Richard Miller Transcript

Richard Miller Interview

RICK: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. There are about 350 of them now and if you’d like to check out previous ones, go to and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll see them organized in several different ways. This podcast and YouTube show is made freely available to anyone who wishes to watch it. But it is made possible by the support of those who feel like supporting it. So if you’re one of such people, there’s a donate button on on the right-hand side. My guest today is Richard Miller. In Jean Klein who introduced him to the direct realization of the non-dual teachings as exemplified in the paths of Advaita, Kashmir Yoga, Taoism and Dzogchen. Richard now shares this realization and its integration into daily life through meditative self- inquiry, the presence of being, and what lies beyond all sense of self and separation. Richard teaches internationally and serves as a consultant researching the non-dual meditation protocol he’s developed, Integrative Restoration- iRest Meditation, a secular adaptation of the ancient practice of yogic meditation, Yoga Nidra, studying its efficacy on health, healing, well-being and awakening. And what I hope to accomplish with Richard today is one thing that’s a little bit unique about him, is that and what he’s doing, is that he has taken a practice from an ancient tradition and adapted it in such a way that it can be applied in a modern context and is doing that very successfully with PTSD sufferers, people being taken out of sexual slavery in India, and a number of other contexts like that. And I find that very laudable. It’s sort of along the lines of my old profession as a TM teacher where we really felt that there were practical benefits to meditation. It wasn’t just a philosophical or spiritual thing with no relevance to the so-called real world. So I think it’s great that he’s doing that. But it also does have deep philosophical and spiritual implications and value as a tool for awakening. So hopefully people listening to this, whether they are dealing with kind of very real human problems that might be ameliorated somewhat by meditation or whether their primary concern is just awakening or realization or enlightenment, I think we’ll find this interview relevant. And maybe to get us started, we’re going to go through a bunch of stuff like Richard’s past and his spiritual path and all that kind of stuff. But just along the lines of what I’ve just been saying, I wanted to read a quote by Adyashanti that came my way recently. He said, “Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagine to be true.” And as much as I respect and admire Adyashanti, I think he’s one of the best teachers out there, and maybe he would explain this differently if I confronted him with the quote. I kind of feel like it does have something to do with becoming better and being happier, and I think Richard might agree. So how would you react to that quote, Richard?

RICHARD: I think of it as both a constructive path and, rather than destructive, I would call it a deconstructing path. And what I think of is it takes away all that we have believed ourselves to be and reveals what we truly are. And what I see personally is it erupts tremendous joy, tremendous happiness, but not the kind of happiness or joy that we were used to before which was predicated on something. It’s really just a joy that’s innate in our cellular DNA as far as I’m concerned. And it’s fascinating to, whether than the human experience which brings grief at times through loss, sadness, irritation, you know, all the human emotions are still there. But what I’ve discovered is this underlying equanimity and joy that doesn’t go away. It’s like rock-solid and forms the foundation underpinning. So I like the idea of deconstructing. It deconstructs who we thought we were, reveals who we truly are, and actually provides an incredible constructive ground for our humanness then.

RICK: Yeah, maybe the kind of thing Adyashanti was alluding to there was the sort of thing presented by “the secret,” you know, where you’re going to be able to get more stuff, you know, if you apply these deeper laws of the mind, or you know, just the sort of human potential movement where you become a better person. And there’s emphasis on the word “person” but not so much transcendence of your personhood and getting right down to your essential nature. Maybe that’s what he was saying in that quote, I don’t know.

RICHARD: Well, there’s the other aspect which is, I think there’s a myth in awakening that somehow we’re going to destroy the ego. I see this in some of the Eastern writings, “Destroy the ego, you’re going to get rid of it, it’ll never come back.” It’s a falsity to me. The ego structure is built in and hard-wired into our DNA, the sense of “I-ness.” We just appreciate that it’s just a process, it’s no longer who we take ourselves to be, and now we can see it operational in the, I don’t know, the exertion of our personality, but now it’s not in control. We realize we’re radically and fundamentally not in control, there is no actual “I” here or ego here, it’s just a process like anything else, a function.

RICK: The way the sense of smell is a function or the use of your limbs is a function, it’s just sort of a faculty, you’re saying.

RICHARD: Exactly, and then it’s not in control. We realize there’s a fundamental intelligence here that’s in control. I feel like when I wake up in the morning I open my eyes and I basically say, “Okay, tell me what to do.”

RICK: Yeah, there’s a Sanskrit saying, I don’t remember the Sanskrit, but the English equivalent is “Brahman is the charioteer.”


RICK: Yeah, you may have heard that. Meaning that the intelligence is governing the universe, actually is governing our life, and if we allow it to do so, can probably do a better job than we as a limited individual can do.

RICHARD: And actually I like what you just said because awakening puts us interconnected into that cosmology, that universal aspect. So we find our place in the universe and, to me, when we find our place in the universe that brings forward tremendous contentment and, dare I say, happiness. And what I’m aware of is the stress of daily life and the insults that can happen to us in daily life somehow, often disconnect us from our self and our place in the universe. Awakening, we come back to that sense of being in harmony, both here at the human level and then with the entire universe, cosmos.

RICK: Yeah, well that’ll kind of segue, maybe not immediately but a little bit later on, into what you’re doing with I-Rest or Yoga Nidra and PTSD sufferers who have been pummeled by the stress of daily life, and extraordinary stress, and have bottled it up and it’s handicapping them. So we’re definitely going to talk about that. So was Jean Klein your first foray into spirituality or did you mess around with a bunch of stuff and then discover him?

RICHARD: I had the unique privilege in 1970 when I started on this path of meeting an extraordinary woman who had just come here from the Far East. And when I was studying psychology, she became my mentor. She had grown up in a Buddhist community in the Far East. Her mother had taught her yoga as a child. She had studied existential psychology with an associate of R.D. Laing. She had studied with Eric Fromm. So she came to me and we began to look at what’s the integration of Eastern and Western psychology, Buddhism, yoga. Then I met an extraordinary man, Stephen Chang, who introduced me to Taoist studies. I studied with him for many years and then through many teachers in yoga, Advaita, I had in India and here in the United States. So when I came to Jean Klein, it was like coming home with all these gifts that I had received and he helped me, I would say, integrate them all into one understanding.

RICK: Did you move to France and learn French and actually study with him in that way or was it more sort of on-again-off-again?

RICHARD: No, it was delightful because I met him here where I live in Marin County in the Bay Area and then he subsequently got a home in Santa Barbara for six months a year. So I went to all of his retreats and trainings and workshops here in the States. But back then, I was raising two kids. I wasn’t into traveling to France. I wanted to basically be there in the morning and in the evening when my kids woke up and went to sleep, be a consistency of father. So I really did everything I could to be with Jean when he would be here in the States.

RICK: Did you happen to meet Suzanne Siegel when you were with Jean Klein?

RICHARD: I did and actually became a close friend, loved Suzanne deeply. I had some very deep kind of awakening experiences with her. When I would sit with her, all sense of self would radically fall away. She was a delightful, unique human being.

RICK: Yeah, and for those who don’t know who we’re talking about, Suzanne Siegel was this woman who wrote a book called “Collision with the Infinite” and she had been, you know, a TM teacher, been on a lot of courses and stuff. And then she kind of drifted away from that. She was living in Paris, wasn’t even meditating anymore. One day, she was getting on a bus and all of a sudden there was this radical shift and falling away of the sense of self, which utterly terrified her because she didn’t know what it was. And this went on for about ten years where she was desperately seeking a sense of self and not finding one. And finally she had a meeting with Jean Klein and was explaining the situation to him and he said, “Stop looking for it, stop turning back.” And he kind of gave her the realization that this was something good that had happened. So I bring it up because we had discussed a minute ago about losing the sense of self and it’s paradoxical. Because, I mean, in that state over ten years she raised a daughter and got a master’s or a PhD or whatever, was doing all kinds of stuff, functioning perfectly well. And yet in her case there was a lot of fear and terror because she was struggling with it, didn’t know what it was.

RICHARD: I think this is something that’s important because as my sense of self began to be seen through as just a process and not an actual entity, it gave rise in me for a period of time of a terror and a fear. I thought at one Point, I was losing my mind and it was kind of like on a razor’s edge until one day I realized that the sense of being had been there from before and during and was still here, And that became my real source of who I would take myself to be rather than this entity that we call the ego or the self. And I see with my dialogues with Suzanne, that’s what happened to her, that structure that is designed, I think neurologically, to create the sense of separation and selfhood with border and boundary, as that begins to give away, we don’t have the kind of learning or teaching that shows us we’re something more than that and so it can be terrifying at first.

RICK: Absolutely.

RICHARD: You know I would like to mention that I recommend Suzanne’s book all the time but it’s been out of print and now it’s coming back into print. Stephen Bodian is theoretically going to write a new foreword. I’ve been asked to write some words for it so we look forward to that book being back into print because I find it a very very helpful read for many people.

RICK: It’s a fascinating story I’m really glad to hear that because I know it was like a couple hundred dollars for rare copies on Amazon and stuff so that’s great that it’s coming back.

RICHARD: We can look for that and next year probably New Harbinger will be bringing that out.

RICK: Oh excellent. She ended up dying of a brain tumor unfortunately. Some people say well that’s what all that unity experience and fear was about, something to do with, you know, this brain tumor but I very much doubt that. Here’s a question that Irene just passed me. She said, “Well, maybe it’s not a question. If there was fear and terror, she was not done yet. Fear and terror go away with the dissolution of the individual ego. Would you agree with that?

RICHARD: What I see with Suzanne is there was material in her unconscious that had yet to be processed and what I see with myself, I see with the people I work with, call it awakening, call it enlightenment, call it whatever we want. That’s the liberation and the kind of deconstruction of our self of separation. We begin to really feel our connectedness everywhere but it also liberates the content of the consciousness that’s been stored in there. And that can erupt very radically or over a number of years. So my sense is, yeah, that started to erupt after a period of what she would call being in the summer of her awakening where she felt that sense of peace after that first liberation of fear. But my take would be that, as she then settled that content that was stored in her unconscious, was starting to press towards being conscious and starting to come up, and at First, it was very confusing. Because there had been such a long time of a stability. But why wouldn’t, if we’ve spent decades repressing material into our unconscious and all of a sudden the lid is taken off of that material, wouldn’t we expect that over a period of time that would liberate? And I look at the life of the Buddha and when I see what he struggled with even after his awakening, different pieces of his content of consciousness coming out for years and years and years. And he was able to face it and understand what it was that didn’t bother him, but it was still there being eliminated.

RICK: I don’t know enough about the Buddha to know that story, but just tell us a bit. I mean, so he had his liberation, his famous awakening under the Bodhi tree. And so he actually processed stuff for years after that?

RICHARD: Yeah, let’s look at what he often said to Ananda, his attendant. He would say two things in the morning when he would come out and Ananda would start talking. He said, “Last night Mara came and visited me. But I saw who it was and he went on his way.” Well, Mara represents those kinds of desires, those kinds of unconscious processes, and so in his first report he would say, “I saw that piece of content. I saw Mara, and it liberated and went on its way.” The next piece, though, that I thought was more fascinating was he said, “Last night Mara came and visited me and we sat down and we had long conversation and many cups of tea,” which to me meant there was a piece of content that was being liberated that he needed to sit with for a long time. And one of the things, my understanding is, he struggled with for a long time was the death of his mother at his birth, which lodged in his unconscious as a regret, as a guilt. But ultimately that was liberated and the story goes that he met his mother on another world and she became a student and enlightened. And I do remember one evening with Jean Klein, who I felt was a very, very liberated, awake human being. And one night, we were used to sitting for about a half an hour and one night he sat for a half an hour and I opened my eyes and he was continuing to sit. And then another half an hour went by and then almost another half an hour and finally he opened his eyes and got up with his attendant and walked back to his room. And when his attendant came out, Leif, we said, “Leif, did you ask Jean what was going on because he sat for so long tonight?” And he said, “Jean said, ‘I had a long thought.'” You know, there is this myth that somehow we wake up and we’re never going to have another disquieting thought. We’re never going to get irritated again, there’s going to be no sadness or grief. Krishna Menon, who was one of Jean’s teachers and whose writings I’ve studied quite a bit, when his wife died, his wife was in the one room lying in state and in the next room was his satsang room. And he would go in to be with his wife and crying and sobbing and then he’d come into the satsang room and he’d be fully present and joyful, And his students started getting confused and he finally said, “Look, I give to my wife what she deserves and I give to you what you Deserve.” He said, “I don’t have a conflict here.”

RICK: That’s very interesting. You were commenting on the Amma picture over my shoulder before we started the recording and I’ve watched her for hours giving darshan to people and she’s like the weather. I mean, one person comes up, well, the weather in Connecticut, the way Mark Twain described it. But, you know, one person comes up and there may be tears running down her face and the next second she might be laughing uproariously. And the next moment she might be sort of reprimanding one of her swamis or something. There’s a sort of complete flexibility and spontaneity and sort of adaptability to the needs of the moment.

RICHARD: What I sense is, in my own experience, shame, blame, guilt, self-absorptive or self-negative thoughts, self-criticism, all that goes away. It doesn’t mean certain thoughts don’t arise. But there’s a different relationship to them now. We’re not trying to get rid of anything, we’re not trying to fix or change our self. We’re just allowing that aspect to arise and there’s nothing wrong with it. To me, if ultimately we take the stance that everything in a way comes out of one mysterious essence, the entire cosmos, then wouldn’t everything be part of that cosmos? So to me, every thought, every emotion has its place. It’s simply there to be met, greeted, be with, and then it has its own movement, no problem.

RICK: Yeah, this discussion, I’m just kind of rolling along with the way this unfolds here, but we’re going to cover a lot of different things. We have plenty of time, but this discussion that we’re on right now reminds me of a theme that’s very interesting to me. And that is that I just have this sense that it would be, as a culture, that maybe over the next 50, 100, 200, whatever years, we’re going to develop an understanding of what enlightenment, awakening, and so on is. And all of its nuances and all of its stages and so on, that might be comparable to our current roadmap of North America compared to what it was when the first settlers arrived. And I think this would be very useful for everybody because there’s a lot of Confusion. You know, people say, “Oh, I had this awakening, I’m done,” or you know, “Oh, so-and-so is awakened and yet he’s supposed to be enlightened and yet he’s doing this screwy stuff. You know, he’s an alcoholic or he’s abusing women or something.” And they become disillusioned or confused. So I think it would be really interesting, maybe you and I could talk about it a little bit right now, to really understand what the range of possibilities is.

RICHARD: I can certainly share with you my view.

RICK: Yeah, please.

RICHARD: I think of it right now in four phases. I call the first phase “waking in” where we’re befriending our emotions, our thoughts, our body. We see all of these aspects as messengers that are basically part of our humanity and as we become an integrated human being, we may still take ourselves to be separate but there’s that first integrative, I call it constructive phase of waking into our being a human being but still separate. The second phase I see is “waking up and waking out” of this feeling of being separate and having this total realization of our non-separation and our harmony with the entire universe where our sense of self dissolves and we see it as just a process. And we really come home to this deep understanding of our non- separation. I see a third phase, I call it “waking down.” Now we’re coming back into our personality, our body, senses and mind where as before we felt ourselves separate now we feel no separation. Now where I see it is our senses, our ego structure, personality, our mind – they’re all designed to create a sense of separation but now there’s a new organ that was vestigial before. It’s awake, it sees no separation. So even as I look at you I see border, boundary, facial structures and yet I feel an underlying tone that I call it being or mystery or whatever that knows no separation. I see the fourth phase I call it “waking out.” Now we’re waking out into all of our relationships, our work with our children, our spouse, our job, being in the world with that really deep quality of non-separation. And ultimately I see the ramification that, with separation, the duality aspect, you and I can have differences of personality. You want to vote for somebody, I want to vote for somebody else. We can disagree, we can have conflict but with that awakening of no separation there’s the impossibility for us to do violence because I don’t see you other than myself and so that doesn’t make sense then. So I love that notion we can celebrate difference and yet within that there is no fundamental difference of non-separation. So I really do feel these four phases where we’re integrating and somebody asked me the other day, “So what’s the result of enlightenment?” And I would say we become a wonderfully exquisite human being in the way we’re designed.

RICK: Yeah that’s nice, I think that’s a nice model. I think it was Ken Wilber who also had the three-part model of there’s waking up but there’s also cleaning up and growing up.

RICHARD: I like that, I’ll bring that in.

RICK: Because we can think of examples of people who have got one leg of that stool but not necessarily the other two. Yeah, and I think that really is the maturing of us as a human being. Yeah, just on the note about the voting for different people and all that. I mean, if we really take a God’s eye view of things, then we’re all sense organs of the infinite. You know, every human being, every aardvark, every flea, every being of any sort is sort of a lens through which divine intelligence is shining and every lens is different. So if we just take the lens view of one particular lens, then we kind of clash with every other lens. But if we take the view of the light which shines through all the lenses, then they’re all just flowers in a great variety.

RICHARD: And no judgment then, everybody is doing the best that they know how based on their conditioning, their genetic coding, the way they grew up and this mystery of how we come to be each so different. So there can be no guilt or no blame. But there are places I see then for boundaries and borders depending on a person’s behavior, but no shame, no blame, just everybody’s doing the best they know how.

RICK: Yeah, which doesn’t make you wishy-washy. I mean it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have issues that really light your fire.

RICHARD: I think you’re bringing up all of that.

RICK: Stop killing elephants or all the other things that you might be passionate about. But it sort of gives a little bit of a lightness to it, so you’re not going to be blowing up airports or something because of your fixed position.

RICHARD: No, you’re bringing up one of the myths I see that’s asked all the time in dialogues that I participate in, which is, “If I wake up, won’t I drop out of the world?” And my response is, “Hey, you’re a unique expression. Maybe you may, but probably not. You’re going to actually have more energy, more boundless ability to be creative because you’re no longer placing things in the way of your creativity. You’re unblocked, you’re willing to be seen, you’re willing to be heard, you’re willing to be who you really are authentically.

RICK: Yeah, great. And let’s loop back to something you were saying a minute ago about, well let me just restate it as I understood what you were saying. And that is that when we awaken pure consciousness or whatever we want to call it, when we kind of like enliven that area, or that’s not an area.

RICHARD: But when that thing wakes up.

RICK: In a way you could say it’s not passive, it has its job to do, it, it begins to purify, to seep into every nook and cranny of our life. And so you were talking about people who had woken up, like Sean Klein even, and others who are, and the Buddha, you mentioned, who are still processing stuff for years. And I wonder if there’s ever an end to that, or if it’s really a lifelong thing, as long as we’re in a body. There’s room for refinement, purification, clarification or whatever.

RICHARD: Well, if we look at the human being as a structure, as a process, it is in evolution. The ego structure a hundred thousand years ago didn’t exist. It hadn’t been created yet because the neocortex hadn’t fundamentally come online. So we see that just the human functioning as a process is in evolution. And so we’re in evolution as you and I are sitting here. We’re changing our cells, our DNA, our genetic structure. So the underlying fundamental mystery of, call it consciousness, awareness, presence, whatever, that doesn’t seem to evolve or change. But this organ as a receptor, as a receiver and a broadcaster, to me that feels like that’s in constant evolution and constant change. So my sense is, as long as we’re alive, we’re going through fundamentally new experiences, integrating depths of understanding that might not have been there because receptors are coming online. Our first understanding of non- separation may be very different from growing into it, although something I feel fundamentally is unchanged day-to-day. It’s always brand new but it’s always the same. It’s a fundamental paradox as far as I’m concerned.

RICK: I think it’s an important point and it’s a point that I think confuses some people, at least judging by comments I get on YouTube and so on. That there’s some people who feel that they have a clear, at least understanding if not experience of the unchanging dimension. And with that in mind, or in experience to whatever degree, they say, “All right, well, that never changes, therefore the whole idea of continued growth is absurd. You’re already enlightened, there’s no degrees of enlightenment, and there’s really nothing you can do to facilitate enlightenment because you’re already enlightened.” I mean, they go around like that. And just this morning, I happened to listen to a little bit of a question to Mooji on that point that someone asked. And I guess he kind of said what you were just saying. Which is that, yeah, there’s the unchanging value and that doesn’t change by definition. But the expression of it, the reflection of it, the experience of it, there’s no end to clarification.

RICHARD: No, and aren’t we all, if we take the metaphor, we’re each a different flower? We’re all of one species, but we’re different flowers. There’s roses and carnations and carnelias and fly traps. And you know, each of us, my feeling is, we each have our own garden to tend. And as we wake up we really just follow the marching orders of that underlying intelligence, and we each have a garden to tend. Some gardens are very tiny, some are very large, but each is unique. I love the line from the Bhagavad Gita which says, “To do your own dharma, your own work, imperfectly, is better than to do someone else’s perfectly.” And I realized, I don’t need to worry fundamentally about the entire universe and every person on the planet. I just need to take care of my assignment, what I’ve been asked to do, and do it as beautifully and perfectly as I can. To me, there’s an underlying structure here that is so far beyond what our human minds can understand. Once I come in harmony with it, I trust it, I fall into it, I feel that sense of duty and harmony, and there’s tremendous creative energy here. Some people, you know, with that creative energy, like Ramana Maharshi, he sat still for 15 years and then stayed in one place, one ashram. But look at the incredible effect he had in the world. Other people like me, I’m out there working with military, working with survivors of sexual trauma or trafficking, I’m working with the homeless, I’m constantly traveling. It’s a lot of, you know, one might say effort, but it feels like day-to-day, just play for me. I’m just waking up in the morning and following my marching order.

RICK: That’s the way you’re wired. I mean, you’d probably be pretty useless if you just sat around in one spot in the loin cloth all day.

RICHARD: I couldn’t do it. I’d go on vacation for three days, and after three days there’s so much creativity that starts to fire off.

RICK: Yeah, another translation of that verse is, “Because one can perform it, one’s own dharma, though lesser in merit, is better than the dharma of another.” You know, “Better is death than one’s own dharma. The dharma of another brings danger.” So it can actually be dangerous to try to live somebody else’s dharma, not one’s own.

RICHARD: Well, in that way we go away from ourselves. So the danger I see in that is we’ll start to feel inside something’s wrong, something’s not right. And you know, in this discussion I’d love to add, I think we each have an inner gyroscope or compass. When we start to go away, that compass starts pulling us back, and one of the things that happens when we start to go away from our self is a feeling that something’s not right. If we’re identified with the ego structure, it lays claim to that and it tends to say something’s wrong with me versus something’s wrong. And when we’re out of that ego structure and we really do feel that it’s just a functioning, we’re no longer identified with it, as we may go away, say as you say, starting to look at somebody else’s dharma than ours. We should feel within ourselves something doesn’t feel quite right. And as we stop and really look at that, we realize, “Oh, I’m starting to do somebody else’s job not my job.” And we come back to it. It’s nothing to do with an ego, it’s just I’m following what feels right moment to moment.

RICK: Yeah, there’s a couple interesting points here. You know, one is that pure consciousness, pure awareness of the self, it kind of has a flat, inanimate connotation or feeling to it, if you define it that way. But I like to think of it in terms of its intelligence quality, which is, I mean, maybe there is a totally absolute level which is beyond any sort of intelligence or anything else. But perhaps as it begins to manifest at least, there’s a sort of an evolutionary nature to it, a force to it, which we could argue has given rise to the whole universe and the evolution of more and more complex forms through which it can know Itself. But it functions in our life in a way like, I mean, just as for instance, the immune system is always sort of like trying to clean things up and get rid of attackers and so on. This kind of evolutionary core to our being is always fostering our development, fostering our evolution, and I think that ties in with the theme of dharma where there’s an evolutionary trajectory in a person’s life which may become more and more clear to them or which they may stray away from, and the idea is to attune yourself to that, and when you do, then nature’s principle of least effort kind of comes into play where you feel like you’re not even working or doing anything at all, even though you might be dynamically active, because you’re really going with the flow of the river rather than sort of paddling against it. So throwing a bunch of metaphors there.

RICHARD: Yeah, so wouldn’t that be as we awaken we really feel this something here that’s a mystery that’s always the same, unchanging, and yet always fresh, always brand new, always alive. And then the body, which is based in conditioning, slowly we might say purifies and that conditioning as it clears away we’re able to see our dharma more and more clearly day to day. But I also see that the human body and mind are an expectation- anticipating, creating machine. So even as we clear away conditioning new thoughts, new expectations are being laid in just as a functioning of the human being which later on are going to be encountered and cleared away. So I see conditioning is an endless process. Buddha said desires are inexhaustible, conditioning is Inexhaustible. I vow to bring an end to them, I vow to bring an end to conditioning. What I see is we step out of it, it doesn’t mean that it goes away, it continues. We’re just out of the process. Jean Klein had a wonderful statement, he said “At first, we think we’re in a cage that we’re trying to break out of. Ultimately, we see that the cage has always been within us and we’ve never been in it. It’s in us and that was where we find our freedom.” And I’ve come to realize that I’m not in my body, the body’s in me. So I can feel it, I’m not separate from it, but it is a functioning in my awareness and ultimately there’s something even beyond the awareness because the awareness is in that greater mystery. So I see that conditioning is something we’ll always have. But we become more comfortable navigating it and feeling this unchanging, fresh intelligence, however we want to call it, that really knows what it needs to do moment to moment. And I just say, “Okay, I turn myself over to you.”

RICK: Yeah, I think there are degrees of “conditionability,” if that’s a word. You know, you might have two soldiers in Iraq and basically in the same platoon or whatever. One comes back with serious PTSD, the other doesn’t. They’ve done studies with meditation and measuring things like galvanic skin response and reaction to stressful stimuli like a sudden loud noise. And they find that the more advanced one is in one’s meditation practice, the more quickly one adapts to stressful stimuli and is thereby not stressed by them. And there’s the old Vedic metaphor of line on stone, line on sand, line on water, line on air. The very same experience can either etch a deep groove in the nervous system, so to speak, which lodges there and might be difficult to get out. Or it can just sort of pass through us without much impact.

RICHARD: And using your metaphor then I would say meditation, the kind of practices that one might do – yoga, breathing, Tai Chi – they help us move from being solid earth, etched stone, to being more quality of spaciousness wherein insults what might otherwise cause trauma they pass through us like they would pass through space. There’s nothing for it to grab a hold of. And I tell my students, if anything lodges in you it’s still a place to look at where it’s still not clear and has grown up and matured and become spacious. So I think with time we do, we become more spacious, more transparent. I worked with a yogi in India that Jean Klein worked with. And when I first met Jean I asked him, “You know I know that you worked with the Kashmiri yogi and then you worked with this yogi in India. What was the difference of their teachings?” And Jean said, “Well when he was with the yogi in India it was like standing in front of a translucent pane of glass. There was all this light coming through.” And I felt that same thing when I was working with him. He said, “But when I was with the Kashmiri yogi, there was no pane of glass. It was just light and transparency.” And that’s what I felt often with Jean, there was just a transparency there, no opacity. And it is what moved me from one teaching over to Jean. Because I felt in that other teacher and teaching there was this opacity that felt like an obstruction to awakening where Jean basically removed the pane of glass and basically there was no longer any obstruction.

RICK: Yeah that’s nice, that’s nice. Perfectly clear, no need to elaborate on it. Although it might segue us into …

RICHARD: It was a good metaphor, I just knocked over my flowers so the obstruction went away.

RICK: You want to pick them up again?

RICHARD: I got them, they’re fine.

RICK: Okay, good. Okay, so I’m just again just really going with the flow here. I have all kinds of notes but I’m just asking you questions as the impulse arises and it’s going nicely. So let’s talk a little bit now about the people you work with, with Yoga Nidra and then the process will have to define Yoga Nidra. You know, you work with some pretty, people who have really been through it. And you know, pretty severe situations and get some really great results with them. So let’s talk about that and what Yoga Nidra is and how it can have the effect it does.

RICHARD: Well, Yoga Nidra, Yoga, if I take the term, I relate to it as to feel our embodied, somatic, felt sense of interconnectedness with our self and the entire cosmos. So Yoga represents that one, where we’re awake and we really do feel our connectedness with self and the world. And in a word, union.

RICK: Yeah, in a word, union.

RICHARD: Yeah. Nidra, while it means sleep, it actually means a changing state of consciousness. So Yoga Nidra means to feel that interconnected sense no matter what state of consciousness might be present. So the mind may be happy, sad, irritated, upset, experiencing trauma, and yet there’s some underlying essence here that still feels whole and healthy. So the process is an integration of the ancient teachings that come out of the Yoga from Sankhya, Patanjali, Advaita, and the Kashmir Non-Dualism. It’s an integration. There’s a wonderful map I utilize actually from the Shiva Sutras from the Kashmir tradition of Non-Dualism that basically helps us awaken through our body, our senses, our emotions, our thoughts and into joy, well-being, and then ultimately into this non-dual understanding. The process itself I’ve come to understand is just mapping us as human beings in our evolution and then as we befriend our self, we’re no longer thinking that there’s something wrong here that needs to be changed or fixed. As we really welcome our humanity, there’s a natural evolution that’s very gradual of wakening up into non- separation. Because my own feeling is we all are born in non-separation. The ego comes online around 18 months. Its process develops and solidifies this sense of separation which we identify with. Ultimately we’re learning how to feel that functioning of the body-mind senses that create separation with this underlying essence of no separation. And that’s what the process of Yoga Nidra Does. It helps us awaken into that non-separation but at the same time integrate, as you say, clean up and grow up. So that we’re a fully functioning human being on all 12 cylinders. The beauty that I found as I worked with it, both with my own life and then because I’m a psychologist with my clients and then going out into the world with people experiencing PTSD and depression and schizophrenia or other illnesses, was the process helped them realize this unchanging aspect to themselves. And then from that ground, they were much more able to navigate the trauma or the difficulties. To me it’s summed up in what one veteran from Miami said who was in one of our studies. He said, “In every intervention that I had ever been given for my post-traumatic stress, they always started with what was wrong with me, what needed to be fixed and changed. With you and Yoga Nidra, you’re showing me right from the beginning what’s right about me and what is about me that’s always been whole, doesn’t need to be fixed or changed. Now that I know what’s whole I’m willing to face my worst nightmare. But when I only thought there was something with me, I didn’t want to face it at all.” So I think the teachings of Yoga Nidra offer some very simple ways right at the beginning to introduce a person to something about ourselves that’s unchanging, has never been hurt, can’t be harmed, is always complete and perfect and now to ground into that and now to face, okay, now there are these emotions that may be needing to be worked with or the trauma that needs to be dealt with. But now it’s a much simpler process. And people in homeless shelters, I was recently at a VA center teaching this to some vets who were on the ward because they were so damaged with their PTSD. I introduced them to these simple principles at first through some meditations and then ultimately I get the same report whether I’m in a homeless shelter or in a VA center. They say, “I feel like I just came home” and I think that’s what meditation, what these teachings in Yoga Nidra specifically does. It helps us come home to the home we’ve never left. We just got identified with other movements and thought we left home but here’s the home we never left and here’s where the equanimity, the peace is.

RICK: Interesting, in Christianity, as I understand it, one of the core teachings is that at your core, in your essence, you’re a sinner, something broken. There’s something wrong with you and what you’re saying here is that at your core, in your essence, you’re whole, you’re pure, you know, you’re perfect and you know, discover that.

RICHARD: But take the word sin and if you go back to its etymology, it means to miss the mark. So at our heart as a human being we’ve become sinners, we’ve missed the mark. We’ve gone away from our authentic beingness. So the teachings of Christianity are designed to bring us back to that home we never left. So now we’re hitting the target in the center dead on. We’re not missing the mark, we’re no longer sinners.

RICK: Yeah, and Christ did supposedly say the kingdom of heaven is within you, you know. So what are the mechanics of it actually? I listened to… you say it’s thousands of years old and it’s been taught, you know, in ancient traditions and I listened to a little bit of a recording of a session at the end of your interview on And it was, you know, some music playing, some chords, nice, you know, mellifluous tones and then you were talking. It was sort of like a guided meditation, but I mean that is probably not representative of the whole body of what Yoga Nidra actually is.

RICHARD: So if I can just speak to that quickly and in a way take you through it, take me through it, take us through it and who’s ever listening, which is if we take a moment when we’re between two doings, so we’ve finished mowing the lawn and we’re not yet ready to go on to the next thing. And we’re just taking a moment of time out or between two thoughts or two breaths, there’s a moment where we’re just being. And we all as human beings know this. It’s innate to us, just a sense of being where we’re no longer caught up in some thought or some doing and we just fall back into being. There are five simple inquiries that I like to take people through, first to help them come home and the five questions are very simple. When you’re just being, if you take your stance as being, where do you feel being is located? And people often say, “Well, I shift from being up in my head to me being more down in my heart when I’m just being. And then there’s this kind of quality of the boundaries melt away and I feel like I’m everywhere and nowhere specific.” And so then I have people just feel that sense of being spacious, open. There’s a quality of presence here that’s embodied but it also feels like an unlocalized field. So as we come into being, then I’ll ask, “What’s happening to your thoughts?” And people will say, “Well, my thinking is slowing down or stopping. I’m just in an easeful kind of timelessness.” Because we know thought and time go together, past and present are part of thinking. So when we’re just being, we enter into our timelessness. My third question is, as being, do you as being need anything? And everyone, whether it’s in a homeless shelter or a vet, says, “No, as being I feel complete and perfect just as I am.” So I’ll have them rest in that sense of being beyond need or want. It doesn’t deny that the body has a need or a want, we still need air and food and shelter and clothing, but as being, we’re complete. And then I ask, “Is this unfamiliar?” And people will say, “Well, no, I feel this all the time. I mean, I’ve known this.” I will ask, “Then how much time of your day do you spend nourishing being?” And they say, “We don’t spend any time.” So I say, “Well, let’s spend a little bit of time just nourishing this feeling of being.” And then the final question is, “Is there anything special that you need to do to be?” And people realize, “No, I could be reading a book, having a conversation like we’re having, I could be working on my computer, walking in the street, eating. I can be along with any doing.” So it’s free of doing. So now what do I introduce you to? You’re spacious and unlocalized, outside of time, outside of need, want, or desire, perfect just as you are, complete, whole. And then I say to them, “Your trauma. Has this beingness been hurt or harmed by your trauma?” And they’ll really realize in an instant, “No, it’s always been here. I’ve just gotten distracted by the trauma.” So I really take time to anchor a person in this quality of being. Which in another case, I was working with this fellow who had deep depression. In the first session, I introduced him to this quality of being. And then we proceeded to look at what was causing the depression. And he came back the section session and he said, “I want you to understand something. I’ve been through numerous psychiatrists, medications. I had lost all sense of hope that I’d ever be able to dissolve my depression. When I left your office, this sense of being and wholeness lasted for a number of hours and it slowly went away. But it gave me the hope for the first time in years that I can find my way through this depression. Because I realize there’s something about me that’s free of the depression. I just have to remember it.” And that’s the way we began. Every time he came to my office, we began by just starting in that quality of being, nourishing it and then slowly examining what was undermining his depression. And over a period of time, he was able to release all the underlying structures that were underlying his depression and that being just grew more and more and more. And he’s a happy camper now, no depression, full of being and now back in life, leading a healthy, active life.

RICK: That’s great. So presumably when you’re working with somebody, you don’t ask these questions as quickly as you just…

RICHARD: No, I take, go very slowly because I want it to be a somatic, embodied, heartfelt experience.

RICK: Right, and they’re sitting there with their eyes closed perhaps in order to really tune in as you point these things out to them.

RICHARD: Right, and it’s the way I start my retreats, workshops, when I’m working with the person individually, I want them to have that sense of coming home to themselves right away. So it’s interesting then, then we’re not doing the practices, meditating, doing yoga, whatever, we’re not doing it to get that, we’re doing them out of that. So right from the beginning, I’m trying to show people this changeless aspect of equanimity that they don’t have to get. It’s already here, but we forget it. We’re so conditioned we lose it very quickly.

RICK: Yeah, there’s a couple of famous verses in the Bhagavad Gita. One is “Be without the three gunas,” meaning be without activity. And then the other is “Established in yoga, perform actions.” So you know, you get established there and then from that foundation you perform action. The whole thing goes a lot better.

RICHARD: And I think one of the difficulties can become with a statement like “Be free of the three gunas.” Then we’re trying all these things to get free of them, versus when we come into our beingness we see that in that moment we are free of them, even though they’re still here.

RICK: I think it just means momentarily, like transcend them momentarily. And then having done so, re-engage in activity.

RICHARD: And Yoga Nidra is a process that’s interesting. It propagates five sheaths of identification – our body, our energy body, our emotions, our thoughts, and a sense of joy. It talks about how we get identified with these. So Yoga Nidra is a process where we’re taking off these sheaths, we’re taking off our clothes of identification.

RICK: Are you referring to the koshas?

RICHARD: The koshas, and as we take them off, we discover this unchanging aspect and then we put our clothes back on, don’t we? We walk back into life with our clothes back on, We have a body, we have emotions, we have thoughts, but we realize ourselves as this unchanging aspect that at first we’re so identified with these sheaths – body, senses, mind, and emotions. We think that’s who we are, an ego. When we take them all off we discover, “Wow, this is who I really am!” And now we put our clothes back on so we go back into the world. We look like everybody else, but we aren’t like everybody else.

RICK: So a lot of yogic practitioners and so on would consider it a pretty big deal to actually penetrate the five koshas and get beyond even the Ananda-Maya-Kosha, you know, the bliss sheath. And that would be quite an accomplishment for an advanced yogi. Are you saying that that happens pretty commonly among your students?

RICHARD: I think the insight into being can be had very quickly. So I put it into different phases. There’s the awakening stage. I think awakening can actually have a glimpse very quickly.

RICK: I do too, day one.

RICHARD: Day one, but for that establishment, that takes time and decades at times, and to grow into and clarify all that conditioning that we’ve been so conditioned to identify with. That does take time. And I’m reminded of the story, you know, you’ve got Amma sitting behind you. One of my favorite pictures is of Ananda-Maya Ma, who very early in her life had this sense of tremendous bliss and awakening and non-duality. And in her later years, her students came to her and said, “Ma, we’re a little concerned about you because you seem to have lost your Bliss.” And her remark was, “Isn’t it great? I’m no longer distracted.” And my sense is, you know, she was commenting that even bliss, even joy, can become an obstruction to that even deeper state of non-duality. And I see that in many circles, the sense of being in itself sometimes then becomes the new goal or it’s substituted with awareness because I see being as a quality that’s fairly substantive and it’s in our awareness. And awareness has no qualities, its quality is that it has no qualities. But even that, there’s something beyond that. And so we have to keep going. It takes, I think, decades sometimes, to really deepen into the understanding that the glimpse gives way to an establishment, that can give way to this quality of beingness, gives way to awareness, which is more rarified, gives way to what I call what lies beyond all sense of self and all sense of self-awareness.

RICK: Yeah, that’s great. You and I have a similar story in that when we first learned Meditation, we immediately, having listened to your story, we immediately had this sort of deep transcendence which had a huge impact on our lives. But now we’ve been at it for 40-something years, and no regrets. But it’s an ongoing process of continuing integration and so on.

RICHARD: Yeah, I mean in 1970 with my first class in Yoga Nidra, meditation yoga, I did. I walked out feeling myself totally in harmony with the universe. It was a deep coming home and it slowly faded and it gave rise, as you noted, this incredible vow to “What just happened and how do I understand this?” And so that’s really did, 1997, somewhere in there, have this profound coming home, I would say, where the image I have is somebody got into the light switch and soldered all the wires together. So now that it doesn’t turn on or off, it’s just On. And that sense of equanimity hasn’t gone anywhere for years now. But gosh, there were decades of glimpsing and going away, glimpsing and going away. And it was with Suzanne where I really had a deep profound glimpse and with Jean many glimpses and a kind of a coming home with Jean. But in the couple of years before Jean passed, I remember going to him and saying, “You know, Jean, I’ve had this incredible understanding and yet there’s something in me that still feels like it wants to be affirmed by you.” And I loved what Jean said. “Who wants to be affirmed?” You know, I loved him because he gave me no hold for any sense of self. And I have a wonderful story. There was still that kind of, “How do I work with this kind of last obstruction?” And so, I actually met with Adya one day and we sat privately and I said, “Adya, would you be willing to play Jean Klein for a moment?” And he said, “Sure!” So he backs up and he’s pretending he’s Jean Klein and I said, “I’m going to ask you a question.” He said, “Ask away.” And I said, “I’ve had this deep experience, understanding,” and I was going to ask him the same thing that I had asked Jean. And it just, in that moment, it disappeared. All sense of obstruction, doubt, just dropped away. And what I realized is those kind of final doubts we have to just keep working with and bringing in and musing and wondering and then one day they just drop away and there’s no more doubt.

RICK: Unless there is.

RICHARD: Unless some little hidden morsel kind of pops out. And those deeper layers of conditioning can work themselves back up and give little sprouts of doubt, absolutely.

RICK: But I think a nice point that we’re dwelling on here, well, it’s actually, there’s a verse in the Gita that refers to it. “No effort is lost and no obstacle exists. Even a little of this dharma relieves great fear.” So it’s like people shouldn’t think that they’re going to necessarily have to spend years and years and years and years before getting relief. Even on day one, there can be huge relief. You and I both experienced it. And there’s no obstacle, no effort is lost, meaning any time you put into this bears some fruit and no obstacle exists. There’s nothing that can, you know, I don’t care, as you would probably say, no matter how severe your PTSD it’s surmountable if you go about it the right way.

RICHARD: I think this is why when the military originally came to me in and they asked me to do this study with wounded warriors with PTSD coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. And they saw within 18 sessions, that’s how many sessions they had over a period of three or four weeks, that many of them who had started on this, the baseline of military PTSD is a score of 40 on their test and the highest you can go is 80. At the beginning of our study, every soldier we worked with, every service member was up around 79, almost 80, right at the top. At the end of the study, they were all below the baseline of 40 except for one who was hovering right at 40. And so they saw very quickly we could get tremendous relief from symptoms that these guys had been experiencing some for years and now we’ve worked with Vietnam vets, Korean War vets, and some World War II vets. And they come often, they’ll say “It’s the first night of sleep I’ve had since Vietnam” after one session. So we know we can get tremendous relief. That what I see instills that sense of hope that there is a way through and then, as we’re discussing, it may take now many sessions, many years to really clear away all the debris. But it is possible to clear the debris.

RICK: Yeah, personally, I think that spiritual practice of some sort or spiritual evolution should be thought of as a lifetime endeavor, something that’s definitely not a waste of time, something that should be part of your life like exercise or eating a good diet or something.

RICHARD: Brushing your teeth.

RICK: Yeah, brushing your teeth or any of those things. It has a cumulative effect and it’s never a waste of time. And you know, I mean it’s just it should be taught in the schools in some form.

RICHARD: Well, we see that the the neuroscience shows that as we’re meditating we’re growing, thickening the cortex of our ability executive functioning. We’re growing our hippocampus which allows us to see greater and greater perspective. We’re in a way shrinking aspects of our limbic system, the amygdala, so we’re no longer held hostage by our emotions. So we see radical changes over time with consistent practice. I think the secret, and I tell students I work with sometimes, to stop meditating and to see how it comes back to you because they start getting into a kind of habit versus the freshness of we wake up and we feel meditation is calling us rather than something we feel we should do. We realize it’s something that I should be doing and the “should” changes from a kind of a captive condition “should” to really an aliveness.

RICK: Yeah, I think if it’s effective you’re going to naturally be inclined to do it. You’re not going to have to discipline yourself. You’re going to look forward to it. It’ll be a joyful, nourishing kind of thing just as you enjoy a good night’s sleep or a good meal or something.

RICHARD: Yeah, and it does have its effect over time but the immediacy can come very quickly and give that sense of “Wow, something’s possible here that I thought was not possible.” Yeah. You know there’s one thought I had too, earlier when we were talking about doubt. Which is in a way, I hope a little bit of doubt remains for the remainder of our life because it keeps us honest, it keeps us wondering “Is there something else here that I’m not seeing?” And I feel that, in myself, there’s always that wonderment. “What else might be here that my conditioning may still be preventing me from seeing?” Even though I feel this changelessness and this freshness, I still have that curiosity. I wonder what else might be here that I’m not yet understanding or seeing.

RICK: Yeah, I’ve heard both Amma and Adya say something along those lines, like that we should always have the attitude of a beginner. Maybe that’s what they mean by “beginner’s mind” in Zen. But you know, just that if you compare yourself with the greatest sages who ever walked the earth, then hey, maybe you have something to learn, you know? Don’t rest on your laurels.

RICHARD: Right. And Buddha, I mean, they called him a jhana junkie because he would go during the rainy season and he would work stages of meditation over and over and over again. To me, he was one who always remained fresh in his own meditation. I don’t feel he ever rested on his laurels. He was always, always inquiring.

RICK: That’s interesting. I should read some kind of biography about the Buddha. These stories, these little things you’re telling me I hadn’t heard before. There’s just a little phrase that came to mind a minute ago when you were talking about the brain that some people use, and that is “brain sculpting.” You can actually develop the brain physically as you can a muscle, not in the ordinary sense of, well, you know, study mathematics and you’ll get good at it, or study the violin and you’ll get good at it. But, well, actually it is comparable, but in this case we’re talking about not studying because that’s an intellectual thing, but immersing yourself in being on a regular basis and doing that, and then engaging activity, being activity, doing, being, doing. Sounds like Frank Sinatra, doobie doobie do. And you physically change the brain quite dramatically over time.

RICHARD: I think reading into the science, the neuroscience, which I’ve been doing and participating in these studies, I’ve done 26 studies up to now. But looking at the neuroscience that’s coming out from the entire field of meditation, we can see these different networks – the default network, executive functioning attention network, and the defocusing, or I call it the present-centered network. And as you’re saying, we can learn how to turn them on, how to turn them off. Like the defocusing network is where our kind of recursive, self-negative looping thoughts occur. We can turn that off literally by just taking a moment, feeling our left hand, feeling our right hand. The moment we go into feeling sensation, the thinking mind begins to turn off recursive, negative thoughts turn off. And the present-centered network up in our upper right-hand side of our brain that also has structures back into the back, it starts to turn on. I love the quote from Dan Siegel, he said, “You enter into the world of infinite possibility when you turn on this present-centered network.” And I think as we’re doing meditation, if we understand the different ways of how to, as you say, “sculpture the brain,” we can do that. We can literally turn off our negative thinking, turn on the present-centered, timeless, spacious aspects of our brain, and grow those structures. And there’s an indication that the the default network can actually deactivate those areas that are assigned to blame, shame, self-criticism. They can actually drop out. You still have access to past, present autobiography, but you don’t longer have that sense of negative thinking. And you basically turned on, as they’ve shown with long-term meditators of the Dalai Lama, their present-centered, defocusing network is basically active whether they’re meditating or not. So that sense of insight and creativity is always available and they don’t have those negative, recursive thoughts.

RICK: Yeah, I mean the whole idea of this thing, presumably it’s true of Yoga Nidra and many other spiritual paths, is that it shouldn’t just be something that you’re enjoying during meditation. It should be 24/7. And that periodic meditation on a regular basis kind of brings about the physiological and psychological changes necessary to make it permanent. There’s an analogy they use in India about dyeing a cloth: dip it in the dye, bleach it in the sun, dip it in the dye, bleach it in the sun. Each time in the sun it kind of loses its color but it becomes more and more colorfast and then eventually it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the dye or the sun, it’s the same color.

RICHARD: Yes, and that’s what I think meditation does, it makes us colorfast. And then meditation is, yeah, we may do it in the morning and perhaps in the evening too, but actually, as you said, it’s It’s what we’re doing, it’s the way we’re living our life now. It’s not something we’re doing, it’s what we’re being.

RICK: Yeah, there’s an interesting verse in the Gita, maybe you can remember it better than I. It’s about that in which all beings are awake is night for the yogi or something, and that in which the yogi is awake is … Can you remember that verse? How does that go?

RICHARD: You’re gonna get me in a senior moment, but I know the verse very well. That … well, actually I remember it slightly different. I remember it, “For what to a normal person feels like a speck of dust in their eye, to a yogi feels like a stick in their eye.” So the sensitivity of the yogi is so advanced that the moment they begin to feel in any way they’re going away from their true self they right themselves. Whereas for a normal Person, we’re kind of dulled in our senses and we don’t see that we’re going away.

RICK: Yeah, well, that’s a whole different topic and that’s interesting too. I mean, you see people doing atrocious things to themselves, some of which I did when I was a teenager with kind of like relative impunity and unawareness that even a tiny fraction of that now would be repulsive to me and I wouldn’t even go there.

RICHARD: So there’s an attunement, a fine-tuning you know, that takes place. And that is what meditation and pranayama and yoga and all the different exercises do. I think they just make it more and more sensitive.

RICK: So I have the joke. “My mother was right, I’m overly sensitive.” But it’s a good sensitivity and it doesn’t mean you can’t go shopping or … there’s a sort of a blend of sensitivity and strength that grow proportional to one another. You know what I mean? So that you can deal with, you know, well, I mean let’s say one of your patients had to go back to Iraq. He’s, you know, he got over his PTSD, had to go back there and he’s still in the military. It could very well be that under that kind of intense situation, he was no longer susceptible to the stress, even though he might be more aware than ever before.

RICHARD: Well, it is one thing that I’ve heard that many service members are actually using my CDs, MP3s in the field. They’ll come back from a sortie where they may have been under fire and they’ll lie down on their bunks. They’ll put on their earphones, they’ll go through the Yoga Nidra process and basically undo the trauma in their body that they were just experiencing and so that they can come back more fresh the next day. Some people have asked me, “Don’t you feel that’s an ethical violation of the use of yoga?” and I say “You know what, I’m just trying to help people really be present to whatever it is they’re experiencing, whether it’s in the field under fire or whether it’s in the field of daily life and the stresses of your phone ringing all the time. It’s not for me to say who’s better or worse for the practices, everybody should have them available to them.”

RICK: Yeah, hey, and you and I have been quoting the Gita here. The Gita is set on a battlefield and it was an instruction to the main warrior in that battle to get into the battle but do so in a state of equanimity. So I mean you might still say that was wrong if you don’t believe in war under any circumstances.

RICHARD: Well it’s interesting, I love Paramahansa Yogananda’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita because every aunt and uncle and cousin and brother and sister has a particular Sanskrit Name. And he translates each one from its Sanskrit into English as a psychological state. So really the battlefield of the Gita is our psychological states and on one line we might say are our healthy states of mind, on the other are our unhealthy. And we realize ultimately that every one of them is our aunt, uncle, brother, sister. We’re not there to necessarily destroy them but to overcome them in the way we transcend them. They may arise still but we’re no longer caught in them.

RICK: That’s interesting. The reason I tried to remember, Yeah, I have that Yogananda Gita right behind me there, right behind Amma’s picture. I haven’t gotten around to reading it, but the reason I tried to bring up that Gita verse which I couldn’t remember was that I quoted something from you here about the sleep of the yogi. The normal person is asleep to their true nature through all states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. While the yogi is one who is awake to and knows his or her true nature across all states, even sleep, and I think you meant that literally. That’s how I understand it because, I mean, I have a file on my computer which I could send you which contains dozens of quotes from different sages about remaining perfectly aware during the deepest sleep. Not aware in the waking state, waking state is gone, you’re in sleep, but pure awareness.

RICHARD: Well, it’s interesting. What I find especially when I’m on retreat but there are days like the last two nights, I’ve basically been awake all night long, watching my body sleep. Then there are times where even that subtle self-awareness disappears and there’s nobody watching, there’s nobody aware, there’s just “an imbidence” in that what we might call pure consciousness. I see self-awareness comes and goes. It’s discontinuous and sometimes there’s awareness of and sometimes not. Yoga Nidra and meditation over a long period of time awakens this in us that in a way never sleeps. But I see very practically as the body goes to sleep in us and wakes up in us, once we break that identification with the body now there’s the possibility at a very practical level where the body goes to sleep. And that which doesn’t go to sleep is still there awake. And at times, self-awareness appears in it so we’re aware, self-aware that we’re awake and the body’s asleep. And at other times that self-awareness dissolves. The mistake I see a lot of people make in meditation is when self-awareness momentarily dissolves and then comes back. They say to themselves, “Oh, I just fell asleep” when in fact what may have happened was the sense of self-awareness disappeared. Jean oriented to me that very early on by saying, “Look, when you’re in deep meditation and that self-awareness begins to re-arise, especially say in the early morning but in meditation, notice the perfume that it may be bringing back with it from where you just were where I is not.” And I think when we’re properly oriented in Meditation, we can begin to to feel that sense of perfume that’s coming back with the sense of awakening of self-awareness from where we live, where we go beyond all sense of separation, all sense of self and all sense of self-awareness. And I like the image, you know, when we’re traveling behind a car or a truck there’s a wind that it’s bringing with it. And when we come back from deep absorption, whether it’s in deep sleep or deep meditation, we we bring that back with us. It’s, I think, why people crave deep sleep so much. They go back home but they don’t understand where they really went and meditation reveals that unchanging quality that we go back to constantly all day long.

RICK: Yeah, I think Ramana and Shankara and others have said that the reason we we enjoy sleep so much is that there is this immersion into the self once again you know without anything occluding it. Except, you know, when the self isn’t really awake to itself fully, it becomes a sort of a stupor where, you know, we’re not aware of the experience. Although I think there’s something you’re saying here where, if we’re kind of lying there asleep and we realize “Oh I’m asleep,” there’s some stirring of waking state or something that’s there. And then when you have those periods where there’s not any recognition of “I’m asleep” and yet pure awareness is awake to itself, that’s kind of just the pure awareness without any ripples, without any…

RICHARD: And I’ll change your wording just slightly. Which is, if we look at the word “state,” so when we go into sleep, there’s the hypnagogic state, stage one, delta theta, and rem. So we have these different states and in Yoga Nidra, we put someone on an EEG. What we are going to see is they’re in the delta state. But there’s this other that’s not a state that’s able to comment that they’re awake. And so we can see that the states are changing: theta, delta, rem, stage one, hypnagogia of sleep, and waking state is another state. Those are constantly changing. Self-awareness to me is a state it comes and it goes. There’s something else here that’s not a state. And I think of being as a state awareness, when it’s self-awareness is a state: Theta, delta, waking. They’re all states but there’s something else here that’s not a state.

RICK: And if being is a state, then what is this something else that is not a state?

RICHARD: I call it the mystery. Because the moment we, we start to describe it, we try to objectify it. And there’s something here that we can sense that’s always here and how self-awareness appears in it, and there’s some other mystery here.

RICK: Yeah, well, I don’t know when you get right down to these subtle levels. Then there could be fine nuances in the terminology among various words. But you know, I usually think of being as being equivalent with the self “Capital S” which is always referred to as indestructible, you know, non-changing. There’s all a lot of verses in the Gita about that, you know, it’s never born, never dies, can’t be wedded, can’t be cleaved, and so on which would imply that it’s not subject to the vagaries of the physiological change. It’s, you know, it’s just, it’s beyond the physiology. The physiology can reflect it like a mirror can reflect the sunlight. But you know, breaking the mirror doesn’t break the sun. It’s just sort of has its own indestructible nature.

RICHARD: Yeah, the main thing I think you’re getting at and we’re pointing at is there’s something here that is indestructible. We can call it by different names. For me ultimately, we need to let go of all conceptual thought about it and just let ourselves slowly sink into absorption. Not in it but as it, and really see how, as you were saying before, we become colorfast with it. It permeates our daily life and all of our interactions. So now it’s not something I’m remembering. It’s constantly remembering itself to itself all day long. And it brings with it these qualities over time of a deep rich equanimity, a deep sense of peace, deep sense of well-being or joy. And then I see these other capacities that start to erupt just on their own: kindness, compassion, just a tremendous deep quality of love for just love itself. But then we see everything in a way made out of that same substance. So we’re, we’re falling in love in a way over and over again with everybody and everything we meet.

RICK: Great, a couple great points you just made that I want to springboard off of. One is that it’s not, it’s not sort of an act that one has to perform throughout the day in order to retain it. It’s like if you take a shower in the morning, you don’t stay more clean by remembering your shower. You know, I took a great shower and you know, you just kind of forget it. But you’re more clean having taken one. And I think that this being as we’re calling it, whatever, has to become so established so integrated in that you know you never have to think about it it’s just it’s as natural as breathing the living of it. So that’s point number one you want to comment on that before going to the next one.

RICHARD: So take the example of reading a book. When we read a book, we become so absorbed in the book and the story if it’s a good book we forget our self, we forget our surroundings. We may even forget the sense of being. The moment we break that absorption, we close the book, that feeling of being floods back in. So it becomes so natural it’s continually flooding back in. But there are periods where we may forget it because we’re totally absorbed or the sense of self-awareness, self-consciousness, drops away. But the moment enough self-awareness starts to come back, that feeling of being which is impregnated itself so deeply now just reaffirms itself. So even as we’ve been talking, it keeps breaking in. Or I’m reading a book or watching a good Movie, all of a sudden it’ll break in and I just feel that deep equanimity reaffirm itself.

RICK: Yeah, and it’s there even if you’re not thinking about it or noticing it. It’s there. It’s like, imagine it were a tone and the tone is continuous after a While, you wouldn’t pay any attention to the tone. But anytime you wanted to check, oh yeah, there it is the tone.

RICHARD: And there’s a moment where we kind of remember the tone but what I’m realizing is even that remembering is the tone remembering itself. It just keeps asserting itself over and over.

RICK: Second point I wanted to make kind of alludes back to that Adyashanti quote I read in the beginning which, you know, I’ve had discussions, debates with people about whether enlightenment makes you a better person. And some people argue that because you were just talking about more loving, more kind, more nice qualities, some people argue that it really has nothing to do with behavior. That you can be a total SOB and be enlightened.

RICHARD: I think both are true. I think there’s something here that’s unchanging. It’s like the space in the room we walk into. The space doesn’t care whether we’re there or we’re not and it doesn’t try to keep us out of it and it doesn’t try to hold on us when we move out of it. Awareness is just in and as itself but what I see as we grow into that realization through awakening and enlightenment it has a purifying effect on the body and the mind. The body and the mind, let’s not say I become a better person, the body and the mind become more of a better vehicle. So there is a sense of a construction that arises that is a healthier, more resilient and, I think as we both know, that doesn’t necessarily happen to some people. They wake up. They’re in that clarified transcendent state and their body and their mind has all this conditioning. They’re creating havoc, they’re having sex with their students, they’re an alcoholic, whatever. So we can see that waking up doesn’t necessarily lead to the clarification of the body and the mind. But it’s wonderful when it does because we as human beings then become kinder and more compassionate. Loving the traits of alcoholism and abuse, all those fade away because we realize fundamentally they create havoc, they create distraction. It’s no longer interesting.

RICK: Well, I’m just asking the question here, I don’t know. But maybe one’s intention has something to do with it. Like you were mentioning about the Buddha spent his whole life still refining and fine-tuning and poking around to see if there’s anything that hadn’t been resolved. Maybe some people just don’t have that orientation. And maybe it’s because whatever teacher they studied under didn’t instill that in them. I’m not sure the reason. But maybe it is possible to sort of be stuck in a state where a significant awakening has occurred but you never, for some reason you’re not motivated to go further.

RICHARD: Well, if we look at because I’m a psychologist, I study personality, I’ve worked in mental hospitals, I’ve worked with people in mental hospitals who had a tremendous clarity of awakening. And yet the schizophrenia was still there. I’ve worked with people who’ve had a tremendous insight on duality and yet they’re like a personality narcissistic disorder. And my sense is there can be that awakening but the genetic coding or structure or the way that the the DNA is designed, as you’re saying, it holds something in place that can’t break free. The alcoholic may remain an alcoholic. Trungpa remained drinking and died ultimately because of his drinking. I know teachers who were more narcissistic personality disorders. They remain very, in a way, abusive to their students until they died. The realization didn’t fundamentally change that that hard wiring. So it is still…

RICK: Do you think that if a person, let’s say hypothetically, if a person could live a thousand years that eventually the presence of awakening in them would start to uproot that stuff and they could eventually work through it. Or do you think that certain things are just so hardwired that they’re never going to change?

RICHARD: For me, the answer is always going to be yes and no, both and neither, and or, and neither yes or no. To me, there’s hard wiring that just may be hard wiring and can’t be changed. But sometimes that hard wiring, as we know now, we used to think that our genes couldn’t be changed in our lifetime, it would take generations. Now we see that our genes are constantly changing, turning off, turning on. Our structure of DNA is changing even as we’re sitting here having this conversation. So we know the possibility is there. Why it doesn’t manifest in certain people or others, I just take that as the mystery. Ultimately, I know that we are human beings and we love to sit around the campfire and tell stories and we love to try to muse about something and ultimately I know that I don’t know. So I’ll be happy to sit around the campfire and speak to these kinds of stories. But ultimately I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

RICK: Well, although maybe someday you will know. Maybe there are things you know now which you didn’t know You called it a mystery then but you kind of figured it out now.

RICHARD: I love the line from the movie Shakespeare in Love. There’s this one character and throughout the movie when he’s asked something he always says, “It’s a mystery.”

RICK: I have a friend who always says that. He works the cash register at the local health food store and he’s always like, “We tell stories about people doing things and this and that when I’m checking out.” And he always says, “It’s a mystery.” But you know, there are examples of real scoundrels being totally transformed. Val Meekie who wrote the Ramayana was a a highway robber and a murderer, you know, and became this sage who wrote this great epic. St. Paul who had been a persecutor of Christians had this epiphany on the road to Damascus and became a completely different person. So maybe there’s hope that no matter, there’s a verse in the Gita, “Even if you’re the greatest of all sinners you shall pass over all evil by the raft of knowledge alone.”

RICHARD: And I think this is why it’s so abusive, I would say, of our culture where instead of putting criminals we would say or people who’ve transgressed in educational settings, we lock them up in situations where it’s just going to feed that very thing. We need to look at the human being as always having the potential for growth and rewriting their ship. I’m working with several people right now who are very abusive, have had tremendous evil effects I would say in their worlds. And yet I see they have the possibility and the compensatory structures to change. They can grow and they can evolve and become way different people like Valmiki.

RICK: Valmiki, right. Have you seen Michael Moore’s new movie “Who Should We Invade Next?”


RICK: It’s a great movie but he goes to Norway where they have the prison is sort of like a hotel. They have nice comfortable rooms and private showers and TV and internet and just this little resort thing and their maximum prison sentence is 21 Years. No death sentence. The warden says, “Hey, you know, you may be my next door neighbor in a couple of decades. I’m going to treat you well.” They have a tremendous effect and very low recidivism, things like that.

RICHARD: And it doesn’t make sense to me. Here in San Francisco, there was a prison where they were having gardens and we were bringing in the iRest and the recidivism rate, when they controlled for studies and looked at the prisoners who were attending the garden doing iRest and doing meditation and tai chi versus the other population, the recidivism rate in those who were doing the gardening and these kinds of approaches, their recidivism rate was really, really tiny. And yet a lot of people were still anti- this jail because they thought they were treating the prisoners too well. It just doesn’t make sense to me that we hold this attitude when the results and the studies clearly indicate, “Hey, these guys can come back and lead healthy lives.”

RICK: Yeah, I guess we have to ask ourselves as a society why we have prisons. Are we just being vindictive? We want to inflict suffering on these people or do we actually want them to change?

RICHARD: And is that not perhaps an outgrowth of how we’re still vindictive towards ourselves and we project that out onto others until we heal the self-vindictiveness and see everyone in a way as ourselves with that underlying sense of love. Then we’re still going to continue to do these kinds of prisons and situations where we’re projecting our own self-guilt and self-blame and self- vindictiveness on others.

RICK: That’s very good. A quote from Hafiz. He said, “I have come to this world to see the sword drop from men’s hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound.”

RICHARD: Yes, beautiful, beautiful.

RICK: A question came in, let me ask you this question. This is from someone whose initial is J in Austin, Texas. He said, or she, “Can one accept association with anyone or anything regardless of any personal distaste and still maintain equanimity and even actually love those people and situations?”

RICHARD: Number one, we don’t maintain equanimity. Equanimity maintains itself, I would say. Love maintains itself, that underlying unchanging essence maintains itself. And what I see is, yes, definitely we see that the other is doing the best they know how because we know we’re always doing the best we know how. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t put borders or boundaries or create definition. When somebody is causing harm or potentially could cause harm, to me, borders and healthy boundaries need to be set and established. It may mean we need to bring someone into a locked facility because they would otherwise do harm to others or themselves. So this, what realizes and wakes up to itself, does see everyone as self, doesn’t see other, loves everything the way they are, and yet does respect separation and duality and doesn’t have a conflict with that. So I think what we need to see is inherent in us. In every situation, we know exactly what to do and sometimes what we need to do is set a boundary and in other times no boundary. And it’s fluid, so we can’t say, and I can’t say what we’re going to do in the next minute. I was with the Dalai Lama several years ago at a talk he was giving to college students and one of the students said, “If there was a person in front of you and you knew that he was about to be murdered by this person and there was no doubt in your mind and you had a weapon by your side that was loaded and unlocked, what would you do?” And the Dalai Lama, I think, gave the best answer that could have been given. He said, “Put me in the situation and we’ll see.” And that ability to realize, I don’t know what my next response is going to be but I trust that there’s an intelligence here that knows exactly what to do. And what I see for myself is sometimes that’s to establish a boundary and sometimes it’s to be fluid with that boundary. But we are going to contain people who are doing harm to themselves or others. It’s just a natural response.

RICK: Yeah, that’s a very good answer from the Dalai Lama. It kind of highlighted something I was thinking about as you’re giving your answer. Which is that what we’re talking about here is not the acquisition of the sort of, you know, just any kind of superficial attributes such as intellectual understanding of moral nuances or a great deal of self-restraint where we can just count to 10 every time a trying situation arises or something like that. We’re talking about the establishment of something that is rock solid, indestructible, deep equanimity that is and sort of a an inner gyroscope that will enable us to act spontaneously. In your notes in your book, you talk about spontaneous right action. And, you know, that can’t be intellectualized because there’s just too many variables and too many kind of unexpected possibilities.


RICK: It has to be a natural way of functioning.

RICHARD: When I’m teaching people these principles in workshops or trainings or retreats, what I try to do is first show this underlying essence of unchanging equanimity, peace, spaciousness, all these attributes of, say, being and then notice how, when we’re feeling them, how do we access them in our body so we really anchor into it. And then I think there’s a beautiful process we can do which is invite in, say, sadness, invite in anger, invite in irritation, invite in discomfort or pain and invite in that sense of equanimity and being. So that later on, say a car cuts us off and irritation may start to arise because we have the expectation that somebody shouldn’t cut us off. So irritation starts to arise, co-arising with that is that equanimity. When equanimity and irritation co-arise the equanimity in a way creates a foundation in which that irritation can basically liberate itself. It doesn’t capture and hold us hostage to us. We had a vet who was always engaging in road rage as a result of his post-traumatic stress. And he came in one day and he said, “I understand that the meditation is now working because today an 18-wheeler truck cut me off and I was fantasizing in my brain how I was going to follow him into the parking lot and beat him into a pulp while my hands were turning in the opposite direction.” He said, “I knew that the process was working now because I didn’t have to think about it.” And when he realized that, he saw that that underlying equanimity was there, not supporting his mental thoughts to go in and beat the guy up but actually to move into a different state of quality.

RICK: Yeah, and I would say that eventually he won’t even have the mental thoughts.

RICHARD: Exactly, or you know, as we know conditioning and mental thoughts may still come up, we still may have a momentary flight of Fancy. But there’s nothing to now to give hold to it, it can’t establish itself the way it could before.

RICK: Yeah. There’s so many cool examples. There’s that old Zen story where the two monks are walking along and there’s some pretty woman standing by the stream and she can’t get across. And one of the monks picks her up and carries her across, puts her down. They keep on walking. And after a while the other monk can no longer contain himself. He said, “You know we’re not supposed to touch women, why did you do that?” And the other guy says, “Oh, are you still carrying her? I put her down way back at the stream.” Yeah, so hanging on to stuff, letting it bottle up and determine our behavior.

RICHARD: I was once walking down the street with a monk from a particular Advaitic tradition and a beautiful woman was walking by and he looked down. And I asked him, I said, “Why did you look down?” He said, “Well, we’re not allowed to look at women because it might give rise to a sexual longing.” And I said, “Gee, you just missed the goddess walking by.” That led into a very interesting discussion.

RICK: There’s merit both ways.

RICHARD: Absolutely, absolutely.

RICK: So you told us a little bit about Yoga Nidra and you were talking about those five questions and everything that you would ask a person through a kind of a guided meditation if you were sitting with them. Is that all there is to it? There must be other things.

RICHARD: There are other things.

RICK: And if a person has really studied this for a while, learned how to do it properly, what would they be doing on their own on a daily basis?

RICHARD: Well, one of the things is we’re nourishing that sense of well-being all day long. We call it an inner resource. So I’m asking people that all day long to remember it. Maybe wear a watch and put it on a timer and every 30 minute it goes off and you remember that quality of well-being. I’m asking people to weave it in to any emotion they may feel during their day. So if they start to get irritated or sad or depressed or tired, to weave in to whatever other state is arising that sense of equanimity or well-being. On a pragmatic level, if they’re in a conversation and they start to get upset or triggered, then I ask them to weave in the well-being. But then go in their body and find the opposite to that irritation or “upsetness” that’s arising. So if they’re feeling angry, I ask them, what’s the opposite of anger? And they might say peace. Or what’s the opposite of fear? It might be courage. And I say, go find that in your body. Access it as a bodily sensation, then come back to the fear, access that as a bodily sensation and then feel them both at the same time, having taken off the labels fear and courage. So we’re at a very sensorial bodily felt level. And what we see is when we contemplate opposites at the same time, and that could be as simple as feeling our two hands or feeling fear in the body as sensation and courage or peace in our body at the same time. When we can feel them at the same time, not trying to get rid of the fear but feeling both at the same time, if we had someone in MRI, we’d see they step out of their default mode. They step into that world of infinite possibility. They have a new insight and the fear tends to dissolve and give way to a deeper action. We might say that they’re needing to take that. They might not be taking and by taking the action they feel empowered and can move on their way. So I have a lot of different exercises about working with opposites of sensation, whether it’s pain and comfort in the body. So we’ve done a lot of research with people in chronic pain, helping them see that they can go beyond the pain in the moment by contemplating opposites, whether it’s an emotion, a belief, there’s something wrong with me. I was working with a woman with fourth stage cancer, liver and lung. And she had a tremendous belief that “I’m unlovable.” And I asked her what is the opposite? She said, “Well, it’s I’m lovable” and I had her contemplate both in her body as sensation. When she believed “I’m unlovable,” how does that feel? When she believes “I’m lovable,” how does that feel in your body? And then to sit with both at the same time and she came to a new conclusion. She said, “Oh, my God. I’m love itself. When I’m love itself, I can tolerate being unloved and I can tolerate being loved and I can tolerate loving someone and I can tolerate not loving someone.” It had a most remarkable effect on how she treated herself from that moment on and basically started her on the road to deepening into that sense of equanimity even in the midst of her cancer. So we have a lot of …

RICK: Did she get over that cancer?

RICHARD: No, she ultimately succumbed to the cancer but I would say she died with how Kabir says that face of satisfied desire versus the struggles that she had been in tormenting herself when I first met her. So there are a number of techniques that come out of the process of Yoga Nidra where we’re learning how to work with our body, our senses, our emotions, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, images, memories and learning how to work with these elements like opposites, interweaving the sense of well-being. And then ultimately learning how to take perspective. So that I work a lot with, when you feel an emotion, dive in and feel it. And then feel like you’re backing away and looking at it as a statue of art. Then dive back into it, then take perspective. And now can you do both? Feel connected to the feeling or the emotion and yet be aware of it and we can see that grows the ability to take perspective and not be held hostage and so enmeshed in whatever is arising and by breaking free. Again, we can have insights into actions we need to take. Yoga Nidra for me, the bottom line, it’s very action-oriented. It’s very somatic-oriented. I’m not so interested in intellectual. But can you come from your heart? Can you meet yourself, ultimately not trying to fix or change or think something’s wrong with you? And then look at what are the actions that you need to take in your life with respect to yourself or people around you that you may be refusing to take, that’s keeping you in this kind of anxious contracted state and ultimately realize this other, this aspect of awareness and beingness that’s always here? So that ultimately you realize whatever emotion is arising in the moment, whatever circumstance, you’re not so much in it as it’s arising in you, in your equanimity. And that you have the ability to respond. And you know I’m practical in the sense that I know that learning what our true response is may take some time. We may need to step away. There’s a beautiful line from Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. He says, “Pratipakshabhavana” when you’re having a difficult moment he says, “Contemplate the opposite.” Go to the movies, walk on the beach. He was a very practical person back in go to the theater, go to take a walk on the beach, then come back.” And Jean Klein used to say that when someone would ask him, “What do I do with my fear?” He would say, “Feel it, now step away from it, now come back.” And I think that’s what we’re learning to do as a human being. Feel what we’re feeling, step away from it, get perspective, come back and see the right action we need to take. That by taking the action, it leads us to feel in harmony with ourselves. The word dharma in Sanskrit, which means our duty or the work we do in the world, actually has a root Sanskrit word that it comes from rta- “rita.” And rita means to be in total harmony with the totality of the universe in each moment of your action into the world. And for me what I’m trying to do in Yoga Nidra is help people see you have within you the ability to connect and feel that right action that by doing it you feel both connected to yourself and the totality of the universe. We can get so sensitive that we can feel or sense it pretty soon or early on. But I’m practical. I know for many people that takes hours, days, weeks sometimes to come to that right action. So we’re learning in a way how to take time and be kind with ourselves while we’re arriving at those actions we need to take.

RICK: Yeah, I think it’s a lifelong thing. I mean, it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. You’re pretty wobbly at first, eventually it becomes second nature, but you still have to balance and go around that pothole. And you know just sort of be alert.

RICHARD: And as we’re growing as a human being, we may get aches and pains. We may grow old, so we’re still wobbly on the bicycle at times and yet we’re still weaving our way forward.

RICK: Yeah, I forget who it was, Nisargadatta or Bapaji or somebody. I mean it was Papaji, something about, you know, just every moment alertness with every breath, you know just…

RICHARD: Krishnamurti’s saying was, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

RICK: Yeah, so you refer to Yoga Nidra as a very ancient thing going back thousands of years. How much of what you teach as Yoga Nidra is the traditional ancient stuff and how much of it are things that you have kind of devised through your experience?

RICHARD: Well, my hope would be it’s all based on the ancient teachings. You know, I feel like I’m revitalizing it into the 22nd century in the sense that I’m taking words like spirituality and religion out of it and I’m just looking at, “Hey, these are ancient processes that were discovered a long time ago but they’re basic human being qualities. If we just stop and be a kind and careful and sensitive human beings, we’re going to see that these are natural processes that were understood over thousands of years.” Yeah, there are some things like in the tradition of Yoga Nidra, we start with what’s called the “sankalpa.” “San” means something that’s born from within us and “kalpa” that unfolds over time. So the sankalpa is some kind of sense of affirmation of how we should live our life.

RICK: Like an intention.

RICHARD: Like an intention. And when I was working with the military I said, “You know, find an intention or find an affirmation within themselves.” And they said, “What do you mean by that?” And I said, “Find your mission,” and they went, “Oh, well, we can do mission. That’s easy. Find your mission.” So it’s like, what’s the mission that you feel life has sent you on this lifetime or in this moment? So we start with that sankalpa, but I realized that the sankalpa actually wasn’t one, it needed to be split into three. One was just to feel the basic life force that’s given birth to each of us, so to feel that kind of vibration of life that’s living me or living you, and then what’s the kind of mission that you might feel that life has sent you on. And then how does that manifest in little small intentions each day? So it may be, what’s the food you eat? Maybe to give up smoking, to drink less, to be kinder, to meditate. So what are our daily affirmations or intentions? What’s our kind of overall intention? To wake up could be an overall one and to live an enlightened life. And then I saw that for many people they’re so traumatized that they’re lacking a basic inner sense of security, ground, foundation, safety. So I have them contemplate on this quality of beingness right from the start. That as they settle into being, it develops this deep inner resource of peace, equanimity, foundation, ground, safety, security, and then to move that in every moment into their life. So I have added a few things or what I would say developed them further. They were already there innate in the sankalpa. I’ve just kind of liberated what was already there given how I’ve learned to work with people in my clinical practice. I’ve taken in the tradition of Yoga Nidra. They don’t always talk about working with opposites, they talk about welcoming an emotion as a sensation. But because of my studies with Patanjali and into Buddhism and Yoga, I saw this aspect of working with opposites and so I wove that into the practice. And I also saw that the tradition of Yoga Nidra, which is based on a five kosha model, the five koshas would be your body, your breathing or energy, your emotions, your thoughts, and this sense of joy.

RICK: And that again means sheath.

RICHARD: Yeah, sheath.

RICK: You could think of it like a Russian doll or something.

RICHARD: Yeah. Something we get caught in, we think it’s who we are when, in fact, Yoga Nidra is helping us take off those sheaths and realize this unchanging aspect. But I realize, while it’s a wonderful model, it failed in a certain way. Because the fundamental way, the sense of I, is such an integral genetic coding in our system and that it’s an appropriating mechanism. It lays claim to whatever is arising. So say we take off our body and we say, “Oh, I’m not just my body, I’m more than this, I’m more than my senses, more than my thoughts, more than my emotions.” And then we take off this sense of I-ness and ego and we say, “Oh, I’m more than this ego, I’m this sense of unchanging, spacious being awareness.” It’s a great model but what I see is the I-thought is so tenacious it sneaks in there and it says, “Oh, isn’t this cool? I’m enlightened!” So I added a sixth kosha, the Asmita Maya, which is in the annals. If you Google Asmita Maya you’ll see it’s actually a kosha but it’s not in the five kosha model of Yoga Nidra. I added the sixth kosha, which Asmita means I-ness. And so it means that we take one more look at how subtle this sense of I-ness is and we really see it as just a process. And I also took this from Buddha’s teachings when he sat in that final moment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, what I came to understand is his final two teachers, who were teachers of Advaita, and he had realized the height of their teaching and been invited by both those teachers to join their communities as an equal teacher. He said, “Something still feels incomplete.” And so he goes on, can’t find another teacher, sits under the Bodhi tree. So I was curious, what is it that was still incomplete? And what I came to realize was, he said, the I-thought had still not been completely seen through. And in that moment of liberating it completely he realizes what he is, truly fundamentally, and goes beyond this sense of I-ness. My sense though is, after enlightenment, Buddha’s walking down in front of you and you say, “Hey Buddha.” He would have turned around and said, “Yeah, because there’s enough self-awareness and I-ness there. It didn’t go away, he just learned that he was more than that.” So in Yoga Nidra I added the sixth kosha, which is to now take time, now we’ve been liberated from body, senses, mind, thoughts, emotions, beliefs. Let’s take one more look at the tenaciousness of this I-thought and really do deeply see how it is just a process. And even self-awareness can have a subtle taint of I-ness in it that that too needs to be set free, and to see that self-awareness in itself is just a coming and going. And ultimately we are something more than any of these structures.

RICK: There’s still some sort of association with our individuality in a sense, it seems to me. Like if you stub your toe out there in San Rafael, I don’t suddenly get a pain in my toe here in Iowa. Even if you were in San Rafael, I wouldn’t, Irene says. Even if we were walking together and you stubbed it on a rock, it was like I’d feel sorry for you, but it would be your pain, not mine.

RICHARD: Absolutely, so there is this unique experience we’re having and even being-ness has a paradoxical sense. There is a localized sense of our own presence. But I can sense that presence is the same presence that’s over there in you, but we have our own unique experience of it, so that uniqueness doesn’t go away. And I found for many years there was that paradox I was sitting with, well if I’m everything, how is it that there’s still this kind of special presence feels more like it’s close in? And I began to realize, hey, that’s just the way that the unboundaried presence also can localize itself as well as feel as itself everywhere.

RICK: So we realize that we’re the ocean, but we also still are a wave.

RICHARD: Are a wave, and yet as we feel our wave, we still feel ourselves as ocean.

RICK: Yeah, somehow the two of them are part of – and there are all these different waves in the ocean and we’re not that wave over there, we’re this particular wave, but we’re all the ocean.

RICHARD: And in meditation, I think it’s time where we feel just like working with opposites, that specialness of that, a boundaried sense of more close-in presence, and then our unboundary-ness, and then we feel our boundariness and our unboundary. And then all of a sudden, we begin to feel them both and they both begin to merge one into the other. And so the paradox resolves itself, not mentally but as our embodied experience.

RICK: Okay, that’s a whole topic. We could get into it. I’m going to do a thing in October with Adyashanti and Susanna Marie, all about the falling away of the sense of self and that’s going to be the whole discussion. Anyway, shifting gears, here’s a question/comment from Laura in Oregon. She says, “It seems that those who have the transcendent no-self experience without the heart-opening journey may not have the sense of a natural or a higher expression of the evolution of their humanity, not to mention the need to integrate or release the levels of unprocessed vasanas, etc.” Vasanas meaning like stored impressions from past experience. “It seems impossible to have a stable heart-opening in conjunction with bad behavior, although you could have a transcendent experience with bad behavior.” So this harkens back to what we were talking about an hour ago. What do you say?

RICHARD: I love it. We’re awakening into love and there has to be this shift into the heart and into our unboundaried heartfelt presence. And I’ve seen, as that awakening has occurred, it can occur first at a kind of an intellectual level. But then it moves down into the heart, down into the gut, all the different energy centers have to be in a way awakened all the way down to the root and then back up and then out. So I feel like ultimately it is a full awakening. But where we find ourselves ultimately centered is in the heart.

RICK: Yeah, it’s harkening, this relates to Adya’s discussion of head-heart and gut awakenings. So it might be more useful rather than speaking of awakening as one sort of monochromatic thing to speak of awakenings, and, you know, many different flavors and nuances and stages and degrees.

RICHARD: Well, in first awakening, I see it can happen in many different ways. But one way is we awaken into that transcendent and now we’re like immersed in the transcendent. We’ve stepped out of the personal into the universal or impersonal. That can unfold for days, weeks, months, perhaps even years. As it integrates, we will fall back down into the heart and now there’s a whole awakening of the heart that has both, I think, a universal impersonal aspect to it but a very personal humanness. My wife, when I first kind of awoke to this impersonal, she said, “It feels like there’s nobody here.” And my response to her was, “Yeah, isn’t it great?” I said, “Well, actually it’s not so great because I could just be anybody to you.” And I said, “Yeah, isn’t that fantastic?” And she said, “No, I want to be your special somebody.” And for me, I was sitting in the universal. Later on, after a couple of years, she turned to me and she said, “You know, it feels like you’re back.” And I said, “Actually it feels like something has more deeply integrated where you’re still you could be anybody but you’re my special nobody.” And it began a whole … It began a whole other movement of really a deepening, embodying into humanness. And I really do see that this is really about becoming a good human being. That’s all it is. We’re just fully participating in all things human, our emotions, our relationships. I love what Sylvia Borstein said when she was asked, “So what has meditation done for you?” And she said, “It’s made me a kinder person.” If that’s all it does, holy Mackerel. What a beautiful expression and just that basic humanness.

RICK: That alone could change the world.

RICHARD: Yeah, can we just be good human beings and forget about some transcendent state? I mean that’s here too but it’s really to me about embracing our humanness and that’s love.

RICK: I like to think of us, which I think is true, as having a variety of faculties. We have an intellect, we have senses, we have the heart, the emotional thing, and perhaps other faculties. And that to which we’re awakening – the self, pure consciousness, whatever we want to call it, the mystery if you like – is like a fuel or a nourishing, like a fertilizer, which has the potential to enrich each of these things to a great extent. For instance, there was a disciple of Shankara named Trotakacharya and he was kind of a simpleton. He washed the laundry while the other disciples were having their lofty discussions with Shankara and he awakened. He got enlightened down by the river while washing laundry and he came back and it turned out in that awakening he attained a very profound awakening of the intellect and became Shankara’s primary successor. And we hear all sorts of beautiful accounts throughout history of great saints with incredible hearts. There are others and perhaps a lot of these qualities are contained in the same people. But there are others who attain a profound degree of sensory refinement, where they just really perceive the subtle realms of creation as a normal feature of their daily experience. So, you know, we’ve kind of touched on this theme throughout the interview and I’m just kind of coming back to it. But this awakening to our essential nature is not the be-all and end-all necessarily. It’s kind of a foundation or we could say, using the fertilizer metaphor, it’s a big huge heap of manure, in a good sense, which is going to nourish all the plants, all the sprouts of our…

RICHARD: We’re each a flower, we’re each an expression. I think as we deepen into it, we stop looking at other flowers and how should I be like them or how are they manifesting their awakening. We look to this flower. What’s the fragrance here, what are my marching orders? I think we really come into harmony with ourselves as a unique human being expression and we give up competition. We give up anticipation, we give up striving to be anything other than what we are, and I think it’s just a deeper and deeper falling in love.

RICK: Yeah, but it’s just the reason I want to bring it up is it’s a slightly different emphasis than, “Well, I’m going to spend my whole life kind of like uprooting little neuroses and working them out.” There’s that. But it’s also my entire life is going to be a continual enrichment and enhancement and development of all sorts of marvelous faculties with which I as a human being am endowed.

RICHARD: And in that I see I’m not in control. One moment it occurs to me to work with this emotion that’s arising and another moment to just tune into that quality of love, and another moment to give service. And I realize when I look, where do those impulses come from and I trace them to their source. It’s a mystery, and I realize it’s all coming out of this incredible mystery. And so I realized a long time ago, my job is to relax and just let be what’s arising.

RICK: Do you know the song by Iris Dement called “Let the Mystery Be”?

RICHARD: No, I don’t.

RICK: Okay, everybody should google that. Google Iris Dement, D-E-M-E-N-T, “Let the Mystery Be” and listen to that song. It’s fantastic.

RICHARD: I will do that. You could have it in the background as your theme song.

RICK: I could actually, I should contact her. We talked about that, Irene and I, using that as a theme song. We’d have to sort of get copyright permission and everything. So what’s your attrition rate? You teach large groups of people, how many stick with it?

RICHARD: So many people go through … if I look at my kind of map that I use, there are 38 kind of steps or stages. And the 25th step is where we kind of solidify or consolidate as a healthy kind of human being, where we’re on friendly terms with our emotions, our thoughts. We’ve worked through a lot of the trauma and we still feel ourselves as a separate human being, but we feel really good. It’s like the sense of healthy self has erupted through the teachings. Most people, that’s where they go to me. They turn to me and say, “Thank you very much, Doc. I’ll see you in the marketplace.” And a few say, “There’s something else here, isn’t there?” And I say, “Yeah, come on in the back room. I got another class going on here.” Because I think as a homeless person, as a veteran, as a service member, as a normal human being who’s having chronic pain, cancer, they turn to these teachings to help them feel better. And when they start to feel better, that’s an extraordinary moment in their lives and I think they often need to go out now and just experience that for a while. And then there is this natural arising where I will see people years later. They’ve come back and they said, “You know, there’s something more happening here.” And now they’re ready for these more advanced teachings. So even though I know that 99 percent of the time a person comes, I can help them have that glimpse right away. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to go on and want to go for the whole 10 yards and awaken out of their self. That again is unique to every person. So the attrition rate, what I’d say is the attrition rate, is most people go away having taken something really astounding in their own way. Either it’s a healing of chronic pain or post-traumatic stress or their depression or they just feel better. And then what I’m seeing is more and more and, maybe it’s because I’m wider known, the people who are coming to my retreats now, there’s more people who are just ripe for this deeper awakening. And my own kind of felt sense about it is, you know, there’s a balance of good and evil in the world. And yeah, there are a lot of people who are waking up and there are a lot of people who are waking into their own kind of clouding and conditioning. There’s always a balance going on, but we are seeing, I’m seeing more and more people who really gravitate to the deeper awakening experience of non-duality.

RICK: So if people don’t stick with it, do they tend to backslide?

RICHARD: It’s a good question. I think that once that glimpse of being has really been seen and felt, it’s going to be really difficult to backslide. Because it creates a sensitivity where what they begin to backslide in now is more painful than it was when they were in it originally and before they had that glimpse. So it’s an interesting one. Do I tend to see the people who maybe backslid in? No, because obviously they go away and disappear. But I know from the reports of many people who have had those glimpses and then they go back and they begin to go back into their old conditioning. It’s so painful. They want to come back and say, “Okay, let’s keep going because I don’t want to do this backslide. It doesn’t feel good anymore.”

RICK: And the …

RICHARD: Can I say one more thing, Matt? I think in some of the former teachings that we got in the 60s, do this and everything will be fine.” What I came to realize is I didn’t want to trust them. I want to say, “Does this really work and how and why?” For me, the processes that I’ve discovered through meditation, my teacher Jean Klein and others in Yoga Nidra is there are structures here that give us a sense of support. And so I tend to see now a lot of people who’ve been in the traditions of, say, Zen or Buddhism or other Orientations. And they come into these we might call structures of Yoga Nidra and they say, “This helps me understand my tradition in a way that I wasn’t before.” So I think there is an aspect of these teachings that when we begin to understand the different structures and how they do work, it helps us gallop on our way and helps us feel more supported. So I think that’s a very important addition that I think we as Westerners are bringing into the teachings. It’s no longer “Trust me.” It’s more like, “Okay, here is the research that’s been done. Here are some of the structures that you can engage in and that are going to help you move on your way. And here’s the ground of being that I’d like to introduce you to first.” So the original teachings back in the “Yeah, do these and maybe in 30 or 40 years or 50 years or maybe in two or three more lifetimes you can awaken.” Now I know a person can have that awakening glimpse, as you know, right away, fundamentally. And now we have the ground of support out of which the teachings can arise. So we’re not moving towards awakening, we are understanding it at the very beginning.

RICK: Earlier when I asked you about what a person is actually doing when they do Yoga Nidra, you mentioned a bunch of things that people might do throughout the day as various emotions or situations arise. In addition to that, is there something that someone who’s practicing it would do in the morning and evening maybe for 20 minutes, half an hour? Specifically, you know, nothing but that, they’re sitting there with their eyes closed doing something, or what would that be?

RICHARD: Let me give one little example. I get a lot of people come to me who’ve been meditating and they’re kind of stale or they’ve gone off their meditation. The first thing I ask is “When you sit and meditate, what’s your intention? Do you state your intention and affirm it when you start to meditate?” And they go, “No.” I say, “Well then, your meditation is going to go off.” So one of the things we can do is when we sit, really at the very beginning, affirm, “Why am I doing this? What’s my overall intention and what’s my intention for this particular practice?” Because otherwise, we sit and the mind, you know, the mind is a thinking process. It’s constantly throwing off thoughts. If we have a really good, solid intention, when the mind begins to to cook off thoughts and we start to go off with them, the intention will bubble up and say to our, “Is that really what you want to be doing in this moment? Go off on that thought?” And we’ll go, “Oh, no, of course not.” And you let go of the thought and you come back. So I tell people there are very simple things. Start with your intention, start by affirming your overall mission for why are you doing meditation and then weave in that sense of being. And so when I sit for meditation, I do that. I say, “I’m meditating now, I’m not cooking lunch. I’m not wanting to think about lunch, I’m sitting here and I want to immerse myself in this being, set my intention.” And then I walk through those five aspects of being. I feel myself as spacious, timeless, perfect, complete, whole and I just abide in that for a while and then I open up the meditation. What wants to happen right now? What most wants to be seen, connected with? And it might simply be today we’re just going to cook in being or today we’re going to watch how self- awareness comes and goes and try to feel that greater mystery. Some days it’s like, “Hey, today we’re doing irritation.” I don’t know why but irritation is arising and that’s all that wants to be seen right now. And so I’ll take the irritation, I’ll work with the opposites, I’ll weave in the well-being, and sometimes today, you know what we’re doing today? We’re doing boredom. But I’m going to sit here for the next Because I realize, “Hey, isn’t boredom arising in awareness?” So boredom is a beautiful state that can point me back to awareness. But today we’re doing boredom.

RICK: Yeah, I don’t go about it quite as you described it in terms of a specific intention that I articulate each day. But the types of things you just described, you know, cycle through. There might be more boring sessions, more blissful ones and so on. But a key principle is, you know, you set a routine and you just stick with it. You don’t go by your whims.

RICHARD: So you do have an intention?

RICK: I guess so, setting the routine, right?

RICHARD: You have an intention, “I’m going to sit here for this amount of minutes.”

RICK: Yeah.

RICHARD: And I’ll bet you’ve got a lot of intentions actually.

RICK: Maybe so.

RICHARD: Do you have an intention to be lost in thought?

RICK: No, that’s not why I’m sitting there. I may get lost in thought, but I don’t, if I realize I am, I don’t indulge in it.

RICHARD: So you have an intention to be present?

RICK: Right.

RICHARD: I’ll bet there are a number of intentions that by actually pulling them out and acknowledging them actually will ripen or deepen the meditation.

RICK: Okay, I’ll think about that, work on that. So maybe the last question, this is a practical one. Frank from Norway, there are people in Norway named Frank. Can you say a few words about how to do Yoga Nidra without a teacher?

RICHARD: Yes, thanks Frank in Norway. Yoga Nidra initially is a guided practice because we’re helping a person understand the process of meditation. But ultimately it’s not. So what I ask people to do is, in Yoga Nidra there are setting the intention, working with thoughts, etc., within a larger 38-step map of going into being and awareness and what lies beyond. What we want to do is realize that each of these in a way is a separate component that can be mixed and matched. And so when you’re sitting in meditation by yourself and say a difficult emotion arises, because you’ve studied that component you know how to meet the emotion, or maybe it’s a belief, or maybe just you’re settling into being. But because you’ve engaged it in a guided way or you’ve studied it a bit, you understand now how to meet it. Now you’re free of the teacher, you’re your own teacher in a way, and the native intelligence you begin to trust more and more that, whatever is arising in the moment, you now have the skill set of how to meet it. Krishnamurti, I used to work with Krishnamurti a lot, and go to his meetings here and in India and studied all his books. He said, “It is the person who doesn’t know what to do who’s in trouble.” Once you understand how thinking works, how emotions work, you have the skill set of how to meet it. And that’s what Yoga Nidra is doing. It’s giving us a set of tools or skills with which we learn how to meet a thought, an emotion. And we learn how to meet ourselves, not trying to change or fix our self, but how to radically accept our self as we are and then see the actions we need to take in our life that help us see and feel connected to both ourselves as a human being, to the people around us, and the universe. We feel our sense of harmony. So I would say find the books, you could find my books, tapes, listen to them, try to study it. When I was learning I actually wrote out exercises and I would do them. I would take long periods of just lying by myself on the floor and going through each step Slowly. And what I began to see is when I meet my body as sensation, after a while it comes natural to begin to feel my breath. And as I just meet my breath naturally, emotions start to arise. The underlying thoughts to them naturally arise. And when I really meet them, joy and well-being naturally arise. And at some point awareness naturally arises. So the structures and the teachings are there initially as guides but ultimately, yeah, we’re supposed to go beyond them.

RICK: Yeah, so you’ve trained a bunch of teachers and they’re scattered around the world I guess. But if somebody’s in Kazakhstan or someplace like that and there’s no teacher, there are books they could read. There are MP3s or CDs they could listen to and so on and do quite a bit on their own.

RICHARD: And online teachings, like I’m creating video-driven teaching. I have a video, a five-hour video on “When Self Falls Away – The Deeper Practices of Yoga Nidra Meditation.” I’ve got videos that I’m starting to make on the early stages, foundation stages, intermediate practice. So I love the idea that through books, MP3s and online teachings, anybody in Uzbekistan, and anywhere in the world can have access to these teachings. It’s fantastic and the very thing you’re doing, people can tune in anywhere.

RICK: Yeah, they do. So, okay, great. So I’ll be linking to your website which is and they can find all this stuff there and links to this, that and the other thing and probably get on some kind of email list and download mp3s and all sorts of things, right?

RICHARD: Yeah, and I have a seven-week online course where I’m going to actually be teaching in seven segments those four aspects – waking in, waking up, waking down, waking out – and trying to take people through the actual meditations to which we can experience these for ourselves.

RICK: Well, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation, at least for me at least. I’ve really enjoyed it.

RICHARD: I enjoy the back and forth, it’s fantastic.

RICK: Yeah, so for those listening, I’ve been speaking with Richard Miller and as you know, and I’ll be linking to his website, as I just said, you can get in touch with him, find out all about what he’s doing by going to his website. I’ll also link to the books he’s published on Amazon and Sounds True. As most of you know, this is an ongoing series, so if you’d like to stay in touch you can subscribe on YouTube. You can subscribe on to a weekly email that goes out each time the new interview is posted, you get an email. There’s an audio podcast of this if you’d like to just listen to the audio, and a number of other things if you search the menus, there’s not too many. But you’ll find interesting things if you explore each menu on So thanks again Richard.

RICHARD: I appreciate the time you allow so we can actually go into some depth. It’s beautiful that it allows us to have some depth of discussion.

RICK: Yeah, most people seem to like that. Some people say, “Can’t you just crunch it down to an hour?” and yeah, maybe we could if we …

RICHARD: Can’t you just punch it down to five minutes? Come on!

RICK: But a lot of people really like the long format and according to YouTube statistics, quite a few people hang in there and listen to the whole thing. So thanks and thank you to those who’ve been listening or watching and we’ll see you next week.

RICHARD: Thank you Rick.