Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, go to batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it to any degree there are PayPal buttons on every page of the site.
My guest today is an old friend of mine named Dean Sluyter. I know Dean from when he and I became teachers of Transcendental Meditation on the same course in Estes Park, Colorado in the fall of nineteen-seventy. And we have done different things over the years since then. Dean has been teaching natural methods of meditation, not necessarily TM. Since then, he’s written a number of highly acclaimed books including one called Natural Meditation, which was an Amazon number one stress management bestseller, and a number of other books. We’ll be talking about one of them today called Fear Less. I’ll let Dean tell what he’s been up to all these years, but he’s done a bunch of stuff. So let me start by asking you, I heard you say in an interview with Dan Sermonday and Phil Goldberg on Spirit Matters Talk that you kind of left the TM movement because you got uncomfortable with how high the prices had become. Is that the main thing?
Dean: Yeah, there was that. That was finally the thing that forced me out of the nest, which turned out to be a great thing. My career over the years, as you said, doing a bunch of stuff, has been to gradually discover that in any nest where I start getting too comfortable, in one way or another, I’m going to get kicked out. But you know when you and I started TM back in the late 60s, thirty-five bucks and we were going to save the world by making natural effortless scientific meditation available to everyone, and you know what? That’s still my mission. You know, when Maharishi said that, I said, “yeah that’s what I want to do.” At that time, I was a hippie in Haight-Ashbury and thinking that, in order to bring enlightenment to the masses, we were going to have to be radical. I knew people who were actually plotting to get a haircut, get a job in the White House in the kitchen and drop acid in Lyndon Johnson’s coffee with the idea that he and Ho Chi Minh would be dancing hand in hand with roses in their teeth in Golden Gate Park. And that’s how we were going to end the war and bring about an age of enlightenment. When I heard Maharishi talk about meditation in such simple straightforward terms, I thought, “yeah this is stuff I can bring back to the suburbs. This is stuff I can bring home to mom and dad.” You know it’s like the girl you can bring home to your parents. And so, I was able to very comfortably teach TM for many years, a couple of decades that way. But then Maharishi and the TM program started going into some funny directions. He started appointing people kings and printing his own currency and all that history. And at that time, my day job was teaching English at a very fine prep school in New Jersey, where I was teaching the governor’s kids and kids from the families that ran major corporations there. It was great! And I also ran meditation programs in the school and the meditation component was TM. And at that time the fee, I think was 85 bucks. Great.
Rick: One summer could afford it.
Dean: Yeah, right and if kids couldn’t afford it, we quietly gave them a scholarship. Summer of nineteen-ninety-three, I was actually back in California with my mom, who was dying of cancer. And so, you know, the death of people close to you has a very clarifying influence on your perspective. And you start to realize that, if you’re hanging around in some place that’s not a hundred percent really you, maybe you want to reconsider that.
Dean: And then, when I came home to New Jersey, my wife told me that, “while you were out, Dean, the TM movement got in touch and said, instead of charging the kids eighty-five dollars, you have to charge them two-thousand-five-hundred dollars.” So that forced me to move on. And it was great. The brilliance of Maharishi’s teaching, as you know, was effortlessness of meditation, of letting life, letting existence pull us into its own nature rather than us trying to push things. And what I was forced to discover, was that Maharishi did not have a monopoly on effortlessness. So, I hung out with teachers in Tibetan tradition and teachers in Advaita tradition and found out that, sometimes you have to dig a little. You have to listen a little closely. That teaching of effortlessness, that teaching of meditation is just being rather than doing, it’s there.
Rick: Yeah, I remember in my case it was the summer of eighty-six. I think it was summer, I was in India sitting in this kind of garden with Maharishi and a couple hundred people and it was 2 or 3 in the morning and they were going on and on. Maharishi was talking to these doctors about how much they could get away with charging for a bottle of amrit kalash which is an Ayurvedic thing. And this German guy leaned over to me, a little bit disgusted, and said, “Here we are in the land of the Veda, in the hour of ghosts, talking about money.” And it was beginning to get through my thick skull at that point, too. But I don’t want to spend time criticizing them, they can do what they can do. But let’s talk about the principle of effortlessness, because I think that it’s not necessarily an automatic assumption in many people’s minds, that meditation is going to be effortless. And they may have tried things that weren’t very effortless. I’ve interviewed people such as Adyashanti and what is his name, I don’t know, a bunch of people, Shinzen Young, who went through really arduous practice, brought them to the edge of tears, if not past the edge of tears, because it was so difficult. So, let’s talk about effortless versus difficult meditation and whether there’s a legitimate place for both in spiritual practice or whether perhaps difficult meditation is some kind of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what was originally intended by ancient teachers, such as the Buddha.
Dean: Right, I mean when you finally get down to it, all you can talk about is your own experience. And my experience is, I tried effort and it didn’t work. I tried effortlessness or actually, I don’t want to say tried effortless, I stopped trying, let effortlessness take over, and that works. And really, where you learn stuff is by teaching. And I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve gotten to teach these kids at a fancy prep school and I would go up I-seventy-eight to Northern State Prison in Newark, which is the roughest maximum security prison in Newark, where I have a group that I still supervise that’s been going on since 2005. Teach them the same stuff and they get it. These days I do a lot of workshops around the country, and I hate that word workshop because it has work in it.
Dean: Right, it should really be play something, playground. And I get so many people who are so sincere in their quest for awakening. They come, and some of them have been meditating for years and we do a 15-minute meditation. You do this for a while, and you get pretty clear on some little subtle tricks for pulling the rug out from under people’s habits of effort. And some of them come to me with tears in their eyes saying, “Oh, I had no idea it could be so simple.”
Rick: Yeah, I think that perhaps one of the reasons that effort crept into the whole notion of meditation, if it wasn’t originally intended, is that a description was taken as a prescription. And what I mean by that is, if you describe the state of samadhi, where the mind is completely settled and there are no thoughts and it’s just pure bliss and so on and so forth. And then you try to prescribe the elimination of thoughts as a practice so as to arrive at that state, you’re necessarily going to be setting up a difficult situation. You know, because you can’t just stop thinking.
Dean: No, you can’t and you don’t have to. You know when the Buddha attained awakening, after his many days under the Bodhi tree, what’s recorded, what it says in the sutras, what he said was not, “how wonderful, how wonderful, I finally got rid of all those thoughts.” He said “how wonderful, how wonderful, everything’s cool just the way it is,” which to me includes okay, thoughts are there, the world is there, everything is there. The nature of awakening is to be clear that the persistence of thoughts, the persistence of the apparent physical world, none of that contradicts the boundless okayness of samadhi. Everything plays nicely with everything else.
Rick: So, let’s talk about why the mind keeps thinking, even if you don’t want it to and the principle of effortlessness. What are the deeper mechanics of why or how meditation could be effortless?
Dean: Well, the model that I like to use is when people say, “okay now I’m going to meditate, I need my mind to be quiet.” We can liken that to the surface of an ocean and say, okay I’m seeing all this choppiness, I’m seeing all these waves, I want the water to be silent. So, give me something, give me a big oar or something. I’m going to flatten out all the waves. And of course, all you do is you churn up the water more. And to me, this right here is the E=MC squared of meditation technique. Any effort to create a non-agitated state of mind is itself a form of agitation.
Rick: Yeah, you’re introducing something that wasn’t even there before.
Dean: Yeah, so this is why so many people that are so sincere in their aspiration, they just wind up chasing their tails and trying to meditate. And I think what happens in a lot of cases, goes back to your earlier question of how concentration and effort have become, for a lot of people, understood or misunderstood to be the tradition, to be the teaching. I think what happens is that people who really have strong motivation will sit there and they’ll meditate for an hour, they’ll meditate for two hours, just trying hard to concentrate. And finally, the mind becomes so exhausted that if you stop concentrating and finally it slips and you settle back into yourself. And then you go, “Ah, there it is, Ananda, there it is, Samadhi, boy it took two hours of sweat but it was worth it.”
Rick: Yeah, I remember Adya saying that his first really big shift happened after he had actually been an ardent practitioner for some years, really giving it his all, but in an effortful way. And finally, he just had this moment where he, I forget his exact words, “I can’t do this anymore,” and he gave up. And then boom, he just slipped in.
Dean: That’s it, that’s it. And what you and I were so, what made us so fortunate, was that early on in our careers, we had a teacher who very clearly showed us a way, not the way, but a way to just skip that first hour and go straight to the last ten minutes where you slip, where you give up. And so, I’ll do things, for example, when I’m leading a group and okay now it’s time to meditate. And you can see people all setting themselves up, and it’s like they’re going, “Okay, here we go.” Right? And you can see it in their body language, you can feel it in their energy. It’s like, “Okay, I’m buckling up, I’m putting the key in the ignition. I’m turning the key, I hear the engine idling, here we go, we’re gonna go somewhere.” Right? And that idling of the engine, that’s effort, that’s expectation. So, what I tell them is, “Forget about here we go, we’re not going anywhere. Instead, it’s here we are.” I tell them, you know, “Take the keys, throw them in the bushes, roll back the top, this is a convertible, roll back the top, sit back in the seat, here we are. Now what’s going on without any contribution from us, without any effort from us?” And then that becomes the so-called meditation. Another word that I don’t like, meditation, it’s got all those syllables, four syllables, it sounds like it must be some big task and it’s not.
Rick: Yeah, but okay, I’m gonna ask a basic question and people who are listening to this live can send in questions as we go along, if they like, by going to the upcoming interviews page on batgap.com and then you’ll see a question form at the bottom. But I think a typical person at this point might say, “Well, if I just sit there and do nothing, I’m just gonna sit there and daydream the whole time. I’m gonna be thinking about what’s for dinner and you know what I did yesterday and what my girlfriend said or whatever. What’s the difference? That’s not meditation.”
Dean: Right, so I don’t tell them, “Sit there and do nothing.”
Dean: You’re right, and it eventually comes down to that, but if you give that as the instruction, it’s exactly that, “Okay, I’m sitting, I’m doing nothing.” Where’s the remote, a light, a cigarette? So, what I suggest to people is, “Well, as we just said, okay, ‘here we are,’ not ‘here we go, here we are,’ what’s going on without me? Well, what’s going on without me is awareness without any effort from me, without any help from me. I’m aware of the colors and the shapes, I’m aware of the thoughts that tell me, “Okay, that color, that’s a blue wall and that’s a brown floor.” So, I’m aware of seeing, I’m aware of thinking, I’m aware of hearing. So, awareness is going on without me, without any thought from me, without any help from me. In fact, sometimes I’ll suggest, if I see people saying, “Okay, I’m going to try to be aware,” I go, “No, try to stop being aware. You can’t do it.” Awareness is every moment. And then, we might close our eyes, and we’ll go, “Okay, just notice all this stuff is coming and going, like the breezes coming and going in the sky. And the sky, this open space within which all the experiences come and go, this is what we call awareness. You’re already that space, everything’s coming and going within you, so rest as awareness, as you already are. Rest as awareness.” So I tell people, and I like to boil things down to easy-to- remember, practice slogans. So, I say, “If you remember three words, just ‘rest as awareness.’” And if you find yourself grappling with something, “Oh, but what about what I’m going to cook for dinner, and what about X, Y, Z,” or resisting some feeling. I say, “Just, okay, whatever it is, relax your grip on it. Don’t try to push it away, don’t require it to go away, don’t try to figure it out. Just whatever it is, relax your grip on it, relax back into yourself, rest as awareness.”
Rick: Do you know how that compares with mindfulness, which is so popular these days? I don’t know myself because I haven’t practiced mindfulness, but how does that compare?
Dean: You know, that word “mindfulness” has become such a popular buzzword, and I’ll do workshops and they’ll start writing up the description, “Dean Sluyter’s going to teach us mindfulness.” I say, “No, no, no, I have no idea what mindfulness is,” and then I show up and they’ve got it on the marquee. That word has become so popular that I don’t know, basically it means two things. I mean, one is a particular form of practice, Southeast Asian practice, which is not my training. And the other, it’s become sort of a more palatable generic synonym for meditation. Like, I had a nice talk a couple of years ago with Tim Ryan. He’s this congressman from Youngstown, Ohio, who is great. I really like him. He’s a totally out-of-the-closet meditator, and he’s very clear about the fact that, you know, we’ve got veterans suffering from PTSD, committing suicide, we’ve got all these problems with the education system. The research is there that we can’t afford not to introduce meditation into these systems. But he doesn’t use the word “meditation,” he uses the word “mindfulness,” because for some people, even in the year 2018, I’m flabbergasted that for some people the word “meditation” still evokes, I don’t know, flying carpets and beds of nails or something.
Rick: Not as bad as it was when we first started teaching.
Dean: Oh, no.
Rick: Yeah, I just want to mention, since we were dissing the TM movement a little while ago, that they’re doing some great stuff in prisons and inner-city schools and for PTSD sufferers and so on, primarily through the David Lynch Foundation, which my good friend Bobby Roth is the CEO of. And those people are being taught for free, you know, so it’s not all about the money with the TM movement. And I think you and I are both very appreciative of the benefits we gained from that whole thing.
Dean: Yeah, look, it’s all about people suffering less and getting happy more. Yeah. And whatever does that, I’m all for it.
Rick: Yeah. Now I don’t think we’ve quite nailed an understanding yet of what you and I would understand as the natural tendency of the mind to seek a field of greater happiness. And I think that that’s critical or essential to what you’re implying here, what you’re teaching. So, let’s explore that a little bit more, so people understand that idea.
Dean: Right, right. So that is why effortlessness works. I mean, we’ve already discussed why effort doesn’t work or is only going to work with great difficulty, because it’s essentially counterproductive, self-defeating. The reason that effortlessness works is it allows that natural tendency of the mind to move toward more fulfillment, more enjoyment. It allows it to take over, in every moment, not just in meditation. But you know, you’re in the restaurant, your finger is going down the menu. Okay, do I want the cheeseburger, do I want the Caesar salad? I know what you want. You want nirvana, but it ain’t on the menu. So, you settle for the cheeseburger. In every moment, we’re essentially settling for the most, the nearest approximation to nirvana that we feel we can find within that context, that framework.
Rick: And that may be a bit of a leap, but let’s flesh it out a little bit. Right now you and I are talking here and people are listening and it could be that as they’re listening, some beautiful music starts playing from the other room. Or the phone rings and it’s their long-lost beloved friend or something. So, something that has potentially, as hard as this may be to imagine, greater intrinsic gratification than listening to you and me talk, has presented itself in their awareness. And it doesn’t take effort for them to shift their attention to that other thing.
Dean: Right. Not only does it not take effort, but it doesn’t even take a conscious decision or evaluation. It just goes there. It’s like heat-seeking missiles. We are fulfillment-seeking organisms. Now the thing is that, as we seek fulfillment in those things, let’s say I have a desire, like, oh I want some tea. So, okay, I want some tea, I want some tea. I got the tea and it made me more fulfilled. So now I’m going to tend to think, well there must be fulfillment in the tea, because that’s where I got it from. But if we take the tea into the lab and we pull it apart into its constituent molecules, we’ll find atoms of carbon and hydrogen, oxygen, whatever’s in there. We’re not going to find any happiness molecules in there. Okay, so that only leaves one other place where it can be and that is in me, in the experiencer rather than the experience. So, what happens is, at the moment that I get the tea, I’m no longer caught in that desire, so I sink back into myself, into my own nature, which is, you know, what all the teachings say in various languages, that the nature of the experiencer, the nature of awareness itself, is sat-chit-ananda, is being consciousness bliss. And what we’re doing in meditation then, is essentially eliminating the middleman. Rather than depending on some outer object or substance or circumstances to trigger the settling back into ourself. We just settle back into ourself. And that comes in handy, because you never know what’s going to happen next in life. That’s one of the reasons I love working with prisoners. They know they’re not going to get fulfillment from their environment, because their environment sucks. And they know it’s not going to stop sucking. And I’ve had situations where one of my guys stopped showing up to our Thursday night meetings. I asked, “What happened to him?” Well, he got brought up on charges. They put him in ADSEG, administrative segregation, which is solitary confinement. In this case, they actually shipped him to another prison, put him in a cell above the boiler where it was a hundred degrees all the time, and with no TV, no anything, for three months. So, he said, “Okay, I guess it’s time for a meditation retreat.” He took off his clothes because it was hot, and he essentially meditated for three months. And when he came back, he was really glad that he’d learned to do that.
Rick: Yeah, interesting. So, what we’re implying here is that there is sort of an inner or intrinsic field or reservoir, whatever you want to call it, of fulfillment or happiness or gratification, which is independent of sensory experiences. And you can be happy in solitary confinement with nothing there, because you’re discovering something within that has nothing to do with outer circumstances, just to recapitulate what you just said.
Dean: Exactly, and provisionally, we use this kind of dualistic language and we say, “Okay, it’s something within us, it’s a field within us.” You know, we talked that way for a while, and the closer we look, the more we realize that it’s not some thing within us, but it is the very awareness within which right now these words are being heard, within which these computer screens are being seen. On the screen, we see different colors, the words, we hear different sounds, but where’s that all happening? That’s all happening here in something that has no color, has no sound, no location, no gender, no nothing, and that’s it. Strangely enough, I just thought of an interview once with Alfred Hitchcock. I think it was Truffaut interviewing him, and he asked him, “What’s your idea of happiness?” And Hitchcock said, “A clear horizon.” And really, we tend to think of this happiness, this bliss, this nirvana, that it’s going to be like twenty-four/seven psychedelic orgasm. And that I’m gonna have purple flames shooting out of my crown chakra, and we’re gonna be walking around like that all the time. I know, I certainly thought about it that way at the beginning, and as we get deeper into it, or as we grow and mature into the actual experience of it, we find out that, well, that would just be another phenomenon. That would be what happens on the so-called spiritual path, is we go from looking for happiness and fulfillment in outer phenomena, outer experiences, okay, the Cadillac, and the whatever, to inner stuff. I remember a poster once that the TM movement sent out, actually, trying to get people to go on a retreat in, where was it, North Carolina or somewhere, and the headline on the poster was, “Have the best experiences of your life.” And that was language that would have spoken to me, you know, ten or fifteen years earlier, but at that point I was saying, “Oh, this is what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism,” you know, collecting, okay, looking for some ‘thing’ that is outside. Even if it’s within my mind or within my body, something, some super cool phenomenon, rather than just settling into what I am, which is non-phenomenal awareness. It’s just, the best statement on this I ever heard was actually from Maharishi. And you know how Maharishi would say things over and over again, some of the things that you were saying earlier, I know we heard Maharishi speak about the natural tendency of the mind. Right, how many hundreds of times did we hear Maharishi say this. But this was just once, in nineteen-seventy-two in Fiuggi, Italy. He was trying to describe awakening. He was trying to describe the nature of awareness, existence. And he said, “It’s just nothing, but there’s something very good about it.”
Rick: That’s nice.
Rick: The Gita has that line, “The unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.”
Rick: So, experiences which come and go, however flashy or fascinating they may be, couldn’t be the real ultimately, because they come and go. Ramana used to emphasize that point too.
Dean: Right, right. Yeah, and especially, I know a lot of the people who watch your program are really mature practitioners. They’ve been at this for some years, and that can become one of the great challenges when, after years of meditation you have some great blissful experience, and you go, “This is it, I’ve arrived, stick a fork in me, I’m done!” And it may go on for hours or weeks, and then it goes away. And I’ve heard Mooji talk about this, I know you’ve interviewed Mooji, and I’ve heard Mooji say, “You know, we could write a book titled ‘And Then’.”
Dean: Right, but the teaching is, and this is really a hard teaching at that point, which is, anything that goes away, you’ve got to let it go away. Anything that can be thrown into the fire, throw it into the fire. Throw everything into the fire. Throw the thrower into the fire, throw the fire into the fire, and then just rest in the space that’s left, and that’s it.
Rick: And there are even abiding states, which aren’t transitory experiences, which seem stable, and which are actually not it. I forget who I was talking to recently, but somebody, and they were saying how in some tradition, I forget which one, it’s understood that there are six or seven stages, each of which makes one feel that they have arrived and nothing more could possibly unfold for them. But then sure enough that one collapses and the next one dawns. And there are six or seven of these stages.
Dean: Right, right, yeah. So don’t be too in a hurry to write “the end.”
Rick: Yeah, now materialists might say that consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of brain activity, and that there is no sort of field of consciousness or any such thing which is intrinsically blissful, ananda, or gratifying. And that somehow meditation just sort of settles down physiological activity in such a way that some kind of neurochemical change takes place, and you feel greater fulfillment, but that you’re not actually tapping into any field of consciousness, because there is no such thing. What would you say in response to that?
Dean: I would say that the materialist perspective is based on an assumption, an unproved and unprovable assumption, which is that outside of our experience there’s an independently existing universe made out of stuff called matter. Right? No one’s ever experienced matter. Right? No one’s ever experienced it. Some people will hear this once and they go, “Right, I get it,” and some people just really have trouble hearing this, because that assumption is so ingrained that of course I’m experiencing the computer, I’m experiencing the camera, I’m experiencing the mike. But if we take a close look, what are you experiencing? Okay, well, like we say, I’m experiencing the dog because I hear the dog barking. Well, wait, do you really experience the dog? You experience this barking sound, you know, I mean just on a gross level, maybe somebody’s standing outside your window with a boom box playing a recording of a barking dog. So, you’re not experiencing the dog, you’re experiencing the sound of the barking. Okay, now if I close my eyes, that’s not crucial, but it might be helpful, close the eyes and take a look. Okay, so when I say I hear the barking, now that sounds as if there’s two different things, the hearing and the barking. But see if you can find any line of separation between hearing and barking, and you realize that no, hearing, it’s one. It’s a phenomenon of hearing. Now what is that phenomenon made out of? Is it made out of fur? You know, is it made out of doggy DNA? No, it’s made out of awareness. It’s a modification of awareness, it is awareness arising in a particular form. Now I think, okay, I see the object, I see the dog. Well, okay, what is seeing? We, again, we say I see the dog, but it’s just that I’m experiencing seeing arising in a certain form. What is that seeing made out of? Oh, that’s also a modulation of awareness. And then how much distance is there between that seeing awareness and that hearing awareness and this eye awareness? And the closer you look, the more you see that the separation I assumed was there, you can’t find. Okay, so you know, this brings us to non-duality. This brings us to, all there is, is awareness playing, sloshing around in awareness, arising as these different apparent phenomena. We can’t necessarily deny that there is a physical universe outside of our awareness that’s giving rise to these experiences, but it just, as far as I can see, it is inescapably, logically impossible to demonstrate the existence of an external universe when all anyone ever experiences is awareness. So, it’s the, and I know you’ve interviewed Rupert Spira, who I think is just wonderfully lucid about these things. He says, people talk about, and he points out that matter is a concept that was invented by Greek philosophers and no one has ever experienced it. That’s the assumption. He says that the scientists are the real mystics, they call us mystics, they’re the real mystics. They’ve created this whole idea of a universe around a thing that no one’s ever experienced.
Rick: Now when you talk that way though, it sort of makes it sound like the existence of the universe is very much a subjective phenomenon based upon some kind of process that gives reality to something that appears to be external but is basically, like you said, awareness sloshing around with itself. But at the same time, there seems to be a sort of a template or a stability to the external world which is independent of any individual perspective. For instance, all seven billion people in the world, presuming they see well enough, could see the moon. And we don’t see three moons unless we’re crazy or hallucinating or something. We all see this one moon with certain features on it and we’ve sent people there and, they’ve scooped up rocks and brought them home and so on and so forth. And 200 years ago none of us were alive and now the people who lived then are all dead, but they all still kept seeing the same moon. So, there’s sort of a stability to the universe that is irrespective of the individual. So, there’s this kind of argument that apparently Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore had with one another over whether the moon exists if nobody’s experiencing it. And, I’ve played with this and thought, “Okay, well, if we all agree not to look at it, we’re still going to have tides.” There’s some kind of external phenomenon there, which appears to be external, but which is independent of any of our subjective perspectives.
Dean: Well, here’s the thing, Rick. When you say, does the moon exist if none of us look at it, or if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? How many people have just busted their brains trying to wrap their minds around that one? First of all, someone has slipped a joker into the deck there. In the way that question is phrased, when you say, “Does the moon exist if we don’t look at it?” The way you have constructed that sentence, when you say “the moon,” there’s an implicit assumption that there’s this thing called the moon that exists, and then you’re asking whether it exists. But be that as it may, let’s say you have a dream. In the dream, you see three moons, okay? And you’ve got, all your friends in the dream see the three moons. Seven billion people, or actually in this dream, there’s a hundred billion people in the world. They look up, they all see the three moons. In the dream, you pick up the science books and the history books, and you see that this has been confirmed, and we’ve sent astronauts to the three moons, they’ve explored it. All that is there. We pull out our dream scientific instruments, we measure it, we bring back geological samples. It’s all there. It’s all there, and that is your reality. That is reality until you wake up, and you go, “Boy, I thought that stuff was made out of matter, but it was all just made out of my awareness, dream awareness. But now, here I am in this world where there’s one moon, and my seven people, seven billion friends confirm it, and it’s the same thing all over again. That’s why, Yogi Vasistha, a name…
Rick: The Yoga Vasistha.
Dean: Yeah, Vasistha said there are two kinds of dreams, the short ones and the long one.
Dean: This being the long one. But the thing is, it’s fun to talk about this stuff, but –
Rick: How practical is it?
Dean: Exactly. It’s not very productive, because meanwhile, while we’re sitting here enjoying our metaphysical speculation, folks are suffering.
Dean: And that’s what I come back to, and my wife is very good about telling me when I tend to start, you know, waxing too metaphysical. So, you say, “No, no, no. If that’s the way things are, people are eventually going to see it, and there’s no use trying to convince people, because until they see it for themselves, they’re not going to be open to that. And it doesn’t matter. To me, if what gets people into the tent is, “Oh, my blood pressure is high,” right, then great. I really found this out in my years at the Pingry School, the prep school where I taught in New Jersey. We had kids who were under all this pressure from their parents. “You’ve got to get into Dartmouth. You’ve got to get into Yale. You need more after-school jobs for your college resume.” But some of these kids were at the breaking point, and I’d be talking about enlightenment. I actually taught an elective course, an elective English course for juniors and seniors called “Literature of Enlightenment.” And we read Plato’s Symposium and the Gospel of Thomas and Kerouac and Salinger. Essentially, I constructed the English course that I wish had been in my high school when I was 17 years old. And it was great. And a lot of the kids really got into it. And the lab work was meditation. But a lot of kids took the course because they knew “I’m stressed.” And I thought, “Fine, you’ll come for the stress relief, you’ll stay for the enlightenment.”
Rick: Yeah, well in your last sentence, it sort of implies that it’s okay to swing back and forth between the practical and the metaphysical. Because the metaphysical, if we want to call it that, does have implications. It can shift your whole perspective on what life is about and what the potential of life can be and so on. And we live in a society in which a materialist worldview is predominant and tightly linked with the whole scientific method and the whole technologies we’ve devised and everything. And we’re destroying that world. It can be argued that we’re destroying it because of the materialistic mindset in which we see the world as dumb stuff, as matter, which has no sentience, which has no intrinsic divinity, which is here for our use.
Dean: Yes, and we see it as here for our use and we can never get enough of it.
Dean: Because it’s like the old Irish saying, “You can drink too much but you can never drink enough.” And we think, “Okay, so this thing is supposed to fill me up and then it doesn’t. So, I gotta gobble up more. I gotta gobble up more.”
Rick: Yeah, good point.
Dean: And you see things like oil companies that are doing these things, and mining companies, and politicians doing things now, loosening up regulations, that look like they’re going to guarantee that there may not be breathable air for their children and their grandchildren. But, “Geez, I can make another billion dollars if I do this.” And it’s as if they’re hypnotized by that. I used to see this look in the eyes of some of the Pingree dads. Here were some of these people who were captains of industry and had way more money than I could ever dream of making. And it’s like, “Okay, I got the car, I got the trophy wife, I got all that, I’ve got my kid going to the best school in the state.” And sometimes I felt like I could see in their eyes this kind of panicked look like, “Oh my God, I did everything I was told to do and I’m still not happy. Now what?” So, I like to give people, let’s just swing all the way from a profound metaphysical speculation. And you know, I remember Maharishi used to say, “Don’t burden people with your supreme knowledge.” So, I like to give people stuff like, you’re sitting at the red light trying to make it turn green faster. And everyone can relate to that, right? We’ve all tried to do it. Has that ever worked for you? Well, here’s my guarantee to you, over the rest of your life, no matter how many man hours or woman hours you spend doing that, you will never make the light turn green even a nanosecond sooner. Ah, there’s such liberation in realizing that, it’s that simple.
Rick: Yeah, if saying it can really go deep enough into a person’s psychology.
Dean: Well, I tell ya,
Rick: Sometimes it’s more than just the words.
Dean: Yeah, but you’d be surprised, and again this goes back to our training as TM teachers. We tend to have a bias against what Maharishi called “mood making,” which was very useful to make that distinction, I think, up to a point. But his idea was, okay, you meditate 20 minutes twice a day, and then you forget it. And then because the change happens on a physiological level, it’s there automatically. But then what that did, I think that everything in the spiritual life is a double-edged sword. And I think that eliminated the whole other 23 hours and 20 minutes of the day as a field where you could also be doing stuff that opens it up. You know, I’ve been doing this for years now, doing these workshops. And I’ll explain that thing about sitting at the red light to people, and a whole lot of people just go, “Oh!” And this is what in the Buddhist world is called “view.” View, right? And not view as in opinion, but view as in sight, as in perspective. What it actually is, is realizing that what you’ve been, what you thought you were seeing, is not there. You know, it’s like you come home one day, and there’s a tiger in your living room, and you’re terrified, and your blood pressure is elevated, and you think, “Should I take some blood pressure medicine? Should I call the tiger exterminator? What should I do?” And then your wife comes home and says, “Rick, how do you like the new paper tiger I had installed in the living room? It’s very lifelike, isn’t it?” Right? And then, ah, you realize that, and your blood pressure goes down, and you don’t have to repeat the thing. You don’t have to go around saying, “It’s only a paper tiger, it’s only a paper tiger.” Having seen that with some clarity once, you can’t unsee it.
Rick: Yeah, and of course the more famous example is the snake, where it’s sort of dark, and you’re walking down the road, and you see a rope on the road, and it looks like a snake. And you freak out, and go running back to the village and get a committee to come and try to get rid of the snake. It turns out it’s just a rope, and once you have seen it as a rope, you can’t see it as a snake anymore.
Dean: Right, right. Yeah, and that’s physiological change. You know, it works both ways.
Rick: It does, and I think a balance is useful. There is something, I’ve run into it a lot in doing these interviews, the phenomenon of people psyching themselves up into an intellectual understanding of non-duality or something. And in my opinion, mistaking that for the actual living experience of it.
Rick: And you know, they’ve read too many books or whatever, and then they get on the chat groups and make holy terror of themselves, being as non-dual as they can possibly be with others. But it’s good to have that intellectual understanding of non-duality or anything else.
Dean: Well, I like what the way Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj put it. He said, “Don’t try to understand, it’s enough that you don’t misunderstand.”
Rick: That’s good.
Rick: Yeah, and there’s a Tibetan saying, “Don’t mistake understanding for realization.”
Rick: Yeah. Well, let’s see here, a question came in from Kranti in Freehold, New Jersey of all places, pretty near your old stomping ground. And her question is, “It is often claimed that awakening happens spontaneously or by chance, and that you really have no control. But I feel that there are many subtle processes going on to make it happen, and one day we’ll be able to track its progress, like we can do now for a shipment. What’s your take on it?”
Dean: You know, there’s a line in one of Hemingway’s novels where one character says to the other, “How did you go bankrupt?” And he says, “Well, two ways, first gradually, then suddenly.” And I think awakening tends to be different for different people. And usually, the stories that get a lot of play in the literature are the sexy stories. The ones we read, the wonderful inspiring story, and I’ve told it so many times, of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s awakening. The 16-year-old kid who has a panic attack, he thinks he’s dying, but has somehow the innate wisdom to, instead of panicking, to realiize, “Okay, let it go. Okay, there goes the body, there go the senses, there go the thoughts.” Then when he let everything go away, what was left was not death, it was awakening. It was, as Maharishi said, just nothing but something very good about it. So those tend to be the ones that we look at, the dramatic ones. For most people, I think it’s much more, it’s a gradual, slow cooking. It’s like the apple ripening on the tree, and then after the years of the apple ripening, maybe a particular breeze comes along and the apple falls.
Dean: Right, but then usually the stories that we’ll read are the stories about the moment when the apple falls. There’s a great story, and I’ve used this in my writing somewhere, about a Zen practitioner who’s walking through the busy marketplace one day, and he hears the butcher. He hears someone saying to the butcher, “Give me your best cut, give me the best piece of meat,” and the butcher says, “It’s all the best.”
Rick: Sounds like an Indian butcher. “It is all very good.”
Dean: And the monk hears that and boing, he just realizes it’s all the best. So, we hear that story, which is great, and it’s beautiful, and it’s poetic. But you know, what we tend to forget, is that the monk probably spent years of meditation before that moment happened. Or there’s another one about a monk. He’s rowing across a foggy lake, and he hears the cawing of a crow. And that cawing of the crow for him is the Mahavakya, the awakening. The great utterance that does somehow, “That’s it, the cawing of the crow, that does it.” So, the mistake would be for people to hear that and go, “Okay, I got to find that lake and go there and wait for a crow to come, and that’ll work.” And in a sense, that’s the story of how religions start. You know our dear recently departed friend, Jerry Jarvis, I once heard him say, “Okay, you want to hear the history of religion in a nutshell?” One day a guy was sitting out in a tomato patch, and he woke up, and then a hundred years later, people were sitting in tomato patches waiting for the great tomato to come and they all wear little tomato medallions around their necks.
Rick: Yeah, I remember there was what they used to call a refrigerator quote of Maharishi, because people used to put these things on their refrigerators. That was, “Don’t think that you can’t get enlightened in New York City.” He said, “When the time for awakening has come, even the stench of a rotten bus exhaust could be the final trigger.”
Dean: Yeah, you know, I like the Zen stories. Of course, there are a lot of Zen stories where a monk will go to the Roshi, to the master, and say, one of the classic questions is, “What is the Buddha?” Meaning, not what is that guy who lived twenty-five hundred years ago, but what is Buddha nature, what is enlightenment, what is ultimate reality? So, they phrase it as, “What is the Buddha?” And sometimes you’re told, “Well, the Buddha is the beautiful sunset,” or “The Buddha is the geese in August disappearing over the horizon.” That’s very beautiful and poetic, but I like the stories where the master says, “The Buddha is a pile of cow shit in the middle of the road,” right? Because, if you can see it there, you can see it everywhere. You know, one book that I wrote, I want to mention this book.
Rick: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that, so we’re going to talk about the movies before we’re done.
Dean: Yeah, good, because this is the book, I was looking up my sales figures the other day, which you can do online now, and this is my book that sold the fewest copies. I keep thinking one day this book is going to get rediscovered.
Rick: Maybe today’s the day.
Dean: Maybe. So, “Cinema Nirvana, Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies.” So, when I was writing this one, and people said, “Oh, you’re writing about enlightenment lessons in movies? Okay, you need to write about The Matrix and, all this really…
Rick: Brother-Sun, Sister-Moon, and
Dean: Yeah, right, blah, blah.” So, I didn’t write about any of that low-hanging fruit. So, what I wrote about was Jaws, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, all the stuff where you’d think there couldn’t possibly be Dharma, there couldn’t possibly be spiritual teaching there. And because I just start with the premise, if the infinite, if the Buddha nature is what it’s supposed to be, it has to be everywhere. It has to be in the pile of cow shit, it has to be even in a crappy movie like Independence Day. So, I deliberately wrote a chapter about Independence Day.
Rick: Well, I always like to say that if we actually think about what we’re looking at, you know, including a pile of cow shit in the road, and just kind of drill down or zoom in a little bit to the molecular level, let’s say, you see this marvelous thing happening there. A little bacteria, and how immensely complex and sophisticated little mechanisms they are. And then take it down to the atomic level, the subatomic, the quantum level, there’s all these amazing laws of nature which we scarcely, we don’t fully understand, operative in every little particle of creation, near and far, large and small. And that’s the Divine in play, and, for the most part, we just ignore it.
Dean: Yeah, and to a certain degree you can do it intellectually, which is what you were describing, and then the other thing that happens, which is more neurological, as you just continue to meditate and then you open your eyes. You know, this morning I was looking up, and again, I’m so fortunate to be living here in a little beach bungalow in Santa Monica, and there are three magnificent palm trees towering above our little cottage here. I was looking up at those palm trees, I’m going, what are those things? It used to be we would drop acid to have that kind of, whoa, wow, that is amazing, but there is this…
Rick: Oh man, look at my arm.
Dean: Yeah, but there is this freshness of awareness that if you pay a little bit of attention and that, oh yeah, that’s a palm tree, I’ve seen palm trees a million times, that’s just a concept.
Dean: You look up at the actual experience, and go, wow.
Rick: Yeah, it’s like we were saying a few minutes ago with the mood-making point, if you just stop for a moment and contemplate the miracle of life and the miracle of what you’re actually experiencing, even though it might be an intellectual trigger, it evokes a visceral or experiential change, you know?
Dean: Yeah, it’s all going on all the time, under all circumstances, and one of the great joys of coming into greater maturity as a practitioner of this stuff is that the apparent dividing line between so-called meditation or so-called spiritual practice and life, that apparent dividing line gets blurrier and blurrier. And then you realize, oh, this is what Maharishi was saying way back when. This is what’s supposed to happen, this is what he called CC, Cosmic Consciousness. And he did such a beautiful job of outlining it in a linear way and putting words to that. But again, everything being a double-edged sword, that also tended to make us, at least it tended to make me think of, okay, cosmic consciousness, that’s going to be another phenomenon that I experience.
Rick: And it’s going to be so awesome and you’ll be able to know everybody’s thoughts and …
Dean: Yeah, and I find that, the more you become free of all your conceptual noise, I mean, conceptual noise may still be there, but you become so that its claws are less deep into you. You become less invested in it. So, what I find is that I think less, which is a great relief. I think less, or if the thoughts are there, I just know they’re just freaking thoughts, that’s all. They’ve got nothing to do with reality, so there’s less investment in thoughts and that leaves space to see what’s going on. And that looks to other people like you’re reading their minds. I had these two friends of mine who had been, romantically involved for a while, and they showed up one day at my door. They rang the bell, I opened the door, and I looked at them. I said, “Oh, you’re getting married.” And it’s not that I was drilling into their skulls, it was just obvious, you see stuff. And also, I find, and I write about this, I’ve got a chapter or two about this in in the new book, again, coming back to the practical level where people get hung up and suffer. But so many people are paralyzed by trying to make decisions, and it’s because they try to make decisions by thinking through all the possibilities. But the possibilities keep branching. I can go this way or this way. Well, if I go this way, then that can go this way. Pretty soon it’s 2, 4, 8, 16, and you can go crazy trying to figure it out, trying to make decisions. Now, this word “decide” comes from the Latin “decidere,” which means “to cut,” which I interpret as, rather than, “Okay, I’m going to follow the proliferation of all those branches and finally compute the whole thing.” Well, okay, you think about that for a while, and then the moment of decision is a moment where you cut off all the branches but one. And you do that not by thinking, you do it by seeing, by feeling, and feeling not in the sense of some vague emotion. This is one of the reasons why it’s so wonderful to watch great athletes. You know, when LeBron James is charging the net and there’s five defenders on him, and he makes the shot. It’s not that he can think, “Okay, this guy’s going this way,” you know, it’s all going way too fast to think about. But he can see, he can feel. By not being invested in his thought, he can see, he can feel one nanosecond from now where the path is going to open up, the path between where he is and the net. And this is one of the reasons why it’s so exciting to watch anything being done at that level, because we resonate to that. It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s the way I want to be able to do everything.” That is functioning from the zone. That’s what enlightened activity is like. We intuitively recognize it, it feels great, whether it’s sports or acting, the arts, music, anything. That’s why with great jazz, you listen to Coltrane going places with the saxophone that no one ever could or would have gone before, and he can never go that way again a second time. It’s just, it’s like opening up in front of him, I think that the story of the Red Sea parting in front of Moses, I suspect that’s a metaphor for that same thing. And more and more it’s just that’s what life feels like. I don’t have to think about all this stuff so much anymore.
Rick: Yeah, it’s what Maharishi used to call spontaneous right action.
Rick: There was another phrase he used to use which was support of nature, and I’ll tell you an interesting experience we had yesterday. There’s this Facebook group which I think is all over the country, but there’s a local chapter of it here called “Fur Babies.” And people use it to report lost cats and dogs that they either find or have lost, and sometimes other animals. So yesterday somebody reported having found a young possum in a trash can, probably it got in there with its mother and the mother got out and the baby couldn’t. And so, they said, you know, what should I do with this possum? And Irene, my wife is an avid animal lover and she naturally began to feel like, what can we do to help this possum? So, we went down to Walmart to get some stuff and right in front of us, as we were looking for a parking place was a car with Virginia license plates. And the word of the actual thing on the license plate, instead of a number, was “possums.” So, we got out and we walked up to the woman and we said, “Do you rescue possums by any chance?” and she said, “Yes, I do.” So, we kind of connected her with the person who had found the possum and all that stuff. So that’s what he used to call support of nature. Your life begins to click that way sometimes.
Dean: Yeah, it does, sometimes, you know, and I’ve experienced a lot of that. On the other hand, I think it was Mark Twain said, “Any party that takes the credit for the rain will have to accept the blame for the drought.”
Rick: Yeah, good point. Good point.
Dean: And you know, like when I hear that, and this is just me, but I hear the law of attraction stuff of “Okay, I’m going to do my spiritual whatever it is and it’s going to make the money come to me.” You know, I kind of hope that doesn’t work.
Rick: Well, it’s too willful and manipulative in those cases. We had no idea we were going to run into a woman who rescues possums who happened to just arrive in town from Virginia. It was more like: just had the desire, forgot about the desire, and then boom, some kind of fulfillment.
Dean: You leave yourself open. Again, you’re just resting back in awareness, you’re resting back in openness, and the stuff that’s needed does have a tendency to show up. I find this when I’m writing, when I set out to write a new book. Okay, now I’m going to write a book about fearing less, or now I’m going to write a book about movies, and then the stories that I need start showing up in the New York Times, or I start hearing the anecdotes that I need from people. And I’m just like a little magpie: okay I’ll take this little piece of this little gum wrapper and I build a little nest and call it a book.
Rick: Yeah, I want to loop back to Kranti’s question before we get too far afield, which was about can you trace the mechanics or something of awakening or enlightenment. And I think that there’s something we haven’t touched upon which is worth mentioning, which is that there should be, if awakening or enlightenment or whatever word you want to use is a profoundly different state of functioning than is ordinarily the norm, then there should be a profoundly different state of physiology associated with it or correlated with it. And there are ancient traditions which have charted that out in great detail. I have Joan Harrigan’s books on my shelf, Kundalini Vidya, and she has it all mapped out in great detail, and I’m sure other traditions have done the same. And it may be something that modern neurophysiology manages to understand quite clearly over time. I’ve interviewed a couple neurophysiologists recently who are dedicating their lives to that. I think it will necessitate an understanding of subtle physiology as well as gross physiology to really come to terms with it.
Dean: You know I think on the one hand, that’s really exciting and it’s really great and important that someone do that. On the other hand, kind of from the practical side of the practitioner, which is always my bias, it doesn’t matter.
Rick: Yeah, I mean LeBron James doesn’t worry about what’s going on in his neurophysiology or how his brain works or anything like that, he just is great at playing basketball.
Dean: And in fact, I was talking about Coltrane before. Wait, who’s the other great tenor saxophonist? Who did The Bridge?
Rick: I don’t know.
Dean: I forget right now, but the story is that Gunther Schiller, who was a music critic, wrote this essay about, “Oh, this is what this jazz player is doing, this brilliant stuff that no one’s done before. And he’s stacking the chords vertically instead of horizontally or something like this.” And then the musician made the mistake of reading the essay. And then he couldn’t do it.
Rick: It messed him up.
Dean: It messed him up and made him self-conscious about it. But I mean, for example, in the jungles of ancient India, we had yogis doing all these centuries of just trial and error, research and development. And one of the things that they discovered was ujjayi breath, you know, the Darth Vader breath, where you do that constriction in the back of your throat. And they discovered that, if I breathe that way, boy, it just really has this profound tranquilizing effect. It’s really a good kind of on-ramp to meditation. Now, fast forward many centuries, we find out that, oh, when you do that constriction in the back of your throat, you’re stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain down to the diaphragm. And that tends to switch off the sympathetic nervous system and the fight-or-flight response that it elicits, and switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the stay-and-play response. So, okay, fine, we know the mechanics, we know how it works, but we still do ujjayi breath the same way.
Rick: Yeah, so, the yogis that you refer to were basically conducting a scientific experiment all those centuries ago. And these days with modern science, experiments have been done to discover what you just explained. And I don’t think there’s any harm in that. It’s just an addition to human knowledge. And since Pandora’s box is open, in terms of scientific understanding, it’s not going to be closed. I think there’s a mutual sort of symbiotic benefit to spirituality and science getting in bed together, if we want to mix metaphors. Each one can help the other tremendously.
Dean: Right, but I think there’s one or two things to be careful of, which is always true when you get in bed with anyone. Yeah, you want to use appropriate protection. And in this case, we have to be careful, as the neurophysiological symptoms of awakening perhaps are described in greater detail, we have to continue to be vigilant to not mistake one symptom for the cause. You know, this is something that happened back in the 70s, with the popularity of biofeedback. Oh, the people who are in an awakened state, they have alpha waves instead of beta waves. So, let me figure out how to produce more alpha waves and then I’ll be awakened. And it doesn’t necessarily work that way.
Rick: Yeah, no, good point. A lot of the neurophysiological correlates of meditation or higher states of consciousness are such, that you can’t consciously manipulate them or try to trigger them in order to evoke those states of consciousness. Which is an interesting consideration itself, because a lot of people these days are hoping that there’s going to be some kind of app or some kind of contraption that you can strap on your head or something that’s going to give you a shortcut to enlightenment. Why go through decades of practice, where you can just strap this thing on and you’re golden in in an hour?
Dean: Right, right.
Rick: Which is debatable.
Dean: Yeah, yeah, but again, the desire for something quick is not a wrong desire. And again, this is why I’m finding myself emphasizing this more and more in my teaching. Look, here’s a thing you can do in 30 seconds. I’ve got this chapter from my new book, which is actually running on the Oprah’s website right now. It’s on oprah.com. It’s a two-page chapter in the book, and it’s called “Breathe Through Your Feet.”
Dean: And I just point out to people, you just put your attention on the soles of your feet. And you can do this while you’re sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. Or you can do it while they’re introducing you and you’re about to get up and do some public speaking that you’re nervous about. Or you’re trying to call the person up for the date or, you know, whatever it is. And you just put your attention on the soles of your feet and kind of feel, kind of imagine that as you breathe in, you’re breathing in through the soles of your feet. As you breathe out, you’re breathing out through the soles of your feet. Right. Now, I’ve gotten letters from people saying, “Man, I just started doing this breathing through your feet thing, and this is going to replace Ambien. I’m sleeping at night for the first time.” You know, one thing that I love is my favorite mantra to share with people these days, which is, “Whee!”
Rick: Okay. I thought you were gonna say, “Ahh.”
Dean: Well, that’s another one. But so many people are caught up in depression or grouchiness or something, and this makes use of something that actually was first studied by Charles Darwin, the facial feedback hypothesis. Which is, as you know, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Sometimes our joy is the source of our smile, but sometimes our smile is the source of our joy.” It works both ways. So, I have people going, “Okay, one, two, three, whee!” And you gotta have the mudra along with the mantra. “One, two, three, whee!” You do that three times, and then I say, “Now, try to be depressed.”
Dean: And there are a lot of people walking around depressed, and there really is this simple method. And they— you may or may not ever get them to sit down and close their eyes and meditate for fifteen or twenty minutes every day. We know, you and I know, that anyone can do that, and that it would really help them a lot. And if they would, we could just get them to sit down and shut up and try it for 15 minutes and, you know, lead them into the effortlessness, they would get it. But maybe they’re going to do it, maybe they’re not. But again, this was something Maharishi said years ago, he said, “When you need change for the parking meter, a quarter is more valuable than a hundred-dollar bill.”
Dean: So, we don’t have to give people supreme enlightenment all the time. Give them something that’s going to soften up their suffering a little bit, show them a little daylight, and then maybe we can talk about the next thing.
Rick: Yeah, that’s good. While we’re at it, when I was in that section of your book where you presented “Breathe Through Your Feet,” I jotted down a few other similar little techniques that you mentioned. I thought I’d read them to you and you could explain to us what they are. One, another was “relax at the moment of contact.”
Dean: Oh yeah. This one, and I tell the story, I got this teaching when I was practicing Aikido, this beautiful Japanese non-fighting martial art. When the person comes at you, the whole idea is instead of opposing them or fighting with them, you use their energy, use their momentum to help them sail across the room. So, I was practicing for my next promotion test, and I had to do this thing where three attackers, one after another, come after me to try to tackle me. They were succeeding in tackling me, because every time one of them grabbed me, I was tightening up. I didn’t realize that I was tightening up because I was so caught up in tightening up. So, the next time, as the attacker rushed me, I heard my teacher’s voice. He was halfway up the stairs to the men’s dressing room, and he called out, “Dean, relax at the moment of contact.” For a second, I thought, “What? What’s he talking about?” Then I realized, “Oh yeah, I’m doing this.” It’s physical, and that’s the wonderful thing about martial arts. You get this physical feedback. So, I dropped it, dropped the tension out of my shoulders, my energy dropped to my center. Technically, I was doing the same steps. You plant your feet like this, you pivot like this, but now it worked. Now the guy went sailing across the room. So, most people are not going to practice Aikido, but the attackers in life are the crazy neighbor who’s giving you a hard time about how you set out your trash cans, the baby possum, the whatever, the bad report about your biopsy. These are the attackers of life, and just through long-standing habit, we tend to tighten up whenever one of these things comes at us. You just can remember that little practice slogan, relax at the moment of contact. Again, it just opens up space around the situation. You’re not so caught up in it, and you can see your way more clearly to making appropriate responses.
Rick: Take it easy, take it as it comes.
Dean: Take it easy.
Rick: Here’s another one that you’ve said, the Sweetest Dog in the World.
Dean: Yeah, yeah. This is a thing, and I actually have this chapter on my website, because it’s one of my favorite things. I saw this bumper sticker once that said, “Dear Lord, please make me the person my dog thinks I am.” And the little technique that I give is to sit, close your eyes, and imagine that you’ve got the sweetest dog in the world with you. You guys may have the sweetest dog in the world actually living in your house, so you don’t have to imagine it.
Rick: The local squirrels don’t think so, but we do.
Dean: Right. This is an alternative to, on the one side, trying to suppress your afflictive emotions like rage or your grief or whatever it is, and on the other hand, indulging in them and just getting caught up in the story. So instead, you close your eyes and imagine that you’re telling the story to the sweetest dog in the world, and just totally indulge. The more you indulge the better. Just totally tell the whole thing. And the great thing about the sweetest dog in the world is he or she is the world’s best listener. Right? Doesn’t disagree, doesn’t agree, doesn’t interpret, doesn’t understand all this “waka waka waka” you’re doing with your mouth, but does understand feelings. “Oh, my dear human friend, he’s so sad. Let me just…” And the dog takes it into his heart and just explodes it into space. And then, okay, after that’s all gone, go take a walk around the block, take a breather, come back, do it a second time. This time, imagine that you’re the dog. You’re listening from within all that doggy fur, looking out through those doggy eyes of love, and out there, “Oh, there’s my dear friend Rick. Oh, God, I love him so much. Oh, he’s so troubled. Come on, Rick, tell me your story.” And you just take it in, take it in, explode it into space in your doggy heart till it’s all gone. And people who have practiced in the Vajrayana tradition, Tibetan Buddhist tradition, will recognize this as an update of a very Vajrayana approach.
Rick: Here’s another one. I like this one. “Would it help?”
Rick: Bridge of Spies, right? Tom Hanks?
Dean: Great performance by Mark Rylance, who actually won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Two-thousand-fifteen film, Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg film. And Mark Rylance plays Rudolf Abel, the true story of a Soviet spy who was captured by the Americans in New York City in the nineteen-fifties. And the good news is that Tom Hanks is his lawyer, so how bad can things get if Tom Hanks is on your side? And in their first jailhouse meeting, Tom Hanks says to him, “Now listen, you know…”
Rick: Tom’s meditating these days, by the way.
Dean: Oh, is he?
Rick: Jerry Seinfeld turned him on to it, but go ahead, continue.
Dean: Great to hear that. He deserves it. So, he says to the spy, “So, listen, you know, you’re very inconvenient to everyone. The Russians, the Americans, everyone wants you to go to the electric chair.” And Rudolf Abel listens to that and he says, “All right.” And Tom Hanks says, “You don’t seem worried.” He says, “Would it help?” Right? If some people hear that and realize, all this worry that I do… It’s like I give in that chapter another way that it was said by Shantideva, the great 6th century Buddhist sage, who said, “If there’s a solution to the problem, what’s the point of worrying? If there’s no solution to the problem, what’s the point of worrying?” You know, a lot of people are living with this unexamined assumption that if you’re not worrying, you’re not being responsible. And if you can see clearly once, that worrying is not productive, in fact, it’s counterproductive, then it starts to loosen its grip on you.
Rick: Yeah, and again this is that cart and horse conundrum, are you in a natural state in which you spontaneously don’t worry or are you inclined to worry but you actually do something to sort of break the habit of worrying? And it kind of works both ways, you know?
Dean: Yeah, yeah, and again, you know, it’s funny, I was actually having this conversation with Phil Goldberg who lives about six minutes from me and we’ll both be in the middle of writing books and we go, we take walk and talk on the beach together. And we were noting how even though we’re both years away from our old days of being involved with teaching TM and being involved with the TM organization, that so much of Maharishi’s wisdom, we appreciate it more than ever. And so, one thing that Maharishi said in this case was that it’s like a table with four legs. You pull on any one leg and the other three come along. So, it’s not really a conundrum, it’s a wonderful ampleness of opportunity that you can find, improve the physiological or improve the psychological view, improve something and the rest tends to go along.
Rick: Yeah, all right, here’s an interesting question. This is from Mark Peters in Santa Clara, California. Mark is a regular viewer. He always posts a question. He said, “Can you point to a particular experience on your awakening journey that permanently and dramatically shifted your perspective, or has it been more of an unending series of subtler ‘aha’ moments?” We were talking about that earlier, about the subtle versus the dramatic, and Samuel Bondar uses the frame “oozers,” a lot of people are “oozers.”
Dean: Yeah, or Mooji says most people are on the slow cook plan.
Dean: I’ve had some dramatic experiences for sure. Some of them were in childhood. One of them, the most dramatic, the most fun one to talk about, I actually gotta plug another one of my books. This book’s actually out of print, but you can find copies online, “Why the Chicken Crossed the Road” and other hidden enlightenment teachings.
Rick: You finally answered that question, huh?
Dean: Yeah. And this is chapter one of the book, which is “What Me Worry.”
Rick: Alfred E. Newman.
Dean: That’s right, so here we go, true story. I’m 12 years old and my mom sends me out to the garage because we’re going to be going to a drive-in movie later that day, which dates me, and I go out to the garage, to the Nash Rambler station wagon.
Rick: Which also dates you.
Dean: Right, and by the way, the movie we were going to see was “Parish” with Troy Donahue, so, 1961. So, I go out to the garage and I’m picking up all the toys and the comic books, and my mind, even at that age was doing all that branching. Well, what if that and that, if that happens, that happens, that happens. And the next thing that I pick up is a Mad magazine with Alfred E. Newman’s idiotic grinning face on the cover, and underneath, as always, his slogan. “What Me Worry?” And my mind went ‘boing,’ and it was like the top of my head opened up and the sky fell into it. Because what happened was, I saw that this thing that I was doing, this blah, blah, blah, was something called worry. And that on some level, I had been choosing to do that. I’d been flipping that lever over and over, and therefore I could stop. I could, and in a nutshell, that’s the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths right there in that experience. Yes, suffering happens, but the suffering’s not because of what’s going on outside. It’s because you keep pushing that button. All you got to do is stop pushing it, and that’s the cessation of suffering. And the fourth noble truth, then, you tend to fall back into the suffering, so it takes some practice over time for most people. So, my mind just opened up, and I was just in complete, cut it with a knife, eat it with a spoon, sat-chit-ananda bliss. And we went to see this dumb movie, and through the whole movie, I’m just floating in bliss. We go home, I get in bed, fall asleep, floating in bliss. And years later, of course, I read that there are names. Of course, the names are not really what that thing is. That thing is what it is in its purity. It is what I experienced. And so, that gave me some, I won’t say that it was irreversible, that I never went back to worrying. But it gave me such a push, and I think it’s actually more useful from a teaching point of view, that that did not happen to me.
Dean: You know, they say the worst person to study the violin with is the person who was the violin prodigy.
Dean: The person who didn’t have to struggle, you get the lesson, then you lose it. The beautiful thing that I heard Rupert Spira say on a retreat once, this really brought me to tears, actually. He said, “Getting the thing, getting the opening, getting the bliss, getting the simplicity of non-dual awakeness,” he says, “Getting it is grace. Losing it is grace, and the losing it is actually the greater grace, because then you have to find your way back.”
Rick: Yeah, nice. So, I hope you have a picture of Alfred E. Newman on your puja table.
Dean: Actually, not at the moment, I have had, I should, he’s my root guru.
Rick: Yeah, he is, yeah.
Dean: As the Buddhists would say, the one who first gave me the juice. We do have Hello Kitty.
Rick: Okay. Yeah, speaking of Mooji, I know that you’ve resonated with Mooji and spent some time with him and all. He’s a very sweet man, I’ve really enjoyed having a couple conversations with him. There’s a rather devotional scene around him now, which makes some people a little nervous. Let’s talk a little bit about devotion, not necessarily exclusively with reference to Mooji. But in some traditions, it’s considered to be a riper stage of realization than so-called mere self-realization. It’s a blossoming of the heart that eventually happens because the heart is one of our faculties and it’s bound to develop in time. But I guess the reason it makes some people nervous is that it’s gotten a little weird sometimes and it’s been abused. And that sort of adulation has gone to the heads of teachers to whom it’s directed. They haven’t been able to handle it maturely. So, I don’t know, do you have any thoughts or comments about that whole topic?
Dean: Well actually let me talk about the scene around Mooji a little bit, because I have spent considerable time with him. I’ve gone to, I think I’ve been on retreats with him in five different countries or something. And you know I said at the outset of this, it seems like the story of my spiritual life is that every nest I get comfortable in, I wind up getting kicked out of. And I must say, when my wife Yaffa and I first met Mooji, and it was before he became so well known, so popular, we went on a retreat with him in southern Italy in this little old beat-up villa that had become kind of a hippie artist commune or something. And there were only about 50 people there. I think that besides us there was maybe one other American. Most of the people were Italians, which was great, because we were supposed to be in silence, but the Italians couldn’t keep silence to save their lives. And they were smoking cigarettes everywhere and the food was great. And it was very, very intimate. But when we first came there, first we flew down from Rome and then there was a train and then there was a bus going through this little village of Lecce. And on the way there, it was this hot July day and there was a religious procession and the old Italian widows in black and they’re carrying the cross. It was like being in a Fellini film. It was just terrific and then we get to the villa with our suitcases and the fellow who drove us there, the Italian fellow who was hosting us said, and we were early, the retreat hadn’t started. We were some of the first to arrive. So, he said “would you like to meet Mooji?” And we said, “Well sure.” We’d been seeing him online and never met him in the flesh before. And we go out to the veranda and he’s sitting there on this little couch. And we walk up to him and we sit down. And I can’t, to save my life, I can’t tell you what the conversation was, but all I know is I just sat down. I kind of put my hand on his knee, he put his hand on my hand and you know, time fell away, space fell away, cause and effect, the idea of the ridiculous laughable idea that I’m an entity stuck, an ego zipped into this bag of skin, just everything fell away. And I really felt this is it. I found, at the end of that retreat, I said to him in tears, “I always knew there had to be someone like you.” And then he started making more videos and I would send them out. I’d see these teachings, these five-minute videos. Wow, I’d send it out to everyone because, oh everyone’s got to see this it’s so simple. He’s so powerful and just his darshan, his presence just comes through the screen. And you know that was a very poignant experience for me. And then, as you say, there started to be this scene around him, this devotional scene. And everyone dressed in white and singing hymns to him. And I don’t know if I’ll ever go back there. I don’t think so, the thing is, I could feel that devotional thing swelling in my heart. But I don’t want other people telling me that I’m supposed to feel that. And the other thing is that what I see is, whatever role I have as a teacher… You know the Buddha shortly before he died, said to his disciples, “go throughout the land and teach the dharma,” right? Teach the awakening path. Go throughout the land and teach the dharma in the dialect of the people. Okay. My people are middle-class Americans, right? And the dialect of my people is not wearing white robes and singing hymns of adulation and touching the Guru’s feet. So, I can’t, and he still does these wonderful videos, his teaching is the same, as far as I can see, and it’s still the same. But I can’t send out the videos anymore, because they start and end with these hymns, that I know, whatever responsibility I have as a teacher, as a guide, I can’t be responsible for turning people off.
Rick: Yeah, well he could put a lid on that sort of thing if he wanted to. Perhaps he feels that it’s a legitimate expression of the people who have become his devotees and he doesn’t want to quash it.
Dean: Yeah, I don’t know, and again, I can’t say it’s right or it’s wrong but I know that it’s not…
Rick: I think it’s natural. I mean you see all kinds of, there’s beautiful literature in the Vedic tradition, the Srimad Bhagavatam and the various Bhakti sutras or whatever, the different things. And it’s really, and you know there’s all these beautiful expressions about the sort of devotion people would feel in the presence of Lord Krishna or their Guru or whatever. So, it has a legitimate thing, it’s just a little alien to our culture. Although, I guess in the Christian and particularly Catholic traditions there’s something along those lines. But it’s easy for it to go off the rails. I guess that’s the thing that you’re squeamish about here. And it also clashes with, as you said, your clientele, the people that you primarily interact with. So, it may have its place for those people, but it’s not really going to be something you can promulgate.
Dean: Yeah, you know I gave a talk the other day, I was invited to give a talk at a local yacht club. And I’ve given workshops for CEOs, I’ve given workshops for lawyers, I’ve given workshops for medical groups, and some of these people have kind of a healthy American skepticism, and that’s great. The dialect of the people is American. I teach this stuff in American. And once in a while usually I’ll throw in a reference to the teachings of the Buddha or the Bhagavad Gita or the Gospels, just so people know I’m not making this stuff up. This stuff is road-tested over thousands of years. It’s been handed down through venerable traditions, but you don’t have to sing mantras in Sanskrit to get it. Now personally, I love singing mantras in Sanskrit. I do it every day. I sing them in the shower. But I just feel that my main responsibility is to make the gate as wide as possible, to just remove the turn-styles. That’s what attracted me to becoming a TM teacher. I never would have even started TM. I knew I was going to be a TM teacher before I started TM. I never would have started otherwise, because I knew I wanted something that I could share with everyone. Oh, a simple, natural, innocent procedure, do for 20 minutes twice a day, right? You can still say those words in your sleep. And it was great, but then, again this was just my take, they made the gate too narrow. They made the turn-style too hard to get through. So, I had to go elsewhere, which for me was perfect.
Rick: And the gate has gotten wider again. Irene just scribbled a note here when I made that reference about devotional scenes going off the rails, and she said it’s not like an intellectual teacher can’t go off the rails, because you know that can happen too. But anyway,
Dean: But back to the heart of your question, which is that the cultivation, the development of devotion as a very, maybe a further ripening of awakening. And Maharishi talked about that in terms of, well, see cosmic consciousness leads to God consciousness, right?
Rick: Appreciation becomes superlative or sublime, and then there’s naturally a great upwelling of love and even devotion.
Dean: Yes, and that’s it right there. You just used the key word “appreciation.” That’s really what I described before looking up at the palm trees that loom above my house. Whoa, yeah, right, and the thing is that, I think, if you have, an especially beautiful, charismatic, sweet teddy bear, you know, enlightened teddy bear of a teacher like Mooji, it’s so easy to feel devotion for him. But then, the moment it gets bound up with persons, the moment it gets bound up with personalities and the feeling is that the devotion is especially for this person, especially for this teacher, for this thing, for this palm tree and not for this ficus tree over here, then it starts to be shaky.
Dean: But it’s a shortcut and that’s why it’s tempting.
Rick: I remember a line that Maharishi said one time about God. He said, “Well, wherever you find Him, there He is found for the first time. But later on, He is found everywhere.”
Dean: Right, right. Yeah, so it can be useful. Okay, if I can start off, I see, okay, here’s this person that, actually, that teaching of Maharishi’s. I mentioned before, I used to teach Plato’s symposium in my literature of enlightenment class. And in that book, Socrates very systematically describes that, as a path to enlightenment. You start by loving the beauty that you find in one person and then from there you expand. You find that in many different people, that same quality of beauty, right, it’s something more abstract. It’s not just that person, it’s some quality that is shared by these other peoples and then you start to find it in the arts and in institutions. And so, eventually he describes where it’s just this vision of just the cosmic beauty of the whole universe. And you read it and you go, oh my God, it’s an exact description of enlightenment. It’s a beauty that doesn’t get bigger, it doesn’t get smaller, nothing can be added to it, nothing can be taken away from it. It’s completely independent of any material circumstances. And you go “right on Socrates.”
Rick: Yeah, so movies.
Rick: A fellow named Declan Cooley from Krakow, Poland sent in a question saying, “Hello Dean, I enjoyed all your books including Cinema Nirvana. In reference to the book, are there any more recent movies or the like, that have caught your attention in a similar way? Did you ever get into “Breaking Bad?”
Dean: You know, I haven’t seen it. Breaking Bad is next on our list. We’re catching up, we’re in the middle of Deadwood right now.
Dean: It’s pretty dark. You know, “Transparent,” if you’re talking about these TV, Netflix or HBO, whatever.
Rick: Is that the one with, what’s his name? Yeah, the transgender guy.
Dean: The transgender parent, but it winds up going deeper and deeper into the lives and the conscious. There’s a lot of exploring identity in terms of sexuality, not only for the transgender parent, but then each of the children. Well, you know, am I straight or am I gay? And for a while you might think that, gee, this thing is just about sex and sexuality and really there’s more to identity than sexuality. And after a while, those characters start to realize that. They start getting deeper into themselves. It’s beautifully done. There’s a new film, I actually have only seen the trailer, but my wife saw it, and my wife, Yaffa, is a film editor. She works on documentaries. So, we go to a lot of screenings of documentaries. Wim Wenders has this new film about Pope Francis.
Rick: Oh, I’ve heard about that.
Dean: Yeah, and even if you just watch the trailer, it’s the last moment of the trailer. He looks right into the camera and smiles and you go, “Wah!” There’s the Darshan right there. Yeah, this guy’s got some juice.
Rick: Huh, nice. I listened to some of your analyses of some of these movies which one wouldn’t think of as spiritual, like The Godfather and Jaws and so on. And as I listened, I thought, all right, well, you can do that with anything. I mean, you can read as much as you want into anything. It wasn’t necessarily the intention of Francis Ford Coppola or whoever or Steven Spielberg to have all that meaning in there. Dean is just using that as a vehicle for bringing out some points.
Dean: And I say that explicitly in the introduction to the book. I say: I assume they did not intend that. People say to me, “Oh, they always miss that part.” I’m not saying that’s what they intended, and if they did intend it, that would make this less significant. My point is that, just as you said, you can do it with anything because it’s everywhere. Because if the Buddha nature really is what it’s supposed to be, then it’s got to be everywhere. And if we look at things slant-wise just the right way, we can find the Buddha in a pile of cow shit. But also, there is something more, which is, why do certain films and books persist as classics? You know, there’s something in Casablanca, there’s something in Jaws, there’s something in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that keeps us coming back to them. There’s something, for that matter, in Macbeth and Hamlet and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. There’s something that keeps us coming back. And my sense is that the creators of those works were just so ‘in that zone’ that the juice came through them with somewhat more clarity than usual. And just like watching LeBron James rush the net, in the same way we feel that, we respond to it. It’s like the one tuning fork vibrating in sympathetic resonance with another. When we respond to it for the same reason.
Rick: Another thing I often think about with movies, is that certain movies really inject an awareness of something interesting or deeper into the national consciousness. You have a movie like Close Encounters of the Third Kind that comes out, or Star Wars, and all of a sudden everybody’s talking about intelligent life in the universe or the force, you know, this universal field of intelligence. And you wonder whether the movie makers are just serving as conduits, perhaps even unwittingly, for some higher wisdom to be disseminated. Much as some scientists sometimes say that they just feel like they are a conduit or a vehicle for some knowledge that is ready to dawn. And if they didn’t discover it someone else would have, because its time had come.
Dean: Right, right. You know there’s that famous story about Einstein in his later years when he was teaching at Princeton and in his general theory of relativity, he had posited that if the theory was true, one implication of the theory is that light waves had to be bent by gravity. And so…
Rick: Sir Arthur Eddington went down to Africa to do the observation, yeah.
Dean: Right, take the photographs and a student comes rushing into Einstein’s classroom in Princeton saying “Professor Einstein, your theory has been confirmed!” And he was very blasé about it. And he said “Aren’t you excited?” He said “No, if Eddington said…”
Rick: Well, the student said “What would you have done if it hadn’t been confirmed?” and Einstein said “I would have been sorry for the dear Lord, the theory is correct.”
Dean: Right, yeah, and he knew it, because, as we were saying before, it’s less thinking, more seeing. He could see it, he could feel it.
Rick: Yeah, it’s cognition. Actually, speaking of movies, we watched a great one the other night called “The Man Who Knew Infinity” with Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons. And it’s a true story about an Indian mathematician who came from very humble village life in India. To this day, his theories are being used to understand black holes and all. And he’s just totally brilliant. But he just said his God just gave him all these things. They said “How do you know this stuff? We need to find proofs for it.” And he kept saying “Well, it’s not my worry finding proofs, I mean, this stuff just comes to me and I express it.”
Dean: That’s great, and that’s why you can have the most brilliant film critic or literary critic and they can’t necessarily produce a great film or a great work of literature. They can understand it from the outside, they can do brilliant commentary on it. And that’s a book that I’ve got to write someday. I’ve actually written a couple of chapters about, okay, here’s the Dharma teachings of Macbeth, for instance. But when Shakespeare was writing Macbeth, he was in the zone presumably, and for that matter he was in the requirements of Elizabethan Theater. “Hey, we need some exciting stuff here, we need to wake up the audience at the beginning, let’s have some thunder and lightning, let’s bring in some witches to get people excited!” But within the form of that, the juice came through.
Rick: Yeah, a couple more things I want to discuss with you before we wrap it up. One is that you mentioned that towards the end of your book, there are some chapters which get into some pretty profound stuff. And I didn’t get that far, I didn’t finish the book, so I didn’t read those chapters. So maybe we can talk about some of those things. But before we do, there was one thing I did read which was about Bill Wilson, the founder of AA. And how, I guess the final step of the twelve-step-program was supposed to be some kind of spiritual awakening or spiritual cognition or something. And he was always looking for that. And he actually did psychedelics with Aldous Huxley. And he eventually, in the early 70s, learned meditation from a friend of yours, which is probably also a friend of mine. And you want to tell that story a little bit? And then we’ll segue into some of the stuff in the final chapters of your book.
Dean: Right, so Bill Wilson, and by the way, this is in a chapter of the book titled “12 Steps to Thorns.” And I’ve done a lot of work with addicts and alcoholics. There’s a lot of meetings that happen here in LA and a lot of people from those meetings, those 12-step meetings, have found their way to us. We have Tuesday night meditations here in our home in Santa Monica and it’s free, it’s open to everyone. Anyone in the LA area, get on the website and come here and come on Tuesday night. And I actually, I tell the story in the book about one girl who came, maybe about 20 years old. And she sat through the meditation, she came two weeks, three weeks and didn’t say anything. And then one night, as she was about to leave, she pulled me over and she said, “I just wanted to tell you I’m a heroin addict. I’ve been sober for six months. The meditation tonight was so deep and profound and blissful, I didn’t think I could ever feel that way in this life without drugs.” And you hear something like that and you go, “Okay, I’ve not been selling people an empty bill of goods. This stuff really does work, thank God.” And I really do believe that it is the lack of that, that coming home to bliss, which is inherent in our nature, that makes people addicts. I think addicts are just like everyone else, but more so. I think addicts are born spiritual seekers. They go, “Okay, I get some happiness from driving the car, I get some happiness from where-ever, but where’s the bigger rush, where’s the bigger thing?”
Rick: Yeah, and this is such a relevant point with the opioid epidemic being what it is these days, it’s like people are crying out for what you’re describing here.
Dean: Yeah, absolutely, and until that is supplied, whether it’s by the David Lynch Foundation or everyone who can pitch in, until people get that, it’s going to be just like shifting the deck chairs around on the Titanic, you know? So, Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, the one who first laid out the 12 steps in the 1930s, by the 1950s realized it’s the 11th step, which is, okay, through prayer and meditation we had conscious contact with the higher power. So, the 11th, everything else, the first 10 is kind of cleaning, clearing the path for the rest. You’ve hurt, you’d evaluate yourself, you do all of this. By the 1950s, Bill Wilson realized that the 11th step wasn’t really working. People weren’t really getting the juice. They weren’t making true conscious contact. They were mood-making. They were trying, they were having some nice sentiments, saying some nice prayers, but they weren’t getting the stuff. And he was astute enough to realize that there had to be real stuff, a way to really get the juice. And he wound up with Aldous Huxley and some of the other early psychedelic pioneers, dropping acid with them, and apparently, he got really excited. He ran back to the organization, said, “Okay, we’re going to modify the 11th step.” And apparently, they went, “Whoa, slow down, fella.” You know, that’s not going (to happen), the old man’s gone over the edge. So that never happened. But then, I think it was 1971, he was dying of emphysema as a result of heavy smoking of the 12-step drug of choice, which is cigarettes. And, you know, around here you can always tell where the meetings are happening, because outside on the sidewalk people are smoking cigarettes. By the way, in this country, every year cigarettes kill ten times as many people as opioids.
Rick: And nicotine is just as addictive, probably.
Dean: Oh, yeah.
Rick: You just can’t overdose on a cigarette, but it gets you in the end.
Dean: Yeah. So, he’s in his house in New England. It’s a cold December day. He’s a couple of weeks away from dying, actually. And he had some friends and relatives there, and they had an old friend of yours and mine. This was Lincoln, Lincoln Norton.
Rick: Oh, Lincoln, sure.
Dean: Yeah, and they had Lincoln over, and he taught all of them natural meditation in the form of TM. And the story is that Lincoln left Bill Wilson sitting in the upstairs bedroom meditating for ten minutes, as was the procedure. Then he came back ten minutes later, opened the door, the room was empty. And Lincoln comes downstairs and says to everyone, “Has anyone seen Bill?” And just then Bill burst through the front door. And what had happened was, here he was really just so weak and near death. He’d opened his eyes out of the meditation, run down the back stairs, run out into the snow to breathe the crisp winter air, came in through the front door, burst through and said, “This stuff works!”
Rick: That’s great.
Dean: Yeah, so you know, if he had not already destroyed his body, if he’d lived beyond just a few more weeks, who knows what would have happened. Whether meditation would have come into the (program), been incorporated. I mean real effective meditation, not just the kind of lip service that’s done frankly in most 12-step meetings and for that matter most martial arts places and a lot of churches. But you know, just the real technology, the profound letting go, the profound effortlessness that really allows the sinking into bliss to take place. If Bill had lived long enough to really bring that to the 12-step program, you know, things might have been different. So okay, now we’re doing whatever this is 30, 40 something years later, now we’re bringing that.
Rick: Yeah, and as far as Bill is concerned, the way I see things, that was a nice springboard for him and I’m sure he’s doing fine and he could have carried on from there.
Dean: Yeah, nice that he got that. Actually, you’re talking now about the heavier chapters at the end of my book. One chapter is called “The Valley of the Shadow,” which is about dying. And again, since this is a book about fear, fear less.
Rick: That’s a big one.
Dean: That’s a big one for a lot of people because, if you think you’re this thing, if you think you’re the wave and then, uh-oh, this wave that I’ve identified with is melting, then that’s catastrophe, that’s annihilation. But if you’ve practiced, if you’re sitting down for your 20 minutes twice a day or red light, just anything, you’re just getting some practice of melting down into yourself and discovering, “wait, I’m not wave, I’m ocean.” Then when death happens, oh yeah, okay, I’ve done this fire drill, I’ve done this before. This feels familiar. It’s the same kind of melting.
Rick: You probably quote in this book, that verse from the Gita, that even a little of this dharma removes great fear.
Dean: Yes, yeah, that’s in chapter one. Yeah, even a little bit, and this is why I throw out all of these little things, okay, breathe through your feet, relax at the moment of contact, say, “Whee!” You know, it’s something to start to let some daylight in, and then go from there.
Rick: Yeah, what are some of the other heavy duty things you get into towards the end of the book?
Dean: Well, I have a chapter which, actually, some people have told me is the most useful thing I’ve written, and the chapter is called “Lord Shiva Kicks Ass.” Okay, and of course, as you know, Lord Shiva is the lord of destruction, or I prefer to say dissolution, that’s a little gentler. You know, everything that you have, everything that you’ve identified with as important, is going to go away. Your favorite shirt is going to be a dust rag. You’re having a good hair day today, you’re going to be bald tomorrow, guaranteed, right? Everyone you know, everyone you love is going to die, right? This offer is good for a limited time only, whatever it is.
Rick: Five billion years from now, the whole planet’s going to melt because the sun’s going to expand and absorb it.
Dean: Yeah. So, where this really comes into play in our own lives is when something or someone who’s very precious to us vanishes. The story that I tell is about the death of my first wife, Maggie. Maggie was this just wonderful, buoyant, funny person, her idol was Lucille Ball. But Maggie was also a former fashion model, very beautiful, and she was a junior teacher in the Buddhist organization that we were connected with at the time. And her death was an incredible teaching for me. One thing that happened as she was dying, a few weeks before she died. And dealing with all the incredible physical indignities, she was dying of colon cancer, and you know, a lot of it’s not pretty. And she said to me at one point, “How do people who don’t meditate deal with this stuff?” And I just said, “I don’t know.” And at another point, a friend of ours from this Buddhist organization we were connected with, called her up. He was very excited. “Listen, I’ve made an arrangement, I can get some Tibetan monks to come to your hospital room and chant the Bardo Thodol, and blah blah blah.” And she said, “Oh gee, really, thanks so much. But you know what, that’s not been a part of my practice during my life. It would not be authentic for me to do that now.” She said, “My practice is just being without hope or fear.” Right? Right. Because everyone wants to be without fear. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book Fear Less. But you know, no one wants to be without hope. But hope and fear are flip sides of one another. Hope is investing your happiness in a particular outcome. Right? I hope if this thing happens, then everything will be okay. Fear is the flip side, it’s the same investment. Well, if I don’t get that outcome, then life is not satisfactory. Right? But what if we can just be, right in this moment, which is all we have, just be in awareness, which is all we have, and realize that hope and fear are just thoughts, just thoughts. And let those thoughts go like anything else. There’s profound liberation in that.
Rick: Yeah. And neither one… Go ahead.
Dean: And then the other piece of it,
Rick: Just on hope and fear, neither one actually pertains to the present. They all pertain to a hypothetical future, which we have no control over.
Dean: Yeah, and not only we have no control over, but which never arrives. You know, the future lies ahead, and always will.
Dean: You know, the future is this thing we call the future, is like the carrot dangling in front of the donkey, but the donkey never catches up to the carrot. The bats, by the way, are all the tin cans tied to the donkey’s tail. And if you can just, okay, whatever, carrot, whatever, tin cans, whatever, just rest. Okay, I’m the donkey, here I am, then we’re getting somewhere. Now, the other thing I talk about is after Maggie died, and, you know, that was very hard for me. You know, where it really hit me was going to the A&P and buying groceries for one. But, after a while, I started to notice, there’s a famous story about a samurai poet named Masahide in medieval Japan. He became very wealthy, and he had all his possessions in a storage barn. Of course, this was before the days of insurance, and the barn burned. He lost all his wealth, and his response was to write a haiku, which said, “Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon.” Right? So, the time of loss is also, if we pay attention, the time of loss can also be a time of seeing, a time of liberation.
Dean: And that’s why Lord Shiva is, traditionally, the Lord of Destruction, but also, the Lord of enlightenment.
Rick: And is often associated with pure silence, transcendence, and so on, which is kind of what you’re aiming to have people experience with your natural meditation.
Rick: So basically, you’re sneaking Shiva in the back door here.
Dean: Shiva’s the last one out of the building.
Rick: Right. Yeah. So, if people go to your website, I understand that they can actually learn to meditate there.
Rick: Talk a little bit about that, what they can find on your website.
Dean: Okay, so on my website, in addition to my touring schedule, and for people who are watching this live, I’m going to be soon in Louisville, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, Big Sur, a couple things back here in LA, so I’m all over the map.
Rick: Oh, I just want to mention that we have a page on BatGap which we’ll be sending you information about where, if people type in their zip code or their city or whatever, it shows them, radiating outward from that location, any events offered by anybody I’ve interviewed who has put in the necessary information. So, if they’re in Louisville or whatever and they put in, here’s Louisville’s zip code, they would see your event coming up.
Dean: Oh, that’s great.
Rick: It’s under the resources menu on BatGap.
Dean: Can I just say, Rick, BatGap, thank you. What a great thing this is. And everyone watching this, if you’re watching this, you like this, send these guys some money. Do the right thing. Come on. So yeah, on my website, which they can get to, fearlessbook.net or deanwords.com with however you’re …
Rick: And deanwords actually redirects to deansluyter.com. Yes, exactly. No one can spell Sluyter because it’s…
Rick: And I’ll link to all this from your page on BatGap also.
Dean: Good, good, good. So, if you’re watching this, you’re on BatGap, you can get to my site. So, on my site, I’ve got one page called Meditate Now, where I have guided meditation audio tracks. So, it’s me, just gently pulling the rugs out from under your effort so that you can just slip naturally into this. You know, letting go of doing and just being, which is natural meditation.
Rick: Can you even download an mp3 or whatever to put on your phone or your iPod or something?
Dean: Yes, you can. You can stream the stuff for free or for a few bucks. I think it’s seven bucks or something. You can download the mp3 into your phone.
Rick: Great, alrighty. So yeah, so I’ll be linking to your website and people can go there and you probably have some kind of email list that people can sign up for to be notified of things and all that. And great, Well, it’s great connecting with you again, Dean, after all these years.
Dean: Really great, really wonderful. Yeah, and really, thanks for doing what you do. It’s just, you know, no one else does this the way you do and it’s really just terrific.
Rick: Well, I could say the same to you. You know, we’re all doing what we can and doing what we feel naturally moved to do. And I don’t think I could do what you’re doing, but I can do this, so I’m doing it.
Dean: Yeah, yeah. I said to my wife the other day, it’s a good thing I can write and I can talk because that’s it, that’s my skill set. After that, beyond that, I’m completely useless. I’m out of the gene pool.
Rick: Yeah, and it’s nice to be doing something that you feel can really help people, as you certainly are, and as Batgap seems to do, from the feedback we get, it’s very gratifying.
Dean: Yeah. You know, you get up in the morning, you gotta do something, so you may as well liberate sentient beings from suffering.
Rick: Right, and yourself in the process.
Dean: Yes, yes, and you know, and that’s one final thing that Maharishi always used to say to us, which is “the teacher always benefits more than the student.”
Rick: Yeah, it’s true. You know, just to belabor this point a little bit more, don’t you have the feeling that once you get on this bandwagon of doing something which appears to be evolutionary and conducive to people’s enlightenment and upliftment and alleviation from suffering, it’s like you start getting the wind at your back. I mean you start getting this support and opportunity. And it’s as if the powers that be say, “Hey boys, we’ve got a live one here, let’s give him some juice.”
Dean: Yeah, it seems to be, you know, the universe is made out of Buddha nature, the universe is made out of Sat-Chit-Ananda. And then anthropomorphize a little bit, it wants to realize itself.
Dean: And we can see all the work, the whole cosmic creation, the whole, “Okay, now we’re going to have these solar systems, we’re going to have,” all of that is, I think it’s just all beingness trying to fully realize beingness. It’s trying to wake up to itself. And so, I do think that when something or someone comes along who for a while, in some way, in some region of the creation, is helping to facilitate that, then there tends to be some confluence of support for that.
Rick: Yeah, it’s like there’s a cosmic purpose and you’re helping to serve it, and it’s much bigger than you are. So, it’s not like you’re making it happen, but you’re just cooperating with it. Like that old story of the people holding up their sticks to help Krishna hold up the mountain. Krishna’s really doing the work, but they feel like they’re helping.
Dean: Holding up my little stick.
Rick: All right, great, so thanks for this and thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching and to those who sent in questions and for those who’ve been supporting Batgap and for those who haven’t been but have been enjoying it, thanks to you all. This is part of an ongoing series and if you go to batgap.com you’ll see several things that might interest you. You can sign up for an audio podcast of the whole thing or you can sign up to be notified by email when new episodes are released. It’d be good if you subscribe to the YouTube channel if you feel like it, because having more subscribers on YouTube helps the whole channel. It makes it easier for me to talk to YouTube representatives, if I have a problem and it just helps the whole thing. So do that if you feel like it, hit the subscribe button. All that means is YouTube’s going to notify you when I put up something new. And if you’re listening to this on some podcast thing like iTunes or Stitcher, if you leave a review of it on those platforms, that helps also. It makes the podcast more prominent. So those are some things you can do to support it, if you feel supportive. So, thanks for listening, watching and stay tuned for the next one. Thanks Dean.
Dean: Thank you Rick.