have these elements of generosity and kindness and we may expand that experiment even more so, almost everything has that philosophy and see how it goes. I'm very much in the lines of Servicespace of trying things, and pushing the boundaries as an experiment and let’s just see if it works. And also learn from the experience of other people that have done it to make sure we have the best chance of it being successful. It's really really exciting and creates a real sense of warmth and community when we do that. And it's worked so well in the past and we want to continue to do that and continue to push our own comfort boundaries of generosity and trying to expand it more and more because it feels so good.
Rahul: Beautiful. We're at the top of the hour here which is when I typically pause for Kozo to send an announcement out. Kozo, do you want to step in for a moment?
Kozo: Yeah, I let the time pass, I was supposed to chime in 10 til the top of the hour but I was just listening to the stories and I forgot. We're going to open it up to a circle of sharing and Q&A, if you'd like to join by phone you can hit *6 on your phone or you can send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We already have a number of reflections and questions from emails. But I wanted to ask a question, Shamash and it's related to something we posted on the page for you. The prompt and it says our guest speaker this week knows that for some people mindfulness or spirituality can be used as a way of avoiding daily responsibilities or to repress feelings and that said that mindfulness instead, should be used to lean into life, to face up to your challenges and to be move towards emotional difficulties we all share with kindness. I find that a very powerful distinction, using this mindfulness as perhaps an escape as oppose as using mindfulness to lean into and to go into difficult emotional areas.
The two obvious things that come up for me are the Buddha and Jesus. The Buddha supposedly on the night of his awakening had to deal with temptation and Mara sent him these different challenges. And then of course Jesus when he went out into the woods forty days and forty nights he had to deal with what they call the Devil tempting him with fame, fortune and all these different things, and they sat through that, mindfully and aware and I'm wondering if you have either any personal stories or any stories of people you coach or people whom you’ve taught of leaning into the difficult emotions in those challenges, and how that process plays out, because it's one thing to say “lean into difficult emotions mindfully,” but it's another thing to practice it right? It can be a very difficult practice.
Shamash: Such a beautiful question.The example that comes to mind is something that someone shared today in our training and it was about anger actually, and it was my friend and she was a very very very angry child and very very angry teenager and people used to say to her if you feel angry put it in your feet (I think it’s a Nepalese saying). And she said how do I put anger in my feet? How do I do that? Nobody ever taught her how to cope with her anger. She said, “What do I shout underneath my feet?” So she was constantly slamming doors and being annoyed and always very righteous., she gave this example, there was a non-smoking sign that came up in the trains in her coming and she said she’d see people leaning on the Non-smoking signs and smoking, and she started smoking with her anger and she’d tell these people what to do even though she used to smoke herself. So all these people doing unjust things made her very angry, but she had a very wise grandmother, and her grandmother explained that her true nature was, I think it’s called in Sanskrit, Satchitananda. Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.
And something clicked in that but still something wasn't quite right there, she didn't know what to do in her anger. And another time her grandma told her if you feel angry, it doesn’t mean you have to act angry. And she was like, “Really?” And her grandmother said, yes, “You can just be the observer. The witness.” And she said, “Ah!” And so she actually did that. It was just a decision that she made, because she knew she had to do something, and the next time that anger came up she was so angry, the only way she could stop from being angry was to start drinking water to cool it down. So she used to go and drink water or walk in the other room or clench her teeth. And to observe it. And then someone told her, actually anger is a physical feeling in your body. So then she started to notice that anger actually started in her stomach so she started to watch that and become curious about that, and she continued to do this until eventually -- I would never have guessed this about her -- she’s now such a calm, positive, smiley person, at her work they call her the Happiness Queen(?) Such a beautiful example of how we can transform our so-called destructive emotions through the practice of mindfulness.
But there’s another example which I'd like to share which is a really powerful story I heard from my teacher who's called Ajahn Brahm who first told me about this concept of Kindfulness. It was a lady a student at university and she was suffering from so much anxiety, she was trapped in our own room in the residence of the university. She had extreme amounts of anxiety about exams, about everything, and psychologists tried to help her and she was on all these different medications and sometimes on oxygen in hospitals and couldn't get out of it. She was originally from Thai descent so she decided to call this Thai monk. They have this dial-a-monk service (laughs). So she called him up and he’s a very busy monk and he said, “OK where do you feel this anxiety?” And she said, “I don’t know I feel it in my body somewhere.” And he said, “I am going to call you in two days time, tell me exactly where it is.”
So she observed her body and she found out that it was in her chest. So the next time he called she said, “I have got things in my chest.” He says, “What’s the shape of it and what exactly is it?” She said, “I don’t know.” So this kind of kept happening he kept calling back every day or two and eventually she knew exactly the shape and size, texture, location and the temperature of this sensation so this is a beautiful example of mindfulness, of becoming mindful of the emotion.
So then he said, “OK what I want you to do now is be kind to this emotion. I want you to rub it with your hand to soothe this emotion, and to just be really friendly and kind to it. And then eventually the calls went back and forth and it disappeared. So then the monk asked this beautiful question, this key question, “When the physical sensation of anxiety disappears what happens to the anxiety?”
And then she went quiet for 30 seconds and her mind started kicking. “Oh the anxiety disappears completely with the sensation!” Yes, this is what you need to do. Cultivate mindfulness and kindness. And the beautiful thing is she ended up finishing her degree, getting married to her boyfriend, and that same monk married them and now they’ve got a child as well. So actually it’s life-changing, it’s life-saving, the mindfulness and the kindness. And yes it is really difficult but there’s no other option sometimes. It’s like we’re against a wall. We’ve got this challenge or difficulty in our life and there is no other option apart from becoming aware of it. And not just being aware which is why I keep emphasizing the kindness, the compassion and love heals. WE need the mindfulness in the beginning to become aware of it in the first place. So she was fortunate she had that teacher to guide her in that process. But it’s essentially very simple and I do believe that life and our challenges can be faced in a simple way. Not always easy, but certainly simple. And I’m sure you have examples of this too. Of meeting these challenges with awareness and kindness. And probably it’s the most healing thing that I’ve experienced.
Kozo: Wow. Yeah. Thank you so much because I started off excited about this conversation because of the combination of mindfulness and kindness and for you to give us that concrete example of how that mindfulness and kindness heals- that's beautiful. It reminds me, a lot of times when you do the meditation and they say when your mind goes they say, “gently bring yourself back to your breath”. The word ‘gentle’ in Hawaiian is ‘olu’olu, I come from a Hawaiian culture, and a Hawaiian elder said it doesn’t necessarily mean gentle, it means to treat like a baby. And I think there’s something very powerful there. When you are going through this process when you are becoming aware of the physical sensation, it’s important to have that kindfulness, to treat like a baby. And I think of this woman and her boyfriend rubbing her belly or wherever this disease was, that’s how you treat a baby. Soft touches on the skin. It’s just beautiful. A beautiful story and a beautiful practice that I think we can all incorporate.
Shamash: I love that phrase. ‘Olu’olu. I am going to use that. Treat like a baby. It’s spot on I feel.
Kozo: And I think, at least for me, and a lot of the people who I meditate with, we tend to be spartan right? We do Vipassana, and practice the adhittaana, where you don’t move during your sit. And when your leg hurts you just power through it. And it’s so important to also have that gentleness. That ‘olu’olu. That kindfulness with your body and with your process and with your meditation. It’s something that I missed in the sense -- I didn’t get it for so long. And your story really hammers in that this is an essential part of mindfulness, the mindfulness.
Shamash: Yeah exactly. And the ancient Pali word for mindfulness actually has the concept of heart in it, which is why we refer to it as heartfulness or kindfulness. The actual word itself always reminds us of the compassion element. Which is why I am hoping that we start moving from the word mindfulness to kindfulness. In eastern philosophy the words for mind and heart are connected together. And I think language is very important. Whereas mindfulness is partly attractive because it's about the brain about logic and that kind of Western way of thinking but that's not what the heart of it was actually. Bringing the love in together with the awareness and that’s when it has that transformational effect. And I’m so glad -- you mentioned the physical body. I discovered kindfulness when I started to be really friendly and kind to the body. And let myself lie down when I was doing meditation and asking my body what posture would be really oluolu for you? Really treating my body like a baby. You wouldn’t force the baby to sit in a particular posture you’d want him to sit in a cozy, comfortable posture, a loving posture and I think that helps the meditation.
Kozo: It just reminds me of this person Richard Davidson who does a lot of research into compassion and kindfulness. And when they first went to Tibet and they were studying compassion, they put these brain scanners on the heads of the monks and the monks just all laughed at them, and they said, “Why are you putting this on our heads? If you want to study compassion, it’s in the heart! You’ve got the monitors in the wrong place!” [laughter] Even the highest researchers tend to forget that.
Shamash: Yeah. Exactly. That would be a good poster for the west: “We’ve got the monitors in the wrong place!” [laughter]
Kozo: We have a reflection on line from Mish and she says “Mindfulness helps me to be more present to what is going on in and around me. I become more aware of my emotions and can better short circuit my reactiveness which enables more equanimity when feeling overwhelmed by something. More the “observer” which helps me to find balance.” I think being overwhelmed by something and being able to short circuit that reaction -- maybe you can talk about that? Like you said your friend would get so upset with the smokers against the non-smoking sign..
Shamash: Congratulations to Mish, she’s done really well with that practice. Reminds me of the quote by Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space, and it’s the space to choose your own reaction to any situation.” And so I suppose mindfulness helps us do that. I have this type of circuitry in my brain about the way life should be and living my life in a very automatic way reacting to people -- you’re not really living are you if you’re not consciously aware/ It’s like a program running through your brain. It’s almost like you’re not alive but when you start to become more conscious and aware of your emotions and then short circuiting them like she described so you’re starting to expand that space more and more and I would argue also using kindness and love to heal those challenging emotions that come up and gentleness towards are self so that they soften and pass, then that can actually change the whole world. Because all of our reactivity and lack of wisdom and lack of making conscious decisions is based on that. So that’s why this quote comes up so much - about being the change we want to see in the world. Becoming more self-aware and self-compassionate so we can make these more conscious and wise choices. So that’s a beautiful example of really going back to the roots of the cause of violence and suffering for ourselves and others. So what a beautiful example of doing that! Thank you for sharing that.
Kozo: That’s a beautiful quote by Viktor Frankl. The opening of that space, and mindfulness helps us open up that space. It reminds me of when you have this kneejerk reaction and you say, “This is the way things should be! You should NOT be smoking next to a non-smoking sign.” This kind of “Should Be” mentality, and I’ve been that way. And when you open up that space, it reminds me of Byron Katie, she’s like a spiritual worker and she just asks people, “Is that true? Can you be 100% certain that that is true?” And when you open up that space you realize, “That’s not necessarily true!” If you shouldn’t be smoking next to a non-smoking sign then how are those people doing it? They are doing it, so that is not necessarily true. So it’s beautiful when you open up that space and short circuit that reactivity. Actually short circuit is a good word for it because it actually extinguishes it right? When you open up that space and realize that the should is not true, then it just fizzles out.
Shamash: Yeah. We do have these pathways in our brain about the way we think and act. And I imagine most people walking through like a cornfield and it becomes easier and easier, so the way she describes it like a short circuit, you’re taking a different path one that you haven’t been down before so it’s a bit more difficult in the beginning. Finding a path where you don’t react aggressively or with depression or get anxious straight away, you actually choose not to, and it’s difficult because you haven’t been down that way before. You’re finding the courage to go a different route and that route does become easier the more you make that choice and maybe that’s what wisdom is all about. Cultivating those conscious choices and creating a bigger space between that stimulus and response. And Viktor Frankl he’s an example of someone in the most extreme circumstances being in a concentration camp and actually managing to that, that gives me motivation that I can do it when I am traveling around in London and interacting with people.
Kozo: Amir asks, “What practice have you found to work effectively for participants post-retreat sessions to maintain mindfulness momentum and not just experience temporary benefit?” And the follow up question, “How do you reach participants who are more focused on the research results when more rigorous scientific studies are still needed.”
Shamash: In terms of people who are very much oriented towards looking at the research, science is always evolving and there’s no right or wrong answer. At the moment lots of science says physical exercise is really good, but what if a study comes along that says, actually it’s not that great, or maybe less is better. So it’s constantly evolving it’s not a fixed answer that we have.
I would urge people to find out from their own experience because science will always say something for the general population but each of us are different, I think. Someone like the Buddha, experimented on his own mind and he found out in his own mind and heart what was right and wrong thing. He looked within. So we can be the ultimate scientists of our own thoughts, emotions, body sensations, our reactions and responses to the people around us and no science will be able to say, exactly for us, what is the right thing in each moment to do. The ultimate scientist to be really present to our own day-to-day, moment-to-moment experiences and to respond from that. In terms of convincing other people to kind of get into the mindfulness and meditation, I think almost always is the way we live our own lives because ultimately whether they are the biggest decision makers like CEOs or people in charge of health of a country or some other person, ultimately they are motivated by emotions and examples of what they see.
So if you are yourself cultivated in the sense of mindfulness and compassion, for yourself and around you, they will notice that and it's the small acts, again which Service Space emphasizes a lot, that will actually wake them up to "Wow! This stuff really changed, this really transformed the way they walk, the way they behave, the way they talk. It's not inauthentic, they are not acting." This is another thing, it's not about acting spiritual or acting mindful but really, genuinely, from the heart, they are being who they are. They are being themselves. They are being their personality. They have this sense of presence and they are really friendly and really kind and they are really loving and really caring and I want a bit of that I want to share that with my organization and my community. I think this "be the change" approach is more powerful than any scientific research are because ultimately decisions are made on an emotional level as well as through science.
In terms of the question about retreat, I think you need to be careful, not to try and hold on to that experience. This kind of approach (it's kind of Buddhist approach) which I think works really well, it is just about attachment is the cause of suffering and letting go is the cause of happiness and wellbeing. So when we are in a retreat, we do our best to be on the retreat and to be present and to cultivate the compassion and the awareness and when the retreat is over its about being aware and compassionate of our surroundings and as best you can, doing the practices that you can do and you may not be able to do as much as you were doing on that retreat. And that's okay. Life is not all about retreat, it's about being present to the needs around you and the needs of yourself. You may not be able to match your levels of presence and compassion and being understanding and forgiving of yourself is a good start. It's okay.. there is a time for retreat and there also time to do work. Although you may be wanting to, say, do [meditate] an hour a day, and you are not managing to do it. It is much better for you to drop that and to be just present in your experience.
There was one teacher and I asked him, "When is the best time to do meditation and how long to do it?". And he says, "The best time is now and the best place is here."
So ultimately we only have here and now and say as you listening to me right now, rather than thinking about planning mindfulness for the future, mindfulness and mindfulness can only be cultivated in the here and now so dropping the plans about the future and dropping the plans for "I'm gonna meditate at this time and do this much". Actually being really present to what's happening right now, either listening to this conversation or listening to your body... Maybe your body needs a rest, maybe you need to stop listening to this and you need to lie down for 5 or 10 mins. That's a beautiful example of being kindful in the moment too. I am not into planning things too much. I think in our society we control too much and plan too much and I think the joy of living is in actually letting that go. Going from being a control freak to being a kindness freak and living in the moment and being as kind as we can on a moment to moment basis.
Kozo: That's funny because right when you said that about being mindful in this moment and listen to the conversation, I was looking at the time. We have two more questions and I was thinking "How am I going to squeeze these in?" [both laugh]. I am wondering if I can at least get one of these in.
Kozo: Adonia says, “Hi, thanks very much for the talk. I am really enjoying the talk.
I am struggling in this economy and the concept of money. You mentioned imagining that one goes to space and when one comes back to imagine how life can be. Can you explain little bit about this exercise? Thank you.”
Shamash: Thank you for the question. So this particular exercise, the idea is you just spend a few minutes practicing meditation, mindfulness or relaxation. Whatever works for you and then just imagine you kind of zooming out from your life. The idea is to take yourself out from your job and your family and your work and all the stuff that you do and imagine going out from planet Earth, right right up. And then you imagine living your ideal life, so living in a location which is ideal for you, in line with your values, what feels right for you and the work you do is very much in line with your heart and what you love doing and the people you interact with, they are kind of people you want and your are serving the people. Whatever your unique ability is, you are really using that and so just kind of really visualizing, that when you go zoom back, this ideal way of living and breathing and being,is what's going to actually happen. And then you just imagine yourself going back to planet Earth. It is almost like a discovery process. You find yourself in the same location, living in the same place and you ask yourself "what kind of home am I living in? Who are the people I am interacting with? What clothes am I wearing? What does it smell like? What does it look like? Where do I go to work?" It can almost be just like a fun experiment and it may not be the right thing for you. It may not be realistic. It may not feel right but you might get something out of it.
So although it may not be possible to work in the place you want to work, maybe some of those values, you want to bring into your work. Let's say, you are an accountant at the moment and you visualize yourself being a meditation teacher in India and you are living in England. You may not be able to do it straight away but maybe you can bring some meditation to your work life. Or you may imagine having a beautiful garden but you have no garden, you have just a flat; maybe you can start planting some plants. You can take small steps towards that.
That's the exercise that you could try out.
Kozo: Beautiful. We also ask a question at the end of our calls to our guests. "What can we as a ServiceSpace community do to help what you are doing in the world, to serve you. What kind of things can we do on those lines?"
Shamash: What a beautiful question to end with! Particularly, what's on my mind most of the moment is the Museum of Happiness and helping it to become a project that is sustainable and as closely as we can, in line with the Service Space approach. In terms of how people could support that, I am not actually sure, how that would actually look. We are going to try designing and doing more experiments such as Awakin circles and Karma Kitchen so if anybody wants to come and share any kind of ideas or insights about that, they will be very welcome to do so. If you have some ideas of project we could do or suggestions or even videos you want to share with us or resources about how we could bring this beautiful philosophy more and more into what we are doing, that would be really appreciated. That's what I could think of at the moment. That will be really really helpful. And maybe just sending some compassion and kindness to our project as we are going forward because we are in a very delicate early stage so even sending positive vibes will be very much appreciated and we will do the same, back to the Service Space community.
Kozo: Wonderful. Rahul, did you have any final comments?
Rahul: I just want to thank Shamash for sharing so deeply and personally from your own journey and the way it's intertwined with so many people that you have worked with. I really really appreciate the authenticity with which you shared today.
Shamash: Thank you very much. Really appreciate both of your questions. I really felt you have taken time to reflect on the right questions to ask. This have been so enjoyable. The time has gone so fast, I can't believe it.
Kozo: That's what happens when you are mindful!
We are going to end with a moment of silence and after this beautiful talk on mindfulness and kindness, I just invite everybody to take this minute to be mindful and kindful, to your self and to your body and to all that's going around.
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