Deb Shapiro: It’s delightful to see you, Donna.
DONNA: Well, I look forward to sharing you with our audience because I so enjoyed meeting you last time. And in this hour together, if you don’t mind, I would like to start in the deep waters and have you both chime in and give us an idea of what awakening means to you. What does it mean to awaken?
ED: It almost reminds me of talking to Byron Katie. And Stephen, her husband. We asked her because we were interested. We said, “can we speak to Stephen about this book project?” And he came over, and I said, “what is meditation? What is awakening to you?” And he was just quiet.
DEB: Just completely…
ED: Absolute stillness. It was the best moment. When the mind that is so busy is able to be so still… it’s like a child. The mind is like a child. The sub-conscious mind is the kind of mind that is a naughty child, and it says it’s going to do something but it just gets worse.
DONNA: I heard about that moment and I just love Stephen and Byron Katie. You two are my new favorite couple. I so enjoyed them, and I said, “I want to go live with you guys.” So, after meeting you… and this is a disclaimer to our listeners because I can hardly hide the glee on my face in spending this time with you… and I just couldn’t wait to talk to you about these things. And I actually heard about that moment when Stephen was just quiet.
DEB: Well, the funniest thing is that we were on the radio and it was a live show. So, when someone is very quiet… it’s kind of difficult to fill the gap. You actually just have to jump ahead.
ED: But his quiet made more sound and sense than you can imagine. It was a beautiful quiet. It was an Oh My God! He did it in two seconds.
DEB: He personified exactly what it was.
DEB: And so, when you ask “what is awakening?” I just go into the emptiness immediately. There’s no words there. And it just always takes me back to the Buddhist teaching, that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Because yes, I could go into the form as much as you would like. But the truth is, I’m just going into the emptiness, so the awakening is within that space.
ED: The emptiness is very similar to one of the greatest saints of India, Ramana Maharshi. And he compared it to sitting in a movie theater, and you look at the screen and it’s blank. And then the lights go out. The projector goes on. The movie goes on. And there is adventure. There is fear. There is love. There is hate. And it gets better, the more it gets into these things. And then, at the end of the movie, the projector goes off. The lights go on, and there is a blank screen. And that blank screen is our consciousness. That emptiness, where this whole world is projected on…
The problem is, we believe and accept the fact that we are the movie. When we really are the observer. We see it. But with the wisdom… with the understanding… with the depth of who we truly are. You can see every day reality with compassion. We are compassion. We are love. We don’t have to love someone. Because if you love someone, you can also have the opposites. So therefore, when you are love… when you are kindness… and that is your essence… and every human being on the planet… every animal… everything is love… Look at it! Look at this amazing world!
And so, to me, emptiness is describing how the sky, with all its emptiness and hurricanes and storms come along. But it doesn’t become the storm. It remains the sky. And that’s our true awakened mind. It’s like the sky… empty. But we have fears and worries, but, we don’t become them. We experience it. We see it. We have compassion for it. That’s true awakening.
DONNA: That’s beautiful. And so many things, like clouds going through that beautiful, empty sky… going through my mind as I’m hearing you… In this culture, in this society, we have expressions like the awkward silence, that convey a sense that we are afraid of the stillness. We always feel compelled to clutter it up. We have been conditioned to think that there is something uncomfortable about just being quiet together. But that’s where the love is, as you were saying. That’s where we feel everything that is true and beautiful.
DEB: Totally. For me, silence is like a warm blanket that you wrap around yourself. To feel cozy in, rather than something you are worried about. Once we were with a friend of ours… a long time ago. She had had a car accident, and her neck was broken, and we went to the hospital… and they hadn’t told her that she was a quadriplegic. And I was visiting her, and giving her some meditation and relaxation CDs at the time. We didn’t have downloads then. And she was terrified of using them. She was terrified of the silence within herself. She was overactive, as much as she could… and wouldn’t be quiet. And I had to accept that. That was her choice. But for me, it was the sadness of this person being given this wonderful opportunity, where she really could enter that silence, without distraction. And she couldn’t do it.
ED: You see, the interesting part of that, is that the mind… the ego/mind, as Deb has taught me… she’s my guru… you say it so much better; the ego doesn’t want to give up.
DEB: The way I’ve seen it is, the more we meditate… the more we are quiet… the more we enter the emptiness… the more that ego is out of a job. So, it will do everything it can, to keep employed. And it distracts us into the most extraordinary, meaningless places. And that is where Ed is always right in saying that the ego is a terrible servant. It won’t go away. It’s just trying to get in there and grab you.
ED: So many people have a misunderstanding. One of the things I like to say is, “where is the Ego?” Where is this me that is telling me everything? A couple of months ago, I suddenly noticed that two people were having a fight in my head. It seemed so absurd. Who are you? I didn’t invite you into my house. I suddenly saw that it was the nature of the mind. This is the way it is. It has nothing to do with us. It’s an absurd thing to say. Some people say, “it’s so good to have a good ego.” Sure. Have a healthy sense of self. Of course we should. It certainly beats a negative sense of self, unless you are a moron. But at the same time, the idea is to see very clearly… these things… this work…
Different doesn’t matter. That is what it does. A light bulb lights. The switch turns on. The ego does this. It gives us the mindfulness and attention, as in… we are not bad if we think terrible things. We are not this. We are not that. It is and the mind just is. When we see it for what it is, then it can no longer hurt us. ‘Cause you see that is the mind. That’s what it does. Of course, if someone is in pain, we feel it. But, we don’t have to make it the story of our lives.
DONNA: So, to take a step back, and sum up, and make sure that I understand what awakening is to you… It’s that still space where we get in touch with what is true and real. And that is love?
DEB: Yes, and it is not the self. So, being completely at ease in one’s skin. And recognizing the emptiness. Really, nothing matters. It really doesn’t. I remember the Dalai Lama saying that at some point. And it was like “He’s right.” Nothing matters. Doesn’t mean to say that you don’t have passion… you don’t have investment in things. It’s just that you don’t have to be attached to it. It’s entering into that open space.
ED: It’s like not living a beggar’s life. We’re a beggar, when the ego is in control. Oh, give me more.
DONNA: Why a beggar?
ED: You always are grasping. It’s the nature of the ego. I’ve got only a billion dollars. I need five, maybe six. It’s absurd. The nature of the mind is to constantly grasp. It’s never satisfied because it always wants more. That’s its nature. See it as it is. Like a child. If a child grabs something, you are very kind to that child. You might be able to show them that they don’t need 17 pieces of candy.
DEB: I was just remembering years ago, when I was with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. We were in meditation class and afterwards, one of the students raised his hand and said, “I don’t want to keep meditating.” The teacher said, “why not?” The student said, “if I keep meditating, I’m going to stop wanting things, and I don’t want to stop wanting things.” The room just roared with laughter. He said, “look at me. I still want to be with my wife. I still want to have clothes. I want to eat good food. I want a bed to sleep in. The difference is, if I don’t get it, it doesn’t matter.”
DONNA: So, it’s the mental anguish.
DEB: The scenarios we constantly create.
DONNA: Now, you mentioned this thing called ego. What is ego to you?
DEB: Well, the ego is that sense of myself. And I see ego in other people easier than I see it in me. I’ve been trying lately to just see those moments when it’s my ego talking… not necessarily my awakening. But the ego is very much that sense of me. So, when you listen to someone talk about “I want this… they can’t do that to me…” it’s all about that sense of ego.
ED: It has so much to do with fear. If I don’t protect this self, which we are here to do… In Yoga, they would say, “first chakra,” or the “first level.” Survival. In Africa, a starving woman feeding a baby will still want to survive. Even when the baby might not be able to. So, it’s that sense of survival. So, at all costs, we want to survive. So, in order to survive, we have to protect this sense of who we think we are. This mind, this body, these emotions. All the senses. It’s physical, mental, emotional, intellectual. Those are the things that we identify with.
Our consciousness is in the external way we relate to the world… the way we relate to the world externally. In the eastern tradition… in the awaken traditions, we go within, a little bit… through meditation, through breathing. We breathe it inward, but we start going to the source of who we are. It’s following it inside ourselves. And the quieter we become, we enter into nirvana. Nirvana is our true nature. Call it what you will, but it’s that state of absolute joy. The knowledge that we are an exquisite human being. Every one of us. But unfortunately, we treat the mind, the emotions, the intellect… and you, you’ll never be as smart as me.
All the different things that we identify with, that are aren’t who we are, but the capacity to use… when we wake up… when we truly see ourselves. It is not only so beautiful… the wisdom of how to be… the understanding of living with others in the world, as Ramana said… What about others? Someone said to Ramana, and he said, “there is no other. We are all in this ananda sagara.” Ocean of bliss.
DONNA: That’s the emptiness.
DEB: I was talking to someone the other day about a client they had, that was very depressed. And we were talking about how even depression… and specifically, where this person was concerned… is still a form of ego. Because it was still about me. It’s still I’M depressed. I’M being treated unfairly… whatever may be the reason for the depression. She was still focused on the me. She wasn’t able to go beyond that, to the place where she wasn’t so wrapped up in herself.
ED: Because we are all evolving. Humanity is evolving. That’s why you’ll notice, I do want to hear what you were going to just say… children… have you ever noticed how beautiful they are? They are evolving. If two children got in a fight and really got mad at each other, by the time they walked out of the room, they would be holding hands. They don’t hold on to it.
DEB: It’s like water off a duck’s back.
DONNA: It’s funny that you say that. There is a little story in one of Eckhart Tolle’s books. He talks about ducks and how they shake themselves off. They get into a little squabble about something and then they are just done. They just shake the energy off and it’s over. And if only we could be like that and come back and swim together like nothing ever happened. But we tend to ruminate and spin the story and replay the arguments in our heads.
ED: You see, we have to laugh a little bit. It’s sort of like… Call it God. Call it the universe. We’ll use the word… It’s a word describing… Why did God create the Mango, if he didn’t have a sense of humor, when the pit is bigger than the fruit? Delicious, perfect mango.
DONNA: And I’m laughing because I love them but they are so stringy. Why such a delicious fruit, but it’s so stringy?
DEB: Or the Avocado, where the stone is bigger than the fruit?
ED: Or, when God is really being funny, and he’s taking Adam to the tree and he says, “see that apple? Don’t eat it.” He should have offered him a bushel.
DONNA: Is ego always bad? Do we need that for drive and ambition?
DEB: It’s certainly not always bad, by any means. Absolutely, we can use that. To go forward. To reach further. For drive and ambition, as you said. The difference is when we identify with that ego, as being us. I’ve got everything I want. I’ve done this… Rather than just seeing that it’s just a part of who we are… It’s not the whole of us.
ED: It’s also very tricky, in that you feel really good. You won the Academy Award. You did something. It was wonderful. But what about having a nightmare… a terrible, oh my God? No one gets away with it. This is called samsara. The world is a phenomenal world. Anything can happen. And the idea is the mindfulness, the awareness, the awakening. It’s like AWAKEN.COM…Awakening. I’m awakened and I tiptoe on the daisies. It can be terrifying. But you still have to have a mind… sharp. To see that it’s not a light trip. We’ll go through nightmares. We go through illness. It’s a very challenging thing, but with your best friends… Really breathing properly, and the understanding that we are basically good… Basic goodness. Everyone has basic goodness. And then, it’s just peeling away all the layers. Because as we say, there is only one truth in this whole world. If you can know that one truth, you can wake up and that’s called ahimsa… non-injury. Do not create suffering for yourself or anyone else. And with that in mind, you can’t miss.
DONNA: And, something you were saying a moment ago… the client that had depression… why is this happening to me? It seems like that is the worst kind of samsara… self-inflicted suffering. When we get into that “victim consciousness.” And, I think that is really when the ego gets down a bad path.
DEB: Absolutely. The victim consciousness is me, me, me. And you have to be able to see that. And to be able to deal with it, or it will take over.
ED: You see what happens… the thing that is so difficult is that as soon as those thoughts come in, we nest it. As soon as we… I had one thought, it was a while ago… a tiny, tiny microscopic thing. Paranoia. I don’t know what happened. Two days I was flipping out. I saw myself, but I somehow gave into it. You can experience it but don’t buy it. Don’t buy into it.
DONNA: How do we put that into a practice, for those that are listening?
ED: Breathing. You notice that when you are feeling paranoid… when you are feeling negative, or depressed, or anything, you are breathing up at the top of your chest. It’s like, right up there… Sometimes you might think, my God, I’m not breathing. And when you see that, breathe into your abdomen. Deb does it best. She does her belly breathing.
DEB: There are really three places we can breathe. Right up here… abdomen. And belly. And yes, stress, fear, anger… will bring the breath up. It will be up here, and will be gasping. And, as soon as you see that, you need to bring it down. Bring it into the belly. That is where you will not be stressed. When you can breathe into the belly, that is where you will not be stressed. If you can breathe into the belly, then it will ground your energy. So that you won’t actually feel the stress, at all.
ED: With the breath. The mind is there, as Deb was saying.
DEB: And, if you are just into the abdomen, that is where your normal breathing takes place. That’s perfect, so you can actually encourage this process. By taking a deep breath and going, one, two, three. Just actually moving the breath down into your belly. And then, as you breath out, take it back out through those three places. So, you become familiar with them. And, you become familiar with how to breathe from each part of you. So, you can watch for those times when you are feeling really stressful… angry. Whatever it may be. Bring your breath down. Bring it down. And it will help ground you and get you away from those negative feelings.
ED: And even though what Deb is saying… still, throughout the day, you don’t have to feel good, bad or indifferent. Become aware of your breathing. It doesn’t have to be a super, big deal. Throughout the day, make sure your breathing is like, through your whole system. Your cellular structure is getting Oxygen… You are really becoming your own personal physician. Because you are caring about this thing that is carrying you. You are walking around in this body. The mind. Bring the breath. Your breath is your best friend. And the ego has to lead the way because when you agree to breathing, then the ego can jump in and take over the mind. Because your mind is with your breath. And, that is more powerful than anything else. And, if it gets too tough, use a mantra.
DEB: And, this is the simplest, the most important form of Meditation. You are just watching the breath. The breathing in and out. And that will invite us to know the places within ourselves, where the breath has the most effect. So, we are just sitting there watching the breathing, watching the breath come and go. You will lower it naturally. Your body will become stiller. The stiller you become, the deeper the breath. So, this is really basic mindfulness, and yet, it can take us way beyond ourselves.
Read and Watch Part II Here: Awaken Interviews Ed and Deb Shapiro Pt 2 – Awakening Is the Evolution of Consciousness
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Ed and Deb Shapiro Pt 3 – Be In the World, But Not Of It