Awakin Calls » Emma Slade » Transcript
Emma Slade: From Global Banking to Monasticism to Compassion in Action
Guest: Emma Slade
Host: Rahul Brown
Moderator: Preeta Bansal
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world, to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
Rahul: Good morning. This is the global Awakin Call and we are going to get started in just about another minute or so. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. My name is Rahul Brown and I am delighted to be your host for our weekly global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you all for joining us. The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for 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 to live a more service-oriented lifestyle. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest is Emma Slade. Thanks again for joining our call and let's start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space of listening. Thank you and welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with Emma Slade. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that's co-created by many invisible hands. In a few minutes our moderator, Preeta Bansal, will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker Emma Slade and by the top of the hour will roll into the Q&A and a circle of sharing where we invite all of your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now. So at any point you can actually hit star six on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at email@example.com to submit a comment or question.
Our moderator today is Preeta. Preeta has spent her career at the highest levels of public service, in the corporate world and academia including as a Senior Advisor in the Obama White House and as the solicitor general of the state of New York. Also helping to draft the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a federal Human Rights Commission Chair, a US Diplomat, and being on the senior team of the world's largest bank, and a partner in a major law firm, global law firm, as well teaching at Harvard and MIT. She's now focusing on the social change from the inside out, from small ripples rather than external mandates or norms and from the heart as well as from the head. Preeta has been an active Service Space volunteer. Preeta will now introduce our guest, Emma, and get the ball rolling on the conversation. Preeta, over to you!
Preeta: Thank you. Thanks so much, Rahul. It's a pleasure to be here today and in conversation with the remarkable Emma Slade. Emma is a yoga and meditation teacher and an author who left a successful career in finance in her early 30s to find peace and meaning in the mountains of Bhutan. So, that was almost about 20 years ago, unusual for someone, for a mother of a now 12 year old boy. She was ordained a Buddhist nun in Bhutan in 2014 after rigorous training and she is the first, and as of today, still the only Western woman to to have achieved this in Bhutan. She currently divides her time between Bhutan and England where she runs a charity called Opening your Heart to Bhutan, which benefits special needs children in the rural areas of Bhutan and she teaches yoga and meditation.
Emma grew up near the sea of England in Kent, England. She studied Fine Arts and she was a brilliant student. She was both at Cambridge University and the University of London. She had an intention of becoming an artist or a curator until the death of her father from lung cancer when she was 26. She then switched tracks based on her father's belief that she could be an investment banker. So, she worked in Finance, managing accounts worth upwards of a billion dollars for many years, in New York, London, and Hong Kong. And as noted, she did so with all the accoutrements of the successful life. She wore fine clothing, stayed in fancy hotels, and as she says, ate balance sheets for breakfast and walked with a wiggle. She lived a seemingly charmed life. Then she had a critical inflection point in 1997, actually shortly after the highs and lows of the Asian financial crisis, when she was traveling for business in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she was held hostage at gunpoint in her five star hotel room. It was a harrowing experience, which she managed to escape from, but she was affected very deeply. She received therapy for PTSD. She then resigned from her banker job.
And as she came across and deepened in Yoga, a physical practice which helped her gain trust in herself and the world again. That soon turned into interest in the nature of the mind and Buddhism. She learned the great mantra of compassion, which touched something very deep in her. She formally converted to Buddhism and then years later visited Bhutan in 2011. During the visit she came upon her teacher, her llama, by chance, and then felt a deep knowing that she needed to find him and return to Bhutan. She did so and continue to learn from him.
She later was ordained as a Buddhist nun in a naming ceremony in 2013. And her deep compassion practice continued to affect her. So she ended up founding a charity in 2015, which is UK-based and helps transform the lives of children and young people with disabilities or special needs, living in rural Bhutan. Her charities received an amazing amount of attention in a few short years and in a funny way has allowed her to reintegrate her background in finance, in a way that serves her mandate and focus of compassion in the world. So Emma, thank you so much for your amazing service, your heart, and your compassion in the world, and we're so thrilled to be in conversation with you.
Emma: Oh, thank you. Well, hopefully I'm still going to do a lot more. So, my resume makes me sound as if I'm a hundred and fifty years old, but how can I steal us some more time to do some more things? So, thank you. Thank you.
Preeta: Well, obviously the opening of the heart has led to some energetic abilities on your part.
Emma: Yeah, I have to say that there's times when, I don't know if you've seen that movie, Star Wars, but there's that little character, Yoda, who says those inscrutable things. And I have to say when you hang out in Bhutan with meditation masters, you do feel as if you're with these Yoda-like creatures that are probably about 500 years old. So yeah, I have those moments.
Preeta: Awesome. So yeah, there's so much in your background that's fascinating. There's so many ways we can go with this conversation, but I thought what we might do is start, kind of, focus on some of the inflection points in your life. Obviously, there's many inflection points. There is the death of your father and so many things. But why don't we start with that incident in the Jakarta Hotel room?
It was shortly after the highs and lows of the Asian financial crisis. There's something to me very poetic about the fact that it was also right after Hong Kong, which is where you were stationed. It was being turned over to China from the United Kingdom. So it’s something about the turn from the west to the east that also mirrored in some ways your own turn from the western focus on money to something culturally deeper in the east. You're in Jakarta, shortly after the Asian financial crisis. A lot of the investments in southeast Asia for your UK-based bank tanked. You're at the top of your professional game. You're doing incredible analytic work helping to focus on kind of how to manage the crisis.
I just want to quote from your book because I think it's so telling. You say you're walking into the hotel room. You said, "I was feeling a little sexy. There was a wiggle in my walk. It was the shoes. It was lovely to hear the click clack of these elegant heels now as I walked up the wide polished stone stairs of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jakarta Indonesia. I was in a five-star hotel and I was feeling pretty five-star myself.”
So it's a really interesting state of mind. You're obviously at the top of your financial game or professional game. You walk into this hotel room, ready to take a break. You change into your swimsuit, ready to go out and then the way you describe it, someone knocks on the door and you're not even focusing really, you think maybe someone’s delivering towels. And you open the door and you're pushed into your hotel room with someone holding a gun and then you're kind of crouched on the floor and you're basically held hostage in your hotel room for a while with a man, with a gun and what turns out to be many knives in addition. So I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about kind what's going through your mind during that time. I don't know how long it was that you were held in the hotel room with him but what's going through your mind?
Emma: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting to hear that first paragraph of the book again because hearing you read it, you remind me of how invincible I felt actually, despite the crashing financial markets. As you say I was CFA, we had a lot of funds under management. There was that feeling of being invincible and I felt it as I walked up those steps. It's just ironic that a very short time later, I felt incredibly vulnerable, crouching on the floor with a gun at my head. It seems impossible to imagine those two things could happen just back to back. I think when some enormous shock happens, I mean, you just couldn't imagine something like that happening in this very plush and luxurious five-star hotel again, which convinces you that you are invincible. I mean, you're surrounded by wealth and good fortune, so that gives you this feeling of being invincible really.
Obviously, I felt many things through the course of that episode and you feel things very, very intensely when you're no longer in charge of your own life. You're completely powerless really because you're being held by somebody with a gun. So I think you feel things very, very intensely, and yet you feel incredibly powerless to do anything about it. It's a strange, strange time.
Obviously, fear -- completely frozen with fear, as you try to digest what's going on, with the beginning. And then obviously as I realized that he wasn't going anywhere, although I didn't really understand why this was happening. He hadn't explained why he was there or anything. Then as it went on for longer, then I felt again a variety of things and I definitely felt this feeling of despair, because I realized that I was probably going to die and I was still very young and I had a lot of nice suits and a lot of nice clothes, and this kind of mental feeling of invincibility. And yet I felt as if I hadn't done anything that was actually very meaningful with my life. So this gave me this kind of wave of tiredness that I was about to die at the hands of somebody in Jakarta and actually my life hadn't really done very much, in a sense, you know, obviously career-wise etc., but in me and the person that I really wanted to become, I felt like I'd only just begun and it was all going to end.
Preeta: What's fascinating is as you're speaking now, and you talk about the shift from feeling invincible to vulnerable in that room, I'm struck by the fact that in the book you describe that you were physically in your swimsuit. You had shifted into your swimming costume and a bathrobe when you opened the door and just begin the physical vulnerability of being in that state.
Emma: Yes, the front of your body feels very vulnerable to any kind of punch or kick or anything, so you again you try to protect and try to curve my spine over so that more of my soft parts were safe, if you can understand me, because it feels very primal, that kind of wish to physically protect your most vulnerable places, and in a bathing costume, as you say. I was very aware that my the skin, the bare skin of my legs in comparison to his suit and the hardness of the gun was a great contrast.
Preeta: Yeah. You know, I'll just for the benefit of people participating in the call summarize a little bit of what happened and how you got out of that situation which was kind of quite extraordinary. You were in the room for a chunk of time with the person with a gun who was kind of pacing back and forth while you were crouched over, as you said, protecting your front side on the floor. Then the phone rings. Apparently somebody in the next room had mentioned to hotel security that there was some screaming in your room. You don't even recall the screaming, but he allowed you to answer the phone. You weren't sure if he heard the questions that the operator was asking you. He was asking you if you were okay and if you needed help and you just said yes to your needing help. And then long periods of silence where nobody seemed to be coming. Anyway, there ended up being a whole group of men armed in the hallway, knocked on the door, you eventually made a big run for it. There were gunshots. It was quite dramatic and you managed to get out.
Emma: Yeah, I think I tried to describe in the book that you don't really think about it. It was just that for the first time the door was really going to be open, and when you're trapped in a room, it feels like there's no longer a door. You are just sealed in a room with a man with a gun. So all you want is for that door to open and so when it opened a bit, then without even thinking about it, I just took my chance, but I mean my whole body was just waiting for the gun in my back. I mean it was just waiting for the bullet to go through me, and there were all these bullets firing. So I was so exhausted and confused. I didn't even know really if I'd been shot. You're kind of like, am I still alive even, I'm really running here, because of all the shots of the guns and yeah, it was a moment of real confusion.
Preeta: Yeah, you also describe a number of out-of-body experiences where you were able to, kind of, while you were in the hotel room, looking up, this kind of floating up and looking down at yourself and not even recognizing the words coming from your mouth and things like that, but what I wanted to kind of focus on is, after you got out of the room, the police showed you a photo of the person who held you at gunpoint. And in your book you said, you just felt overwhelming compassion immediately for him when you saw the photo. You said it was a picture of suffering. “I couldn't stop staring at the photo at the end of my arm. If he wasn't dead, he was in prison. I did not understand how our lives had come to this. How had our paths brought us together to end in this way. The sorrow I felt was overwhelming.”
Emma: Which you can imagine, I didn't expect to feel at all. And the policemen and the gunmen around me, they're really proud of themselves, right. They were kind of gloating and they're showing me this photo as a kind of badge of honour or something, you know, look what we've done. Here he is and he's down to his underwear and there's blood around him and look, he's really in trouble now kind of thing. As if I’d go, “Great, that's fantastic. Good job,” you know, and pat you on the back. And I didn't know what I’d feel because I didn't know they were going to show me a photo. It's an unusual thing. And I think I just was really surprised that everything just fell away and I just saw this human slumped in suffering and the sadness of it. The sadness of the situation, me, him, everybody, even the policemen gloating as if this is a nice thing -- the whole sadness of the situation really hit me.
Preeta: Can you recall moments of this kind of overwhelming feelings of compassion hitting you before?
Emma: Definitely not, definitely not. You have to remember that I was an intelligent person. I was quite a driven person. I don't think I was hugely selfish, but I was interested in doing well at my career. I was a cerebral person. I many ways, I didn't feel I was a very emotionally mature person, to be honest. So this was a real shock to me.
Preeta: Yeah, and I asked you that, because you know, being in the global banking world, I imagine when you're going for a so-called "kill" in the financial sense, overwhelming compassion for perpetrators or you know, the other side, is probably not what comes up frequently.
Emma: Yeah, you know you are always a competitive person. I mean nobody ever wanted to play scrabble with me because I was only interested in winning. I need to tell you. So I don't know from where did this other kind of feeling or say that side of me was revealed, suddenly after this incident, which I never, I would have never felt this part of me, to be honest.
Preeta: So after that, you continue on in the business trip, you finish your business trip and meetings next day, you go back to Hong Kong, continue to work as usual for a period of time and eventually obviously something has cracked open in you. And over the course of a few months, eventually, you quit your job and go back to England. And I'm just curious and then later you're diagnosed with PTSD and start getting some treatment for that.
And I wonder other than those kinds of feelings of being disordered afterwards, kind of going back and forth between that incident, feeling the gun on your body while you're checking out your balance sheet, what did you feel with happening in your heart? Did you feel just being kind of your mind disordered or did you feel something in your heart as well? If you can recall.
Emma: Oh, well, I think it's important to understand -- post-traumatic stress disorder, what’s a really really difficult thing about it, is you don't really go back and forth. You don't really go back and forward in time anymore, like a linear way of looking at time, that most people would have and that the use the mind to make your experiences linear. I mean, that's one way that our mind works so that we can manage them, right?
So the strange thing about post-traumatic stress disorder is you are sort of living in two time zones at the same time. The mind is no longer creating a kind of linear line for you. And this makes it very, very exhausting. It's literally like being in two places at once.
I tried to make that clear in the book, but it's not easy because people talk about flashbacks, but they're not really like flashbacks because they’re with you right now, as you do your teeth, or you talk to somebody on the phone and this is why it's so confusing and so exhausting to be honest. So that's the main nature of post-traumatic stress disorder.
I don't know if my heart was really awakening. I think that the compounded experience of post-traumatic stress disorder in this kind of very unrelenting way, to be honest, in the end, it became in a way, a far greater trauma, than actually the hostage situation, because it just never went away. It never ended, like no door, you know, opened and I ran through it with the post-traumatic stress disorder. So to be honest the compounded nature of it just made me very tired in the end and very exhausted with my own mind state.
So I don't think I was really growing emotionally at that time, but I was experiencing and I know very well the power of the mind and the difficulty of fully healing in every aspect, from a trauma. I think I went through that.
Preeta: Yeah, and then you, the doctors said you had complex PTSD, which is what you describe as rises most strongly, which is a more complicated form of PTSD, and you said it arises more strongly in those who have experienced other forms of trauma, prior to a life-threatening event. And I wonder do you feel that there was some prior trauma in your life, maybe fully undigested feelings, maybe around the death of your father or were their other things that mattered?
Emma: Yeah, I think so. That's what they were mainly referring to and it meant that my system had already undergone quite a lot of unexpected trauma already.
Preeta: Yeah, I found it fascinating, in the book you said, the list of the language you used was very vivid in describing your mental state during this period. You said, “I was an animal hunted by my own mind. I was both the baddie and the victim, both the hostage and the hostage taker. It was a boxing match which lasted all day long without a referee.”
Emma: Yeah, so you can see from that the feeling of being bound up in something that you can't find a way out, and in that way, it was a very different situation from the hostage situation. Ironically I did physically escape the hostage situation, but somehow the PTSD felt totally inescapable, to be honest.
Preeta: So I want to move into kind of, as you started deepening in some of the spiritual practices...After this, you did a bit of a PTSD course or treatment. But then, kind of almost serendipitously, or maybe not, as the Universe works, you ended up in Greece to take a mosaic course, but then came upon Yoga, a physical Hatha Yoga.
Emma: Yeah, I mean prior to that, I decided to leave my high flying career which was still a surprise to people because I've actually been promoted to work for the chief investment officer of the fund management branch of HSBC, which was a big role, to be honest. But I think a combination of recovery and then insight into the fact that I was alive, and that I had largely recovered, and really did I want to spend my time still in Finance? I recalled some of the feelings from the hostage situation and I just felt as if you know, “Emma, have courage here. I just don't think you were put on this planet to be a banker.”
And I think part of transforming that hostage situation was probably about giving me the courage to think really what do I want to contribute to the world? And so first of all, I had to give up that career. And I didn't have any idea of what I was going to do. I didn't give it up to do something else. I just said, “What I’ve just got to do is end that part. I've got to jump into the unknown.”
And it is within that unknown, I did a few things, and one of them was going to Greece to do this mosaic thing. And then discovered mosaics is probably not my life calling actually, and then met this woman doing this incredibly beautiful flowing thing that turned out to be Yoga. And then I started to follow that and that was clearly the path I was meant to go down, but I think it's important to know that when I gave up my career, there was nothing I was going to. I just had to have the courage to jump into the unknown.
Preeta: Yeah and it's fascinating to me that the Hatha Yoga, the asana became for you in some ways a gateway into a deeper exploration of the fuller aspect of Yoga and then eventually Buddhism, and other things and this notion of the body as the gateway. And that's often so powerful for those that have experienced trauma, and I'm wondering if you can talk about kind of what awoke in you, as you started doing Yoga?
Emma: I think Joy. I mean I've been successful. I've been clever. I hadn't had a lot of joy in being me. And suddenly I found that these beautiful positions that you could take up in space, this awareness of your breathing, your feet on the earth, the sky above you being part of that, I felt this incredible Joy at being alive and being in a human body and I really haven't felt that before.
Preeta: You also kind of mentioned that, when you were in Greece, you had this very powerful experience, a moment of deep sense of knowing, where you felt like a bird and you said, I had a moment of understanding and it went like this, “You have to go and sit in all the places you have sat before; then you can begin.”
Emma: Yeah, that really happened. It was a very intense experience and I didn't really talk about it until writing the book actually, because I thought people might think I was a little cuckoo. But it really, really happened, and I think the journey after that and then eventually ending up in Bhutan, being ordained, finding my place. Going to many places in fact in the next few years, traveling, doing yoga. I felt as if I was connecting with a lot of places globally, and then finally I found my place and it was Bhutan and the Himalayas.
Preeta: Yeah and when you say you had to go or you have this feeling that you had to go and sit in all the places you have sat that before, was this feeling of kind of prior lives or you know prior experiences? Or what exactly do you think it was?
Emma: I don’t think it was as articulated as that, but I think it was...I mean you could probably read it as that now, but at the time, it just felt like something I knew. Like picking up threads. Okay. I got to pick that up, pick that up, pick that up. I got to have that, pick all of those up, and then it's all going to slot into place. It was just like that feeling and it's hard to maybe intellectualize it. It was very much an intuitive feeling, I would say.
Preeta: It seems you were quite deep into Yoga after that. You did quite a bit of study in Hawaii and Santa Fe and elsewhere and had some brilliant teachers, and you were in Australia for a bit. You started speaking about, in some ways starting to transfer, or maybe I'm putting words in your mouth, but kind of transferring some of your worldly ambition into the spiritual realm, where you were trying to kind of get good at something, or you felt you were good at something.
Emma: It's hard for me to do things in a kind of casual, half-hearted manner. It's not really me. I think I'm a very much more relaxed person now, but still, I'm not somebody who does things lightly. I do things with the whole of my heart, so that was the truth with Yoga also. I like to understand things in depth.
Preeta: Yeah, and you described a kind of like the edge of that, like feeling the same trying to get somewhere, trying to not be in the present moment was kind of taking over your mind.
Emma: Yeah. I mean, I think that was partially because I found it hard in the end, in the west, to find ways to deepen my understanding of the human condition in Yoga, other than just doing a lot of physical Yoga, right? So I think I just found a kind of point at which I didn't know how to go deeper in Yoga without just doing more of the same physical stuff, which in the end felt like I was slightly, a hamster on a wheel.
Preeta: Yeah, I thought maybe you can tell us how you know the gateway-in came from asana practice, and then you got deeper into meditation and eventually started exploring Buddhism. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about how the physical turned into kind of an inquiry into meditation, and the nature of the Mind?
Emma: Well, again, I guess you know, to be honest, there was a little bit of a leap of faith there again, because as I say, I mean I'd read books on meditation, Buddhism and I kind of had those, sort of, his Holiness the Dalai Lama cards on compassion that you can buy in bookshops, etc, etc but I haven't had much formal training on meditation or Buddhism.
But I could feel I was getting near the end of working only, working with the body and I had another of those kinds of intuitive moments, I suppose. And I decided to just, to sit down and do what I called meditating. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I decided I was going to sit down and meditate and just...so I went into a sort of little retreat really, for about 3 months on my own, with no teacher or no instruction.
But I just felt this deep need to sit quietly with my breathing, and I just felt that was the next thing I had to do, but I did it without really any instruction. But again, it must have felt quite a big need in me to do that, and it was. And somehow that gave me the confidence that I can be still, and the end of all that moving yoga, I kind of needed to know that I could be still. And it could be very simple. And so I just had a period of time like that.
Preeta: And how did you get involved or really taken by kindness or compassion practice?
Emma: I visited for the first time a Buddhist monastery which happened to be in Scotland. There's not that much Buddhism in England, to be honest, or in the UK, but there's one large Buddhist monastery in Scotland, which was founded by three profound Tibetan teachers, you know, who left Tibet and came to the West. And their evening prayers were the prayers of compassion which are called the prayers of Chenrezig, which have this incredible mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, which is expressing this limitless wish that all beings are free of suffering.
And I think somehow hearing that mantra and hearing the sincere wish that all beings be free from suffering, it did take me back to Jakarta, that indescribable moment of truly wishing that all beings were free of suffering. I think it linked there and then, after that, the notion that compassion was not like a wimpy useless thing, you know the kind of people that couldn't control their emotions...The idea that actually this is something in my nature, and something very powerful and important to me. I really started to look at that, and I studied the prayers of compassion and the visualizations and the meditations for quite a long time, and that had been my main practice, before I did my first trip to the Himalayas, to Bhutan.
Preeta: So in your time before you went to Bhutan, most of your meditation was kind of a metta or compassion type practice?
Emma: I think it's important to understand meditation. We could talk all day about what is meditation, right? I mean, it's actually an enormous subject, to be frank. In the Himalayan tradition or Tibetan tradition, or in Bhutan, Nepal, in Himalayan traditions, when we say meditation, we're talking about cultivating habits of mind. That's really what it is. And the methods for cultivating habits of mind are what you say and what you visualize, because visualization in the Himalayan tradition is seen as very powerful and it's seen, in a way, as more powerful than working just with the cognitive frontal cortex.
When you visualize things, you are bringing to your mind something, maybe in a kind of three-dimensional form. You may bring up big, great feelings in you, feelings of compassion because you need to feel compassion. You can't just think about it. So I think the particular methods through which you learn compassion in the Himalayan tradition are very, very, very powerful.
I mean the metta practice, normally a metta practice you would have some visualization, but probably not as powerful as the ones that are done in the Himalayan region. You just do your thinking of yourself, somebody close to you that you get on with, somebody you don't get on with, a neutral person and then you'll probably say a prayer around them, but the visualizations in the compassion prayers used in the Himalayas are far greater than that.
Preeta: And then you decided after, I guess it was from 2004, to be initiated into Buddhism formally. And I'm curious why -- so many people will be involved with Buddhism, consider themselves very aligned with Buddhism, but not be initiated. I'm curious about that decision.
Emma: Yeah, that was quite a scary decision, to be honest, because I'm not one to join a band. And very much had the confidence to kind of go my own way in my life. And so actually I was really surprised to find myself doing that. I also had a fair degree of skepticism, to be honest, about any institutionalized thinking or religion because I've grown up in an era where there’ve been quite a lot of scandals about institutionalized religion. So I was very skeptical, to be honest, but I think in the end I felt that actually what I’d seen of the tradition and the thinking and the prayers, I felt actually had so much to offer, and if I was going to go further, it was appropriate to formally become a Buddhist and honour that tradition.
Preeta: I'm curious -- did you have a spiritual upbringing or particular religious tradition?
Emma: No, I mean there were things from Asia in the house that I was born in. Things from Burma and Asia from my grandparents, but no I didn't really have a spiritual upbringing at all, to be honest. And as I say mainly at the time there were a lot of issues going on around various institutionalized religions. So I definitely grew up in an era in which the West was beginning to say, “No, I'm not going to just think that's okay. I'm not going to just go along with that.” In lots of fields of life, not only religion, to be honest. The 70s was a period where a lot of structures were rethought or dismantled.
Preeta: Yeah, so also during this time you've become a Buddhist now but you're still very much, you know focused on being in a relationship with a man, perhaps have children and I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about that phase of your life.
Preeta: Like embracing monasticism after having a child (Laughs)
Emma: Yes, it is a little confusing, isn't it. I wanted to live a few lifetimes into one life times. But I think, like anybody, I spent a lot of my teenage years into my adulthood with one of the focuses on being finding the person for me, which is quite to be understood. Despite Jakarta, which did take time to get over and which did have a big impact on my capacity to trust others for a little bit, for a while, as you can imagine.
I still, underneath it all, thought I'd follow the example that I had, growing up with my parents. They were married. They never divorced. They had a normal family life with a dog and a fireplace. I just thought that would be where I'd be heading, and I had a long-term relationship with somebody who I just adored. But on an everyday level, we just couldn't make it work. We kind of adored each other, but we rowed a lot and it was kind of a push-pull thing. It wasn't a very healthy relationship, to be honest, although we really did kind of adore each other.
I really started to feel that, despite the fact that I wanted these things, actually they kind of brought out the worst in me. I found that in a relationship, I became very needy. I didn't become very patient. I became kind of impatient. I didn't become generous. I became kind of nit-picking. Actually, the structure of relationship with somebody just brought out the worst in me, for whatever reason. At the same time, I was developing my Buddhist practice and what I was finding was some feeling of a lack of integrity, because I was reading all this Buddhist stuff about loving everybody and being kind, and yet in the form of the relationship, I just didn't seem to be able to do it. This was quite a dilemma for me, I have to say.
I didn't think at that stage I'd become a nun, but I could see that, somehow, the dots weren't joining up between spiritual practice and everyday life. In the end, that relationship finished and that was a bit of a turning point. Ironically enough, I'm fully ordained now. I've taken my vows for life. I'm totally celibate. But right now, I'd be better at a relationship than ever before because I've gone far enough in my spiritual practice now to be a decent partner for somebody. I just hadn't gone far enough back then, to know how to use my spiritual development to be a good person with somebody else. Of course, now, it's too late. If he came back now, it would be okay.
Preeta: Interestingly you had this push-pull relationship for many years, then you went back briefly to your hometown, then you went back to banking, had a very brief relationship with another banker type, who ended up being the father of your child. You'd already ended the relationship when you realized that you were having a child with him. You were quite clear that you weren't going to let that be the basis of getting back together with him.
Emma: Yeah, that's right. I've been told I couldn't have children, which was a big thing to digest and it meant that I wasn't as careful as I should have been, because I didn't think I could have a child. So I had a short-term relationship, it ended, and a couple of weeks after it ended, I discovered that I was pregnant.
Preeta: It seems like you have a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Emma: Yeah, we've managed to make it work. It hasn't been easy at points. But again, especially when you've had a child with somebody else, you have to learn to be selfless. Think of the child first. That's a great spiritual lesson right there.
Preeta: That's what I want to get into. As a parent, as a monastic now, there's so much in the monastic tradition about separating parenting from spiritual progress, and I noticed in your story that as you started parenting, you said you were able to teach Yoga better, for example. You found yourself more compassionate, less self-centered. I'm wondering what you think is the role of parenting in terms of spiritual progress?
Emma: I think for me personally, parenting has been hugely challenging. It's been challenging because it has questioned previously far more selfish habits, to be honest. A lot of the qualities that we learn about in theory in our spiritual reflection, like patience, selflessness, and compassion, to be honest, once you have a child, they really test you on those.
You're really going to find out really soon whether this is just theory or whether you are going to put it into practice. I feel that parenting is enormous ground for spiritual integrity. I think generally it should be highly valued because how we learn to care for others, not in theory, but in practice, that's the future of the world. I think parenting generally needs to be highly valued as a thing to spend your time doing.
Preeta: From the perspective of attachment, obviously when you have a child you become so attached to an object of affection. How does that fit into Buddhist…?
Emma: I should explain this a little bit more. In the Buddhist prayers, you'll notice that actually many times you are encouraged to see all sentient beings: all humans, animals, birds, insects, etc., as if they have been your own mother in a previous life. You're encouraged to think of your relations with all beings as if it's a mother-child relationship. Sometimes you're the child, sometimes you're the mother, right?
In this life, I've had an actual child and been their mother, and understood the profound connection between a mother and a child. What that should then do is allow me to treat more and more beings with care and consideration and compassion and concern, in the same way as I treat my own child. So what you learn in being a parent of one child, then the idea is that you multiply it increasingly, in the attitude that you have for all beings. That's really important to understand.
Your mental attitude to all beings becomes more like their mother: you're concerned about them. You're connected to them. You're not separate from them. From a Buddhist point of view, that is the attitude that we want and I think it's genuinely is hard to understand that attitude without having actually being a parent, or certainly it makes it easier. All those prayers about thinking of other beings as having been your child or your mother do make a real impact on you, particularly once you've had a child, I think. In terms of attachment, we have to really love now, but recognize impermanence. And as long as you recognize that things are constantly changing, nothing is permanent, then you should be able to love without attachment.
Preeta: Obviously, you're unusual as a nun, in the sense that you're a mother but you have spoken powerfully about how the role of parenting has actually assisted you on your spiritual path. I wonder how the other side works: how has your spiritual progress affected your parenting?
Emma: You'd probably have to ask Oscar that. Oscar has been raised in a way where he just has a high degree of understanding that people have a spiritual side to them, that can be very strong. To be honest, a lot of people don't have that opportunity to even recognize that that might be a part of somebody's existence, more than just work, or what clothes you got on, or where you've gone on holiday -- that some kind of spiritual evolution and development is a natural part of what it is to be a human.
He's seen that example very well, I think. He obviously realizes that we're never going to have a big car, or if he said to me, "Mom, I realize now you're never going to have a Gucci handbag" -- these things he's caught onto. He's 12 on Friday. He's beginning to gain quite a lot of independence now and I think increasingly he feels like, "My mum does her life and that's fantastic, but I'm doing my life now and I've got my friends, and I've got other things I want to do with my life."
I feel as if we're both very healthy in our response to our own lives. I think, at points, it's been hard for him to see his mum looks so different from most mums. And I think that's sometimes been hard for him and that's why I've been very clear to take him to Buddhist countries, where he can see other people in robes and he can see that in some countries, lots of people wear robes. But obviously when we're in England, then I'm very, you know, there aren't really anybody else around me in robes. So, as he says, "You know, mummy, 20 people turned to look at you just now. Didn't you see?" He's had to put up with a little bit of that. But again, I just say, Oscar, look, everybody needs to know that they can go on their own path and they look different. It's okay and try and understand that, you know. Maybe some of these things, you know, in a while, when he's older, he'll really get it. Right now, I think he half gets it.
Preeta: Yeah in the book you talk a number of times about how like when you put on your robes you were concerned about how he would feel. But his response was that you're the happiest mom in school. He seems to get it, there were some powerful moments.
Emma: I think he does, but I think he's just reaching an age now approaching teenage years, where probably it's, if anything, slightly harder for him. So I think it's right that he's becoming more independent now and spending more time with his dad and. He can be his own person in the world.
Preeta: You know that, also in your memoir, few years after he was born, he was diagnosed with ADHD, attention deficit disorder and that you've later found out is not that uncommon, when the mother has had PTSD.
Emma: Yeah, that was tough. That whole thing's been quite tough. But I have to say my real love and compassion goes to anybody who's dealing with a family member with ADHD, all those kind of conditions, often of which are misunderstood. It's only until, you know, so many of these things, it’s only until you walk that path that you can get an insight into what that is really like and it is a form of suffering. When you see it in your own child, you see the difficulty it gives them in school and social situations. You just want that suffering to be taken away. So, my heart just goes out to anybody who's dealing with that situation and you know to wish them luck with it.
Preeta: Yeah, so the reason I asked about that is I wondered, as you have made your own spiritual progress and kind of gotten past your PTSD, has that also had ripple effects on Oscar and his condition?
Emma: No, I think he's going to walk his own path and I hope that having seen, known about yoga, meditation, and methods to calm and balance you, you know, I hope, in the end, that will have been of benefit to him. But, you know, when you watch another human, even if they're related to you and it's so clear they're walking their own path with their own challenges, right? You've got to just try and give them tools to help with that. But, you know, he's walking his own path. I'm just there to support him, but I can't save him from some of these challenges, as much as I'd love to.
Rahul: I just wanted to remind folks on the call that that there's an opportunity to press star six and ask Emma your own questions and you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Preeta, you sounded like you had another question, so I'll just let you go there, go to the question.
Preeta: Yeah, I have a lot more questions. But let me start this. You went from being a woman in a man's world in the bank...We haven't even talked about Bhutan yet. So we will get there and your charity. You went from a woman in a man's world, in the banking world to now in the monastic world. You obviously are a bit of a trendsetter. Do you see any similarities there? What has your experience been like, like being a woman now, especially a western woman in the monastery?
Emma: Yeah. I mean, I think that I've been very lucky. I'm in a very odd situation. I'm the only Western woman ordained. In return, I've been extremely lucky to be taught by a very advanced practitioners in Bhutan. I don't know how I got to be in such a lucky position. I just carry on with that in terms of then, I mean, it’s not dissimilar to Finance, to sort of just forget about my gender and I just try and be the best practitioner I can be. I think if people see that you are sincere and you're working really hard and suddenly in the Buddhist context, seeking to help many children, as I'm doing with the charity, I think people are able to put gender aside and somehow I've ended up in this extraordinary lucky position.
I recently spent time with in the Premier Buddhist University in Bhutan and it's all men there. And the first couple of days, I thought you know, how is this going to be? Is everybody going to giggle and get a bit silly, you know, like they're going through puberty or something? But actually, to be honest, after a couple of days everyone just accepted. Okay, there’s that weird one. We don't really know where she's come from. And okay, she's female. But it's just so odd to have her here. We're just going to go along with it, to be honest.
I felt very at home in the end doing prayers together and discussing Buddhist philosophies, etc. And I just thought, you know what, I'm not going to make your gender an issue. I'm not going to make my gender an issue. You know, we're all supposed to be walking the path to enlightenment, of limitless compassion and wisdom. Let's just concentrate on that and so I just do that, to be honest.
Preeta: So a big question, while others are coming in, one big question I want to ask and you don't have to answer it right away. But kind of the role, that intersection of the role of money, which obviously you had an inside look at, for a lot of your life, to the role of spiritual development and the kind of intersection between the two?
The reason I ask is now you've been working in, you know, you've been trained under a Bhutanese Llama, since then you were asked to help with a school in rural Bhutan or a monastery initially and then it has transformed from there. I think also it's like the Gross National Happiness index which Bhutan has pioneered. And just you know the role of the financial and material needs of a person versus the spiritual needs. I think it's kind of ironic that as a western woman, you're asked to help in this very material way in a country that is, you know, focusing on development from a different standpoint in some ways.
Emma: Oh, okay. So you're asking a lot of interesting things there. Firstly, obviously, for a human to be content, they have to have enough on the outside, and then they have to know internally what is enough, you know? So, it's you know, we do need like a house and food and clothing, etc., for our basic needs to be met. But then on the inside, part of knowing how to become a happy and contented human being is saying, okay, I've got enough now, I don't need another car, house, whatever it is, right?
So, I think we have to recognize that we need both. We need proper support in the material world, enough. But then once we've got enough, we really have to journey inwards. And it's journeying inwards that true stable happiness will be found. But we shouldn't underestimate that, you know living without electricity, with a leaking, leaky roof, and whatever, isn't in any way a nice situation to be in. So we do have to create sufficient material stability, so that we can thrive as humans.
You're right. Bhutan has been very visionary in asking the nature of human development externally and internally. I mean in that way it's not dissimilar to the yogic path. When you look at it, Yoga questions, asks same question essentially. But they have looked at both outside and internal development. But we shouldn't think that like, in rural parts of Bhutan, which remain highly underdeveloped. If you're a pregnant mother there and there's no hospital for long time around and maybe the water supply is not great, you know, this is not a joke and this will lead to suffering. So that's why even in the country of gross national happiness, you know, that I do see suffering and I have set up the charity to alleviate that suffering.
Preeta: We have some questions.
Emma: I'm really pleased we have some questions. I'm really pleased for that.
Rahul: Thanks, Preeta. So the first one is this 404 307. Are you there?
Woman: Yes, this is Betty Brown. Hello! Hi, so I'm in Atlanta, Georgia and I've been very fortunate to be able to go to Bhutan and several countries and the Himalayas. And I've always noticed that when I've gone to the monasteries, that if I go to the the ones occupied by monks, that they tend to be, ones I've visited, a little nicer than the ones where the nuns are held.
So I want to know, is there a hierarchy even within, you know, Buddhism that you have experienced in terms of kind of the monk and nun situation? I think you partially answered the question after I said I had one, but anyhow, I'm curious about that specifically?
Emma: Yeah, what I would say is what I notice in Bhutan really, is in monastic facilities, the harshness of monastic life is a difference between urban and rural. So if you go to fairly developed parts of Bhutan, Punakha, Thimphu, Paro, you'll probably see not much difference. And they'll all be at a much higher standard than any rural area in Bhutan. Rural monks and rural nuns, both of them will be having a much harder time, just because of the difficulty of living somewhere that, you know, is very underdeveloped, far from the road, etc. So that's the main thing I noticed.
I don't know if you're aware, but there's an organization called the Bhutan Nun Foundation, which was set up by a very dynamic Bhutanese lady who's really wonderful and has done a lot to improve the situation of nuns. I did do some fundraising for her and I really support that. As I said, it's called the Bhutan Nun Foundation and they've done a lot to improve the situation of the nuns and I don't think there's a huge difference now. I think one area which needs to continue to be developed is that the nuns need full access to, all the nuns need full access to the highest philosophical teachings, and that is coming. That's probably been a little bit delayed, but I think it is coming.
Woman: Excellent. Thank you.
Emma: So you can look up her foundation. You know, if you're planning to go back anytime, just get in touch with me if you want to see some other nunneries, or talk more to her in person. I'm happy to introduce you.
Woman: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.
Emma: Oh no, but no worries
Rahul: Wonderful. We've got another question from an 802 number and just trying to collect that. My console seems to be acting a little bit. I don't know. Preeta, are you able to select that person?
My apologies, folks. This is technical, must try this, okay. Did we get the 802? There we go. Sorry. I think we just jumped to a 415 number, but the 802 person, if you can get back in the queue.
Man: This is, this is the 415 person. I'm sorry, 802 person! Hi Emma, my name is Ethan and I'm in the San Francisco area. Thank you very much for your honesty and I love your sense of humor. It's refreshing to see that, you know, once you’re spiritual, you still retain that. So that's great.
I'm curious if you could share a little bit with your yoga practice. I'm intrigued, first, the contrast between how it brought the sense of a joy of being just in your own personhood at the early part, and how that juxtaposes with later on, after all the immersion you found yourself on the hamster wheel. So, that's one aspect. And then the other aspect I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on, you know, now that you're a Buddhist nun in Bhutan and having so many riches, where you feel the yoga helps you or you just enjoy, you know, presently and so forth? Thanks.
Emma: Oh, okay. It's nice to hear you from San Francisco. I think you should look out for me, because I'm going to be in San Francisco, 29th and 30th of June next year. There's going to be a Buddhist conference and I'm going to be there. So let's try and meet up if we can, okay?
Yeah, let's try and do that. That would be really nice. So, firstly, I would say that there's many types of joy, right? And I think when when I started doing yoga, I definitely felt a joy that stems from the body and when we read the Buddhist text, you'll see that there's different kinds of joy and there's many levels of mental joy and bliss even. They call it bliss. So I think that I definitely experienced some joy based on the body. But I think it's a little bit like I was saying before, about contentment. So, I guess that I experienced that joy. But it's a little bit like that you eat a nice meal, you know.
Yoga was like the joy of eating a nice meal, right? But if you keep on eating the same meal, you know, for hours and hours every day, you're going to feel a bit like you've had enough and that was just a feeling that I had in the end. But I think if we look at the path of joy, then we will begin with the body, and then we will go more into the energetic system of Yoga, the chakras and the joy based on what is usually called the bindus, and then there are states of mental joy and a permanent bliss. So if we look at it as a journey of Joy, I guess it's definitely going to start with the body, but then it needs to do other practices to find joy and other aspects of the whole human.
Man: That's very helpful to put it as the journey of joy. Within the Buddhist culture, do you find it having a meaningful place and a certain proportion, and a certain way of complimenting the other practices?
Emma: Well, I mean, I think on a very personal level, I think that I feel personally, I'm on the right path now. I'm in my place in the world. I'm walking the right path. And that alone gives me a great sense of well-being and some kind of joy, that I'm on the right path now.
When we do formal practice, many formal practices that we do, do bring a feeling of joy and the effect of that on the mind in the end really is a feeling of stability, I would say. It gives this kind of stability to the mind. And to be frank, that's very important, because one must never forget that whilst, like myself, I feel very content and joyful, definitely with a sense of humor, but at the same time, you know, everyday I see suffering, right? So the stability of my own mind which comes from practice, which is joyful, helps me in being stable in the world, when the rest, you know, lot of the world I see is in suffering, because it's no good then, if I just crumble. Or you know, I feel really joyous, but then I see suffering and I don't know how to digest it, right? So, I would say that this experience of joy and practice, in the end, creates this stable mind which has a very practical purpose in the world.
Man: Okay. Thank you very much. I'll try to look you up when you're out here next June.
Emma: Brilliant. Please come and say hello. I don't have many friends over there. So I'm looking to get some pen pals, you know.
Man: We could take care of that.
Emma: Okay. (chuckles) Thank you.
Rahul: Wonderful. Well, we had a comment come in on the web forum from Margarita, who's in Oceanside, California. She says what is your typical day like nowadays?
Emma: My day at the moment is very bound up with helping people in all kinds of different capacities. On a formal basis, at the moment I've been translating the compassion prayers which come out of Bhutan, working with the senior monk in Bhutan and translating those. Right now I am studying other Buddhist texts in Tibetan in order to gain a good understanding of them to teach them better in the west. I'm working with these root texts. At the moment I'm being quite like a little professor I would say. I am studying the process of dying according to the Tibetan tradition because people die, animals die, and as a nun, it's important to know if people want some advice at that point. It's important that I know how to guide them or advise them if they do seek my help.
Saragrace: I am so grateful to be here with you today. Thank you, thank you. I think of a similar question to the last person, but I'm wondering how often do you go to Bhutan? How long are you there? And what is your life like when you are there?
Emma: I go back and forth to Bhutan partially for the charity and partially for my monastic study. You see that I've got those two legs, right? On some trips to Bhutan I'll be in the middle of nowhere, visiting children who might need my help, visiting hospitals, families.
We've played a major role in building the first purpose-built special needs school which is in the far east of Bhutan near Tashigang. You may often find me there looking over buildings that we've built, checking that I'm happy with them, talking to children about how the school is going, etcetera. And then sometimes, like my recent trip, when I was at the Buddhist university, I will be pretty much with senior teachers in Bhutan, getting teachings, discussing texts, improving my understanding of Tibetan, and also my understanding of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is usually associated with the yogic tradition, but obviously many of the prayers in the Himalayan region have a large degree of Sanskrit. At some point, I've got to get my Sanskrit a bit more up to speed as well. I'm doing things like that.
Sara: Wow. My other question is if one wants to learn more about the kind of Buddhism in Bhutan, because I'm, it sounds like it's different than other Buddhist meditation practices, how would I find out more?
Emma: It's not different from Tibetan Buddhism. It's Himalayan Buddhism, so you're going to find it in Tibet, Bhutan, parts of Nepal, and certainly parts of India. As you know, Buddhism is pretty much all heading in the same direction, but Southeast-Asian Buddhism probably use different methods. They certainly don't use the same musical instruments or the same visualization practices that are used in the Himalayas, but for instance, his Holiness the Dalai Lama is a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, so you can read anything that he's written. Anything from the Himalayan region will be absolutely fine to read. It depends what level you're at. It depends what your particular interest is in. Do you have a particular interest that you particularly want to go down, do you think?
Sara: I think I'm in discovery mode. I feel very very aligned with, for example, Thích Nhất Hạnh. I really feel an affinity with him.
Emma: Then you have your answer to your question there then. If you feel not only that the writings of somebody speak to you, but their example as a human speaks to you, and I think that's often the case with Thích Nhất Hạnh, then I would just encourage you to read his words, consider his life as an example to follow, and as long as you do it with sincerity, then you will make progress.
Sara: Thank you. Beautiful. Thank you so much.
Rahul: I actually have a question myself that Preeta sort of touched on a little bit, in one for her questions to you, but I'm curious about how you feel you're sort of hard-driving, materially ambitious path stays with you, or if you feel it does? And whether you feel like there's an edge in converting material ambition to spiritual ambition? In other words, what is the point at which the drive which turned in another direction becomes something that's a hindrance rather than a help on the spiritual path?
Emma: My basic nature is still very much there. You can see that I'm energetic, I like to communicate with people, and I like to get things done. But the underlying motivation is totally changed because all of those qualities now are wholeheartedly being used to help other beings in lots of different ways. If we read the text, in fact, we are supposed to put our wholeheartedness into everything. We're supposed to wholeheartedly care for other human beings, not just a bit, not just a little, not just on a Tuesday, we're supposed to wholeheartedly wish that beings be free from suffering, whether it's physical or mental or whatever, and do our best to achieve that.
In fact, the Buddhist path, although on the one hand is very peaceful in nature, on the other hand is actually very energetic. If you observe -- even look at his Holiness the Dalai Lama -- this guy's amazing. He's like 82. He's here, there, and everywhere. He's hugely energetic, constantly trying to do his best to help people. I think we shouldn't underestimate that aspect of Buddhism in action.
Rahul: Thank you. The other half question was just whether there is an edge to that. Is there a point at which the drive becomes a hindrance? I understand that we dynamically shift that energy and the underlying motivation becomes different, and there's tremendous value to bringing that kind of energy in. But from the standpoint of reaching the goal within, is there an edge at which the gap has to come off?
Emma: From my experience, no. To be honest, being a western woman ordained in Bhutan, I've had to be pretty energetic. I've had to make a lot of things happen to get where I am today, learning what I'm learning, finding texts and access to teachers and things. I've had to be a little proactive and I've had to forge that path a little bit. No, I don't think so.
I think if you really read the motivation to free all beings from suffering, then that has to really be how you get up every day and how you are, every minute of the day. It comes in different forms, but there is a kind of real grit, determination to that and that's why sometimes you'll see metaphors in the text of the ‘diamond’ mind. It's called the diamond mind, because the diamond is indestructible. It has that "keep going" quality. I think so far it's been okay, but you can talk to me again in 10 years! We can review this idea, if you like.
Rahul: (laughs) Looking forward to that! Preeta actually has a question and then there's a couple others that came in on the web forum. So I'm going to Preeta.
Preeta: Great! Emma, thank you. This is extraordinary. Very quick question for you, and I don't want to take away from the others’ time, but I'm curious about the role of action, as you're talking about - compassion and action vs. intention of the mind. And it comes up because I know you are a mother, very much in the world. You're unique among the monastic tradition in some ways because you are in the world. And you're also acting. You're doing some nonprofit very energetically. I'm just wondering. I think because you're a mother you haven't yet to do the extensive retreat time- the three years or so, or I think three months, three days- that sometimes people do.
I'm just curious what you think in some Buddhist traditions literally meditating in a cave. Do you think that kind of subtle energetic work can shift the world and manifest in other places in action? Or do you think just cultivation of the mind and intention can actually impact the world? Or only if it is manifested in action by that person?
Emma: I mean, you do have people who are going to whole life retreat, for sure. But most people in the assembly in the Himalayan tradition, they would do long periods in retreat, but then they will come out. When they come out, they have the benefits of having done uninterrupted practice for a long period of time. The mind will be clear and trained, highly disciplined, able to focus, and able to totally expand. They will have those skills. And then those skills will be incredibly useful in the world and with people that they teach from there.
Many great teachers have been asked, in fact, to come out of retreat like Rinpoche. He's incredibly famous, as you probably know. He wrote many, many books, an extraordinary practitioner. He was told to come out of retreat. And Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, you know, about whom the book ‘Cave in the Snow’ was written, she was told to come out of retreat.
So, sometimes, these long retreatants, their own teachers say, “Okay, that's enough; you have now gained so much from that period. Your mind is now so powerful, clear, and has such capabilities now. You have to come out and benefit the world.” You'll find as many examples of that. So I think it's very mutually beneficial, you know, this link between the two.
I think even in daily life, to be honest. I think that we could have even five minutes of a kind of retreat time, quiet time, connect time, and undistracted time. I think the world is probably crying out for that and it probably explains why lots of these mindfulness practices are coming up and people are going on yoga retreats. And because they know they are you still there...(connection disrupted...Emma off-line)
Rahul: Well, I think the other part of your question, Preeta, that maybe Emma was getting to was, if I heard it correctly, this notion of whether intention alone actually has an impact on the external world. And I'm hoping that Emma will actually pop back in a minute and answer that part of the question.
Preeta: Yeah, looks like she's calling back in. We will try again. While waiting for her to pop in again, I'd love to share with our participants a couple of beautiful quotes that were in her book. One she talks about when she was going to get her naming ceremony to be ordained. She's walking up to this room which she shares with her teacher, her llama, and they see this beautiful quote on one of the trees and it's a quote by ShantiDeva and it's a quote that I've been pondering since I read it, which I think is really beautiful. It says “if you want to know your past, look at who you are today. If you want to know your future look at your mind today.”
Emma: I am sorry, guys. I think I just carried on talking into my own.
Preeta: That's ok. We lost you for a second, but I was just sharing some of the quotes from your book, the ShantiDeva quote in particular, which is so beautiful.
Emma: Okay. I'm really sorry. I was just talking and I realized nobody was speaking back to me (laughs), which is how it is when you're in long-term retreat, to be honest!
Preeta: So sorry, do you want to just finish your thought?
Emma: No, that's fine. I don't know how much you had, maybe we’ll take another question.
Rahul: Okay. Well, I think the other half that we didn't quite hear, Emma, was I think what part of Preeta's question was whether you believe that intention alone can actually make a difference in the world?
Emma: Yes, of course, intention makes a huge difference. Remember in Buddhist philosophy, intention is given a huge weight of importance because it links to karma. So from a Buddhist philosophy point of view, the consequences of your action speech or thought are determined by your intentions. So it's a huge amount of power.
Preeta: So, intention alone without action though will make a change?
Emma: Absolutely, because you're planting seeds. Your intention is to free all beings or...let’s think of a good intention. Your intention is to be of help to your local community, right? If you develop that habit of thinking in that way, it's habitual intention. That is very powerful. And from a Buddhist point of view, in the end, that will become so powerful, you'll have to do something. It will change what you do. It will change what you say, because you can't think, like 350 times a day -- I'm going to help my local community, I am going to help my local community -- in the end, it will propel something to manifest.
Rahul: Wonderful! There is one last question from Margarita, again from Oceanside. She says she's very grateful for for this call. She said she's feeling quite joyful. But her question was how does your son share your practice and beliefs?
Emma: I mean, my son mostly, you know, when you're trying to bring up a young child, at that point you want to ensure that they realize that harming things is not okay, especially because young children like to, like to stamp on insects. See what happens if they pull the tail of the cat or whatever, right?
So, to be honest, the main thing that I've taught Oscar is not to harm beings which are more vulnerable than you. He would really have got that growing up, and that's of course the core position within Buddhism -- to seek to not harm, to say I'm not going to harm. I could, of course, I could. I'm more powerful than this insect. I'm more powerful than this, of course. I could harm them, but I'm going to choose not to.
That's been the main way that I wanted to involve Oscar in practice. In terms of formal practices, then he knows a couple of mantras. We used to do them when he did skipping or throwing balls back and forth to each other. But the main thing is teaching the habit of not harming.
Rahul: Right and if only all of us learned that, how different the world would be. Emma, we are actually at the end of our time, but I'll just go a couple minutes over to ask the final question, as a host. How can we as the larger ServiceSpace community support your work?
Emma: Oh, that's so kind of you. How has this time gone really fast?
Rahul: Indeed. It always does.
Emma: Maybe it's some sort of time warp here. Well, obviously, you know, the book should be available in the state, set free by me. Please buy that. Please buy for other people. Every book bought helps us and spread the word about the charity. The charity has a website that people can donate to it. Obviously, that would be really helpful in terms of completing the school. So, those are a couple of things.
Just spread the word. If anybody wants to do interviews or magazine articles or anything to get the word out there, I'm always happy to take part in those. And as I say, I should be over in San Francisco next June. So be aware of that.
Rahul: Wonderful. Well, I just wanted to thank you for making the time to chat with us today. We like to end the call similar to how we began, which is a minute of silence. This time in gratitude. One minute.
Thank you, Emma for joining us, Preeta for your excellent moderation, and for all who have dialed in and listening on the livestream from around the world. We look forward to being with you again on next week's Awakin Call. Thank you all so much. Thank you!
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