Guest: Jeff Warren
Host: Ameeta Martin
Moderator: Thu Nguyen
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!
Ameeta: Hello, Good morning, Good afternoon. Good evening. My name is Ameeta 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 speaker is Jeff Warren. Thanks so much, Jeff, for joining our call and let’s start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space. Thank you and welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with Jeff Warren.
Our moderator today is Thu and Thu is a serial tech entrepreneur who’s located in both Toronto and Silicon Valley. She herself has described herself as having burned out several times and she’s slowly shifting from doing to being. She’s taken the past year off to dive more deeply into meditation, Qigong, writing and small acts of kindness. She is an active ServiceSpace volunteer who hosts monthly Awakin circles and Karma kitchen in Toronto, and is currently interested with finding her balance with freelance writing, service and self-care. So without any further ado, Thu, I’m going to send it over to you.
Thu: Thanks, Ameeta for the wonderful introduction, and thank you to for everyone tuning in, and thank you for the invitation to be here. It’s really an honor to be speaking with you today, Jeff, and Ameeta and everyone. So maybe I’ll start with a brief introduction for Jeff and then we can kick off the conversation.
So Jeff is from Toronto. He’s an award-winning journalist, public speaker, meditation teacher and founder of the “Consciousness Explorer Club” (“The CEC”) a global community of student-teachers whose goal it is to make meditation and personal-growth practices fun and relevant and accessible to all, where ‘Everything human can be a theme’.
He’s experimented on himself as he’s explored consciousness, in a book called ‘Head Trip‘, which was named one of the top 10 books about consciousness in the Guardian; and last year, he toured the US and co-authored a book with Dan Harris, called ‘Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,’ and in it, he’s the MacGyver of meditation. And the book is really all about helping anybody to begin a meditation practice.
I strongly resonate with his message of pluralism, that no one tradition like Buddhism has monopoly on enlightenment, and that there’s as many paths as there are people. I really like his plain language instead of mysticism to explore this consciousness and try to make this knowledge accessible and easy to practice by anybody, who wants to connect with their inner source of Happiness. So welcome, Jeff and thanks again for being here.
Jeff: Thanks, Thu! It’s good to be here. And thank you to Ameeta as well.
Thu: Awesome. Maybe we can dive into your childhood. You can tell us a little more about where you were born, what your family is like and even if your family had a kind of religion, or things like that, when you were growing up?
Jeff: Sure. I have to think way back now… So I was born in Toronto and then started school in Montreal, was in French school, and then my family moved back to Toronto, after the FLQ crisis. And when all that was happening, a lot of the shift in Montreal was from — the big flight where a lot of the anglophone population of Montreal and Quebec went to Ontario, because of the unstable politics at the time in Quebec.
So I ended up in high school in Toronto, and then I went back to Montreal for my University. So kind of been really between those two cities. But in terms of my childhood, it was a good childhood. I had great, my parents are lovely. I have a younger brother and younger sister, not remotely religious, very…My dad’s an engineer, sort of, a kind of agnostic-secular type. My mom vaguely-lapsed, United Church, you know, she has some beliefs in that way, but it was never something she talked much about, or it wasn’t very present in our family.
My family was very practical. So I was a bit of a strange kid because I was kind of a dreamer and now I can see that some of those tendencies to be interested in consciousness were there at a young age, but they didn’t really have much outlet then, except for just the typical ways in which most kids have an outlet, and which is to be imaginative and connected to, you know, that world for me is through reading, through play. I think there’s a natural capacity of kids to be very, that they’re all kind of embedded in that blooming, buzzing confusion of kind of open-space consciousness, that different people try to describe it, you know, when time goes slower and more connected to Nature, and sensitive to what’s going on around you. And then we kind of tighten up. But for me the tightening up never really happened, I guess. And that had its own challenges.
Thu: Was it, were you mostly in the city? Or were you out in nature “Nature”, kind of outside of the city?
Jeff: I was lucky. We had, we were in the city most of the time, but my family has a little cabin in the woods, about three hours, two and half hours north of Toronto. That was originally my great-great-grandfather’s.
I think it was, bought it as a little fishing cabin, you know. It’s not winterized or anything like that. And my parents got it in the 70s. So my dad had literally grown up spending his summers there and as long as I can remember, as a little kid, really spending time in in the forests of Ontario and the Canadian Shield-land, which is a mix of deciduous forest and conifer. That was really my happy place, you know, just being out in the woods and being, swimming in the lake. And we still, I still go there a lot. It’s, it was very important for me. And it was also a place where, you know, you could be connected to all those kind of nature energies.
Thu: So yeah, it sounds like trees is a kind of a recurring theme in your life. I heard you you fell out of a tree! Okay, maybe you could tell me a little bit more about that?
Jeff: Yeah, sure. Well, you know, so the theme, so I was pretty dys-regulated, as I got into my teenage years, and kind of, you know, discovered partying and that carried through into University. And then one night, I think of my second year university, I was just messing around and kind of partying with my friends, and playing football in the street, and I started climbing this tree.
I got about 30 feet up or something, and the branch broke, can’t remember if I slipped, or it broke. It was freezing rain, it was in Montreal. And I fell and broke my neck. And that was broken in two places, and that actually really was a kind of turning point in my life, actually, without realizing it, because it kind of really changed my consciousness in a way.
And it got me, it started opening me up, to things in a way that I hadn’t really experienced since I was a kid. And there was a whole fallout from that. But sometimes I think about that as being the beginning of my kind of adulthood, you know, and starting to turn towards being interested in consciousness and spirit and what’s going on, because my whole mind changed in a really profound way after the accident. So I had to kind of figure out what was going on.
Thu: Did you have a concussion where you lost memory?
Jeff: I mean, I did. I had a bit of a concussion, but I didn’t regain consciousness until the hospital. But I also had pretty severe fracture to C6 and C7 so they had put me in a Halo. I mean before I was in the Halo, I was in a whole traction where they are trying to re-straighten out my neck. They basically screw a Halo into your head and then they strap a pulley to it and keep putting more, more weight on it trying to stretch out the neck. Very barbaric method is how they used to do it. They can’t do it anymore like that. But yeah.
Thu: I know this kind of relates to your ADD. You had it as a child, but then this experience also kind of changed it, or maybe you can talk more about that.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, it was sort of a resurgence. So I had ADD as a kid, but then as I got into my teen years it seemed like I was starting to get a handle on it. But then the accident really opened that up again and that was the primary way it changed things for me. I just became much more associative and freewheeling after that. It was much harder to go in a straight line. So my school work really suffered. I really had to learn a whole new way of processing, you could say. But there were advantages, like it seemed to free up some creativity in a certain kind of way, but it was definitely harder to do more linear tasks after that. That kind of stayed.
I had to just figure out how to work with those constraints. Also, just any big injury, like I had a lot of injuries around my late teens — I had, broke my shoulder and snapped my clavicle and other. I had a lot of near-death experiences around then, a lot of physical trauma being flipped in the back of a pickup truck and smashed by breakers in Mexico and attacked by wild dogs, and beat up by pimps in Hells Angels, and various random rowdy things that happened to me. But all of that all of that stuff stays in your body when you have physical trauma.
This is the big learning I’m doing right now. After being really interested in meditation, I really dove into the kind of trauma literature trying to understand how this stuff works in the body, and it’s very interesting, kind of, creating a synthesis of both those things. But it helped me understand a lot, of some of the challenges that I had subsequently, down the line. Because when your body gets traumatized unless there is a healthy way to metabolize those fight or flight or freeze energies that get activated, they just stay in the body and they create all kinds of challenges in the nervous system. So you start to get these chronic reactivity patterns, chronic anger patterns, chronic freeze patterns. And it’s not just from the physical trauma, like I had is the most kind of an obvious example, but this is also true developmental trauma.
People with complex PTSD. I mean trauma is not even the right word for it, because it makes you think of these dramatic cases. I think it’s more accessible to think of it as a particularly sensitive nervous system. Every nervous system goes through shocks in its development. Shocks that happen to it, through emotional, physical, who knows, everything. A healthy nervous system can integrate those shocks, but for many of us, they don’t get integrated properly. So anytime, you see complex trapped people, it’s kind of trapped energy patterns in the body, trapped emotional patterns, it’s often because of stuff in the nervous system that hasn’t been properly worked through. So there are ways to do it — like meditation can help with working through that stuff. But often working specifically with a kind of trauma-focused therapist is the best way. That’s what I’m doing a lot now, a lot of my learning is happening around trying to finally let all these energies to go. That’s one way to put it.
Thu: It’s funny. I mean, I mentioned it to you, after talking to you the other day, I kind of remember me falling off of a tree too! Just listening to your description of what ADD is, trauma, it’s so fascinating how it parallels, what you’re saying is close in my life as well.
So I’m curious when you had this head trauma or when you are kind of processing that trauma as a 20-something year old, did you go to the therapist then? How did you kind of figure out that you were maybe wired differently or kind of come up with your own coping mechanisms?
Jeff: Well I didn’t. I was a ridiculous person back then. I just was interested in partying and whooping it up and so I didn’t really let it slow me down. I didn’t really stop to take any lessons from it. I didn’t have the language to talk about it. Nobody said anything about it.
Everyone said, oh you’re not dead, therefore it was a success. So I didn’t have any physiotherapy. I didn’t have any trauma therapy. I didn’t even know about any of that. I just knew that I was having a hard time afterwards, and I just had to suck it up because that’s what the messages that were coming from my culture tour.
In retrospect, I can see that I self-medicated. For me, dancing and partying and all that stuff was a way that I was happy in those spaces, because it was just like an escape. I would go into those places and I never really dealt with all the fallout of what was going on in my body. It really wasn’t until my late 20s that I started to stop and say, okay what is happening here? Because I started to see that I had all these behavioral problems and energetic problems, and instability. I was very intimidated at first, the scale of the challenges seemed overwhelming.
I’m still learning, at 47 years old, it’s taken me that long to really get a strong handle on what I went through and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — what I described with that broken neck. I mean there was so many other things. They just all work together as a complex system to create the particular challenges that you’re in. And it’s taken me all that time to sort of figure it out. But every time I learn something, it gives me another tool to help other people. This stuff that I’m dealing with is stuff that lots of people have dealt with, or are in the middle of trying to deal with.
Thu: I’m curious, I mean in my situation, I feel like I was exactly like you in my 20s going to the extreme. And then I kind of got knocked off my feet, off health issues to kind of look inside. I’m just curious for you, once you kind of got really out of balance, was there a situation or something that made you look inside or start that?
Jeff: I spent my 20s very itinerant and just living in different cities and having adventures and just doing my thing and it was pretty fun. I did experience a lot of challenges through that time. I just didn’t take time to look at what they were. When I look back there were times when I was in a lot of agony and very unhappy, but I just didn’t have a language to talk about it. So I just sort of soldiered on.
And then I had a stable period where I was working for the CBC (The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as a journalist and working at a current affair show. I really loved that. It was really good for my ADD because it was a very high, fast-paced creative job and and I just really did good with it. And then the structure did really, helped me a lot. But then I left to write ‘The Head Trip’, which was really a book about Consciousness and that was challenging writing it, because when you have ADD, it’s hard to write a 500 page book about consciousness.
I don’t know how I did it but afterwards when that was done, that’s what I went into my first major, this is like in my early 30s, huge huge free-fall because I had no structure, no work. My money ran out, my relationship ended. I just went. And that’s when I really understood that I had major ADD, among other things. And I just had to kind of figure out how I was gonna fix myself. When you have ADD, one of things you need the most, maybe you need medication, but you need structure. You need a way to contain all those energies. But I had no structure. I had no ability to create the structure because of the ADD. So that really was a very difficult period, and that was a couple of years there, where I was just trying to go to ADD support groups, and I just found it all very bleak. But I was also practicing a lot by then. Like I was doing a lot of meditation and the meditation was helping.
What was really helping though, very much in the spirit of ServiceSpace, was thinking, okay, what am I learning about what is going on here? How can I practically…? At that time, I wasn’t thinking about teaching. I had no, zero ideas about that front. I was just more like…I knew other people within my larger, social communities world that were having similar challenges, and I just thought okay, how can I..? I started keeping a journal, writing down what I was learning, so I can help other people with it and that kind of gave my life meaning through that period. It turned the suffering into something that was really meaningful, in the way that I think happens with a ton of people.
You know, like you are parents and your kid suffers from somewhere, disability or challenge and you start a parent support group from that because you want to help others based on what you’re learning. I mean, there’s a zillion examples of how this is true. You see it all around. And that was definitely true for me. So I started, the combination of the meditation, the trying to use the material to help other people- that really got me back on track and, eventually it led to me creating the CEC and into creating that culture, of the unique culture of teaching that we have there. I hope people are following along.
Thu: I think both of us are, together. There’s so much there! You wrote Head trip. You then, kind of, after Head trip, even though you were at the meditation section in Head trip, you didn’t have experience yet. Somehow, you found Shinzen. How is that? The kind of journey of meditation, how does that work with your ADD?
Jeff: So yeah, so I, you know, you look back and realize that actually there had been an interest there all along because…So when I was a kid, I would meditate. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but I would sort of try to calm my mind. I would explore the edges of my consciousness. I would try to understand what was happening and I remember this very vividly. All through my kid years that I would be exploring these things and I had insights about the nature of mind. I can remember them still, but I just…
That’s why I was writing a book of a consciousness in the first place. You know, you don’t write a book on consciousness unless you are deeply interested in it. Those are what ultimately end up being a spiritual subject. Spirituality is about consciousness. It’s about our experience.
We live inside a wrapper of sensory experience, of inner-outer experience that is very malleable and subject to top-down influences and bottom-up influences, and its really through the training the mind that we open ourselves up to these larger possibilities for more fluency and fulfillment. So, I’d always kind of known that and been interested in that, but I I started really formally practicing probably in 2003 while researching Head Trip. At that time, I just was in a very ADD way, indiscriminately going to every possible kind of retreat. I was going to non-dual teachers. I was going to more devotional Hindu retreats. I was going to retreats at Spirit Rock of insight meditation, insight retreats, Goenka retreats. You name it. I sat at zazen at Zen Center in Santa Fe with Joan Halifax and that group.
So I really was just absorbing everything I could and reading lots of books, and I found in the activity of meditation, something very healing and beautiful. I would say less so what I was able to come to, because I still, I found it challenging to get concentrated. Although it did start to happen, but it was more being in the community of people who were, had that sincerity and were really trying to meet themselves in a way. I found that very inspiring, but it wasn’t as you said, until I met Shinzen in 2008 that I really found someone. You know, because he really combines the rigor that I like, because I came from being a science writer and being interested in really the kind of rigorous phenomenology of internal experience at the time. I was interested in how it met with brain activity, but it was really the phenomenology of experience that I was interested in. Someone who could describe moment-to-moment experience in a way that was very accurate.
And while Buddhists, of course, did this and that’s really one of the great gifts of Indian civilization, a lot of the vocabulary for that emerges out of a culturally specific place. So it didn’t really meet my experience in a way and also I found it confusing how everyone used the Buddhist jargon in different ways. I found it very, for me interested in kind of standardizing vocabulary and being clear about this, I just ended up being more confusing than illuminated.
So to find Shinzen, who is someone who had a science background, he is so careful how he speaks about experience. You know, it’s always…He’ll never answer a piece of bullshit when you ask him any question. He will always get really clear on what it is you’re asking, and then see how it fits with what his experience is or what he knows about the experience. So everything is based on what’s happening in experience? Meaning is your experience static or is it flowing? Is it happening in a more, in an auditory or visual or a somatic domain? Or is it somehow feel like it’s beyond those things? Is it a restful state or is it a more activated state? You know, where in the sensorium is it happening? Is it more inner or outer? Can you find the kind of the spaciousness within, the emptiness within it?
Whatever, it was always very… it gave you clear, pointing out descriptions in your own experience. So, that was it. Once I got that language I was able to kind of, it just kind of blew up my inner world and I was able to find a technique that works for me, even with somebody who had ADD.
So, one of the keys to meditating with somebody who has a lot of attentional issues, who has a lot of excitability is, I mean there’s a few keys and a few tricks. One is I’d say the most important is finding what has been inherently interesting to you. Maybe this is familiar to you, but a lot of people get an instruction, oh, pay attention to the breath. And for some people there is something really enchanting or something draws you in, about the breath. For others, not so much.
Some people find the breath triggering, others find it just not interesting in some way. So, if you can find an object that works for you, that might be a sense of space around you, it might be sound, it might be that your object is more of a movement. So you don’t want to sit still. You want to do a very slow movement. So these are all perfectly legitimate practices.
You kind of just got to find what you most click with, and then once you understand what it is you’re building and he was very clear about that. He gave me a paradigm, like what are the attentional skills. Then, it’s just a question of, mixing and matching the attentional skills in a way that works for you, given your nervous system. And that kind of opened things up to me and you know in a way that hadn’t before and that’s become the focus of my teaching is helping people, in a sense, customize a practice and figure out what their unique challenges are and because you can always find something.
Thu: So, it’s interesting because Shinzen also kind of pushed you to become a meditation teacher when you felt like you weren’t ready. How is that? I mean, was it after a few years…maybe you can describe how you became a teacher?
Jeff: Yeah. Well, so what happened was I just was practicing like crazy, and I’m going to a lot of his retreats, but still going to other retreats, because I’m always interested in how other people articulate and language — so, I just was doing that. You know, really that was, all my extra time was spent doing that. And then I started something called the Consciousness Explorers Club in 2011. And that was really just a place where, I was a writer still, so I was still writing articles. So it was a lot of my writer friends, a place where just appears, could come and we would get together and we would meditate together and we would share techniques and we would talk about it. And it was a very informal group.
And there was no teaching at the beginning. It was just, we would all explore together and that started and got popular right away, I think because I had a big community and people knew me, more in the writer world, and more and more people would come, and people would ask me to begin, to lead the sit or whatever. And I would do it, because somebody had to do it. Then around that time Shinzen was just saying, because I talked to him so much, I was writing a book at the time about the Deep End of Practice and where it goes to — it was sort of gonna be a sequel to Head Trip.
And we had we talked — I had hundreds of hours of interviews with him. I really, because again, like he was such an incredible resources. It was sort of like finding an oracle, in a way — an oracle that spoke only about the present, you know, because he was so precise in what he was able to talk about. That I could really ask him any question I had, and I would really interrogate his system very closely, until I kind of figured out what the limits were like, what he knew and what he didn’t know. And it really gave me a sense of the space and I’d also interviewed a lot of other teachers and practitioners too.
But just from that, he would just say — Why don’t you? You need to do this, because you understand this material really well. And my background is a journalist was just a useful thing to have, because you know, I just had a knack for talking about it, I guess. So that was a real surprise for me, and I thought I can’t do that, because I don’t have my shit together. I got ADD. I’ve got emotional de-regulation, like I’m not some model of the perfect meditator or teacher. And so I really resisted it. I resisted it.
But I also saw that he was right — that people, you know, I was, for whatever reason, I was able to help people. And that was sort of the litmus test. I mean at the end of the day, you got to get over yourself. If people are coming to you and you’re able to help them, then I just had to get over it and just start to…But I, from the beginning was very open, about being a very flawed teacher. Just saying, look, I can only talk about what I actually know. Although as a journalist, I can say I will talk about what other people’s experiences are, because I’ve done those interviews and I can kind of point to it. But I realized that as long as I stayed within the constraints of what was honest and true for me, that I wouldn’t really get into any trouble. I also had a big network of mental health professionals from just my professional work with therapists and neuroscientists and psychologists and people that I could draw on, if I ever needed, and other meditators and other meditation teachers, so I had this great background network that I could draw on, in case I ever encountered situations that I wasn’t sure about how to work with. It just kind of went from there. That was 2012 when I started doing that.
Thu: And when did you decide to help other people teach meditation as well?
Jeff: Well, again, that happened very organically. I mean the whole theme here is just like — it’s just what new thing is arising in the moment and what opportunities are emerging from there? So I didn’t have — my only intention at the time would just be, trying to be helpful and to continue deepening my own practice. And so the way that felt real to me at CEC was to really honor this idea that the community is the teacher.What I started noticing in my teaching was: although I could give good responses to things, the more I empower other people to share their experience, the more helpful the culture was in a class or in a space...because I had particular challenges that I was dealing with, but other people have different challenges. So, if you create a kind of a culture where everyone is able to feel that they can be vulnerable and can talk about what they’ve learned, then you have this space where multiple solutions are emerging for multiple kinds of temperaments.
So to just say it here — it kind of points to a paradox in teaching and it’s one that I think is important for anyone to understand which is, I call it ‘the one in the many’ or it’s it’s been called that, not by me. It’s also out there in the kind of spiritual literature. And it’s that there’s both something shared in our experience always, and there’s something distinct. And that proportion or that ratio changes from person to person and that’s just kind of how it is.
So traditionally a good meditation teacher is someone who has a lot of experience themselves, and getting wisdom in a practice means you’re learning from experience. That’s literally what it is like — you’re learning from your own experience. You are starting to see what’s true for you, and what’s true for more and more people, and it tends to be that you keep coming up with ever simpler understandings that cover more and more broader cases. So there’s a movement towards a kind of unity or a unifying principle about understanding things fundamental in aspects of experience and consciousness, that seem to be true for everywhere, and you speak from that because that’s where you are located. So the traditional lofty meditation or spiritual teacher is someone who is moving up in that understanding, and you can’t get away from the understanding that there is a kind of a hierarchy of experience there, where there’s something like about having more experience and having less experience. Although I think some people just naturally get that more. But people as they get older tend to have more and more access to that. So that’s one side of it.
But the other side of it, is the pluralism side, which is that there are many ways to describe that. And that as you’re moving into that, people come at that with very different, particular challenges. So the challenges of ADD are different from the challenges of mood dysregulation. They are different from the challenges of depression, which are different from the challenges of trauma, or may be related to trauma or whatever it is, and different challenges from our conditioning to our external conditions. So we wanted to create a pluralistic culture, where we could honor the different challenges and all learn from each other.
And at the same time, honor that first part of what I spoke about, which is that — what are some fundamental truths around how nervous systems are, and what can we learn together about those? And so that was the idea, that kind of just developed the modality of the CEC, where we would bring in other teachers from different traditions to talk about how they experience things and to give their own meditation instructions, but always with this idea of focusing on what was unique to each of us individually and trying to focus on what was shared. And then through that also mentoring people, regular folks who come to CEC and say hey look, lead this meditation, you know, because you’re here in a culture of support, of teachers and people with experience.
And when you sit and lead a practice, there’s something that’s really interesting, that happens to your meditation. There’s a kind of empowerment that happens and you learn to walk the top more quickly because you don’t have any choice otherwise because if you’re not in that place and you’re not really centered in yourself when you’re practicing, then you won’t connect to people as much. So human beings are the feedback loop that actually help deepen your practice. So the looping is really wonderful — the more you give and from that place of empowerment and being centered, the more you receive in return, and the more other people receive. And it just is a wonderful feedback loop of giving and receiving.
Thu: Thank you. That is so beautiful. I’m wondering and probably from my own experience and from your experience of teaching, I want to ask what is your perspective on the difference between serving, teaching, helping, fixing and how would you kind of give advice to someone just stumbling onto this path where maybe they’ve never had any experience of teaching before?
Jeff: Well, I mean, I guess I have a bias there. I have a kind of generalization I work from, which is in my mind that you: generally for most people, a lot of meaning comes into your life when you can begin to connect your gifts with other people’s challenges and sometimes we each get one half of that, but I think there’s a full picture that is more helpful to understand. When we each have one half of it, the one half of it is to understand that by expressing myself creatively, expressing my creative gifts, whatever those are is deeply fulfilling.
And the other half of it is, hey helping people in whatever domain, is deeply fulfilling and people often do those things separately. But if you can combine them, then you’re really in the stream of something pretty beautiful in your life — meaning you can use your creativity in service.
So when I look in general, I think that that kind of advice can be a really helpful orienting principle for most people, so I think that’s just true for most people, like I said. And within that, you need to find what feels right for you. Like what has integrity for your particular situation and circumstance? And I think service is a very very very, in my mind, I use it to mean a very very broad range of possibilities. That it doesn’t always look like running a food bank or you know, doing a mission in Ethiopia for medicines in the frontier. I’ll use my friend James, who started CEC with me, as an example, because he’s very service-based. It can certainly look like that.
But what’s interesting about a meditation practice, about a spiritual practice is as we get more centered in ourselves, as we get more present, as some of our trauma or our challenges, some of the what they call in Buddhism the “kleshas” or the afflicted emotions that we all suffer from, some of that starts to get cleared out through the practice, that we find a very natural sense of compassion and intimacy and caring that emerges. And just through doing the practise and being in that kind of space, I believe we start to be of service. To the people around us, to our friends, to our community; just by being more centred. Just by being more compassionate. That is already a lot. And then from that space, we begin to activate a more service-oriented perspective, wherever we are. Whatever job we are in, whatever our particular ecosystem that we found ourselves in, we begin to make that a node, from which a service ethic begins to radiate.
And it might mean, it is just how you speak to your colleagues, that begins to change something. Or maybe, its a particular form you are doing in your work. Or maybe it is, you know, a particular kind of compassion that enters into your writing. Or your art. Whatever it is. And sometimes that overflows into a more overt way. We become activists. We start NGOs. We work in soup kitchens. But sometimes it doesn’t. Because you always have to do that with a balance of self care. Reminds me of another thing that happened to me. I overexerted myself in the service end, and burned out in a huge way. This was a couple of years ago. And ended up going through another whole round of challenges. Had to learn that lesson.
But you begin to treat yourself, with as much caring as you treat other people. And part of that means also having a very sane assessment of where am I right now. What is my network? What is my job? What are my circumstances? How can I give back, based on those things, so that we don’t martyr ourselves or put ourselves in a role that is unrealistic to where we are.
Thu: And we have a word for this, right, that I’m not sure I know how to pronounce! So…
Jeff: Yeah – that is a word they use in religious studies. It is a word used to describe certain religious traditions, that have innate within them a desire to serve, to help, to go save people. So basically almost every single tradition. But not only, it is also an impulse that lives in the secular world, it lives in the nonprofit world, caregiver world. Doctors, lot of them come from that same interest. So yeah it a useful word, however you pronounce it (laughs)
Thu: It is interesting. Because you touch upon, I know one of your heroes is William James. And kind of this concept of being twice-born. Maybe you could talk a little about that and how that has been kind of your guiding principle.
Jeff: Yeah — very much it has. Well, first of all – if you have not read “The Varieties of Religious Experience” — everyone should read it. It is a brilliant book. It is on the critics list for Top books ever written in the English language. So you know, it comes highly regarded. And it is a wonderful book – it was one of the first texts that actually began to champion experience as being the centre of where spirituality lives. That it is not about a question of believing objective claims about reality, that spirituality was something that was something very personal.
And your relationship to God, or Spirit, whatever you want to call it – is something that happens in your consciousness. And it is real as an experience. And that is, you know, enough.
And so he articulates within that book, it is more from a Protestant Christian perspective, but it is really was the great book championing religious experiences, spiritual experiences. And interestingly enough, it also, if you read it with an understanding of Eastern traditions and broader-based mysticism, you can see all the great themes there; in terms of awakening, and living a life of service, and equanimity and everything – you name it. It is all in there. And one of the ideas that I got from that book, that was very influential for me was, his idea of once-born and twice-born.
And these were just descriptions of human temperaments. He kind of divided humans into these two categories. I mean you can divide them five billion ways. This is for a particular educational purpose. And what he said is that the first born, those are the people who come very easily to practise, to a spiritual outlook, who have a sort of innocence, and openness, and a lovely buoyant disposition — kind of the classic, happy, new-age person, you know? A younger person who just sees love and light everywhere, and beams unicorns and candy floss from their eyeballs. So lovely people! It wasn’t about criticizing them. He was just — what he pointed out was that often for those people – there was a kind of naiveté or kind of Pollyannaish to their spirituality.
And that he was much more – for him the twice-born temperament fit with who he was. As it was for me. And twice-born is someone who has to be reborn into a kind of spiritual perspective. That the first time around you can say, I don’t mean multiple births within your life. They start out – there comes a point, when they look around and they just can’t get over the hump of human suffering. They can’t just write it off. They see around them the amount of suffering and the amount of pain, and it makes them really question, “Is all this just bull-shit? How can I believe in a God or in Spirit, that can create such a manifestly-unfair distribution of hardship in the world?” And now in certainly my case, it made me – looking around I got – I was an angry atheist when I was young. I was just pissed off at any idea of God. Because I could not get over all the pain around me. And the pain that I endured too.
And eventually to be twice-born, is to find your way into a more spiritual outlook, that in a sense, is larger than that. So that it embraces the suffering, the truth of suffering. And offers a kind of more mature spiritual perspective, that doesn’t try to write it away. But understand that it is part of the bitter-sweet complexity of human life. So that really resonated with me, and that is one of the ethics of CEC as well, and that actually is a vision of spirituality that would really serve our time. Because a lot of people really want these practise and want to be able to connect to what seems to be fundamental in them. But their secularism, and their commitment to certain kind of reason prevents them from doing that. And James really talked about a way instead, that honoured whatever you came from, including a more humanistic background. So that is what I would say about that.
Thu: I knew him from his work with free will. And his thoughts on free will.
Jeff: His other brilliant contribution — his famous essay “The Will to Believe” – that is an incredible essay. Everyone should read that. What he understood was that when it came to the largest questions of who we are and how we are; when it came to like – is existence fundamentally meaningful or not meaningful? Is it purely causal? And our consciousness is just an epiphenomenon? Or are we meaningfully stitched into the world around us ? Those questions are open-ended. Nobody knows.
You could be a great thinker on both sides. They are open-ended questions. And that ultimately when it came to those open-ended questions, we should be empowered to choose what we feel would be most healing as a belief system. That it did not come down to what was true or not, in an objective sense. Because you can’t know what is true, at that meta level. There is no experiment that you can conduct that will tell you whether you are meaningfully connected to the world or not. There is only an inner experiment you can conduct.
You could believe it so, and in the belief, notice how much better your life gets. So for him faith was the most rational thing you could do as a human being. And I completely agree with that. I am like why wouldn’t you? Because it is just more fun. It is more interesting to believe in the magic of everyday life, that your consciousness is meaningfully connected to other people, than to not believe it. And in not believing is also a belief. It is just one you unconsciously adopted, or one that you adopted in some kind of weird loyalty to a principle that does not ever bear out, with that on a meta level. So I get super passionate about this. Because I think that this is the most fundamental human right.
And I get really annoyed when someone tries to tell me what to believe at that meta level. When some secular pinhead tries to convince me that their impoverished view of humanity, formulated by their little chimpanzee brain, is the right one. When I could come into a cosmic inheritance that would allow me to be that much more compassionate, and open, and responsible, and curious about science too, because science is within that mystery.
Thu: So what’s going on now? What are you up to now? What’s your edge, your kind of exploring? And what’s going on in the mind of Jeff today?
Jeff: Oh, it’s all about democratizing teaching. That’s kind of like my big passion and mission right now. So that’s a book I’m working on. It’s a workshop and a online course probably, that I’m doing with a friend of mine named Julianna Raye (https://unifiedmindfulness.com/julianna-raye/) who’s a wonderful teacher in Los Angeles, and one of Shinzen’s main facilitators.
The idea there is to really challenge how we think about the teacher as being some lofty, glued on a pedestal. I think there’s value in that model, but I also think that the abuses of power that can happen in those situations, when there’s no kind of community feedback. I think that the world’s mental health challenges are too acute right now to wait for people who are perfectly experienced. And even those people don’t have their …I don’t even really believe it. You know, I think it’s an ongoing process.
I think that we need to start empowering people to think about the accessible end of meditation in a new way. So where every caregiver, every parent, every HR department, can feel that they’re able to at least impart the very basics of self-regulation and a technique, in a way that’s safe. And what does that look like? So for me, that’s really the question. I’m asking like, how can I empower people to become their own teachers and begin to guide others, in a way that’s safe. What is the minimal that people need to understand? And what does that look like? So honoring the fact that there are professional teachers and there always will be and there should be. That’s terrific, but that there should also be lots of amateur guides too.
I think by way of comparison, my dad taught me to swim when I was four years old or whatever it was. He’s not an Olympic-level coach, he’s just a guy who knows how to swim and he gave me a huge amount of joy in my life, because I can now do that. In the same way we can get good diet advice or good exercise advice from our friends, from a family. They don’t have to be professional physiotherapist or dietitians. I think that’s what I’m interested in, instead of just having this thing that happens only from people at the top, to keep that or encourage lots of people to do professional trainings. And I think that’s important, if you’re going to do it professionally and lead large groups. But also that people can be feeling empowered all the way to in a very local way, guiding a friend, sharing a technique, getting basic feedback on what seems to be working. What does that look like, and how can we do that in a way that maximally safe and respectful? So those are the questions that I’m asking.
Thu: I’m coming in October.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m doing one in Ottowa. I’m gonna do my first full weekend one with Julianna. I think it’ll be like a two or three days of just how to guide meditation, a workshop for everyone, is what we’re calling it. And eventually I want to roll those out everywhere. It’s super fun. And it’s great because you’re getting a lot of new stuff coming in, about how to teach mindfulness in a way that’s very trauma-sensitive. And so the field is getting so much better. I mean, there’s a lot of old school teachers who aren’t even aware of that literature. So to be able to bring that in from the very beginning to everybody, I think is really exciting.
Ameeta: This was a fascinating conversation, Jeff. You guys had an amazing dialogue. And I can’t wait to explore this further, but I do want to announce that if other listeners have some questions for Jeff, please dial star six on your phone now or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I think I do have a few people in queue. But I do want to take this chance to ask one question, Jeff before we get started.
One of the things that I found fascinating in your conversation was just how you were sharing meditation. Because in so many cultures, they make it seem like meditation really can’t be shared and that you can’t really talk about your experience with others, because then it might cloud their experience or make them want to ascertain special things to their experience that may or may not be there. So I was really intrigued by how you can actually grow with meditation, with sharing, rather than you know, having this thought that you can’t share your internal experience about your personal meditation.
Jeff: Thank you for mentioning that and there’s a lot actually to be done, unpacking that, because I think that the initial prohibitions around sharing experience — they’re there for a reason. There actually can be a tendency and this definitely happened in my practice where you hear about someone’s experience usually your teachers and you start thinking well, why doesn’t my experience look like that? And then there was a huge learning around in a sense giving up your ideals and beginning to notice what really is happening in your experience.
How is your own experience showing you the path forward, and that when there’s too much, if there’s too much noise, within that system it’s hard to get a beat on that signal. So there’s a reason why intelligent traditions and teachers have been cautious around that. I think the way to work with that is to be very transparent about that, as something that can happen. That’s why we share not just one person’s experience, we share everyone’s experience. So we can begin to see what patterns that people are describing are true for them, and which ones aren’t. And that just seems to be, for whatever reason it has worked really well to see where, when we in the sharing of experience, some people recognize that there’s a difference, there’s a pluralism of the views from the beginning. They can then sort of pick and choose what they’re hearing, what is it that is most relevant to them.
But it’s also true. I mean there is also a discipline that happens from learning to really look to your own experience and that’s something that takes time. Learning to have confidence and truth and what your own experiences is showing you is really what it means to deepen in a practice.
Ameeta: Well, thank you for that, because I’ve always struggled with that and have wanted to talk to others about their experience. But I’ve always hesitated. Now you’ve just given me another way to expand my own meditation practice. So I’m really grateful for that.
One of my other questions surrounded, your ADD experience. I have lots of patients who have ADD and when I suggest, taking some time to meditate and learn, I mean – the most natural reaction I ever get is rolled eyes. It’s like — well if I sit still and actually meditate then, I wouldn’t have such difficulty with this. I just have a hard time getting any of my family or kids with ADD to even think about starting meditation. So how do you encourage someone to even start on this route when their initial reaction is always – well, there’s no way I can sit still to do this.
Jeff: Yeah, I really I appreciate the prompt and it reminds me that I need to write up a post of a kind of meditation protocol for ADD people, based on what I’ve learned. But basically based on what I’ve learned it’s all about meeting people where they are at. So for ADD people in particular, I start out by doing a full ADD friendly meditation adventure, where I basically go in an exploratory way into people’s experience and I show them a lots of different things they could potentially pay attention to. So this is very good for an ADD mind because it’s very active, It’s exploratory.
And within that I try to help them find something that they’re more naturally curious about. Sometimes it’s about actually learning the composition of your own mind. So understanding where the auditory part of thinking happens, the visual part, the different kinds of motor impulses, the emotional parts, understand the space around you, the different auditory directions, there’s so much in your experience that can be explored. So that tends to be interesting and then I get feedback based on what is they find more interesting and I think encourage them to keep going in that direction. And within that, I would also lead a very slow movement practice. If you have a lot of energy and you are too restless to sit, then a movement practice can be just as good.
What matters are the skills, and that’s the other thing I teach. So are you being concentrated, are you being clear, are you being equanimous? Those being the main three skills I look at, as per my teacher Shinzen. And also what creates tranquility, sometimes compassion, self-compassion is really important to thread through. But what you can do, when you understand that the essence of any practice has to do with how present you are with the experience, how little you’re fighting with it (that’s the equanimity), how open you are to it and how committed you are to a particular direction (that’s the concentration), and how much fine-tune resolution or insight you’re getting in the experience itself (which is the clarity). Then you can really find a practice that works.
See what I mean — it’s not the vehicle, it’s not the form. You find the form that works for you, but what’s consistent through every form, are those skills. So I teach that too, and it’s just about taking a little bit of time with those kinds of nervous systems to show them what’s available. But I do think a lot of times, a more movement-based practice that can help and then other things too like, you know diet, the role of creating structure in your life. Like I talk about that stuff a lot in CEC too, because maybe in that, medication is also an important adjunct for some folks. So yeah, there’s so much, but why not use all the tools.
Thu: And Jeff, you mentioned you’re doing something with kids, right, and kind of meditation that actually kids might like?
Jeff: Yeah, so my friend Kristen Chase who is a communications person started a group called kid evolve, where it was sort of teaching mindfulness to kids after school, and eventually she decided that maybe it’s more easier to do it online. And so she got me to create a whole bunch of meditations for kids and they’re presently you can find them through my website. They’re all up there for free and and along with a few other people doing them too. And the idea is to not create straight up.
You know what most adults do in trying to teach meditation to kids is they just take an adult meditation and I don’t know slow it down or whatever it is. It doesn’t seem to be the most useful way to proceed. I think for what we did is we just try to meet kids again where they are. So they are very imaginative. It’s like you’re kind of telling an imagination-rich story and they’re all these special sound effects woven in and music and then within that I’ll teach specific kind of emotional self-regulation skills, meditation skills and just sort of weave it into the story itself.
And I think we’re planning on trying to make like a whole bunch of courses for that online. Kristen is the one doing that. That’s something with ADD, I’m not good at the business stuff, but she has got some plan but if you or anyone is interested in that, she’s even looking for people who would be willing to help her out because it’s a cool project, you know, so ways in which we can get it off the ground. But if you go to my website and click on projects and collaborators at the very bottom, there’s a link to these meditations and you can listen to them and kids love them.
Thu: And your website is Jeffwarren.org.
Ameeta: That’s great to know. I will definitely use that in my practice. We have a couple callers that have some questions for you as well Jeff. So I’m going to open it up to the first one, Julie from New York.
Caller: Hi there. Thanks so much for your call.
Jeff: Hi, Julie.
Caller: Thank you so much. It’s a great call and really informative. I have a couple questions, if that’s okay. The first one is, I was curious about when you talk about exploring your own explorations with so many different meditation techniques, did that at some point get confusing for you, because I know that when I’ve started going down certain paths, I find that sometimes switching back and forth different objects of meditation or different techniques can kind of make it so that I don’t go deep at any one?
So that’s one question I have for you, and the second question is just, I’m just curious I noticed you’ve done work with Dan Harris and the 10% happier and there’s this kind of wave of meditation and mindfulness happening through the business world, especially Wall Street, and I’m just curious about your views about the kind of popularization of that? And whether that’s in some ways just making people more comfortable serving systems of oppression?
Jeff: Awesome questions. I have thoughts about both of them. Maybe I’ll start with the second one first. So I think that those critiques are excellent, and I guess I kind of have two perspectives on this, and over time, they’ve kind of integrated. And the two perspectives are: on the one hand, I think that these practices are really powerful and that they can benefit most people, and that I’m happy that they’re being used in all of these different contexts, because you need to meet people where they’re at.
Like I was saying earlier about service, like as you start doing a practice, as you start getting more centered and you’re less operating from a space of reaction, there tends to be a fairly positive effect that can happen from that person. And I see that as a really positive reforming effect so that you’re just becoming a kind of more responsive and sane person whoever you are, and that responsivity and saneness kind of begin to echo through any corporation, through any structure, any system in a positive way.
And if we just left it for only people in the exact jobs I’d love to do the practices, then it just wouldn’t spread quickly enough. So I see that as outweighing the dangers of the kind of complicity, or what’s the word, there’s a way in which, as you said meditation can make you very very comfortable. There’s a kind of quiet mechanism that can happen through a practice and I think that that is a danger. I think if that’s happening in a practice, that’s something you need to be vigilant about. And I think it is also true that corporations don’t do the work of reform or change that they may need to do, if they can find a technique that will just allow their employees to be more passive and equanimous with whatever hideous practices are continuing.
So I think it’s sort of like I guess what it means is, on the one hand, yes, bring these practices everywhere to keep going and I think that these are fundamentally very revolutionary practices. On the other hand, I don’t think that should stop our other activist work — creating reforms were reforms needs to be created. The stuff that has to do with creating new legislation and creating alternate systems and all that, and I live in split down the middle of those two things, but it doesn’t create a bifurcation in me. It’s just I think they’re both true. It’s like that classic Zen line: things are perfect and they could always get better. Things are perfect as everyone’s doing the practices, but things could always get better, because the places were practice are happening are unjust places that need work from the social justice and environmental perspective, and I hold both those positions. So does that make sense?
Caller: Yeah. It does. I appreciate that. It’s sometimes hard to hold both of those positions, but I guess that’s what the practice helps us with, right?
Jeff: Yeah. I mean if you see it in the big picture as just like how will the world be made better? It’s like that’s kind of the big picture. Well, I think that it’s going to get better both from grassroots activism, and from changes happening along the top and both those are kind of in the relative world. And then there’s the more absolute world. It’ll be made better by universally spreading up an ethic of practice through wherever we are, through wherever the nervous systems are, and that both those things need to be happening in my mind. And then our job is to kind of just wherever we are in that ecosystem, we activate given what seems to be most possible or seems to be most efficacious.
Ameeta: Can I just follow up just briefly on that? I mean, I agree with you and I think that’s really a powerful way of viewing it. But there’s also a slight concern and I guess you’ve addressed this also, but there’s a slight concern, that there’s a cooptation almost, of a deep method in a more superficial way.
So like, you know, that so the people just become, as you say, they feel like they’re doing it, but they’re actually not going that deep into the practice, and that kind of connects a little bit to my first question about when you’re kind of flipping, kind of going back and forth between practices or different techniques. While, of course, I agree with you about pluralism and there are so many ways, there are so many paths, then at some point, it seems like there should be an encouragement to just choose a path and go with it, with the understanding that there are many paths. Otherwise, you kind of just keep flipping around.
Jeff: Yes. I think that’s really true and I think that you can really only answer that, based on your own nervous system. You know, the way it’s worked for me is, from the beginning, I was interested in what unites all practices.
So every time I’m doing a practice, I’m looking at whats the through line? So my growth as a practitioner hasn’t happened through any one technique. It has happened through an understanding of equanimity, of clarity, of concentration. Whatever technique I’m doing I’m connecting to where those principles are. If you’re going to be in a ADD practitioner and jump around, you will need to have some depth dimension somewhere, and I found the definition for me in those qualities. So that became my practice and that’s what I would say for people who are jumping around.
Now that’s maybe a weird case. I think that for most folks, at some point, they stop and commit. But you need to answer this for yourself. You know some people are able to explore lots of different techniques and they don’t find that it adds to overwhelm or creates confusion, that they see, like the synergies or the confluences between the techniques. Other people, it just creates a lot of problems. But in general, when it comes to changing the nervous system, you know one step at a time is a pretty good rule. If you’re doing a ton of different techniques simultaneously, you’re never going to know what fits.
So for me, I would practice within a particular tradition for a few months and really give it my all to that particular technique, and try to understand what the things were, before I would necessarily jump out of it, but I know that my approach is a bit unusual. So what we do at CEC is we always emphasize a basic concentration practice at the beginning of a sit. We come back to the same kind of principles. We’re always teaching Concentration, Clarity, Equanimity and then for part two, we’ll do an excursion in a particular way. So we’ll explore a different slant, a different kind of technique but we always begin from that base, for the reason you describe, so people feel like they’re continually building up the single set of skills.
Ameeta: Thank you so much. We’re going to go on to our next caller as well and that’s from the New York area as well.
Caller: Hi Jeff. My name is Daniel. I have a quick comment and then a question. So I work for local government that helps support and empower vulnerable families and children in New York City, and our agency is in the process of redesigning our program for the populations we serve and we’re actually looking to incorporate mindfulness and somatic experience therapy because many of our families have experienced poverty and trauma, so we even have like a weekly mindfulness group among our own staff. So I completely agree with you about making the practice more accessible and thank you for your contributions around democratizing meditation and the practice.
So my question is currently in my own practice, I’m exploring the concept of bare attention and how it can help us to see wisely. So I’d like to know your experiences around being able to uproot the sense of self, and being able to see kind of the emptiness of thoughts and feeling, and any resources you have around this particular topic would also be appreciated.
Jeff: Cool. Thanks for your question, Daniel. I love the sound of the work that you’re doing and it’s so important to the combine the somatic experiencing stuff with the mindfulness. That’s kind of what the big lesson is, I’m sure you know, coming out of trauma-sensitive mindfulness. People realizing that these techniques are really powerful and sometimes they can open up what has not been integrated in us and that strong somatic based approach. Sometimes meditation can help do it often but a strong somatic based approach is really great to kind of complete that picture so it sounds amazing what you’re doing.
So in terms of your question about bare attention and uprooting the self and emptiness of thoughts. So again one of the things that’s really cool when you look at practice in a more pluralistic lens, when you look at the different bottom-up meditation techniques, concentration techniques, mindfulness techniques, when you look at top-down techniques, like non-dual techniques and pointing out instructions and reframing and also when you look at say Qigong energy techniques and there are lots of different kinds there, you start to see that in lots of very different ways, they converge on a similar, a kind of transformation that has a family resemblance.
But the way you get there looks different, for the different techniques, so within a classic shaman or concentration technique, it’s really about you work with the mantra, you work with the breath, the body and you let everything get very very very still. So a lot about tranquility and it starts to cool out those faces so that the inner activation, the talk, all that stuff can cool out, creates a real sense of kind of peace and those techniques themselves can lead to people having spontaneous shifts, where they suddenly begin to identify with the spaciousness, with the quiet, that’s so much more than their own inner stuff, and that can be sometimes it leads to a kind of witness state and that can get and get integrated into a fuller richer way of being in the world.
Sometimes that technique leads to a cul-de-sac and you actually need to begin to apply more activated insight techniques like a typical Insight Meditation like Vipassana, where you actually are exploring the structure of consciousness itself. And as you’re saying looking deliberately into the lack of self in it, into the tension in it, into the impermanent changing nature of it. When you do that kind of a technique, whether you’re doing it through a bottom-up looking at any say the breath work with anything any object in your sensory experience and deconstructing it, or you’re doing it more from a top-down open bare awareness way, we are continually coming back to awareness and that creates a kind of solvent.
Either one of those ways of doing it when I say it creates a kind of solvent, you begin to identify more of the open empty space of awareness, more than any one thing within it. Both of those ways can lead to a sort of figure-ground reversal, where you’re no longer trapped in this narrow identification with the content of experience and you begin to realize that your true location of your identity if you want to call it that is within the open awareness itself. Within a non-dual technique, it often happens with awareness as being the place where you realize empty awareness that you live in, and the emptiness is more referring to empty of a thing called the self. You know that kind of idea. Whereas when it comes up from the bottom in a more deconstructive way, you actually can enter into what’s called a cessation, where you just disappear and you realize that the emptiness you disappeared into is kind of like your true self (laughs) or no self. And so that emptiness begins to permeate your experience.
So I just described, I did that just to show that there are different ways to come to that. So a bare awareness technique is one way to come to that insight over time, to begin to change the ratio of how you’re identifying, but that other techniques can end up doing a similar thing. It just feels a little different, it works a little different and based on what kind of nervous system you have, certain things are going to work better for you. So again, that’s actually why I think a certain amount of experimentation is really helpful, because someone might work for years in a particular modality and find that the benefits or the insights have been relatively limited and then they switch it up and realize that there’s a way of working over here that is parallel to this direction, but can really create breakthroughs. Is that helpful?
Caller: Yeah, very helpful. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Jeff: No problem.
Ameeta: Thank you. We also have two questions from our live web chat. The first is from Barbara in Mexico, and she wants to ask you if you believe that you have spirit guides who communicate with you in some way at times.
Jeff: That’s funny. Well, it is one of those questions where you measure as somebody, for whatever reason in a position responsibility, what you’re going to say, because you want to make the practices maximally accessible to everyone. And part of that is in helping and reassuring people that you are sane and centered. But I will say that I do have those kinds of experiences sometimes. They’re not grandiose in the slightest. They come in two forms.
One form is my own very deliberate kind of connecting to say archetypal energies when I teach, or when I practice and I think it’s something I do in my unconscious where I will kind of visualize, the Buddha or something, and I kind of feel like I’m connecting to those energies. And to me, it’s whether or not that’s actually happening in some literal sense, I get the experience that it’s happening and it’s very meaningful to me, and it served me well in my practice. But then I also have another kind of thing that can happen, which is kind of weird and I don’t think I’ve ever talked about it.
But since you asked, I have this and this was more from doing ceremonies, like I was doing medicine ceremonies for a while, and I still think that’s a really interesting way to work. And when I was doing those ceremonies, I would have the vivid sense that there was a kind of intelligences in my experience, and it was really interesting because I didn’t look for them. I just was kind of doing those practices that you’re supposed to do, and that kind of started happening. And sometimes I still get intimations of that, like I just feel sometimes that I’m not alone, but I don’t really know, nothing much more than that happens, just sort of that feeling.
And it’s interesting because it’s not something I ever would have looked for, or thought for but it’s just something that’s happening in my experience and yet another thing to investigate. So I guess the answer is yes (Laughs) with long caveats, but hopefully articulated in a way that makes sense.
Ameeta: Thank you and then we have a one last question here from Margarita from Oceanside California. She wants to know if you have a significant other and children and just in general how do you approach spirituality with your loved one?
Jeff: Yes, I’m married, and my wife Sarah is a really deep meditation practitioner, so it’s terrific. So we meditate together and that is a real key. She is actually more disciplined than I am. She doesn’t have the same ADD issues, so she helps me create a structure of practice and thank God for that. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Eugene? His whole focusing method, really wonderful method, it’s a lot like doing a kind of insight practice on your emotional body experience. And so we’ll do that together, we’ll, where we kind of will lead each other in a practice, especially if we’re having any kind of challenge and it’s just about honoring what’s coming up in your emotional space, and just kind of dispassionately describing it, and it helps the person know that you’re not blaming them for something.
You’re just saying, hey when you say this, this is what happens. So we do those kinds of practices and the fact that she’s a practitioner and she’s interested in this is huge. And I don’t know how I could be in a relationship where that wasn’t the case, because I think I’d be too hard to get along with (laughs). I’d be too crazy so having these practices really helps us and we don’t have kids yet, but I definitely would love to and I hope that I would be able to apply the practices as well. But it may be that all this will go out the window, if we do have a kid and I’ll realize that how impossible a lot of parenthood is.
Ameeta: Well, thank you so much. One final question is how can we as the larger ServiceSpace community support your work?
Jeff: Oh, that’s a nice question. Well, I think the thing that would be most helpful is around the consciousness explorers club, which is a non-profit. We became a non-profit last year. We have such a potential, people love the CEC. It’s actually more like three thousand plus people, now a lot of people from all over the world and we upload meditations so they’re available for free but there’s so much more we could be doing.
Like we have an idea in our heads, a model of really like how to bring service-oriented practice spaces to communities. What we really want to do is empower a thousand flowers to bloom. So I’ve actually written out a whole practice, a guidebook and that kind of has taken the best practices, what we’ve learned around how to start up your own Community Practice Group, and the idea is that you just start it up, you give your own name, there’s a process going to look into your community, but what the specific needs are within your community and what feels like an authentic teaching from within, the people in that community, within the traditions that they’re connected to, and I would love more help with that.
Like the CEC has no money, so it’s all volunteers. We’ve never gone out and tried to find like a rich donor and I think that if we were in America, we would have had one by now. But Canada sometimes is a bit risk-averse. So that’s how we need help. We need patrons or people who can you know support the nonprofit, so I can put out more of those guides. We can start to offer training, so we can offer more free targeted practices. We want to start up a team group for youth. There’s so much we could be doing if we had more resources. And my friend Erin is just about to start as the executive director at CEC, but she has no salary, you know, it’s like whatever we can make from a Monday night, which we try to also make affordable, we have that mandate.
So the best way you could help me would be to take a look at CEC and if you resonate with it, become a patron. Or if you know of anybody like some good-hearted philanthropist type, it would be great. We are looking at some resources so that I could actually pay Erin and the people involved in the CEC a living wage, so we could do more good. I would say that would be the main thing. Thank you for asking that — it’s a very kind question. And if you want, you could write a letter and come visit me and come to my retreats because those are super fun, too. I would love to meet people.
Ameeta: Well, I definitely plan on signing up for your retreat and signing up for CEC as well. So thank you again so much. Just thank you so much for your wisdom. I mean, we are just really learning from your personal experience as well. And we will definitely try to highlight you and your work with multiple of our newsletters, so that we can disseminate your wisdom out to more and more people within the ServiceSpace community as well.
Jeff: So I hope it was not just a massive confusion of a million ideas in every direction, that leaves your viewers scratching their heads or your listeners going I don’t actually know what happened there.
Ameeta: Thank you so much Jeff. I really enjoyed the conversation today.
Jeff: No problem. My pleasure, it was great to meet you guys. And thanks for the questions, for the work you guys are doing, because it’s amazing.