Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I have done well over 500 of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones please go to batgap.com B-A-T-G-A-P 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 would like to support it there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. My guest today is Dr. Miles Neale. Welcome Miles.
Miles: Thanks so much Rick.
Rick: Yeah good to see you. Miles is a Buddhist psychotherapist in private practice and founder of the two-year online contemplative studies program. He’s the author of Gradual Awakening. I’m going to hold it up. There we go. Gradual Awakening, the Tibetan Buddhist path of becoming fully human. And he is the co-editor of Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Miles is a faculty member of Tibet House US and Weill Cornell Medical College. With more than 20 years integrating the mind science and meditative practices of Tibetan Buddhism with psychotherapy, trauma research and neuroscience. Miles is a forerunner in the emerging field of contemplative psychotherapy and leads pilgrimages around the Buddhist world. One of Miles’s mentors was Robert Thurman who’s been on Batgap twice so he might refer to Robert during this interview and you might want to check out those interviews if you feel like it. So Miles, I was thinking maybe we would start just to kind of as a springboard by picking apart the title of your book and defining a few terms here. Like we could pick apart almost every word in it. What do you mean by gradual? What do you mean by awakening? And what does it mean to become fully human? So let’s do those three for starters.
Miles: Maybe we start with awakening because I noticed very cleverly and maybe subtly in your own presentation of your own show you say with spiritually awakening leaders or speakers.
Rick: People, yeah. Actually the phrase is ordinary spiritually awakening people. That’s the way we phrased it. Go ahead.
Miles: But that’s significant. That caught my attention and I actually very much appreciate it and I’m not sure how many people have noticed that or you know brought that to your attention but I think that’s a very significant difference from awakened which is the typical usage.
Rick: Well, it’s very intentional and it used to say awakened and I just got too uncomfortable with that and changed it to awakening because awakened or enlightened and terms like that to me just have much too superlative and static a connotation you know and I haven’t seen any examples that would fit that, those terms.
Miles: Well then right out of the gate we have some synchronicity because that’s… I mean I really appreciate that because I would totally agree with you and I think that that’s a very clever and it all it almost builds trust between us right away because…
Rick: I trusted you already.
Miles: Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I think that’s a I think that’s a very, you know, I think it opens up the the field to include many unknown people such as myself who don’t claim any profound awakened experience but still might have something to converse about and something to share, so I think that, thank you so much for that.
Rick: Yeah and I would say that many of the people I have interviewed are experiencing something very profound and maybe have been for years but they’ll be the first to tell you that it still unfolds you know there’s still a work in progress.
Miles: Yeah which I totally and I guess so that that that concept of what is awakening, what are we awakening to, who is awakening, that would be maybe one direction and then the other one is the gradual part of it, which in stark contrast to the few people that are have claimed to have already arrived, and you and I both know there are some of them out there whom I find quite dangerous actually. I find those kinds of statements, assertions very dangerous and I but I also think that there are a sizable part of the population that eat that kind of stuff up and we could talk about the psychoanalytic understanding of what might be at play with people who are gobbling that up, at in a furious pace right now in our culture. On the other hand I think I’m very much, I’m sure we both agree that there is some tension or interplay between awakening to something and then recognizing that it’s a gradual period of metabolizing or integration and I think this is very common especially as the rise of plant medicine comes into play, people can have through various means, including plant medicine, yogic experiences etc, you can have a kind of breakthrough moment which can happen seemingly out of nowhere, could be a glimpse, let’s say, some people call it Satori, some people call it by other by other, I’m not sure what it is in the yoga tradition that you’re really familiar with.
Rick: Samadhi maybe.
Miles: Okay the samadhi experience but then there is also the the period after the samadhi experience in which you have to really undergo a period which may be quite prolonged of integrating that that glimpse and so that is really the hallmark of the gradual approach, is the recognition that there is no single complete and utter transformative experience; this is a matter of incremental and gradual progression and within that there may be glimpses but then there are periods of metabolization and then sort of a staged progression, which is really the hallmark of the book; it is really looking at that stage progression of consciousness and the development of maturity from the Tibetan point of view.
Rick: Yeah and there are a number of angles from which we can elucidate that. For instance, I mean one is that any experience we’re having is by virtue of some activity in the brain, and the nervous system in general, and you know they found for instance that waking, dreaming and sleeping are each quite distinct from one another neurophysiologically just as they are subjectively. Now if enlightenment (or awakening or whatever) is as profound as it’s cracked up to be then there should be quite a different style of brain functioning, evidenced or correlated with with that experience and you know we’ve all heard about neuroplasticity, but neuroplasticity doesn’t happen in an instant. The studies have shown that long-term meditators in various disciplines do undergo quite a profound transformation in the structure and functioning of the brain but never on day one. It takes years for the brain to transform itself into a different style of functioning.
Miles: Hmm yeah yeah
Rick: okay so so let’s keep dwelling on this a bit. So what do we mean by awakening? People throw the term around and you know you’d think that I would have a clear understanding of what it means, but I whenever anybody uses the term I immediately have to ask what they’re… how they’re using it, you know what they mean by it because there’s just no universal consensus in our contemporary spiritual culture; there’s a lot of overlap I think and a lot of some consensus but a lot of variety and differences among in terms of how people understand that word.
Miles: Yeah I mean I mean I like the metaphor of the photo telephoto lens. I mean I think to me it is about opening or expanding the boundaries or parameters of identification with which you know we see ourselves in the world; how that boundary or limitation becomes much more permeable and fluid and and increasingly inclusive and and so it can start very very very narrow I don’t like the word ego-bound but I think probably many most people in popular culture are very you know sort of familiar with that term but if you just imagine that the the telephoto lens increases to include more of what it identifies with as the self and if it values the self then it starts to value the other that’s included in the parameters of that so… I think this naturally happens when perhaps people become parents then they start to identify their kids as part of them so there is like a natural movement from self-identification and one’s fantasies and wishes and hopes and dreams and protecting one from injury but then also very much appreciating the the sort of feeling, feeling that you’re connected with something and that you’re you’re gratified and content with something, so taking care of oneself and then imagining like… I have two kids, one of five and one two; their hopes and dreams and protecting them becomes most central part of my preoccupation so I almost have to, the parameters by which I identify naturally expand to include them and then if I have students or patients after some time they become like family and so… and then if you start to expand those parameters then maybe maybe your your culture and that your identification with a particular culture and that parameter keeps opening and expanding until there’s a sense that there’s no boundary to that, and that you know you are one with the sky, you’re one with the estuaries, I mean very much today with the ecological devastation can you imagine if people were able to open their consciousness to start to feel that the the suffering of the Amazon or the the pollution in the oceans was almost they would sense or feel like if you were alerted by your doctor that you had a clogged artery and immediately you wanted to attend to it; that level of identification is a kind of awakening in other words the sense of solidity by which we normally operate in our routinized habitual manner is sort of narrow lens, narrow telephoto lens but we have a natural ability to expand that and that’s what we’re awakening to; so that’s one way of understanding it metaphorically
Rick: all right so you’re defining awakening in one sense as the sort of expansion of the circumference of one’s concern or one’s sphere of concern, you know from children to community to nation to world to environment and so on and so forth. So sort of a broadening of awareness to incorporate the bigger picture and keeping in mind that most times people are myopically focused on I, me and mine you know, just the immediate concerns of life but there is definitely something to I think in those who see the bigger picture that might actually correlate with awakening as it’s usually defined in a spiritual context, would you agree?
Miles: yeah and I also want to just add that that would be one movement in a kind of horizontal way But there would be also like a vertical way too so you know it may be the case that people start at a very limited level of consciousness about themselves but then if they do some deep meditative work or some therapeutic work or some shamanic work then they could also really go into the personal unconscious where we have a lot of traumatic imprints from possibly childhood but then even as young you know really well created a typography for the collective unconscious in which there’s ancestral imprints and metaphoric suggestions and archetypes and so you have that too where almost at the top you know, you at the top is more the personal then the familial and let’s say the cultural and then the universal we could say so that’s another way of understanding the expansion of consciousness but I guess what would would tie them both, whether you’re going vertical or horizontal is that the the sense of identification is loosening so that would be the sort of strong foothold in one’s rigid sense of self is becoming more versatile and flexible and less and less bound, rigid
Rick: yeah I was thinking about this over the last few days as I was listening to some of your recordings and reading your book and I thought this topic might come up but it’s like, you know at the most superficial level I guess we could say we are very bound and individuated and localized but as you’ve just said in a vertical direction there is more universality, so you could take an analogy of an ocean for instance. The waves are very individuated but deeper down you know it’s just sort of less individuated, just ocean and the ocean wouldn’t say “Oh I just thought I was waves. Now I realize the ocean so I’m no longer waves” the ocean would say, “okay and I’ve realized the full range of my ocean-hood and I’m still waves but I’m also so much more” so it’s to my understanding it’s not like we lose our individual concerns or sense of personhood or anything like that it’s just that that local stuff is placed into a much bigger context which, there’s a sort of an impersonal dimension or universal dimension to our experience as well as the personal. Does that work for you?
Miles: it does but I would say that – I mean if you have new listeners that may be- I mean I would say that’s the the culmination of a long, the realization that you’re describing there to me feels like the closer to the end of the journey; one in which the the dualities of the ocean and the wave or form and emptiness have been reconciled, but I think for some people they may have the experience first of a very firm identification and you’ve heard of this obviously, more of your generation, that’s the song by Donovan with, “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there’s a mountain again” which I think, I think that’s what you’re describing, you’re describing the third leg of that journey, so maybe we could unpack them but the first one is a very strong identification with your urges, wishes, I you know, you’re consumed or preoccupied with your career, your personality, you’re getting your validation, warding off, you know, blame and shame etc. It’s very ego bound you know, so that is the mountain; the mountain is, the mountain appears as real yourself as real and you’re negotiating the world based on that rigid sense of preoccupation based on an assumption that it’s absolutely, inherently real and then you find your way into the spiritual communities or maybe you have a spontaneous kind of awakening moment if I, you’re messing around with meditation or some plant medicine or psychedelics or what have you and some people have reported and experienced a sense that there is no mountain actually; they lose the… in touch… their sense of being touched with the wave and they have that unitary consciousness or the recognition that they’re the totality and I actually think that most people stop there actually, and they think that the the the goal of the spiritual path is to unite with the totality consciousness which I find dangerous. I think wonderful and blissful as it may be also can be very dangerous, because then you’ll have people who claim that…the way that I detect it is if they have a sense of detachment from the world, ordinary world of concerns which I’m sure you’ve been around the block and you see this in people where they’ll say something like “don’t worry about that, it’s all an illusion”
Rick: oh yeah
Miles: and that’s very dangerous thinking, but but it is in a way in so many ways justified from with, even within multiple traditions because they’re all seemingly pointing to this universal mode of consciousness where the sense of self disappears and on then the world of appear… the world that has been considered ordinary, ie the mountain, has been seen through and seen as a mere appearance and thus you land in the universal consciousness And so in a way it feels like you’ve arrived and so… we’re already jumping to the last chapter in my book but in a way we’re also setting up the importance of the Lamrim or the “gradual stages of the path” because that provides a roadmap to alert people of the stage progression by which exactly what we’re talking about so then there is this final necessity… there’s a necessary final push there from the totality back to the wave so that you can function and so that you can take ordinary wounds of yourself and others seriously but now seeing them more from this more fluid like place, of a place of optimism or a place of love or a place of possibility rather than deny their existence, what you’re saying is there they’re they’re real enough for me to be concerned about but they’re flexible or playful enough for there to be an intervention
Rick: yeah there’s a term in Vedanta called Mithya, maybe this is probably an equivalent thing in Buddhism but it I think the best translation is “dependent reality” and often they use the example of clay pots; so you have all these different clay pots, different shapes and colors and so on and you can use them for different things you can put beans in them or water or use them as drums or whatever. Now someone might come along and say “wait a minute, there’s no pots here it’s all just clay there’s only clay” and they’re right you know but they’re only all half right because they’re also pots and you know so.. both but you’re… you talked about my generation, your generation probably isn’t old enough to remember the Certs commercials, they were kind of a… there were these twins arguing over whether Certs was a candy mint or breath mint and they go back and forth and then the voice would come in say “Stop you’re both right! Certs is two mints in one”
Miles: yes yes that’s exactly right…that’s it. I think that’s really important why because in your analogy of the pots maybe one pot holds oil and the other vinegar and both are necessary, you see like that that’s the skillfulness of being able to have also pots
Rick: right, yeah okay so we’re concluding here is that reality is multi-dimensional and that you can’t sort of glom on to one dimension to the exclusion of the others and expect to live a balanced life and you know if people try to do that they tend to generally get smacked around a bit until they are more or less forced to have a more comprehensive view I think
Miles: it might do that to you, although I also think that we have to I mean maybe because your podcast community is so already has a refined awareness we sometimes lose touch with the preponderance of people don’t even know about spiritual path or spiritual awaking at all
Miles: and so I think we take that often times for granted that many many more people don’t know about their spiritual potentialities or the methodologies about which… I mean we take it for granted because we’ve been around in your case what is it 30 or 40 years you’ve been doing this?
Miles: is it 51? I mean that’s amazing
Rick: 52 if you count drugs
Miles: well that is part of the exploration
Rick: yeah yeah
Miles: it was a significant part for you so yes I mean I think we take for granted that in our circles people are on their way to some degree but there are so many people who have not even embarked
Rick: yeah I mean look at what we see on the news every night people are vaping and they’re using opioids and you know they’re just all this crazy stuff is going on… people… if people had a… if people realized what it was possible to experience and live and as in one’s life they wouldn’t be interested in that stuff, it wouldn’t be wouldn’t be trying to use those things to blot out the pain they’re feeling
Miles: exactly yeah yeah so I mean I think I think it is important to recognize that the world that we’re talking about and discussing we’ve had a lot of experience with, but there’s so many people that really are in a way have are still asleep, so much asleep that it hasn’t occurred to them that there’s actually a poignant journey to embark on so
Rick: yeah I think that’s changing. I mean it… there does seem to be some kind of epidemic going on from my perspective anyway, we’ll see how how rapidly it proceeds but there’s just more and more appreciation of the kind of thing we’re talking about here and this might lead us into your whole McMindfulness theme. I know when I used to teach TM, you know we would give a very practical introductory lecture basically we would say “okay, this will, you know unfold your more of your mental potential, it’ll improve your health, it’ll improve your social behavior, you’ll get along better with people and, you know if enough people did it it would contribute to world peace” and people thought “oh that sounds good” and then they would learn it and and after about three four days of experience we would say “okay, and there’s also this thing called cosmic consciousness” and they could get that after four days of experience which they couldn’t get in the intro lecture
Miles: very skillful
Rick: so McMindfulness so you you wrote a whole article about that, and you know the basic point was that there seems to be a tendency for ancient teachings to be diluted by our sort of “gotta have it now” culture and… go ahead and say a bit about that we’ll go back and forth on it for a minute
Miles: I mean it’s very… it was very important for me to articulate that sentiment because it was one that I carried, I mean it’s part of my biography really McMindfulness is really something that emerged out of my own personal sort of what would you call it the Hero’s Journey if you will, like part of the ordeal of my life because I you know in a way my journey you know if we just enter into some of my biography, I, at 20 years old I was already in India, having signed up for a Buddhist studies course in college because I had already experienced for many years a pervasive dissatisfaction a) with the affluence of my childhood which in a way there was affluence but there was something very very necessary that was missing which was a kind of attunement unconditional love and meaning, a purpose or spiritual inclination, that was all missing there’s a lot of alcohol also in my childhood. I was very much looking for something and I and you know by sheer miracle I found my way to India to this Buddha studies program in Bodh Gaya where the Buddha gained enlightenment; and studied there for five months with the monks in a very traditional monastic format in, that has in a way, is the way that they have done for centuries so it was really a drop into a very deep immersion and it had a tremendous impact on me because I met a spiritual mentor, I discovered, I took refuge under the Bodhi tree, I in a way, I reoriented my life at 20 years old having and I’m sure you’ve had many guests who talk about this kind of thing early on that sets the stage for the trajectory of their development of their career and their personality and the unfoldment of their life and so I that it really is mine but where it comes to make McMindfulness is the very following summer after returning I had, you know, because I, it was within the context of a dissertation for my undergraduate school that I took this sabbatical to to study in India and in and part of the return home was to do a summer internship at the Mind-Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School where Dr. Herbert Benson whom, you I’m sure you know and
Rick: I drove him from Yale to Harvard one time in my little rickety car
Miles: so we had, you know, we had, we were in Benson’s lab and I had just been, I just got off the boat basically, metaphorically from India, you know, so I went from the the root to the tail and to be perfectly honest, I was thoroughly disillusioned because the way that meditation was being taught what it meant, how it was being studied, in one way was, you know fascinating and in another way felt very hollow, and so in my own soul I was having a very difficult time reconciling how our, how meditation had made its way into our culture because Benson was a rock star, I mean, he was, in his lab, he was getting interviews and his name was, he had a lot of cachet and he drove a nice BMW and I was 20 years old, and so you know like in a way it sort of made me feel like “what’s going on here?”
Miles: and as a young person that was hard to reconcile because again a part of what drove me to India was the dissatisfaction I had with my own culture and so here I was back in my culture and there were the residue or the imprint of meditation had reached our shores and yet what we were interested in was like how to stop smoking or how to prevent having a cardiac arrest, which in my, much later I appreciated how significant that is because it could save a life. On the other hand after such a deep immersion into really the stream of enlightenment I was having a lot of difficulty with that so
Rick: yeah, I saw Benson go through his little metamorphosis. He got, he was doing work with Dr. Robert Keith Wallace on and did some of the initial research that got published on meditation and then he, and they were studying TM but then he thought “well what if we can divest this of all of its cultural trappings and there doesn’t need to be any ritual or you know initiation procedure and all that stuff, and let’s just call it what do you call it, the relaxation
Miles: relaxation response
Rick: right and you know those of us who were looking at it from a spiritual perspective thought “oh man, he’s just watering it down so much it’s so much more than just some relaxation and, you know, he’s just kind of selling out and cheapening it” but anyway
Miles: yeah so that I’m 21 years old and having that very experience that you articulated. I’m studying under this person and going “what the heck is going on here?” whereas everybody’s got “goo goo ga ga” eyes for this guy and what he’s doing and so, yes, like I said I’ve had my own progression and much maturity around this where I really appreciate and understand just how much Benson contributed to the movement of the scientific literature which we needed in some way to get to where we are right now. On the other hand as a person trying to navigate the world it did feel like a sellout to me and it made it really, it made me very specific about what was being removed.
Miles: And so my article on McMindfulness, the original one, which where, in which I coined the term McMindfulness, although it has been sort of in a way taken by Purser recently because he wrote a book titled “McMindfulness” was that I really wanted to understand what was being removed and so, because in my estimation the active ingredients that were being removed in order to make meditation more accessible and secularized are precisely the kind of ingredients that are absolutely indispensable and necessary for a spiritual awakening movement.
Rick: Yeah I mean, in my opinion, you’d probably agree there’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning to meditate if you have high blood pressure and you want to lower it or, you know, becoming less stressed or you know various other practical things like that, but it’s a sellout if you present it to people as being only that, and fail to, you know, explain how there’s so much more and maybe they won’t even begin to get interested in the so much more part until they’ve gotten some of this basic stuff taken care of a little bit but it should be offered, you know, if not in the beginning then a little bit later and I don’t know if people get that when they’re just taking classes at the Y or something, maybe I’m not too much in that world but I have a feeling that it never gets as deep or seldom gets as deep as it could and should.
Miles: I think there are, from what I can tell there are two main arguments around this. The one is “well just give people something that they can chew on and eventually something natural, some natural curiosity will unfold and it will lead them into the deeper teachings” let’s say and then there are the other people that say “well you know do we really have time for that?” and also there’s a kind of co-opting, there’s a kind of imperialism, an extrication of taking something fanciful from one culture and and saying we don’t need the rest, is kind of there’s a kind of European or Eurocentric hubris about it which I think is also will lead us into the discussion of materialism which I think is really prominent in my book because, you know, the way that we’re approaching mindfulness in in this country it has a enormous impact, the health science is there, many many more people are doing it, many many more people are benefiting but what we are not talking about is as we extract what is valuable i.e. a technology and dismiss the ritual cosmology, worldview, ethics, as we leave those behind, what we’re doing is we’re taking the technology but we’re situating it within the context of a paradigm, a particular kind of paradigm in other words “the technology makes sense within our paradigm” which is the scientific paradigm, but my main thrust of my main argument in the book Gradual Awakening is that it is the very paradigm itself that is destructive that’s what’s really causing our sickness.
Rick: there’s a great quote in your book which you italicize, and I copied it because I wanted to read it out here. Tt summarizes what you’re saying. You say “I’ll put my position as bluntly as I can here. Any meditation practice that fails to address our culture’s distorted worldview of scientific reductionism grounded in nihilism and it’s equally misguided offshoots, materialism, hedonism, imperialism, neoliberal capitalism, and consumerism that constitute the current zeitgeist and fails to connect them directly to our society’s mental health pandemic, general apathy and the broader plight of our planet in peril is dangerous. Any such approach is the equivalent of encouraging people to rearrange the furniture when their house is on fire.”
Miles: well what do you think?
Rick: I think its a great little synopsis you know, I think that all the problems you itemize there are obviously most people are aware of those and the climate crisis in particular concerns me, but I think they’re all symptomatic of something deeper as problems tend to be . They’re symptomatic of basically the condition or quality of the collective consciousness in society which is comprised of the individual consciousness of eight billion people and I don’t think we can fix these problems unless we trans… in, I say we but unless the collective consciousness is transformed which will probably have to happen through the transformation of individual consciousness on more of a mass scale because you know anything we see as our world is a product of human endeavor pretty much, I mean, all the the oil refineries and everything else we have so if we expect to see a brighter world a better world that too will have to… will be a product of human minds and those minds are actually going to have to function quite differently than minds generally tend to do these days because we see what the current mental condition of humanity has produced for us
Miles: agreed yeah so I mean I think what I’m trying to do is point to the fact that most people right now are going to the Y and focusing on their breath and at least slowing down enough so that they don’t make them rag themselves ragged yeah so they’ll experience some relaxation and some sense of peace which don’t I don’t want to be misquoted because I have been in the past as being someone who doesn’t appreciate that fact I do there
Rick: better than just taking some ambien or whatever they people take for this stuff and do it naturally if you can
Miles: and definitely more of us need to to calm down but it what it fails to ask is the critical question is why are we so stressed to begin with?
Miles: what kind of, you know, what’s motivating us and what’s driving us to this endless chase on a treadmill where we’re absolutely haggard and exhausted and as a therapist that’s what I normally see as people at the tail end of their, you know, the tail end of their capacity to endure the stresses of life come to see a therapist in a total crisis or meltdown okay and what I have been trained by my conventional therapeutic intervention is to, you know, first-line medicate them, you know, and so contemplative psychotherapy is really about asking them to look deep within themselves not just to relax and find a technique to relax but to ask the deeper questions and to challenge the pervasive presuppositions and worldview and cultural assumptions that we have that are at the basement level contributing to the under… and I like what you’re saying, the what is.. what is causing the symptom, to become an empowered agent of your own psyche, to become your own therapist to start to see that the symptom has an origin, and the origin is really in our worldview that’s what I’m arguing in the book. You know, this kind of reductionistic paradigm that sees the world in a very particular kind of way we have all been indoctrinated to if we’ve been to college and live in this culture it’s like fish in water it’s so part of our way of thinking that no wonder people are stressed and they go “oh well, the meditation that Dr. Benson pulled out of the yogi in the Himalayas and the yogis practicing there, you can learn it in three quick steps, follow your breath breathe diaphragmatically and return to your breath if you become distracted. I can put that in my pocket and in 20 minutes shift my nervous system so I feel calm” and I say “congratulations, hooray, but then you still have to operate in the world and how you’re operating in the world – you are still being driven by instincts and impulses and those instincts and our impulses are based in a swirling cauldron of paradigm view. How you see yourself as an atomic structure vis-a-vis the rest of the world and how you’re moving slowly on a treadmill to a precipice into the abyss, because your culture tells you you’re nothing but brain jelly and that once the electric magnetic activity in your brain ceases you cease, and once you cease you’re nothing and if you’re nothing then what’s the point and if what’s the point then why not gobble up all the resources because tomorrow we shall die” and that is exactly if eight billion people do that and fueled by the corporate greed and the hedonic treadmill and the capitalistic agenda as like amplifiers fuel on that fire then you can see how in a way we are in a terrible, terrible mess.
Rick: yeah that got you your blood boiling didn’t it? There used to be a beer commercial that said “you only go around once in this life so grab all the gusto you can get”
Miles: well, there you go. Beautiful marketing ploy right? It really feeds into the fear inside of you, and the lust inside of you. It’s a perfect setup, you know, hedonism and nihilism are like bed friends they go really well together.
Rick: yeah there’s a book on my shelf behind me I don’t know if people can see it but it’s well it’s you can’t see it from here but it’s it’s by a guy named Mark Gober who I interviewed a few months ago it’s called “The end to upside down thinking” and he’s recently put up a podcast called “Where is my mind?” and I think it’s it’s such an important topic because basically what he’s saying is he alluded to what you just said which is that you know we came out of the sort of the dark ages with the sign with the sort of the Enlightenment and then the Renaissance and the scientific revolution which tended to purge all the hocus-pocus thinking of the, you know, religion dominated dark ages but ushered us into, you know, a Cartesian model of the world is, you know, mind and body are separate and the world is material stuff and dead inanimate, dumb matter and the universe is a sort of accident of some sort this sort of random billiard ball collection of particles and like you said when you when you die that’s it um and his whole premise and one of the things that comes up all the time on this show is that consciousness is fundamental not matter. Consciousness… the brain serves as a transmitter or a receiver for consciousness but it’s not merely the creator of consciousness Consciousness is more fundamental than that and that I think is the ultimate paradigm shift that our society has to undergo in order to really do an about-face and you know, I’m talking too much but let me just wrap it up and to say that you know the more fundamental a level at which we can affect some sort of change, the more far-reaching and profound that change will be, and I think that may be the ultimate paradigm, has the ultimate leverage for really shifting the course of the of the ocean liner of humanity away from the iceberg
Miles: I couldn’t agree with you more and I mean that’s one of the that’s one of the impulses for me to write a book like “Gradual Awakening” because once you get someone interested in meditation let’s say McMindfulness serves its purpose and and thousands, hundreds of thousands more people get interested and then they do an eight-week course or a six-week course and they learn how to relax and but there’s really not a follow-up right? Their options are to go to a very traditional yoga center or they to go to India or to go to study with a lama and that’s sometimes a very large leap. To go from secular mindfulness right to the other side of the pendulum to a deep dive in an immersive cultural experience and so my hope is to provide a land bridge because in my own life I have had a foot in two worlds. I spent 20 years of my life studying with the Lamas and deeply invested in cultural travel and cultural immersion and in my own private life I’m a Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist through and through and yet I am also clinically trained and live in a scientific paradigm and appreciate the benefits of science and have credentialed and have to be accountable to an ethical board and all the rest and live in this culture. This is my culture – this errant scientific culture and so I’ve had to find a way to articulate the next step or the next horizon and so that really led me to a very profound map within the Tibetan culture called the Lam Rim or the “gradual stage path map” which I think in its essence has two qualities and I don’t know if you mind me going down this road now
Rick: please go ahead
Miles: the two qualities of the Lam Rim are that there it is extremely comprehensive and it is systematic and so what does that mean? That the the comprehensiveness of the Lam Rim – it said in the 10th century with the master Atisha who developed this map he coalesced all the numerous teachings of the Buddha and so it is metaphorically numbered at some 10,000 teachings of the Buddha but essentially we’re not one trick ponies as human beings we are very very complicated species and so to just have one teaching on mindfulness or breath work or a few asanas is not enough. Tt’s not enough. So the Lam Rim encapsulates all the numerous teachings of the Buddha but its second quality is even more essential and important to us, which is that it presents them systematically according to the maturation of the individual and so most of us have gone to university and most of us have started with very basic courses and as we moved along in core progression we have internalized these, the summation of those the pith instructions of those courses and it has set us up for deeper and more complex thinking. And so that is exactly what happened with the Lam Rim is that all the teachings of the Buddha were systematized into a stage progression so that a neophyte could begin seeing the mountain, progress to teachings in which there is no mountain and then progress to the final leg of the journey in which the mountain reappears in a full integration so that one is an effective spiritual being in the world.
Rick: Yeah. I think one important implication of what you’re saying is that there are kind of two steps to progress: one is knowledge and the other is experience and if one or the other is the focus to the… if one is the focus to the exclusion of the other then you’re not… it’s like hopping on one foot and trying to progress and they can sort of go like legs where you gain a little bit more experience and then you gain more knowledge that you know kind of supplements it and then you gain more experience more knowledge like that and in fact it can work the other way too where knowledge can inspire you to take the next step of experience. You realize “oh that’s on the next horizon I think I’ll go there” but in any case whether one precedes the other I don’t know but they seems to me they go hand in hand and it sounds like the Lam Rim takes that into account.
Miles: So they’re very clear about the pedagogy for meditation at least in this tradition. I’m curious about yours and if something similar is there because then maybe it’s an Indic pedagogy and not just a Tibetan one but they like to say that… and this is where McMindfulness comes in yet again because they like to say that one has to have a very firm conceptual understanding. Then you will do a very deep contemplative analysis on that with body of wisdom and then you will have a meditative experience. In other words you will have a more integrative experiential breakthrough or experience of what it is that you had been studying. So they call these “The three wisdoms”- the wisdom born of learning or hearing, the wisdom born of reflection, critical analysis, and the wisdom born of meditation or experience. And I think that is very profound because what we do in our culture is you go to the yoga center and they teach you meditation. They they ask you mostly…if it’s concentration based meditation, they ask you to clear your mind and to focus on an object of attention in order to harness the power of concentration and to achieve some focal, quiescent state okay and so in that quiescent state feels nice it has internal biological reinforcement contingencies it feels nice to be steady and calm and clear and tranquil. The problem with it from… at least from the Buddhist critique and I’d send it back to you for the yogic one is – underlying that quiescence is a seething cauldron of samskaras and imprints and so if you don’t use then that quiescence for the purpose of shining the light into those imprints and actually working with those imprints in a way you’re just on a very nice vacation. You might as well go play golf because that’s relaxing too. Apparently, I don’t know anything about golf
Rick: it’s it’s more relaxing than pickleball I’ll tell you that. You just ride around a little cart. Yeah in terms of the Vedic tradition of which TM was a distillation there’s definitely an emphasis on both knowledge and experience and there’s also the whole appreciation of samskaras and the stuff that might get unearthed when we shift to a deeper level of experience. Maharishi used to call it unstressing but basically the understanding is that the mind and body are interrelated and that the nervous system is full of impressions, some scars you could call them conditioned stuff that’s lodged in the nervous system and that when the mind settles down deeply in meditation the body follows along and into a state of deep rest and in that deep rest these samskaras start to unwind or start to be released and then that causes some corresponding uptick in mental activity since there’s an uptick in physical activity taking place and that you experience as thoughts in meditation or in extreme cases, if you’re on a long course, all kinds of wild stuff as those deeper impressions begin to be released. I mean I can tell you stories but there’s this sort of two-step progression of purifying the nervous system and releasing all that stuff and it’s understood that you really have to do that in order for anything to become an abiding experience rather than just a momentary one
Miles: hmm good nice
Rick: yeah, and while we’re on this topic, before we totally get off, it someone sent in a question some somebody named… put my glasses on… soruch from Toronto wondering “How is TM different from mindfulness and are there aspects of TM or mantra based meditations that are more beneficial than traditional Buddhist mindfulness practices?” So maybe we should quickly contrast the two? You can tell us about mindfulness, I can say how that might differ from TM
Miles: As I understand it, in the traditional formula for mindfulness starts with a very narrow point of focus. So if we return to the imagery of the.. in a different context, the imagery of a telephoto lens, then the four foundations of mindfulness begin with a very narrow focal point of focus on the body and typically this is the breath and so I think all traditions, Indic and otherwise, all start there. It’s like focused prayer, shamanic drumming, a visualization on a candle, a mantra, they’re all tethering the mind to one point of focus and so I think that’s ubiquitous in all spiritual traditions. And then how mindfulness differs in my understanding is that then one releases the narrow point of focus and opens to present centered awareness, where multiple things can be arising that one learns to observe without reaction. So you lift… you lift your attention from the one narrow point of focus in that point of focus you treat everything else as a distraction; so if a thought comes up you treat it as a distraction, if a sensation comes up you treat it as a distraction, if an emotion comes up you treat it… if sound comes up you treat it as a distraction You’re blocking and preventing your attention from being pulled by this sense stimulation or that. And as you do that, over time and becomes… the concentration ability becomes more robust. Then your ability to settle your mind on that one point of focus becomes more, you have a greater facility for that. But in mindfulness you’re you are actually opening your attention, so that it allows for the sense stimulation stimulation to arise and there what you’re actually doing has a different purpose it’s not so much tranquility, although tranquility is a good, let’s say precursor or provisional state of mind, but there what you’re trying to do is exercise your ability to have stimulation arise without the common or habituated reactive mode. So if something pleasant emerges you’re not treating it as a distraction you’re saying “I want there to be the arising of an urge to scratch or an urge to grasp, but I will just let that urge arise but I will resist fully allowing myself to be led by it.” And so there the urge arises and consciousness abides and then ceases, without further karmic perpetuation, and and then the beautiful thing about that is is the carryover implication in your everyday life is that you’re filled with these urges but you have strength of mind in ordinary consciousness to resist those urges thereby giving yourself enough clarity of mind to make a discerning choice. In other words not be led by impulses but have enough clarity of mind to make a discerning choice and then think of… if there’s someone listening now think about what the implications might be in just everyday life – it’s hugely remarkable, a skill to build.
Rick: Sounds good. Well I don’t want to say too much about TM because I really want this interview to be about you but just to answer the guy’s question – it doesn’t involve control or concentration in any form, it does involve a mantra. You don’t concentrate on the mantra you think it effortlessly and as you do so you take advantage of what we might call the natural tendency of the mind to seek a field of greater happiness. As you repeat the mantra the mind begins to settle down and it encounters greater charm as it does so – subtler levels of the mind are more charming than grosser levels and you quite often slip into transcendent, no thought, no mantra, no thoughts, and then you come out again and then you slip in again, then you come out again and in doing that you sort of… the physiology gets transformed and the mind becomes accustomed to functioning at these subtler levels and reminiscent of what you just said becoming accustomed to functioning at subtler levels. It gets in the habit of being able to pick up a thought when it hasn’t become so manifest and therefore so compelling. And so a sort of discernment or discrimination develops in which you can sort of not necessarily act on an impulse or not even have the impulse because you sort of cognize it before it becomes an impulse or before it becomes something that grips or overshadows the mind. And I can say a lot more but I think I’ll leave it at that.
Miles: That’s beautiful Rick, thank you so much. I’ve never heard heard it put quite that way and I loved your word “charm” that was… that’s poetic. Really it’s a nice metaphor.
Rick: Yeah well you know I don’t know what they say in Buddhism but in the Vedic tradition they always talk about Ananda, you know, Sat Chit Ananda consciousness is supposed to be blissful and if that’s really the case then it would seem that if you’re moving in the direction of experiencing it more fully you should encounter greater happiness in a sense.
Miles: Really nice.
Rick: Yeah okay so I have a lot more things I want to talk about with you here. And feel free from your side whenever as we’re going along to just bring up anything that comes to mind don’t just wait for me to ask questions. One of the main points you wanted to talk about was working with and not bypassing trauma and you actually have a course on trauma-informed Dharma. Let’s talk about that for a few minutes.
Miles: Well this is you know, again, this is, I think it’s fair to say that people that are writing books or designing courses I imagine they resonate with the sentiment that you’re trying to work something out in your own life, you know, so you know as a therapist, I basically my entire career has been focused on the spiritual community. Working with people in the spiritual community, whether that be yoga or Buddhism or people… nowadays I’m getting a lot of knocks on the door from people coming from shamanic journeys and ayahuasca use. I mean the explosion of that has really knocked me back. I guess they have amazing eye-opening and sometimes terrifying eye-opening experiences but then they need someone to help process that information. In any event I’ve seen people with 10, 15, 20 years of dedicated earnest practice, meditation or otherwise, maybe they might be celebrity yoga teachers with a big following or someone who spent 20 years learning in a meditation community and has had all the initiations and the tantric visualization regimen, but then you know they fail to maintain a relationship or they can’t manage money or they have some addiction or they have some very deep-seated shame. Maybe they have depression that they’re obscuring, maybe they have a weight problem. So there ends up being some sort of disconnect and of course you know John Welwood in the early ’80s coined this term because he was basically working in the same industry or field. He was a therapist working with yogis in California, meditators, you know, fresh out of the 60s revolution and 20 years into like a program and still having great impasses. You know places where they should have, apparently according to all that effort should have had awakening experiences, but in a way we’re feeling very stuck, left behind, paralyzed and creating, in my estimation, a big divide between one’s spiritual life and the ugly side of one’s personality or the ugly side of one’s predicament, human side and that’s a very polarizing divide and so I just…
Rick: You were going to say he coined the term spiritual bypassing.
Miles: That’s right, spiritual bypassing and let’s define it. So he’s defining it as the use of spiritual technologies and insights to sidestep or circumvent painful wounds from one’s life, you know, so in another and you can’t blame people. See the thing is I never want to disparage people who are bypassing. In fact I want to raise my hand and say I’ve done so much bypassing in my life that I’m acutely sensitive to it in another human being which is an asset, because it comes really if you just break it down from a human point of view none of us want to feel pain. It is as primary and primal as that. No creature, no sentient life wants to experience pain and so we are gravitating through the world looking for ways to circumvent pain and when you enter, if you listen carefully the stories of people who find their way to spiritual technology or spiritual traditions inevitably 99.9% of them say “Well I was coming through the great Dharma door of suffering. I was in a lot of pain, I had cancer, I had a breakup, I lost all my money, I was hitting rock bottom, I was an alcoholic and I found this thing and this thing said it held out the promise for something that I had been searching for for a long time.” But inevitably there is very much in my experience the observation that even within once passing through the threshold into the spiritual world and even with these great technologies and I don’t discount their purported potential to awaken people but we also are incredibly capable of self-delusion and blindness and selective selectivity. So it is very very helpful to have someone who can look into your rearview mirror and watch your blind spot as you progress spiritually there may be unwanted painful aspects of your life you don’t want to look at. And you will find inevitably that after a long bout of spiritual practice you will eventually peter out in some way or some part of you won’t grow and you will be stuck in some part and you will despair as a result of it, and you might actually impact other people as a result of that blindness. And so I think it’s only in the spirit of that that I began really making a concerted effort in my courses to really a) rename the phenomenon in the vein of John Wellwood, make sure that that message continues to get across, but then also using my experience of all the clinical training that I have. What about just empowering people in the basic sciences and the latest trauma research as a spiritual endeavor? Why is that not spiritual? And I cannot tell you Rick the amount of resistance that I have found when trying to infiltrate certain spiritual communities and say “hey. I’m a psychologist, I have a background in this and that I’d love to give lectures on trauma.” What kind of resistance comes up is unbelievable and also very telling.
Rick: What kind does and why?
Miles: Well let’s see when… the example that’s coming to mind is as you know there has been a whole slew of scandals in the guru relationship in both yoga and and Tibetan Buddhism of late in the last five years but maybe this stretches back many many more years but it seems to me to be amplified more recently and there are reasons for that but people know of me in this region on the Northeast and in New York City and the kind of work that I do and so some students in certain communities find their way to me and they say “Well you come because we’ve had a great schism and there’s a lot of… there’s… people are really in pain and we would like to invite you to help sort of debrief people and help them process their experience and to provide some insight about the basic human side of things” and inevitably they may they put me in contact with somebody who either never returns my call or never returns my email or says or says we’re handling it in-house. Big red flag.
Miles: so then I just said “Well at least let me prepare these courses and put them out myself and hopefully people can find them” and it is this… is a set of six lectures and a workshop. It’s supposed to be tight and cogent, that gives people some of the current science, not so much scientific that it’s at the professional level it’s more at the lay level for real practitioners people who are like your community who are interested in meditation and have done yoga but also may be depressed or may be anxious or maybe have a trauma experience and not really have dealt with it and that will show up in so many ways such as, you know, issues with money or the inability to tolerate vicissitudes of emotionality or intense relationships that end up splitting or fragmenting so these are all the warning signs that trauma is still very much at play in the psyche and then the problem is is that your spiritual advisor or your spiritual community will just say “go and do more practice or you haven’t done enough or you’re not doing it right” which is which is very insidiously shaming people. Do you have any thoughts on this before I continue? I know that you’ve been around all this because you’ve created some resources and networks for people, Rick, that that are exactly addressing this kind of thing.
Rick: Yeah I didn’t create them by myself but there’s this Association for Spiritual Integrity that I helped create with a few friends that… because we’ve seen so much of the kind of thing you’re talking about and felt like there ought to be some kind of code of ethics that people could get familiar with and come to expect in spiritual teachers; because I’ve seen so many cases where spiritual teachers do crazy things and then people rationalize they say “well you know they’re enlightened and I’m not so what do I know.” In fact just yesterday I was reading something on Facebook where this guy was who’s actually been on, BatGap I guess I won’t name him, was arguing that you know Chogyam Trungpa and Alan Watts drinking themselves to death was probably a perfectly legitimate thing for them. It’s like “okay, an enlightened being can drink himself to death maybe that’s just their dharma” or something like that. And I…
Miles: That’s idiotic.
Rick: I know that’s basically what I said in response. I said I’m sorry but you know I mean the subtitle of your book is “Becoming Fully Human” part of the subtitle, and if enlightenment or realization is being fully human does you know chronic alcoholism go along with being fully human? And if so why would we aspire to it? Why would you want it? You can have it. So part of my thing is, I mean I feel very strongly that it’s not wrong to be a bit idealistic in one’s expectations of what enlightenment or higher consciousness should bring. It should make you more fully human, more an ideal person in your behavior, both your personal behavior and your interactions with others. And this sort of “crazy wisdom, bad boy” behavior that has sometimes been you know rationalized as just legitimate for some reason is inappropriate. It’s wrong.
Miles: It’s a misuse of hierarchy and it’s predatory in my estimation. I have a very strong reaction to it because I’ve now not only experienced it personally in certain experiences but I’m also fielding so many very very damaged and wounded people as a result of this kind of thinking. And it creates a huge divide in which certain students in these centers idealize their figure and then hook, line, and sinker adopt their wrongdoings as somehow justified. Whereas other people who intuitively feel absolutely wounded by these teachers have no recourse and are shamed and in a way excommunicated. Which when you have found a spiritual community you realize how essential it is to human development to feel part of a network and to feel like you’re at home. And so when these things happen, it is deeply deeply deeply shaming and then it drives it drives people’s intuition that something is off underground and it leaves them in a very polarized position where they have to make a very difficult choice to leave and in a way leaving is like a zebra leaving the herd on the prairie. Or they stay put and suffocate their intuition that something is off and I think that is the beginning if not the middle and end of a cult-like atmosphere. You know because it’s so stymieing and stifling the individual’s personal development.
Rick: Yeah and it sort of progresses by degrees. It’s like that old, and I don’t hope this isn’t really a true thing, but they say you can put a frog in water and heat it up gradually and the frog won’t jump out because it doesn’t realize the water is getting warmer you know. Whereas if you throw it in hot water it’ll hop right out. So it happens by degrees and your mentality or your psychology shifts along with the group and can go way off the rails without you even realizing that there’s anything wrong.
Miles: Absolutely, and I can tell you the most challenging thing in 15 years of clinical practice that I’ve ever seen is trying to uncondition someone who has been thoroughly brainwashed, through and through by a cult-like figure. It is because I think of it, I mean brain surgery or heart surgery seems more straightforward because you can locate the, you know, locate the blocked artery and target it and surgically remove it or… but when it’s psychic and it has to do with someone’s all-pervasive worldview, the very way you see yourself in the world and it has been indoctrinated very subtly over a period of time in which you lose yourself, the reprogramming of that to me has just been an enormous, enormous humbling task that has to be held with at least the very foundation love and positive regard and seeing and not shaming someone and really really mirroring and validating just how disconnected… and their intuition was sending them warning signs that they refused to hear but then to go back to those warning signs and acknowledge them and say “yes there was something off here you are not crazy and you are not alone”
Rick: Yeah, yeah so one of the reasons I feel strongly about this is, not only what you’ve just said about the harm it does to individuals but that longer paragraph of yours that I read earlier about how this, you know, meditation spirituality is tied into the condition of our culture as a whole and that if our culture is to really be transformed, you know, spirituality has a very important pivotal role to play but if the representatives of spirituality behave like this then they’re sabotaging that role, they’re weakening it, they’re undercutting it and that has huge societal implications as well as individual for those who are around them.
Miles: I couldn’t agree with you more. But I also am of late really trying to empower students from the outset that they shouldn’t abandon even in selecting a spiritual teacher and I don’t consider myself one and I always invite really true well well-established teachers into my classes and encourage students to seek out really qualified people. I consider myself a spiritual friend, Kalyana Mitra, someone who walks the path side by side with somebody but who doesn’t have any major realization or anything, no spiritual authority. But I have, I also don’t think that that’s woo-woo, I do believe there are evolved people and I have very close associations with them and I do try to encourage people to meet with the tradition and the lineage mentors who do have good grounding and good spiritual acumen. But I also think it’s important not to over-emphasize the role of the teacher but also to bring people up to speed and make sure that at the outset of their training they never, they never unconsciously make themselves too susceptible. In other words, they should be empowered from the outset that this whole journey is not really to give up yourself so that the teacher can take advantage of you, or impregnate you with some wisdom that you don’t have but that, from the outset you have this wisdom and don’t abandon your good sense and your intuition at any point. At any point if your intuition is telling you something is off or something is not right or I didn’t like that or there seems to be some disconnect between what they say and what they do or this or everybody, you know, everybody’s too glossy-eyed. You must have heard and seen the glossy-eyed phenomenon when you go into these spiritual communities and everybody’s like a child with the flicker and glimmer in their eyes looking at the guru. I think that…
Rick: We used to call them bliss-ninnies.
Miles: Bliss-ninnies! [Laughter]
Miles: Yeah, see, I don’t want to even disparage the bliss-ninnies because there’s a really deep psychoanalytic reason that people need to see spiritual teachers in that way because of their own arrested development, not having the parental figure in their life that would have mirrored them successfully to the place where they could feel empowered themselves. And so I think that- knowing that lens is incredibly powerful as a teacher so that I don’t foster that kind of idealization but rather put it back on someone and keep insisting, “yes, you’re on a path, yes, you need help, yes, there’s a tradition, yes, you should take refuge, yes, you should abandon things that don’t work for you, yes, you should adopt things that will work for you, but don’t abandon yourself and your intuition and your sense of stature and your sense of confidence. They should be merging in parallel and growing in parallel as you go along because then I think you’ll find yourself really relating to a teacher from a place of maturity rather than spending 10 or 15 or even 20 years” I’ve had experiences of 20 years where then people have to backtrack after a scandal and a breakup and an exposure and a fragmentation to reclaim their good sense that has been buried.
Rick: Yeah, boy, you’re preaching to the choir but I love the song because this is such an important point and I feel it very keenly. There’s a great quote from the Buddha, you probably know it, in which he says something like, you know, “don’t believe anything just because somebody says it, even if I say it” Use your own judgment, your own common sense, you know, your own intelligence to discern whether it’s true or not.
Miles: Yeah, that’s the testing gold – as a goldsmith rubs and tests and analyzes and critiques and spends an enormous amount of time making sure that it’s legit. I mean, it’s so true, right? If people shop on Amazon for a vacuum, I was looking at a vacuum the other day and like the amount of time I spent like finding out which one will work and which one will do this. And then how much time do we actually spend like looking at our teachers and, you know, they say really before you take a teacher in that profound way from the guru yoga point of view, you should spend 12 years analyzing at a distance before you really take them into heart, because that 12 years will give you enough really insight to see like where are their imperfections and where are their shortfalls. And this is someone who’s really, really truly reliable. And I think people are in a rush. I mean, they’re in a rush for obvious reasons because they’re in a lot of pain. And I think there’s some fantasy about, you know, Tibetan monks in robes, you know, like, you know, there’s a lot of fantasy at play, you know, and I’m really not about the fantasy. I really want to just make things as real and as apparent as possible and to really empower people. And so that’s what I’m trying to do in this course, trauma-informed Dharma, which is really to help empower people not only use their spiritual practice more effectively, but really to learn enough about their own psyche and to take responsibility for their own traumatic imprints so that they can really use both effectively as almost like a true integration. And I do believe that’s where we are in time and place. Culturally, I think it’s time not to be so myopic, not to be so adherent to one tradition. There’s no sense in my, there’s no justification in my view that we can’t make a more integrative system by really taking a very long, good look at a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural approach. So drawing on psychology and the latest trauma research and then fusing it with your yoga practice or fusing it with Buddhism, these are not contradictory, they’re highly, highly complementary and through them you get a much broader and much vaster perspective on your own well-being and your own psyche.
Rick: Yeah, good point. We live in a scientific age and that’s not going to go away and if spirituality is going to rise to counterbalance science, the two of them are not going to be in opposition, they can actually be in collaboration and each has something to offer the other that can actually enhance it. The whole will be more than the collection of its parts.
Miles: I really firmly, I mean I feel that that’s, I think that that’s our opportunity right now. I was thinking about we could be in danger of a pendulum swing between science and religion, let’s say, okay? Where 350 years ago in the Enlightenment we discovered and called out the disconnect with the faith-based, blind faith and authoritarian nature of religion, which needed to happen, right?
Rick: Yeah, yeah. I mean it was sick, it was burning people at the stake for believing that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, you know?
Miles: Yeah, and you had somebody on the show who had a book “Upside down thinking”, was it?
Rick: That was the guy I was referring to, Mark Gower.
Miles: Yeah, Mark. I’m totally in agreement with that. I see that we came to recognize that we had too easily given up our individual power and subscribed to blind faith, which in a way was our undoing for many centuries. And so we had to displace the central authority of the church and reclaim our own inherent conviction as individuals. So the age of reason is really the age of the individual. But then that pendulum swing goes too far the other side, and that’s where we are 350 years, which is not a long time to ruin the planet, unbelievably.
Miles: It’s really inconceivable how incredibly powerful we are that in 350 years of so-called Enlightenment, the age of reason and the power of the intellect and the left brain and our manipulation of matter, how conceited and how much hubris we have because we were displaced from ethics and we were displaced from a spiritual basis. And so we could be in danger of going so far to the other side that we keep swinging back and forth between science and religion. And I think the opportunity really is to reconcile them in what the Buddha would call a middle way, where the best of science is — I think science as an endeavor, as a mode of investigation is really good. I think science turning into dogma, as Rupert Sheldrake has — I know he’s been on your show and I love Rupert Sheldrake — science can so easily become its own dogma, and in a way the scientists just replace the priests or the Brahmin caste with their power structures.
Rick: Yeah, they’re not even scientific anymore when they become dogmatic like that.
Miles: Yeah, so then that’s what I would say is like the coming to the middle ground is taking the investigative quality or the inquiry, the open-mindedness that science should really be coming from, but then to unite it and to merge it with the sense that not everything is material and that we are actually energetic beings, we are — consciousness is the underpinning. Once we have those things reconciled, I think we will be in a much better position.
Rick: Yeah. One thing, one thread I wanted to tie up before we lose it is that when we were talking about the whole guru model and teachers behaving badly and so on and so forth, that’s led a lot of people to —
Miles: It’s horrible, isn’t it? It’s really horrible. I mean, really, people’s lives, maybe some of your own listeners. I mean, my heart goes out to you, and I just want to have a message to some of them. I want to speak directly to anybody who intuitively knows something is wrong and does not have the courage to speak up. You don’t have to challenge your guru outright and in public, but please, please follow your intuition and find a receptive ear outside your community, someone who can give you an objective place to unpack and unload your emotional woe. I just cannot express that enough. Please do that.
Rick: Yeah, or take a break. Go on vacation someplace and see if you feel like going back after a few months once you see what life can be like on the outside. But I just wanted to say, though, that people — you’re talking about swinging from science to spirituality and so on and throwing the baby out with the bath water. A lot of people have jumped to the conclusion that the age of the guru is over and the whole guru model is obsolete. And I think —
Miles: I’m so glad you’re bringing this up.
Rick: Yeah, that can be an extreme too, because there’s something to be said for devotion and for the sort of mind-melding that can take place in association with someone who is truly realized and is actually worthy of sitting in the teacher’s position. And if we just — if we take too radical a reaction to, you know, some of the unfortunate things that have happened, we’ll throw out that whole possibility. We’ll eliminate that possibility.
Miles: I couldn’t agree with you more, Rick. You know, this is what I’m saying is that people get very emotionally charged, and once you’re emotional, you lose some of your reason, and once you lose some of your reason, you lose complexity. And to be very frank, that is exactly what’s happening politically in this country and around the globe right now. We’re extremely polarized. We cannot have any discussion of any depth. Everything is emotionally charged, and it becomes very juvenile. I mean, we are talking, you know, older people acting like children. They are not — we’re not listening. And so — and part of the symptom of this is that people go, “oh, well, the gurus, there are a few of them have acted out and they’ve acted inappropriately. The age of the guru is dead.” And okay, so now what you have done is you have just juvenile — become childlike in your perspective because you can only see things in black and white. Either we have the guru or we don’t have the guru. Well, that’s just crazy. I mean, the gurus will always serve as an archetype, will always serve us because all the guru really represents is a land bridge to your own intuition. You always need a land bridge. You need a tool. You need assistance to help you access something within you. Now, if you dispense with that, it’s like dispensing with the tool or the land bridge, and that’s crazy. On the other hand, what it — what it’s really about is making more complexity. And that requires you to understand the value of the guru, but then also value your own dignity. And that’s what’s suffering right now – is that people don’t have enough dignity in themselves. Another word for dignity is self-confidence.
Rick: Yeah, I was just going to say. Yeah.
Miles: You know, and so that’s what leads to being — putting yourself in a vulnerable position with an authority figure who can then manipulate you. But we should always remember that not all authority figures are manipulative. We have so many of them. If you say get rid of the guru, then what you’re saying is get rid of all authority. And I’m telling you, people are rah-rah-roo-roo around this right now. Get rid of all authority. Do you have any idea what that would look like in a chaotic world to get rid of power structures and authority and hierarchies completely? I mean, that’s crazy.
Rick: Yeah, it would be anarchy.
Miles: What we need to do is we need to be more discerning about our authority figures, but then we have to be more empowered in our relationship with them. That is a middle way.
Rick: Yeah, there’s so many interesting tidbits in what you’re saying. But I guess, you know, self-confidence. It’s like many qualities that we have in life. It’s not something that we go from zero to 100 in one moment. It’s something that has to grow as we mature. But I guess if our words can matter, then we’re just saying, you know, trust yourself a bit more. Trust your intuition. Trust your common sense if something seems wrong. You know, don’t doubt yourself so much. I mean, on the one hand, we don’t want to be just sort of cocksure of ourselves and rejecting everything because we think we know it all. But on the other hand, we do know something and, you know, if something really seems to clash with our common sense, with our sense of virtue, with our sense of human values and so on, then we should listen to that.
Miles: I agree. I totally. And I don’t think that’s always the message, and then I also think we’re selective in what we hear, and if we have some arrest and development in early childhood or some traumatic wounding and we’re idealizing other people by instinct or necessity, then we can dislodge our good sense because we want to be in the good graces of the Lord in another way, you know, like parents are Gods to children. And so, yeah, I agree with you. Common sense should be never dispensed with. And I think people need to also be much more ready to risk and take a trialed approach. In other words, experiment with things, be much more experimental and less risk averse. So you take things that the teacher has said and then you put them into practice, but you don’t — you’re not unwilling to come back and say “that didn’t work for me” or “I don’t understand” or “what is this — you know”, like “why did you say that, but then I saw you do this.” And so that’s how you have a more balanced relationship with a teacher is that you don’t dispense with your critical inquiry and you’re able to have some pushback and demand some accountability, mutual accountability. So that’s what I try to do with students is from the outset say, like, if you’re gobbling it up, that’s not going to work here.
Rick: Perhaps one earmark of a worthy teacher, qualified teacher, is that they’ll be fine with that. They’ll be fine with mutual accountability and with you calling them on their stuff if you see some stuff. I mean, not that you want to be a big troublemaker, but they’re open to critical feedback.
Miles: I want your listeners to know that is precisely one of the symptoms or red flags that if you are challenging someone — and you should be very respectful with how you challenge someone and don’t make assumptions.
Miles: Okay? But you should feel free to challenge somebody. And if you don’t feel free, that is a symptom or a red flag or a warning sign that something is going on.
Rick: Yeah, if you’re shamed or belittled in front of the audience or whatever when you challenge —
Miles: Or there’s a lack of receptivity or no one’s listening or, yes, exactly. I think that’s a good telltale sign that there’s an investment in making sure you’re a good little girl or a good little boy.
Rick: Yeah. A couple of questions came in and… the first one I want to ask in the context of something we’ve been discussing. We were discussing trauma and you mainly talked about trauma in terms of how students of contemporary spiritual teachers are often traumatized and we’ve gone off on a whole discussion about that, but obviously there’s also plenty of other trauma, traumatic things that happen in life, I mean sexual trauma in childhood sometimes, or alcoholic parents or, you know, soldiers getting PTSD or children these days being traumatized by all the school shootings even if they haven’t had one in their own school. So there are plenty of sources of trauma and we’ve talked about those as getting deeply rooted in the nervous system as samskaras, so as imprints. So someone, Savita from Bangalore, asks a short question “How can one remove deep rooted imprints, samskaras, without meditation”
Miles: Oh, that’s a great question, but let’s back up a little bit and make sure that we’re defining trauma. There are, we could just, in a pop culture way we could say there are big traumas, big T traumas, those are the traumas like war, fallout, rape, the big collisions or big impact traumas. But then we should also not underestimate the little T traumas which are considered, sometimes defined in the literature as developmental trauma or like this, developmental trauma is when you should have gotten something from a nurturing parent and didn’t or got something that you shouldn’t have gotten. In other words, when you needed consistency and care and validation and support and didn’t get it or when you got persistent kind of judgment or ridicule or criticism from a loved one or an authority figure and that was painful and you couldn’t do anything about it, because you’re in a paralyzed dependent position. So these are smaller impacts that have more enduring trade effects on your confidence and your well-being and your ability to navigate relationships and navigate your own nervous system. Okay, so we could put them as, we could say that there’s two kind of categories and not treat them as one kind of thing, but the way to deal with them is remarkably the same. They have, there are some very pertinent qualities in the healing of trauma and certainly you don’t have to be meditating to do these. In fact, it’s one of the essential, I like to say there’s at least three qualities of trauma. One is that it is, trauma is invisible. Okay, trauma is invisible, trauma is relational and trauma is in the body. These are what I would consider the three hallmarks of trauma. This is not from the literature, this is not sort of professional level, this is for lay people out there wanting to know a little bit about trauma and how to deal with it. Here’s the little nutshell. It is invisible. Trauma is not just, you know, when you get hit by a car and you have an injury and the bone is split through your leg, that is visible, that’s physical trauma, or you get hit by a bat and that’s blunt force trauma. But emotional trauma is invisible. People can look absolutely ordinary to you, but they hold within their deep psyche the very shameful, painful scars of the past. So it is invisible. So don’t ever underestimate the person sitting next to you on the subway, what they hold with inside them, because we should never judge a book by its cover and we should never minimize somebody’s trauma-impact because it’s very subjective. Somebody can be laughed at and bullied at school and it can be absolutely crippling for them and there’s so many subjective levels to this. So trauma is relational. Trauma is relational means that we are emotionally sensitive creatures and we basically grow up in the resonance of our relationship with others, particularly caregivers. That’s the crucible or, the womb in which we develop is our relational attunement with others. And so breaches in that attunement, places where validation weren’t there, places where mirroring weren’t there, places where attunement was interrupted, when anxiety was, you were met with anxiety or you were met with hostility or you were met with rupture, these create fragmentations and those fragmentations are the telltale scars of emotional relational trauma. So we could say that trauma is relational really, and therefore if we’re saying that trauma is invisible and we’re saying that trauma is relational, the third one is that it’s in the body. So rightly so as you say and just as the Indian literature has said in the samskaras that the imprints and the impasses of those traumas are not well processed in the hippocampus of the brain. In other words, trauma or memory is usually stored like a photograph, like a clear picture, like if I ask you about your high school graduation you can call up to mind a beautiful image of 19, when was it Rick?
Rick: I dropped out. I got a high school equivalency diploma in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I can remember sitting in a room and taking a test.
Miles: Well there it is, the memory just popped up which means under those conditions you’re able to process memories appropriately but under duress with the toxins that are released in your body, the neurotransmitters in your body, your hippocampus is shut down and you’re not able to consolidate and store trauma memories, memories during trauma. And so that I liken to a mirror that gets thrown on the floor and gets fragmented into shards. So the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, autobiographical reference of me and time and space, all of them get fragmented and lost and they get lodged in the body. Okay, and so 10 years later, when you’re walking down the road and you smell some weird perfume and you have a panic attack, and you don’t know what happened, or you’re in the yoga center and the yoga teacher comes and adjusts you in a position and moves you slightly to the left and puts their hand on your side and you burst into anger or something happens and you hear a piece of music and it just utterly shatters you. The reason that that’s happening is that real world data are coming into your perception and firing these stored latent imprints that have not been processed; so they are unbeknownst to you and what that toxic upheaval of emotion is, is all the frozen emotions that you should have released during impact 20 or 15 or 30 years ago. But because it’s not a picture, it’s not a clear picture, it feels like it’s happening right now. And so you leave the yoga class or you don’t put on that perfume anymore and you judge yourself about “why am I so weird and spastic and are people looking at me and why am I having this reaction?” And so the shame then, the shame just redoubles the trauma. In other words, you become re-traumatized. So to get back to this person’s inquiry, how do you heal this without meditation, as according to the second principle that trauma is relational, it’s actually much more effective to work with somebody and not try to do this on your meditation cushion because the very nature of the injury sustained was occurred in the context of a relationship. So actually, how do you rehabilitate? And this is my big thing with people who are spiritual-bypassing. If you had a relationship with somebody whom you really admired and they broke your trust and you wrote what I call a “soul contract”, you said, “I’m never going to trust anyone again. I’m never going to do that.” And then you go to the high Himalayas and you sit on your meditation cushion and you do some very pronounced pranayama breathing and some meditation, but you never encounter another relationship in which you risk anything, then that inherent trauma of a lack of worthiness and lack of trust never gets exercised. It never gets worked through. And so what better way to deal with broken trust and relational trauma than to find somebody whom you can rehabilitate that with? In other words, how can you be vulnerable with somebody? How can you grow the sense of accountability and mutual respect? How can you become vulnerable and to feel that they’re really with you and really attuned with you and that they’re not going to judge you? Have you ever heard of this corporate trust fall when you’re in a corporation and on the first day to build team exercise, a team building exercise, six of you will catch somebody, right? So somebody’s on the table and they’re going to fall backwards into the arms of a bunch of colleagues. Or like in the yoga center, you might do a handstand in the middle of the room and your yoga teacher is supposed to be there to catch you. And in my case, my yoga teacher missed me and I fell back on my back. It’s not funny. I injured my back, right? But what that does is deteriorate trust. And then the lack of trust is corrosive. And then you start going, “I’m not going to ever put my hands in. I’m never going to put my trust in anyone’s hands.” And then I’m off to the races. I’m going to take care of myself. I’m just going to do it myself. I’m just going to do life myself.” And maybe you get really good at it for 15 or 20 years. You get really good at doing life by yourself. But then you’re a social animal. So how far can you really go without trust, without communication, without finding someone to catch you? Not very far. And so that’s the limits of trying to yogify your trauma by doing some spiritual endeavor. Because most of those spiritual endeavors involve just you doing solitary practice.
Rick: Yeah. I want to throw in a little esoteric tidbit here, which is that we’ve been talking about trauma being stored in the body, but it’s also stored in the subtle body because we carry it from life to life. And if people accept the notion of reincarnation and people come into this life sometimes as children remembering traumatic things like plane crashes and all that happened to them in a previous life. So that’s kind of interesting. And there’s a whole interesting thing we won’t have time to get into about how the brain might actually be an interface with some kind of a Akashic Field or something where our memories and traumas are actually stored. Anyway.
Miles: I don’t think it has to be all that esoteric. I think the way that I describe it is if there are three different streams that are parallel, okay? On the one level we have biology and genetic inheritance. We are now understanding that your attitudes and your experiences and the way that you relate to stuff coming up in a current life can switch on or switch off certain genetic features. Okay? So we can say that something coming from a past life, from a family or ancestry or lineage, is you are part of that lineage and with consciousness you have the ability to either direct or reinforce certain streams or certain imprints. So we have that. It’s a different understanding. It’s a materialistic one. It’s a biological one. But with the language around epigenetics, it amounts to something roughly the same thing. And if you don’t like that lens or you can keep that lens there, then the second lens would be what we’re learning about narrative and stories. Human beings are very much storytellers. And so if your ancestors or if your tribe told certain stories about traumatic impacts, like they were in a famine or they were in a holocaust or they were in this or they were in that, and the way that they framed that was, “Don’t trust anybody. You have to be exclusive. You have to hold on to scarce resources because you might never have them again.” If that’s the narrative that they share with you and that’s the crucible in which you develop, then that ancestry comes and shapes your mind. And shapes your worldview and shapes your activity. And so that’s a kind of karmic inheritance that you don’t need to think in past lives. You just think about the power of words and language and stories. And the third one would be this one on consciousness that the Indian civilization bequeathed to the universe in terms of its karmic inheritance. And rather than scramble and debate and say that’s nonsense and this one, I just say, “What is the practical implications of all three?” They are all essentially saying that you are not a finite little discrete entity. You are an inheritor of something and you will bequeath something. And your consciousness is what determines how you deal with what you inherit and what you pass on. And so that is incredibly powerful and with power comes responsibility. And so that’s really a spiritualized way of understanding what our purpose is vis-a-vis our past and our future. We are here to learn lessons and to purify and to make better for those that come after us. Whether we believe it’s us in another life or our offspring or the story of humanity that we’re sharing in, that really becomes our heroic purpose.
Rick: Good. Any one of these points we could talk about all day, but I’ve got to keep moving along here. So, there’s three questions that have come in which I want to read to you and also I have a few more points in my notes that I want to be sure we have time to discuss before we finish. So, this is one from David in Korea. He asks, “I am absolutely 100% with you, Miles, on your take that the profound depths of spiritual potential are hopelessly watered down in many methods taught these days. The problem as I see it is both that we are living inside this heavy materialistic science-based worldview and also because we consume news sources invested in wanting us to see the world in ways very biased to the interests of corporate capitalism. I would love to contact you and speak to you about this, but do you not think that we desperately need to access sources of alternative news content that is not heavily smeared by the mainstream to align us more with what is really going on?”
Miles: Was that David in Korea, was it?
Rick: That was David in Korea.
Miles: Thank you so much. Please do contact me, David. And yes, absolutely, throw out the TV. Get rid of the, get rid of, 100% my children will never watch anything from the mainstream syndicate. It’s lies and it’s driven by an agenda. And if you don’t see that, you’re blind. So, you have to be, you have to stop being dependent and having like an IV of lies pumped into your nervous system by corporate mainstream complexes of industrial authority, warmongering, and hell-bent on keeping you a product of a capitalistic work wheel where you’re either consuming or producing or both and nothing else. So, get rid of it. Absolutely get rid of it. And you know what? It’s a hard thing because we’re all addicted. The gadgetry, it’s very, very, and the science is out there how incredibly compelling and incredibly addictive it is to our chemistry. And so, in a way, we’re all addicted and we all need to go to rehab. And rehab always says the same thing. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger your addiction. So, yes, we should absolutely turn off the television. I have one in the back, you’ll see, which we discriminately put on just a few cartoons for the kids. But I don’t watch any TV. I don’t read any mainstream. But then the onus is on me to go and investigate. Stop being a child spoon-fed from the world and go and find the truth. And that will mean you might take risks and you might go down a labyrinth and it might dead-end. But you have to go to the core of the issue. So, don’t read what the commentaries go to, what they would say. Go to the primary text and read the primary text. So, go to the scientific literature if you don’t know what the climate change science is. Go there and look at the studies. Go and search multiple angles and multiple journals and see what they’re all saying. Don’t get fixated on one mainline impression that’s coming through. So, I completely agree and I think we have to be much more responsible with the kind of information that we’re digesting because we live in an information age that is designed to overwhelm us and make us a passive consumer of some agenda. And I don’t want to get conspiratorial, but I know some of you out there really concur with this. And so, I’m not shy to put forward that position.
Rick: No, you didn’t seem shy at all actually. But I have a more nuanced approach to it. You know, I consume a lot of news from a variety of sources including Good Morning America and National Public Radio and NBC News and all. But I also look at other things that are sort of off the mainstream. But I’ve seen people go to the, just sort of like ditch all the mainstream media and go to Info Wars, you know, or one of these things which just buy into every conspiracy theory that anyone can dream up.
Miles: That’s my point. If you’re just spoon-fed from one source and you lose, it goes back to this idea of dealing with the guru. You cannot lose your good sense. You need to take risks and devour multiple perspectives, but always those perspectives are tested against your own intuitions.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, I know people in this town who not only think that climate change is a hoax, but that we never put men on the moon and that all the Sandy Hook shooting was-
Miles: The world is flat.
Rick: Yeah, the world is flat. The Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation. They just sort of go off until Lala land.
Miles: Although it’s worth going to investigate instead of just-
Rick: Yeah, you can look at that stuff.
Miles: It’s interesting. I mean, it’s good. See, I don’t mind that. I don’t buy it necessarily, but I have at least done an investigation. You see, what is it in us that says, “Oh, well, someone puts forth this idea that it’s a false flag operation. We can talk about 9/11 and someone comes and says two planes, three buildings.” Well, that’s interesting. Let me go and look at the evidence.
Rick: Yeah, Tower 7 and all that. I’ve looked at it.
Miles: You know what I’m saying? I don’t think that that’s- we shouldn’t dismiss on either side maybe, but we have to be more critical. We have to be more critical.
Rick: Yeah. You know what? There’s a kind of a, we could dip back into the spiritual perspective on it here, which is that the term “Brahman,” as I understand it, means, it comes from a Sanskrit word that means “great,” but the idea is that it’s all inclusive. And my understanding is that you can sort of, you know, your consciousness, your awareness can become so inclusive as to incorporate all the polarities, all the diversities, all the sort of ambiguities, and not necessarily see them all as equally valid, but at least sort of incorporate them all within a larger perspective where they, to some extent, become reconciled as just different facets of a larger reality. Does that make any sense?
Miles: It does, but it’s not part, I don’t, experientially that’s not how I, unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying but somehow all level out or they all sort of –
Rick: Well, it’s like the blind man and the elephant thing, you know? The blind men are all feeling different aspects of the elephant and saying, “It’s a snake, it’s a trunk, I mean, it’s a spear, it’s a, you know, it’s like flat like the side of a building, it’s like a tree trunk.” And they’re all partially right, but there’s a larger reality that, you know, that’s more than any one individual perspective. So, it doesn’t level out, you know, it doesn’t put astronauts on the same footing as flat Earth conspiracists, but at least it gives you the sort of the God’s eye view where you’re willing to kind of, take it all in and not just exclude anything without at least considering it.
Miles: Yeah, I would go for that, yeah, because I don’t believe that we’re all on one playing field and everything’s equal and everybody has an equal contribution. I mean, I think that’s just, that’s people just patting themselves on the back because they feel inferior.
Rick: Yeah, I have a friend who believes, he’ll listen to this because he’s listened to all my interviews, that the ideal human diet is meat. And not only meat, but only meat. We shouldn’t eat any plant foods ideally, and we’ll be really healthy if we do that. And I keep listening to him, I haven’t, you know, bought it yet, but I don’t just reject him as a nutter. You know, I say, “Alright, I’ll listen to this YouTube you want me to listen to,” and so, you know, whatever. It’s not going to kill me to consider different perspectives. Okay, a couple more questions came in, and I also have some notes I still want to ask you. This is from Dan in London. He says, “I think the integration and appreciation of the relative materialistic world versus the absolute position is reliant on the ability to reconcile paradoxes,” oh, we were just talking about a paradox such as, “We are completely individual beings and we are also completely unbounded. Dismissing the relative world can be very dangerous. Are there tools to explain and reconcile paradoxes that would help people? I think the scientific materialistic thinking Western worldview has a lot to answer for in why people get stuck here.”
Miles: Well, I think we’re kind of intimating it through, along, but it may be worthwhile to reinforce the idea that absolutely the scientific Newtonian paradigm, the reductionistic materialism, has served its function and its purpose, but when it gets co-opted by an authoritarian regime that has a sort of agenda or investment, and part of that investment means that it precludes or dismisses or disparages other traditions, which it has done, right? We disparage and have become so skeptical of other cultures and indigenous presentations of sacred wisdom culture that hold out a different worldview, then that becomes dangerous. Then that becomes dangerous. And so I think it is entirely possible to have a Newtonian and a quantum and to know and to have the facility of mind to discern when you use one lens and when you lose another. So that’s why by nature in my career I’m an integrative practitioner. I like to use both the mind science from Tibetan Buddhism, but in studying psychology I’m able to look at Tibetan Buddhism and also find its potential limitations and vice versa. So it’s very helpful to have a multiplicity of views because it helps you self-correct and not get stuck in myopia or shut down or to have some claim to the ultimate truth stance. And in Buddhism that ultimate truth stance is negated at the pinnacle. It’s called the teachings of emptiness, which are itself designed to help you erode any sense of reifying any position, even the position of emptiness, which is called the emptiness of emptiness. So emptiness is like a medicine of the mind. So wherever the mind is standing with a flagpole saying, I claim reality here, emptiness comes along and shows, well, show me where here is. And you look under your toe and you look under the feet, you look under your feet and you find ground and then you can’t find ground, you know, if you look carefully. And so if you cannot find ground, you cannot claim authority and put your flagpole there. And so then you step over to somewhere else and you go, this is where it is. And I claim this is ultimate reality and emptiness comes along and says, “show me.” And so what emptiness does is it helps erode the habitual tendency of the mind to want to reaffirm or reify any particular philosophical worldview or position. Even the tool or the medicine of emptiness itself cannot be reified. In other words, it has, you can even say emptiness is unfindable. And what that does is help open your mind. And the image of an open mind is that beautiful circle in the Zen tradition, the ink brush is made of a circle. But if you look carefully, the circle is incomplete. And then that is designed to be a depiction of the openness of your mind to the nature of reality, that its very position is ineffable. It’s beyond description. It’s beyond word. It’s unfindable. It’s unfathomable. It’s unthinkable. And then boom, you break through to an experience. And that experience is openness.
Rick: Yeah. I think there is an absolute level of life and because there is, we have an innate human desire to tap into it or to realize it. But failing to do that, we often take relative things and try to make them absolute, as a sort of a surrogate, you know, for the genuine grounding in the absolute level of life. And then, of course, the minute we do that, we become polarized because it’s only a relative thing and it’s going to clash with every other relative thing.
Miles: Mm. Exactly.
Rick: There was an interesting quote here in your book from Daniel Pinchbeck. You say –
Miles: Have you had Daniel on your show?
Rick: No, I haven’t. I should.
Miles: Great. You should get him.
Rick: I would. Yeah, I’ll do that. Pinchbeck reframes our current global ecological crisis as an attempt by the collective unconscious to create the adventitious circumstance for the emergence of higher states of consciousness. And then there’s another little bit here where you say, “Our collective psyches are self-sabotaging, as if to recreate a new trial by fire that would transform us into heroes emboldened by crisis.” So, that was really interesting. I love that. And maybe without actually asking you anything more, I’ll just let you elaborate on it a bit.
Miles: Well, you should have Daniel. It’s his idea, but I loved it so much because it put a twist on where we find ourselves. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you get very paralyzed and gobsmacked about how we’re basically heading towards mass extinction. And that can be very humbling and paralyzing and terrifying. But from Dan’s point of view, having had a very hallucinatory or psychedelic experience on plant medicines, he had the certain vision or intuition that actually this is the collective psyche. This is what the collective psyche needs. In other words, there’s a convergent of crisis and opportunity at the same time. And we’re being pushed to the threshold in order to raise the bar of consciousness. And I think, Rick, you and I would both agree that that’s what we’re seeing on the planet right now. Ten years ago, 15, even 20 years ago, meditation and yoga were considered fringe. Now they’re front and center. In the ’60s, we had a psychedelic revolution that then was followed by an intensive regime of illegalizing it. And now we’re seeing not only a resurgence of interest in psychedelics, but the mainstream Yale, Harvard.
Rick: Johns Hopkins.
Miles: Johns Hopkins.
Miles: NYU. They are all on board with big funding to explore the frontiers of consciousness through psychedelics.
Rick: I had Michael Pollan on a couple months ago.
Miles: Yes, I listened to that one, and I really appreciated him and his astute mind. But to come back to Pinchbeck, what we are seeing is we’re both all witnessing a growth of consciousness, an expansion of consciousness, and a willingness to go beyond the material realm and reclaim spirit, which is the essence and hope of my book. But it is happening within the context that things are heating up, and they’re getting so dire and desperate. And so these two things, and so what he’s basically saying is an unconscious, we’re destroying ourselves in order to wake us ourselves up. Now that is a very compelling and unique argument. And I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with it, and I don’t have to defend it because it’s not mine, but I liked it enough to use it in my book.
Rick: Well, the caterpillar has to become mush in order to become a butterfly, you know? And as I’m sure you’re aware, I believe the Chinese symbol for crisis has the symbol of opportunity in it.
Miles: I think it’s danger and opportunity.
Rick: Danger and opportunity, right. So, and if we kind of zoom out and kind of regard the universe as intelligent and having an evolutionary agenda, as it were, then, you know, it’s not just all sort of mindless chaos that we’re going through. There’s got to be some kind of evolutionary opportunity or potential in it. And, you know, obviously we’ve seen that very often people don’t change until they have to change, and so I guess we’re sort of moving into position of being forced to undergo change and for things which really ought to crumble to go ahead and do that.
Miles: Yes, and I think Dan Pinchbeck was a very good student of the Mayan calendar, and I think probably from your background you know about Sri Uttakshar, the guru of Paramahamsa Yogananda and his book, The Holy Science, and I think there’s very much concurrence in that little but very epic book on where we find ourselves celestially on the great cycle or the great ages. We are certainly out of the dark ages and we’re coming towards more light, and so I think that’s also very telling what happens when we come towards more light. We have exited or are beginning to exit, of course, as a long periods of evolutionary time, but we’re exiting a period of the utter materiality of things and opening to the–like, for example, in my field, not only is plant medicine becoming incredibly important, but also energetics and energy medicine and sound. A lot of people are doing sound therapy and there’s a lot of fringe things that maybe five years ago would have been considered woo-woo that are now coming on the radar and I think that is because the evolution of consciousness is passing through these larger celestial cycles and we’re ending our period of being determinated by preoccupation in matter alone and then awakening to unforeseen or unseen energies and so I think that’s why shamanic practices and sound and energy are becoming, well, they’re now on the forefront of healing.
Rick: Yeah, yeah, I believe Sri Yukteswar said that the calculation that Kali Yuga is supposed to last 432,000 years and we’re only 5,000 years into it, is he had a different way of calculating it. He said that we’re actually going to come out of it now. And Maharishi said something similar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that sort of natural law reaches its nadir before rising up again, but when it does rise up, it rises up rather abruptly. So, there could be a sort of a huge resurgence of light or whatever you want to call it that might happen a lot faster than we can imagine.
Miles: And it’s interesting, you had somebody on the show who was into Jyotish, I can’t remember his name.
Miles: Prasannan, I don’t know if you asked him about this, but these guys are very intuitive about the long cycles of astrology and they may have something to tell us which really can serve as a very powerful reinforcement about where we are in time and space and so that we don’t get alarmed and paralyzed in the trees, but we can see the forest.
Miles: You know, because I think we will probably see an even further deterioration of the climate, but we shouldn’t despair. You know, that’s my main thing is we cannot despair. The world’s also awakening and people are doing really good things. If we get focused on the three or four gurus last year that fell and not
Rick: Was it only three or four?
Miles: But not also see the tidal wave of people who are waking up and also not to minimize your own role in this, that you can be an agent for change, then I think we have to balance that negativity bias.
Rick: I think it’s a really good point because one could get really scared and discouraged and depressed if it just seems like we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, but there’s something good happening and it’s just like we were talking about the news, it’s not going to make the 6 o’clock news necessarily. It’s subtle, that’s why it’s not detectable by, you know, gross events, but it’s bubbling up more and more and, you know, it’s profound and significant and I’m very optimistic really, although I agree with you that I think things are going to get a lot crazier before they get better.
Miles: Yeah, no, they have to and this is the collapse. I mean, you know, you have to, the snake has to shed its skin and there has to be a great cataclysm and there will be fire and we have built a petroleum based economy and that is inevitably going to collapse. I mean, there’s no two ways about it. There’s not enough resources to perpetuate it or sustain it and so the world that we have built that we have come to see and to rely on will fail us and so I think you see very smart, intelligent people and especially young people coming together and thinking about what the alternatives and the solutions will be and they’re creating a new world and so they are co-emergent. A new world is coming up like little saplings amidst the fire.
Rick: Yeah, I laughed a while ago when you were talking about something or other because I thought of this video I saw the other day which was a helpline for angry old white men who were angry at Greta Thunberg and one guy was calling up and he was saying, how dare she-
Miles: My socks.
Rick: Yeah, she was saying, how dare she say that the end of the world is like the end of the world or some such thing. I don’t know, I can’t do justice to it but it was very funny.
Miles: But she’s a very fierce archetype of the brave new world. I mean she’s got a lot of ferocity, no one can argue with that and she’s young and she’s a woman and so that’s a beautiful archetype of the rise of the feminine right there.
Miles: You have to at least appreciate that.
Rick: One thing you wanted to talk about that I want us to shift into right now before we run out of time is the power of pilgrimage in the modern age.
Miles: Oh boy.
Rick: Tell us about that.
Miles: So I mean, my attempt with the book and these courses is to, as I said, serve as a land bridge to help bring people into the sacred wisdom culture and in my own hero’s journey I was growing very, what would you say, suffocated in my therapy office myself. I was living in New York City and I was practicing in New York City and I was in a big building and in a small office doing therapeutic work and I started feeling the walls close in on me, and in the last few years I have started taking pilgrimage, where I take some of my students, some 25 or 30 of them to India and last year we took them to Nepal and what I found in two weeks of an immersion like that was that people were, their hearts were ripped wide open and their paradigm was completely split and something very, very deep and powerful happened and if you just calculate it from a cost analysis, the amount of cost and energy of, let’s say, three months of psychotherapy versus a two week immersion abroad, I couldn’t tell you where I would put my money. I just felt like, I mean, myself in my own history I was raised abroad. I was raised in Hong Kong and I was born in Singapore. I come from a multicultural family. I was in India under the Bodhi tree where the Buddha gained enlightenment at 20. I made five pilgrimages or six pilgrimages in the last 20 years and as I emerged as my own teacher in my own right, then I started feeling the call as a very deep, mythical almost, a mythical call, something very deep inside of me that I see my role as a ferry boat man, as transporting people through time and space to ancient wisdom cultures where I can showcase the ancient wisdom cultures and its lineage holders to people who have in a way been inured or lulled to sleep by modernity. So that’s where I’m coming from and so I’ve built a number of different pilgrimages. We’ll go to Sri Lanka in December. I’ll take about 25 people there and then in August next year we go to Ladakh and in each of these places we’re encountering rituals, we’re doing very deep practice, we’re trying to do traditional practices in the way that they have been done in an unbroken stream for hundreds if not thousands of years so that people can shake loose the habituation foist upon them by modern, modernity and reawaken or revitalize something very deep in them to see that there are other ways of being and that there are other ways to have community and that the rituals that we lost have meaning and purpose and that actually at the very pinnacle of it some of these ceremonies are designed to help activate our central responsibility and agency for the planet. These are called, in the Tibetan tradition, the Bodhisattva resolve or the Bodhisattva vow ceremony, in which you take responsibility that your life becomes purposeful and this is very important. Very important to me because right now in modern materialistic culture we have no purpose other than to produce and consume and then to die and to gratify our urges and that’s it and that’s it. But every sacred wisdom culture from India to the Amazon to Tibet, they all had lineages where they saw the human being as a vital force and contributor and agent of change for society and they put them through rites of passages and certain rituals to help them access those very fundamental archetypes and that’s what I see the movement of my therapeutic application, moving into the sphere of helping, bring people abroad so that they can have those rituals and ceremonies and meet the elders of wisdom traditions and we can do our part in preserving those cultures so that they don’t fall prey to demise on this culture in this world when we need them so desperately.
Rick: Nice, and I would say that the advantage of doing it with somebody like you as opposed to just going on your own is that there’s a real value to going as a group.
Rick: Not only is everything kind of figured out for you in terms of where to go but there’s something about the group consciousness that makes it more potent.
Miles: Yes, I mean I think we’ve lost that. I mean we are so siloed. I mean we are so disconnected and fragmented. I mean I think it’s an illusion that we’re more connected. I understand the argument that technology connects us. I have students in Alaska and Bombay, that they can join me virtually in my courses but on the other hand, come on, who are we kidding? Like being around people with their energies and their flesh and blood and living with them and having meals with them and going on a journey together and having group rituals together and creating a bhava, a resonance, I think there’s no substitute and never will be for that.
Rick: And speaking of your online courses, you have a two-year contemplative studies program. What’s that about and can people hop onto that any time or do they have to wait until it starts again for a two-year period?
Miles: Well, there’s a number of different ways to study it but what it is essentially is my 20 years combining Tibetan Buddhism with neuroscience and trauma research and so I’ve taught eight modules or will be teaching eight modules over the next two years. We started several months ago. We are in module three and we go through material. We do practices together. We start with foundational practices following the Lamrim which we didn’t in this discussion really get to unpack other than to suggest that it’s a road map from the 10th century to help people move through a curriculum or ancient wisdom knowledge in a systematic way where they can digest it. And so I present material in lectures, then we have guided meditations that you do at home and readings and then we have a virtual space where you can discuss those topics so you’re following the ancient pedagogy of listening and hearing a lecture, reflecting on it with your peers and then having a meditative experience and then moving on to the next section. And two years I found is really important because on the market you’ll notice that there are a lot of programs that are four weeks, five weeks, six weeks, but we all know what it takes, according to my book Gradual Awakening. It takes a long time to really mature. It takes 30, 40, 50 years. So when I propose two years people get really shocked and get terrified but it’s just the beginning. It’s really just the beginning if you really want to take this seriously and want to commit. And so it is a journey for people who have tested and dipped their toe here and there, read a good book, gone on a retreat but want to do a two-year committed program of an integrative curriculum, that’s integrative, not just traditional but conventional wisdom too. And then each of these, there is a social service project. So we are partnered with the Tibetan Nuns Project. We’re going to raise $20,000 next year for a very small nunnery on Mars. No, I’m just kidding. It’s in Zanskar. It’s a so that they can feel that their priorities and their everyday needs are taken care of indefinitely so that they can study and practice and be enormously inspiring to the rest of us. The other…
Rick: They’re all going to get iPhones, right? [Laughter]
Rick: Just kidding.
Miles: The other element is the pilgrimage. So like I said, this year we’ll all go to Sri Lanka. Next year we’ll go to Ladakh. And so I’m trying to create an online program that provides a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary kind of approach where you have different features all bundled into one.
Rick: Okay. So can people still join this two-year thing even though it started a few months ago?
Miles: Yeah, it’s all in the cloud. One thing about technology is great is I don’t need brick and mortar anymore. And even though we do have a center in New York City, everything is housed at high-definition video in the cloud and so you can access it anytime. And if two years is too much, then we started, after we rolled out the program, we started modularizing and just taking a piece. So for example, the trauma stuff that I was talking to you about that I think represents some of my best work because I really feel like I was speaking from a heart and a place where I was really wounded and needed my own healing amongst my own community. So it’s very heartfelt and very real and we keep it really real. That program is one module in the program and is accessible just as a standalone. So if you can’t commit to the whole entire thing, you can just have the trauma workshop or you can just have, right now I’m doing the hero’s journey. So there’s different modules there too.
Rick: Okay, I’m sure there’s plenty of information about that on your website and if people have questions about it before committing to it, they can ask you. So is there anything, you mentioned that you didn’t get enough chance to say enough about the Lam Rim. Is there anything that you can say about that in conclusion that if you don’t say you’re not going to be able to sleep tonight?
Miles: I mean, I think it’s funny, you want to make a full circle and wrap it up, we can wrap it up this way because at the outset we were using this metaphor of there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is a mountain again. Okay, so when you go on the Lam Rim, you first take care of your own bullshit. In other words, you take care of your trauma, you take care of your identifications, you take care of all your baggage, you take care of your wounding, you take care of your false assumptions, you work on yourself. And then you cross a threshold or you cross a horizon and then you start to see that the world is not what it appears. And there is something beyond yourself and there is something beyond the material world and there is something beyond, and you go quantum and basically the world as you knew it dissolves. And these are not mutually exclusive, they are systematic and comprehensive. So you have to take care of yourself in order to cross that threshold. And then you go through into the event horizon and you discover the totality or the oneness or the bliss. But that’s not home either. And I’m sure after 51 years, Rick, you will concur that the real home happens once you really come home to your wife and you have a job and you have dogs and you have to earn a living, but you’re a yogi at heart. See, this is the important thing is how do you bring all your spiritual knowledge into life in order to make a difference in the context of a planetary mass extinction, on the verge of a mass extinction. I don’t think it’s enough anymore for the high lamas to be in their Himalayan caves. I think we have to each become a high lama as much as possible in our own way and then set our sights on, through whatever discipline you’re working in, whatever sector of society you’re working in. So if you’re a school teacher or you’re an accountant or you’re into politics or you’re into technology, you have to bring your bodhisattva spirit and your understanding of non-duality into the world, in order to shape shift it for the better and for others. And so that’s the main point that I want to leave people on, is that it’s not enough to just sit quietly on your own immersed in the bliss of oneness, but to come back as a drop or a wave, more skilled and putting into practice all that you have learned so that we can actually each make a contribution into rebuilding a better planet.
Rick: Yeah, the way Lord Krishna put it to Arjuna in the Gita was, “established in being, perform action”
Miles: That’s it.
Rick: Okay, good. Well, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
Miles: Rick, I just want to thank you personally for all the work that you’ve done and whatever hero’s journey took you on to letting go of your former life and being reborn as a podcaster and being so open to taking on people who don’t maybe have a big following or a big name. I think that…kudos to you for that. Thank you for the opportunity to share with your community and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a real huge contribution for the planet. Thank you so much.
Rick: Oh, thank you. Yep, we hope to keep doing it. And of course, it’s not just me. Irene makes a huge contribution and some of the volunteers you’ve met in preparation for this. It’s kind of a team effort.
Miles: Well, thanks to the team. Thank you to everyone. And thanks also to your listeners for putting up with us for so long. I mean, it’s nice. I’ve done podcasts for an hour, but I like your style going for the two, two and a half hour podcast. Good for you.
Rick: I like it. I mean, I don’t feel like you can cover everything in an hour. And a lot of people express that they really like it, and if they don’t, they can just watch part of it, you know?
Rick: So, let me make a couple concluding remarks really quick. My guest has been Miles Neale. As usual, I’ll be creating a page for this interview, and it will include links to his website and his book and so on. And then if you want to find out more, you can get in touch with him and, you know, find out what you want. But while you’re at it, if you come to batgap.com, explore the different menus because you’ll find some interesting things. Like Miles mentioned, he listens to this or has been listening to this a bit while jogging. So, there’s an audio podcast, and you can sign up to be notified by email of new episodes and different things like that. So, just if you come to the site, explore the menus. There aren’t too many things, but you’ll find some things that you might find useful. So, thanks.
Miles: There’s something for everyone, really. I mean, I found Joe Tisch, I found Sheldrake, I found Bob. So, you have a real wide range of — there’s something for everyone, really. You have a huge archive there. Congratulations for that.
Rick: Yeah, we even covered the topics of — the topic of extraterrestrials a few weeks ago. That was interesting. I feel that somehow that plugs into the whole picture.
Rick: Something’s going on. Alrighty. Well, thanks, Miles.
Miles: Okay. Talk soon. Take care, everybody.
Rick: Take care. Bye-bye, everybody. ♪