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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 have done about 580 of them now, if this is new to you and you’d like to check out some of the previous ones, please go to bat gap comm bat gap and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. There’s also a page with our address and stuff about you know, if you don’t want to use PayPal, you can support it in other ways. My guest today is seven ice loss a seven A is a teacher, author and speaker who explores the themes of belonging and identity through meditation, creativity and spirituality. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Washington, DC, she began studying Buddhism 30 years ago as an undergraduate at McGill University, where she majored in comparative Religious Studies. She has an MA from the New School, where she focused on race and Cultural Studies. for over 20 years, she worked with children, youth and families nationally and internationally, for small and large non not for profits. She mentioned to me that she spent a year in Africa working in a refugee camp. Now she teaches classes, workshops and retreats regularly and is one of the most popular teachers on the 10% happier app. That’s Dan Harris’s app. And Dan has been on that gap. 70 is a three time cancer survivor of stage three and four breast cancer. Her foot her first book you belong, a call for connection is published by Harper one. And I should mention that seven days, what some of her primary teachers were Thanissaro and Kisoro. A couple who teach together and they were on bat gap also some years ago. So welcome 70 It’s good. Good to be doing this. Finally.
SEBENE: Thank you, Rick. Thanks for having me.
RICK: Yeah, I think I might have first discovered you on Dan’s podcast or something. I forget. But um, I don’t listen to it regularly. But you kind of popped up and I thought, well, she looks interesting. Let’s check her out.
SEBENE: Thanks for having me.
RICK: Yeah. So we got, let’s, let’s start with a little bit of the biological, biographical history, which, which I just sketched out, but there’s some interesting details to it. Your book is very honest and vulnerable. You know, you briefly discuss things that some people might feel a little shy about discussing, but you just go into it. And I think that’s good. Because everybody goes through things we all do. We all have. And I think it helps people gain greater confidence in their own possibilities. If they realize that well, he or she, you know, went through this, that and the other thing, and, you know, really screwed up here and there, whatever. And yet, look at them now they’re doing pretty well. And you know, maybe maybe that’s a possibility for me too.
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, I use belonging in the book, and generally as a metaphor for ways that we feel at home connected, the ways that we’re awakening, feel joy, freedom, and so not belonging are all the ways that we feel like we are not enough that we’re screwing up that we’re not measuring up, you know, whether that’s from our own personal experience, or from what society might be telling us about us, depending on our identities, or past or culture or history, and I also look a lot and work a lot with our ancestral or cultural conditioning. So the things that you know, we come into this life with epigenetically or genetically
RICK: Yeah, I remember hearing you say in some interview that you briefly considered writing a book about your cancer experience, but you really didn’t feel like focusing a whole book on that and so you discuss it some of the book but um, you chose to write about belonging what, why did why was that your choice?
SEBENE: One, you know, I really wanted to choose The theme that was positive and encouraging as you were describing, something that many people could relate to. And, you know, cancer was not a pleasant experience, let’s say that I learned a lot from it, I wouldn’t change my experience. But I kind of didn’t want to focus on something that was particularly unique, even though there hundreds of 1000s, maybe millions of people who had could relate. But I also didn’t want to focus on something that was about difficulty only.
RICK: Yeah. I’ve heard a lot of people say that, and I’ve said it myself that I wouldn’t change my experience. I mean, obviously, it’s kind of a moot point, because you can’t change our past experience. But I guess it implies that, you know, as difficult as it was, I learned something from it. And it also kind of implies to my mind, that there’s a kind of divine orchestration of the universe, and things just don’t happen arbitrarily. They happen for a reason, not necessarily a reason that our intellects can grasp, but somehow rather, there’s, you know, life is for learning as Joni Mitchell sang, and, you know, we’re how to put this like, the universe isn’t just sort of cruel, or it has an evolutionary trajectory. I can never say that word trajectory. And anything that happens in the big picture, if you can zoom out far enough, is conducive to our, our, our spiritual evolution. Do you agree with that?
SEBENE: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I’ve been writing recently in my, in my newsletter, and blog about cultivating sacred trust, which is the way that I’ve been kind of approaching it. And so it’s trusting things that we can understand all the myriad causes and conditions that led to this moment that are unchangeable. And so there’s a way that when we don’t trust that we’re being in contention with reality in some way that we’re wishing for a better past, as some people sometimes say. And the sacred part of it is the mystery that you’re describing that there’s some kind of evolutionary mysterious quality to why we’re in this moment that we’re in right now. And really trusting that and then the response that can come from that can of course, invite change or progress or even challenge, you know,
RICK: yeah, I really was just writing an email to somebody who had written in to say that he was just very disturbed by everything that’s going on in Washington DC and, and what you know, it was really bringing him down. And she was saying some things to try to encourage you to somehow remember the song that I’d heard decades ago called, I think, was a jazz song called the The Creator has a master plan. I looked it up it was by Pharoah Sanders. Yeah, I love that song. Yeah. And I think that’s what we’re talking about. There’s, I mean, as a Buddhist, I don’t know if you dwell too much on there being a creator. Because Buddhists tend not to, but you know what I’m saying?
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, I am although that author, byline or subtitle lists me as a Buddhist, I don’t really I it’s kind of tongue in cheek in some ways and honoring and others just honoring how much I’ve learned from that lineage. But I don’t necessarily identify as a Buddhist in the sense that, you know, the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist, but gained a lot, a lot from those that those teachings, and I wholly, kind of surrender to the mystery of it all. But I can’t say what exists or how it exists in terms of how this all began. But there’s definitely, you know, an order or at least an unfolding to this that is beyond our logical comprehension.
RICK: Yeah. I always say it’s like, God is hiding in plain sight. If you look at anything closely enough, you see this marvelous orderliness and creativity at play? Yeah, exactly. So we could we’ll play around with the notion of belonging since that was what your book was about. But let’s start by what is the deepest way that you could define the word belonging and the concept that represents
SEBENE: you know, I use this, these two sentences throughout the book, and they to me really speak to the paradox of belonging to me. That is the deepest sense of belonging that I’ve come to is accepting that paradox. And so in the book, I say that we are not separate, and we are not the same And to me that balancing of what seemingly is contradictory has been where I’ve found belonging. And that means both fully embracing that interconnectedness, which is undeniable, you know, whether we look at it scientifically, or whether we look at it spiritually, our own experience in nature, as you said, looking closely at kind of the wonders or marvels of the, the world around us to fully understand and embrace that interconnection, that non separation, and it’s not a but it is an and to acknowledge that we incarnate or we come into this world differentiated, and that there is experiences and realities and histories and trajectories related to that difference. And that’s not something to be ignored or bypass. But actually, when we can reckon with these two truths, and in the Mahayana, especially, but it’s tradition, they’re called the two truths of the paradox of the teachers, because they do seem paradoxical. That, you know, for me, that’s been kind of the richest exploration of belonging.
RICK: Yeah, I’ve used the word paradox so many times in these interviews, that somebody once sent me a t shirt with that word on it. And, and yeah, Hinduism has a similar idea that they have a term called Java Harka. Satyam, which means transactional reality, which means and they use examples like clay pots, you know, which are nothing but clay. So there really is only clay. But yet, there are pots, you know, and you can’t deny the pots, it would be absurd to do so.
SEBENE: Yeah, and you know, when we get to the complexity of our lives today with extreme polarization, the multitude of identities, the fact that we are aware of so much more in terms of not just within our own communities, but throughout the world, that that complexity becomes even more important to navigate. Yeah, for for all of our well being.
RICK: One thing that comes to mind, with your paradox point is that there’s no conflict between the sort of two levels of reality, we’re talking about absolute and relative, if you’d want to call it that. And in fact, there can be a very complimentary or mutually enriching relationship between them, I don’t know if the absolute can be enriched, but, but the relative or the diversity of creation can certainly be enriched by taking recourse or anchoring ourselves or having access to the the absolute level.
SEBENE: Yeah, definitely. And, you know, I think of it in terms of kind of the actual people that I encounter, in my work and in my life. And yes, I think that people who kind of immerse themselves in the relative reality I see this true with a lot of activists and Spiritual Activist people who are, you know, really trying to address the the justices and the harms and the inequities of our world, that there can be a deep refuge and rest and solace in the absolute and, you know, not just as a means to an end, you know, not to rest to go do more, but as a real deep understanding. And I think that, you know, conversely there can be a real refuge in let’s say, the relative for folks who tend to kind of shoot off to the absolute, you know, bypass into oneness and, and kind of not want to reckon with the reality. So we see that in the US Anyways, today. People have not wanted to kind of reckon with the realities of history and the chickens coming home to roost, as it said,
RICK: Yeah. Who was it? Stephen Wright had a joke. He said, I broke up, I said, I broke up with my girlfriend because I wasn’t really into meditation, and she really wasn’t into being alive.
SEBENE: Yeah, and that living is, you know, it’s glorious, and it’s wonderful. And it also has its challenges. And it has its its realities, and heartbreaks. And being willing to open to those and actually work with them together in community, I think is one of the riches of the relative.
RICK: Yeah. So maybe the main point we’re making here is that you know, you can’t take refuge in the absolute to the exclusion of the relative if you do that’s called spiritual bypassing, and we can talk more about that. And if the, you know, if your life is all about the relative without access or recourse to the absolute then it doesn’t have a foundation and all kinds of problems result which is the experience of most people.
SEBENE: Yeah, And you know, both of them will be in contention with the reality of the, the two truths being true.
RICK: Yeah. I have some notes here. And as we go along, you know, if any thought pops into your head, and I’m not asking a question about just go ahead and start talking about it, we’ll get into it. So I’m gonna kind of sketch through some notes I took while reading your book. And the first chapter is entitled, the delusion of separation. We were never separate. And then I have some sub points. But you can you can riff on just that chapter head, I’m sure.
SEBENE: Yeah. So you know, I think we’ve been talking about it a bit already, that there’s a delusion of separation, kind of an either poll of these two truths. And it was really at the heart of why we don’t feel we belong, it’s at the heart of all the divisions we see politically and socially. And it’s, it is, it’s a hard truth to contend with that that truth of non separation, when we’re kind of mired in our own gunk, we were feeling that sense of separation, again, because of, you know, things from our past things from our ancestry things in our world around us. So I use a lot my own example of immigrating growing up in DC in the early 70s. So long before the kind of wave of Ethiopians turned it into a little Addis Ababa. And so being very different, growing up in white neighborhoods, and not being as wealthy as the folks around us and eating different foods and speaking a different language and just generally encountering some really nasty racism in the neighborhood, and in the larger community. And so, you know, that sense of feeling separate feeling like you don’t belong, can come through so many channels kind of in our in our lives. So unlearning that delusion is, I think, where the path starts and why started with with that, and I use both scientific examples, you know, just the, the truth of our, of our deep, deep interconnection that, you know, modern, and science is continuing to uncover the truths of that more and more, and the mystery of that and the paradox of it. But I also point to ancient ways of knowing which for many, many years were dismissed by kind of modernist thinking or dualistic thinking.
RICK: Sometimes I think, you know, I fantasize I think, wow, I, I wish I could have had my current state of consciousness or whatever. When I was in high school, you know, it would have been such a better experience. Yeah, back then. And if I have to do over again, I don’t have to go through all that confusion. But, you know,
SEBENE: Can I say something, please? So you know, I think, and this is kind of the not being in contention with reality, and seeing the perfection of things as they are. I often point to this, when I talk about the word mindfulness and how it’s a misnomer, and how, you know, it’s really an embodied awareness. And I did not have that it was really, really in my head and a lot in my heart, like, very emotional as a young person, but I really wasn’t connected to my body. And as I’ve gotten reconnected to my body, it’s actually, I feel like I’m a better teacher of how to have embodied presence, because I had to map my way back to that. And so I can kind of lead people, whereas some people I know, who are just like, naturally embodied, you know, have that innate sense, it’s kind of hard for them to explain to other people how to do it, because it comes so innately for them. And I think the same is true with belonging. Like, you know, this is why my my author title also includes weirdo. So there, there’s like, a great power in kind of being a weirdo. You know, like that, if we’ve experienced that alienation. If we’ve experienced that sense of lostness we can actually help lead others in a much more authentic way. So
RICK: yeah, let your freak flag fly as Crosby, Stills Nash and Young sang.
SEBENE: Well, we’ll find your flag.
RICK: Yeah. You know, when I think about how confused I was as a kid, and, and I see how so much craziness in society, and everything, you know, it’s like, Who’s that? Kurt Vonnegut story? Welcome to the monkey house or something. Or maybe I’m thinking One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, like the whole world is sort of a Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s this like, We’re all crazy, to one degree or another and this the truly sane ones are are few and far between. And even then they’re kind of crazy.
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, let’s see who’s using those words for whom you know, and who gets labeled with us. But there’s definitely some truth in kind of who’s, who’s outside, I use this metaphor of margin and center in the book to describe, you know, we often talk about marginalized people, as if everyone wants to be in the center. And my argument is that actually from the margins, you have much greater perspective, that you have a bigger understanding if the center’s everyone kind of looking at fool’s gold, they don’t really know what’s going on in the rest of society and culture. And so it marginalized people, like people of color, or poor people, LGBTQI people, those who find themselves on the margins for whatever reasons often have to travel into the center, because that’s where the resources are. That’s where, you know, power is, that’s where we get educated. But those of us who kind of go in and out, we have this perspective on the world that is, it’s much wider, you know, as much more holistic and so, yeah, again, like who, who decides the labels of what’s in what’s out? What’s seen what’s crazy, what’s margin? What center?
RICK: Yeah. In the world, but not of it? Why is it serpents gentle as doves? Yeah, but actually, in a way, I mean, it literally, I mean, obviously, it’s a relative term who craziness or sanity or whatever. But, you know, here we are, we come into this life without a clue of what’s going on. And usually born into a dysfunctional family. And, you know, we grow up and it’s, it’s, you know, it gets, it’s kind of scary, and, you know, we just kind of Bumble along and, and some people go their whole lives without any sort of serious introspection, or deep exploration or anything like that. Most people do, as a matter of fact, and if that’s the way one is functioning, then inevitably, the society, if the vast majority of people are functioning that way, the society is just going to be, you know, full of problems and difficulties, and, you know, mistreatment of people and you know, all kinds of cruelty is and ours.
SEBENE: Yeah, and I, you know, most people aren’t conditioned or cultured to take time to look at that. And to see, if we do take contemplative time, that starts to reveal itself, because we’re not caught up in our busyness or in our habituated activities. And I would say that it’s really exciting for that reason that so many more people are coming to meditation to contemplative practices. And, you know, I know, since a little bit from our chat, before we started that you’ve been in this world for a long time. And so it’s, it’s not new to you, but the kind of mainstream acceptance of this is really revolutionary. And, in fact, I think is pointing to a reckoning with with that, you know, at least with the fatigue of that way of living.
RICK: Yeah, that point really excites me, because I’ve always felt that, you know, based upon what I just said that, you know, the forest is a collection of trees, that society is a collection of individuals. And you know, if the forest is gray and weathering, it’s because the trees are unhealthy. And if the society is is crazy and full of problems is because most of the individuals making it up, are not really accessing their full potential. And so I’ve always been excited about the kind of sociological implications of spiritual development and how, if it became profound and widespread enough, it could really transform the world. And in fact, unless that does happen, the world will, you know, keep stumbling along with more and more severe problems. So, so the fact that we face sort of, potentially, humanity ending problems now in the world, I think is exciting that that crisis is seems to be getting met by an upsurge or an epidemic of interest in spirituality, and, you know, many, many people just really taking taking it to heart.
SEBENE: Yeah, and I’m really excited, especially by the younger generation that is, you know, really, so much more comfortable than let’s say, I was, you know, kind of coding my language around it for many years and, you know, not really sharing my practices very much not thought that I would ever kind of proselytize to people but you know, just not even really talking about it very much with even close friends and, and this this surge in these young people just being completely open and honest about their practice their spiritual practice, but also their healing and their admission of trauma and of reckoning with both the internal and the relative as well as the kind of larger spiritual or are interconnected truths.
RICK: That’s great. Are you? Are you seeing that firsthand? Do you work much with young people?
SEBENE: Yeah, and you know, when I say young, younger than me. That’s a pretty wide range. I’m not necessarily talking about teenagers. Although I’ve worked with teens a lot in my life. But yeah, I do see a lot of people on retreats and in workshops and classes who are in their 20s and 30s. And 40s. Yeah,
RICK: that’s exciting. Yeah. So I mean, if the young people are taking two things unmasked, then that’s a harbinger of of what’s to come, you know, because that what they’re doing, if they’re doing it in larger numbers will become more mainstream. In the coming decades.
SEBENE: Yes, definitely. There are a lot of witches on Instagram,
RICK: witches. I’m too old to understand what that reference.
SEBENE: There’s a there’s a huge surge in, you know, magic and mysticism, astrology and spiritual, you know, an embrace of ancient wisdom traditions and, and mystical practices that is very different than kind of the surge in mindfulness meditation, which had to be delivered in sort of this very conservative, palatable, straight way.
RICK: Oh, well, that’s good to know. Yeah, as you know, I was a student of marshes for many years. And one thing he said he had this whole discussion about how what he called natural law, kind of tapered off and diminished over long periods of time, just until it kind of hit a nadir. And then he felt that there would be a resurgence to its full expression in one generation in a relatively short amount of time. And he spent a lot of time talking about ancient cultures and the importance of their Revivification Revivification. You know, their, their emergence again, and that they had so much to offer and that, you know, we had totally destroyed them and, you know, too much to our own detriment.
SEBENE: Yeah, that sounds very prophetic and powerful. Yeah.
RICK: Um, okay, so speaking of ancient cultures, one of the bullet points that we haven’t discussed yet moving along, is one of the points in your book is, rocks are people, ancient and modern metaphors? What’s that about?
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, I bring that in. I was on a trip in South Africa, actually, to go on retreat, a month long retreat with Minister and Katie sorrow at their Hermitage, dharma girI. And I was traveling with a group of friends from New York, and we were at Freedom Park, which is kind of a living museum. And the guide was giving us kind of a quick kind of summary of South African history and spirituality. And he was talking about Ubuntu, which is a term from the Bantu language that is often translated as I am, because we are, I am because you are. And it’s, it’s often referred to just in terms of humanistic connection, you know, it’s a humanist philosophy. But when he was describing it, he mentioned that truth, and then he kind of paused. And maybe I think, because he could see that we probably wouldn’t understand the depth of what that meant. He said, You know, everything is people, mountains are people and skies, people and rivers are people and rocks are people. And so to me, that declaration points to the ancient understanding of that scientific truth that there is kind of that fundamental non separation interconnection at the heart of being that the ancients understood. And a lot of our kind of scientific rediscovery of that is healing from the denial of that that so much of early scientific materialism touted you know, this separation this, this lack of connection with the truth and I go on, or maybe before that I talk about this word, a pesticide. Yeah. We’re talking about that. Yeah, which is, you know, a word that you can understand the root epistemology of pista from like epistemology or side like genocide. And a refers to the killing of ways of knowing. And it’s often used in post colonial theory to describe not just the kind of material or human harm that came from colonialism and, and the genocide that it wrought, as well as the Atlantic slave trade, but also the cultural and wisdom that was lost the cultural knowledge that was killed off, and not just because peoples were killed, but because there was an active destruction of other ways of knowing I all there is a dismissal. Indigenous peoples were not allowed to practice their spiritual practices or speak their languages in settler colonial states around the world. And, and so a pesticide kind of points to the that historical legacy of damage that we’re all reckoning with now, and how we come back from that in a way that’s honoring that this this truth that this scientific world is kind of rediscovering now, is something that ancient wisdom has always known.
RICK: Yeah, it seems to me it was largely Well, most of the colonizers were Christian, and very often fundamentalist Lee so. And, yeah, and if you read about the accounts of how indigenous people were treated, it’s it’s incredibly horrific, kind of makes, it’s comparable with anything the Nazis did in Germany. And but there was this conceit, you know, this arrogance, like, we’ve got the truth. And these people are just primitive morons. And, you know, Oh, aren’t they silly, you know, thinking that rocks are alive, or that trees have some kind of consciousness or, you know, some such things, whatever that they, they pondered, they just thought these people were all over the world in all the different cultures that were colonized, that were just primitive, backward and, and given the evangelical sentiment that they needed saving or converting, you know, to our wise way of thinking.
SEBENE: Yeah. And, you know, with this conversation, you know, because I’m writing from a particular position, and from particular communities, I’m also pointing to, and challenging my own communities, including mindfulness communities that tend to kind of privilege scientific research about mindfulness and meditation and, you know, provable, quote, unquote, provable ways for us to kind of swallow these medicines. And dismissing a lot of the mystical aspects and a lot of the more mysterious elements of the practice, and of the traditions that they come from. And the type of arrogance that that is it’s a more subtle arrogance, because it doesn’t carry kind of the the violence, let’s say that we’re you were describing just now, but there’s still a conceit and an arrogance in it. That really lacks to me curiosity about you know, what, exactly we’re, where are they speaking to, you know, in these ancient texts or these these practices?
RICK: Yeah. And getting back to our paradox point. There’s no harm in, you know, hooking people, meditators up to EGS, and, you know, doing all kinds of research that does not in any way diminish the mystical dimensions that they may experience through their practice or the reality of those dimensions. I mean, the Dalai Lama is a good example of somebody who appreciates both and encourages, encourages the scientist but totally appreciates the, the mystics of his and other traditions.
SEBENE: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree. Yeah.
RICK: And actually, I think it’s important that that both be appreciated. Because it would definitely be a tragedy to dumb down spiritual traditions and say, Oh, it’s just some kind of changes in brain chemistry or something. And yet, on the other hand, we live in a scientific age, and it’s science is the predominant paradigm. And so if spiritual practices can be verified and understood more scientifically, in neuro physiologically at all, it’ll help to introduce spirituality more widely into our, into our world.
SEBENE: Yes. And, you know, for me, coming back to the start of the conversation and cultivating sacred trust. It’s really understanding that everything is sacred, that it’s that trust. In this present moment to understand that our scientific evolution or technology is not the enemy in some way, and that we have to return to some pristine past, you know, I, I went through and I talked a little bit about this in the book a period where I was only doing natural therapies when it was first diagnosed breast cancer. And, you know, my, my kind of radical revolutionary take was, was not to turn to alternative medicine was to turn to allopathic medicine, and then accept the chemo and the radiation, which I did massive amounts of, and, you know, to, to do that wisely, and working with doctors that I really trusted, who would, who would also help me with complementary care, and it was really recognizing kind of the sacrament of of a pill or an event infusion. And so that we can kind of, again, lean to one side or another in our choosing of something and in that rejection, not recognize that we’re just in kind of the same kind of battle or struggle with life.
RICK: Yeah, and, you know, the last couple of points we’ve discussed, are, can be glommed together and made really relevant to what’s going on right now. Because, you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And, you know, there is very good chance the pandemic will be worsened and prolonged by people, who, in my opinion, have an unscientific attitude toward what’s actually going on. And, you know, it’s nuanced, because obviously, you know, Modern medicine has done harm in various ways, but it’s also done so much good. I mean, so many, you know, huge epidemics, like smallpox and polio have been wiped out through vaccines. So I’m, I’m kind of tuned into this issue and think about it a lot. And maybe you could come in on what I just said,
SEBENE: Yeah, I agree with you, you know, I’m not a medical professional at all, so I can’t sort of advise others and on what’s right for them. And really, it is about your own choices, in terms of what you feel is, is logical, right, healthy for you. And to, for me, just someone who practices watching my mind and kind of really understanding where my thoughts, my opinions, my views come from, just noticing our tendency to kind of outright reject things, because we have a kind of a solidified opinion about something. And, you know, actually haven’t done that much research or understanding or made decisions not from fear or from upset or from kind of habituated ideas about whatever it is doctors or medicine or technology. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s interesting to see people kind of, kind of take sides, as if there’s, there’s a side in this situation, you know, this is maybe the first time in history where we are all experiencing the same situation at once, globally, you know, whether I talk to my cousin’s in Ethiopia, or, you know, we witness kind of the reality across Europe and in Asia, we’re all in this. No, it’s so there’s no there’s no side to take. There’s there’s really, exploration, conversation, understanding and choices that are good for all of us.
RICK: Yeah. And I think there’s something which is, which everyone could use more of, but which is critical on the spiritual path, which is discernment, or discrimination. People are susceptible to being convinced by information they take in. And, you know, these days people are very polarized in this country and perhaps around the world. And quite it’s actually very characteristic of the spiritual community too. There’s this term called spirituality which is popular these days where the spiritual community has been so infiltrated by a lot of conspiracy theory thinking and people have undergone really strange shifts in their orientation you know, politically and with regard to the pandemic and everything else, which is kind of tearing the the spiritual community apart as well as terrorists families apart outside this community.
SEBENE: Yeah, I’ve been kind of witnessing that from a farm. I don’t know maybe fortunate maybe I would understand more that I don’t have kind of that in my my circles. So much, but I know that it’s and really challenging for folks who have to deal with parents who are, you know, COVID deniers or refuse to wear mask and, you know, there’s there’s a lot of fear for, for ourselves and for others connected to that.
RICK: Yeah. So anyway, the point to end this little bit on is just that there are books and talks and all kinds of emphasis in various spiritual traditions about the importance of developing discernment or discrimination as we go along. And we don’t get off the hook at any point, really, I think it’s something that will be with us, as long as we’re alive. It’s easy to get sidetracked, it’s easy to get confused, it’s easy to go off into, you know, little cul de sacs and get get stuck. So go ahead, you’re gonna say,
SEBENE: yeah, as you say that it, you know, just points to me. And this is true, and excuse me. And all spiritual teachings, the importance of community in Buddhism, it’s, it’s the three refuges of the teachings, the the awakening, the Buddha, the Dharma, the teachings, and the Sangha, the community. And, yeah, I don’t know how we can really function life without that spiritual friendship, that strong community because discernment requires that requires conversation and collaboration, and also conflict and cooperation. And yeah, the kind of few stories I’ve heard of people descending down a rabbit hole of, of conspiracy, and if this swirl of, of confusing views and opinions, it’s often people who are quite isolated or, you know, find community in that confusion.
RICK: Yeah, that’s, which says two different things. On the one hand, they may be isolated. On the other hand, they might have found birds of a feather that they’ve gone down the rabbit hole with. But either way, I don’t think it’s conducive to our spiritual path or progress. And I know people who’ve been meditating for decades who’ve fallen into this. And obviously, I have an opinion about it, because I’m using words like fallen. But I think it’s a shame that I hope they come out of it.
SEBENE: Have you noticed that if people are, if if folks who tend to fall into this or are more isolated, do they have strong community,
RICK: they may, but you know, people just form their own communities, the communities kind of morph or they reshuffle their feelings. For instance, I have, I have a friend, there’s a monastic program in the TM movement called purusha. And I have friends who are on that. And, you know, there’s quite a few 100 Guys in both in India, and then a facility in West Virginia, and I have a good friend in the West Virginia facility who says that they’re like lunch tables, or at least pre COVID, where they people actually ate together, where, you know, there’s a kind of a right wing political one, there’s a conspiracy theory table, you know, and actually some people who have gotten into believing in flat Earth theories, and then there are people that don’t want any of that crap. And they just, you know, want to focus on their, their spiritual progress, you know, spiritual focus. And so, even in a community, you can fragment and you can find your little niche, and, you know, the whole niche can go go off on a tangent.
SEBENE: That’s really interesting. Yeah, again, you know, I haven’t the community, I’m a part of haven’t been touched so much by this. And it’s interesting to, you know, kind of curious if that would all emerge, or we’ve just been kind of protected by
RICK: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. My brain saying talk about something different because this comes up every week. But
SEBENE: yeah, that’s the Super end, you know, and it’s really I it’s, it’s so hard, because it’s just months and months of kind of coming up against the challenges of, of this year, but it is what we’re in, you know, for me, not so much around can spirituality or, or, or these issues, but just the fatigue of I was looking out the window this morning, and you know, just really missing my neighborhood. It’s right there. But the kind of life of the neighborhood is not the same, you know, and The connections with with neighbors and friends is, has just shifted so much. And so that, you know, is feeling sort of a little weepy this morning kind of some heartache for most of got up around 630. So I’ve been up for a while. And, you know, it’s just like, okay, I can allow that don’t have to feel like it has to go away, just because I have a call now, or, you know, I should be over it, but just continually allowing what’s happening, we’re all going through that.
RICK: Yeah, and in a way, it’s like an imposed retreat. I mean, you and I have been on a lot of retreats voluntarily. And, you know, we knew what we were getting into sort of, but like, right now, the whole society, to a great extent, has had an a retreat imposed upon them. And you know, how genes can get difficult. And you can get obsessive, you know, you fall in love with this person, or you you hatch some marvelous business scheme that, you know, that probably would totally flop or you just kind of get all caught up in certain ways of thinking. So, perhaps the sort of extreme way that people have been, you know, perhaps people have been polarized even more by the by virtue of the fact that we’ve had the quarantine and shut down to a great extent.
SEBENE: Yeah, and, you know, I really have seen a huge increase in interest in meditation and practices, exactly. Because of that, I think, for some time, and maybe still, people were distracting themselves with whatever, you know, their computers, shows, intoxicants, whatever could help them cope. But there’s a point I think, where people reach a breaking point and really need to start to attend to what keeps arising, you know, and I’ve seen that with a number of friends, friends who haven’t again, I never proselytize, never even recommend meditation to people. But a lot of people, over the years have started meditating friends of mine who, you know, didn’t come from this path originally. And this year, I’ve seen all my friends who I thought never would meditate, finally come to an interest in okay, how do I how do I tend to this? Like, how do I tend to what’s going on with me? And so I really, yeah, I agree, there’s some retreat quality to it. And the thing about retreat is that you’re in community, you have guidance for how to address what’s coming up. And so I think the challenge, especially for folks who are maybe newer to practice or, you know, not used to self guiding is to continue to attend to it, you know, not bypass it, not bury it. Of course, we’re going to distract ourselves some time. No, and I go into my Netflix, kind of rabbit holes and numbing, but yeah, really learning how to practice and be with what’s arising is, is, is the opportunity.
RICK: That’s good to hear. I hadn’t heard that. And I’m surprised I hadn’t, because I’m still talking to people all the time. But I’m really glad to hear that, you know, there’s an uptick in interest in meditation, you’re probably experienced it because you actually teach online courses and stuff, right?
SEBENE: Yes. And, you know, I’m always surprised that they’ll be, especially in the early days of the pandemic, you know, you would do something online, and hundreds of people would show up, and I’m really like, you know, hundreds and hundreds of people and 10%, happier was doing something every day of the pandemic, just a short meditation on YouTube Live. And, you know, I don’t know how many people 1000s probably showed up for those. And, but I was away actually for three months. And just came back recently and did an event the other night that, you know, 500 people registered for and about half showed up for. And so there is there’s still this kind of hunger, and maybe a deepening kind of understanding of the practice that it does take. And, you know, the energy that people really want to put towards that now, because there is a refinement of life, and just recognizing what’s important. And people realizing waking up is, you know, the most important thing we could all do. I
RICK: bet you that will have a lasting impact. You know, I mean, it’s been sort of a kind of a breakthrough moment, in a way, but I bet you it will continue. And if it does, then that’s a blessing of this whole episode we’re going through.
SEBENE: I think there are a lot of blessings. You know, it’s been it’s been really heartbreaking and challenging, and we’re not as moderns good at grieving. By moderns I mean, you know, globally, not just Western But there’s sort of a loss of certain practices and ways of dealing with loss itself. But I think that as long as we really allow ourselves to, again, experience this in transformative ways, including grieving what we’ve lost, not just kind of bypassing to, okay, it’s a portal, and now we’re on the other side. But really honoring what we’ve been through, I think there’s huge possibilities for us as this not as a world really,
RICK: have you ever thought about. or read about the idea that a lot of ancient traditions and cultures predicted some sort of golden age or, you know, some such thing, some sort of Age of Enlightenment or something coming. And, and I’ve ever thought about that, I’ve read a couple of books about it back in the 70s. And thought of it more in terms of, you know, a lot of things crumbling, that really didn’t belong in such an age, and we see a fair amount of that happening. But what you’ve just been saying, is the bright side to it, which is an upsurge in interest in participation in, you know, spirituality. So, you know, maybe, maybe we’re on the cusp of something like that. You ever, ever considered it?
SEBENE: I don’t know much about what you’re referencing, in terms of, of ancient ideas about that. But I’ve been contemplating a lot recently, as I see these changes, and again, see the just brightness of these young people who are just like, you know, so much smarter. So, so much more tuned. Keeling at a much younger age than than I did. And, and really being such lights in the world. I know, I think today or tomorrow is the Parkland anniversary. Oh, yeah. And those kids are, I mean, they are incredible and phenomenal. And, you know, the March on Washington that came out of that some of the speakers were 1112 13. And so articulate so visionary, you know, a Greta Thun, Berg, just so many young leaders, the younger leaders, the Black Lives Matter movement, that are just leading with such authenticity, such clarity, and love, really, that. That, to me is a signal of that. And again, as I mentioned, so many of them opening to spiritualities, and different ways of knowing that you took me even even though I started fairly young for my age, it took me a much longer time to kind of grasp. So there, there is, for me, like some faith in evolution. And in our collective and, and, and I mean collective in the largest sense that world, not just human. And so although we are likely to go through a lot of environmental challenges in the coming years, I also feel that people are waking up to the changes that we need to make.
RICK: Yeah, that’s really good. There’s a you know, Catherine, I think her name is Katherine Ingram. Katherine?
SEBENE: I don’t know her. I’ve I know of her. Yeah,
RICK: yeah. I interviewed her a while back. And she wrote an article a couple years ago, which was kind of a doomsday article really is, and I read that, yeah, me too. And then I kind of got into a conversation with her about it through through email and stuff, but But what we’re referring to, for the sake of the audience is, you know, she felt that the environmental train is not going to be stopped before it goes off the bridge, you know, and that, you know, within the next decade or so, we all may die. And, you know, I was pushing back and saying, Well, I, you know, I can see how the evidence might suggest that. But I think nature’s got a few tricks up her sleeve, and something’s gonna turn this around. But, you know, again, the kind of stuff you’re saying, gives me hope, you know, it’s evidence that something’s gonna happen.
SEBENE: Yeah, and that’s, you know, one of the things that, you know, really appreciate all the work she put into that acts as a huge amount of, of effort that to just considering that’s not her field, you know, to kind of gather all of that information in one place and have it be such a great resource. And the thing that I you know, just was questioning when I read it maybe somewhat like you was, it was such a materialist kind of factual scientific analysis, that allowed for no possibility of mystery and wonder and the power of nature, not to mention the power of other beings, humans or non human and unseen beings or, you know, sort of the the full kind of mystical possibility that we’re not the only ones driving this train to continue with your metaphor. We’re not the conductor’s actually, we’re passengers at best. So, to kind of it gave it gave humans a lot of power an agency that that idea, you know,
RICK: yeah. One thing that I’ve that I’ve always thought, or ever since I started learning about this stuff, is that, you know, and this is kind of obvious is that the more fundamental levels of nature’s functioning are more powerful than more influential. So for instance, the, the molecular is more powerful than the mechanical and the atomic is more powerful than the molecular. And subatomic is probably more powerful than the atomic. And, you know, in spiritual circles, it’s, it’s often understood that consciousness is the most fundamental thing. And so if that is true, and I believe it is, and you probably do, then if, if somehow we can sort of take recourse to technologies of consciousness, if we want to call them that, then that will have the greatest leverage and, and be able to effect the greatest change, you know, doing doing less than accomplishing more by functioning from that level. So, and like, I was reminded that when you said that her analysis seemed kind of just to sign scientistic and mechanistic, and didn’t take into account the deeper mechanics that probably are at play here.
SEBENE: Yeah, and, you know, the ancients might have called it ritual or ceremony or invocations, and there’s so many ways that consciousness and reality lives. No, and yeah, when we sort of are just counting like, carbon molecules, and not investigating and exploring our lived love of nature, and our relationship to the elements. And, you know, that doesn’t, it’s not just about kind of wild nature and being in the midst of, you know, a national park, but just our relationship to the nature around us. I live in a very urban environment, and I feel, you know, part of my practice is the practice of the elements, or the practice of being in contact with all of reality that rocks are people and my table is people and, you know, my computer is people in the sense that all all of this reality is alive.
RICK: Yeah, it’s all consciousness appearing as this, that and the other thing. Exactly, yeah. And I, maybe we’ve said it, but it could very well be that this upsurge in spirituality is, you know, God’s response or nature’s response to our predicament. It’s like, okay, if we can anthropomorphize nature and say, he or she might say, Okay, well, these people are screwed unless I step in and do something. So let’s, let’s give them an infusion of consciousness and have that proliferate in society. And that will bring things back into balance.
SEBENE: Yeah, and you know, there’s so many metaphors we could view as if were in our, you know, tween phase. And we have to actually learn how to be responsible adults and adolescents and but you know, we might crash a car along the way and have to learn the lesson the hard way. And you know, so we are still evolving to
RICK: Yeah, I like that metaphor. Humanities for the most part rebellious teenagers. With here and there and adult. A question came in this might be a bit of an abrupt gearshift, but um, doesn’t matter. This is from I don’t know whether he pronounces it or she pronounces it aid or OD A D. from New York, maybe you know, this person asks, How important is having one’s hierarchy of needs met as outlined in Maslow’s pyramid on one’s path to enlightenment? Can one get stuck at one level of the pyramid because it offers a sense of safety. For example, it seems that the 12 step programs are largely six because they fulfill our need for belonging. But can this stall progress?
SEBENE: This is so funny because the other night someone asked me about this, Maslow’s hierarchy, and I don’t really know it. So I’m not the best,
RICK: let me just say a thing or two about it. So basically, Maslow said it was a pyramid. And maybe Dan could even send me a graphic and I’ll show it, but it was like, basically, you know, you need shelter and food and there’s, you know, sex drive, and then a higher stage up is something a bit more refined, and not quite as critical to staying alive. And, and then up at the very peak of the pyramid, you get self actualization. And the idea is that if these lower levels of the pyramid are not met, you’re probably not going to get interested in the top level of the pyramid.
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, what, I’m sure I’ve heard it before. In the psychology class, I didn’t do very well in undergrad. And, you know, I’m different metaphors are great for different things. And I’m sure they’re, of course, there’s some truth to that. Okay, I must tend to my basic needs. But even in order to have a practice, you know, to be able to take retreat or take time to, to attend to a practice, but I, you know, metaphors are, what we have, because it’s so hard to explain reality. And I tend to kind of shrink away from anything that is a hierarchy.
RICK: Yeah, well, maybe one way I can make it relevant is, you know, like, can you blame people living in the South Bronx for not being interested in meditation or spirituality? Or maybe some of them are no, but are, you know, people who were in, you know, going through a famine or living in refugee camps in Syria? Or something like that?
SEBENE: Yeah, I think that there’s actually there’s some misunderstanding there of, you know, this is comes to margins and centers, having worked in refugee camps, and, you know, living close to the South Bronx living in, in central Brooklyn. Actually, there’s a lot of spirituality in these in these spaces. Like, that’s actually probably what people tend to turn to most and that we see that in the African American community. Slavery was survived, because of a deep connection to spirit and the synchronization of African Ways of Knowing with the Christianity that was on hand. And so
RICK: slavery, or the slaves managed to survive. You mean, because they had that, that support people survived? Survived? Yes, yes.
SEBENE: And so, you know, I just, again, it’s a it’s a, it’s maybe a good metaphor for understanding an aspect of our lives. But I’m not sure it speaks to the truth, the whole truth of our reality that I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t kind of equate my whole life with that hierarchy. Right. All right,
RICK: just since we mentioned, I’m just going to quickly show it on the screen, and I also emailed it to you so that you can see it. Alright, so I’m just showing that on the screen, this is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And, you know, he kind of, I guess, was saying that you have to your interest in, in the higher ones isn’t going to really kick in until the lower ones are met. And, and this fellow’s question was, could we get stuck, you know, trying to just maintain safety? And, you know, not move on to the higher values? And, you know, how can we move on to them? I think that’s what he was asking.
SEBENE: Yeah, so yeah, I don’t know what gender this person is. But I, again, I, I appreciate having many types of metaphors, you know, because that that is the way we use language as metaphor. That’s the way we understand our situation and our own awakening process. And for me, just even looking at it now that you sent it to me. This the the pyramid itself is is already creating some kind of idea about which is which is larger, which is the foundation which is more important, and I’m not sure that yeah, that doesn’t speak to me as true for for how I hide how I’ve experienced things. Yeah,
RICK: okay, good. Alrighty. So moving on through your book. We talked about rocks are people here’s a, here’s one I don’t think we’ve talked about curiosity first. Why question Whoo.
SEBENE: Yeah, so. So in that section I talk about the fact that I was journaling many years ago. And I realized that creative and reactive are the same word, the see just moves. And my friend Rebecca asked me, you know, what’s the see? And I kind of played around with consciousness and compassion and different see words. But really curiosity came as the most powerful for me that when we’re not curious, you know, when we aren’t, we don’t sort of take that pause to understand what’s happening, whether that’s internally or externally happening, we could just go into a kind of reactive responses, usually, from our habituation, from our conditioning, from our previous perceptions of things, we rarely meet things in the world that are totally brand new, you know, and that completely surprised us. So when we walk into situations, and this is why we have unconscious bias and implicit bias about people about different spaces, or things that we are coming with, you know, just a database in our minds, that comes from our own experiences, from media from culture. And so we, if we don’t stay curious about what we’re meeting what we’re encountering, then we’re going to have a reactive response. And so true creativity, that that creative response comes from that curiosity. To You know, I would never say that we come as a blank slate, that’s not possible, but we come with just an openness to any experience. And so I talk about the word woowoo, which is something that I use often and, you know, I posted recently about this on Instagram and had a lot of conversation with different people there and some people use that word to kind of dismiss kind of a new age sort of vague, often appropriative spirituality that kind of not examined is, you know, that that’s peep some people’s experience of it, they call that woowoo. But the way I often used woowoo, and the way I’ve heard it, especially in mindfulness communities is to dismiss things that are unscientific, you know, and not provable. So it’s kind of returning to the conversation we had before about, you know, dismissing the mysterious and you know, relying on a particular lens or way of explaining something as more powerful, more valid. So I was asking people to question this term, as a way to kind of explore if they use the term in this way, which many people do kind of explore what, what perceptions, what views, what opinions are you coming with? And can you examine those? You know, can you first notice them? And can you be curious and kind of creative? When you approach new things, including new practices?
RICK: Yeah. When I think about curiosity, I think about children, I probably we all do. Because, you know, children are so insatiably curious about every little thing, and every thing you say, they say why? And then you answer that to say, Well, why? And, and most of us kind of lose that. So what would you recommend as a way of reviving that childlike curiosity and keeping it alive, no matter how old we are?
SEBENE: You know, the first step for me is that embodied awareness. So I go through these chapters, there, the sequence is, although it sets the control really in our lives, but ground yourself, know yourself, love yourself, connect yourself, be yourself. And so the ground yourself is the restarting point, for any moment really. And you know, I’m doing it right now I continually feel my feet on the floor, as a way to reconnect to the moment you know, reconnect to what’s really happening, not kind of just immediately going into my schpeel, which I’ve probably done so many times, since the book came out of talking about things in a particular way, but you’re really pausing listening for some of us, it helps to slow down for many of us to feel what’s happening rather than just come from up here and thinking in the head. You know, for me, as I was saying before, not being taught or conditioned to like be in my body, like feeling my seat on the floor and feeling what sensations or emotions are coming up. Like right there. It kind of breaks the habit, like coming in with my preconceived perception, perceptions or conceptions about something and reconnects me to a moment where I can actually receive not go into a habit graded response. So, you know, that’s really the starting point for me.
RICK: Yeah, sounds good. habituated, I think is a key word there. I think our, we come in very fresh and curious and creative and so on as as little kids and we get crusted over, you know, by the pressures and routines and of life. And, you know, it kind of kills our inner genius over time. And I do think it can be revived, though. And, you know, spiritual practice is key to that, I think it kind of breaks the crust, you know, it’s the helps to clear it away. And then you know, that, that natural, innocent, remember Christ said, except to be as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. But I think that, that innocence is there, in even the most cynical crusted over person. And it’s just a matter of somehow breaking the shells and removing the crust. And that’s not something we can do for another person, but it’s something that anyone can do for themselves if they have the incentive.
SEBENE: Yeah, I think, you know, it’s definitely part of the intention of many spiritual paths. And I think that is one of the hardest things to actually bring forth. Because so many of us just want these practices to make us feel good. And for a lot of us feel good means to shut down, and not deal with the difficulties, the difficulties that are within us, so the traumas and the things that we have to work through, and there’s a certain amount of that’s why the next step is know yourself, of just self exploration that that’s going to take. But it also comes up in challenges with other people I know coming from a tradition that really kind of sometimes over emphasizes, and even fetishize the silence, that it’s in relationship that a lot of times that killing off of that innocence happens, because relationships are so fraught, you know, there’s so much projection going on and so many ways that we can retreat into our, our spirituality as a way to hide from what’s being reflected back to us. And so I know that community is one of the ways that is really brought that up for me in in very challenging ways. You know, like, seeing parts of myself that I don’t like, that’s why love yourself comes right after know yourself and actually go kind of hand in hand of really meeting whatever comes up with this sense of kindness and compassion and, you know, allowing these things to kind of work themselves out.
RICK: Yeah. One thought that came up as you’re speaking, for some reason, feel moved to say this is just that whatever reason, motivates a person to start meditation or start on the spiritual path is good enough. And other reasons will come along, like, you know, when I used to teach meditation, people would come because they had migraines, or insomnia, or high blood pressure, you know, something like that. And, and that’s good enough reason to start it, hopefully, it’ll help you with those things. But then, you know, after a few months, a few years, they their motivations had shifted significantly, and they were looking at the kind of more profound things that, you know, we’ve been talking about. Yeah, maybe blood pressure had gone down.
SEBENE: And you know, and that that’s a kind of wake up call or heartache, or, you know, literally with some of those conditions that as you say, is just as valid, but also just as poignant. As you know, I want to awaken
RICK: Yeah. Yeah, in fact, when I first learned I kind of thought the meditation I was practicing was just kind of a non medicinal tranquilizer, you know, I enjoyed it. And it was really helping my life I had dropped out of high school. But after learning, meditate, I got back into a community college and things are all going better, but I really wanted enlightenment, you know, so I actually applied to a Zen monastery up in Rochester, New York. And they said, Well, you have to go work with local Roshi first for six months before we’ll consider it. So I went and visited this guy in Manhattan. And but then, shortly thereafter, it dawned on me that what I’m practicing actually was about higher levels of consciousness, even though that hadn’t been really the introductory presentation so much and you know, so I don’t know why I went. I’m talking about myself too much.
SEBENE: Now, that’s beautiful. I love hearing these stories. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, it doesn’t take a lot I think to allow meditation but really just awareness to open us up to wonder, yeah, and open up to us up to the mystery. It’s not like we have to, like reach, like, the eighth level, or whatever, or something like we can, as you said, at the very start, you know, we can just have an encounter with an animal or an object or a text or our own experience, and, and really tap into that.
RICK: Yeah, yeah, I often find just walking down the street, you know, walking the dogs or something, I look at a worm or look at a blade of grass, and I just contemplate the wonder of it, then it would mean snickering over here. But there’s something amazing about every little mundane perception if we actually consider what we’re seeing. Exactly. You know, how many cells are in that worm? And how, what an incredible complex mechanism is each little cell and, you know, if the worm gets cut in half, he heals up and there’s two worms, and there’s just so many interesting. Every little thing is fascinating. Yeah,
SEBENE: yeah, sometimes, you know, I look at an acorn. Yeah, we were. We were in Sicily for three months recently, where my husband grew up, and we were picking different acorn to seeds to plant to replant. And they were two different oak trees. And I was like, how does this one know that it’s that oak tree and this one know that it’s that, you know, just a miracle wonder sometimes I’ll just look at my hand and think this was my hand when I was two, except it’s not that hand, but it’s the same body and the same consciousness. I mean, yeah, it just takes one moment of contemplation and that’s why I you know, I love the the term contemplative, contemplative practices to kind of bust us open and allow us to get out of that kind of habituated patterning a lot of it being from you know, traumatic traumatic patterning that we have and start to really heal back into that belonging.
RICK: You know, who Shakti Katarina Maji is, ah, she’s a wonderful person and a wonderful teacher and she lives in Sicily. So next time you go to Sicily, let me know because I want to introduce you to her. Okay, you could go go visit her. She has a beautiful place there and you would really hit it off.
SEBENE: Okay. Yeah,
RICK: yeah. Don’t forget, remind me next time we go to Sicily. A question came in from John in Waynesville. And John has sent in several questions in previous weeks. I always wonder where Waynesville is. So tell us sometime, John, where’s Waynesville? But anyway, John’s question is, what is the first course of action and seeking happiness or a more joyful existence?
SEBENE: Wow, that’s such a beautiful question. And, you know, to me that that question is the first opening. Now the fact I say in the book that another journaling experience, I, I realized that be longing is an imperative to be longing. And that longing for connection is actually the doorway, that we think it’s the pain that we have to get away from, but it’s actually the, the signal or the start or, you know, the maybe the start and the end because we kind of always can connect to that longing and to me that longing for joy for freedom for connection for for belonging is is this kind of sweet ache, you know, and, and an ache and a sense of like, a muscle that has has done good, you know, not an ache as in a wound or, or a blow, but really something that we we continue continually practice.
RICK: Good. I hope that answers that John, if it doesn’t set, feel free to send in a follow up question. So you’ve mentioned the chapters e book, I’m gonna run through them again, quickly, delusion of separation, domination, ground yourself, know yourself, love yourself, connect yourself and be yourself. So where are the gaps in what we’ve been discussing so far? You know, what? What points in these chapters do you feel like you’d like to embellish more than we have?
SEBENE: You know, I mentioned that love yourself. It could be the motto for the whole book. Could have been probably every chapter. There’s a way in which I think one of the major challenges of being a modern is that separation from that love, that separation from that sense. have, you know place and personhood embedded in a community of loving care. So many of us have been disconnected from our ancestral cultures, from, you know, being embedded in families, loneliness, even before the pandemic was at epidemic levels, through much of the Western world, or their whole ministries to address loneliness in different parts of Europe that suicide and depression and anxiety are skyrocketing rates. Again, this is before the pandemic have only gone up. So, so that, this practice of knowing yourself, and again, it has to start with grounding yourself. So that it’s not just an intellectual exercise, it’s this embodied way of being in touch with kind of the somatic experience of all of these emotions or thoughts that keep us from not belonging. And it also needs to be grounded in really knowing ourselves, because there’s so many parts of ourselves, including the shadow parts that we don’t want to acknowledge or look at. So for me, just that real emphasis on loving yourself, and the practices and, you know, the things that we can take on to help support that, I think is really key.
RICK: Yeah, it seems like if you don’t know yourself, then how can you love yourself? Who or What are you going to love if you don’t even know what you are? Or who you are?
SEBENE: Yeah, and you know, and again, that’s really looking at the things that we usually hide from and that we’re projecting outwards and to other people, this shadow parts, the inner critics, and, you know, all the, the juicy bits,
RICK: yeah. And I presume that when you say, know, yourself, you don’t just mean, you know, your individuality, and all of its features and aspects and all that, because that’s not the entirety of the self, right. I mean, whether one has a Buddhist or more of a Vedantic background, there’s a deeper dimension to what we are, which is ultimately universal. And, you know, like wave and ocean analogy.
SEBENE: Yeah, it’s kind of the, you know, I, I use the Zen saying of, you know, to study, the Buddha way is to know the self, to know the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to become one with myriad things. But that chapter really is asking people to stay with knowing the self that we’re often running away from, okay, we’re trying to fix that we’re trying to bypass bypass, and it’s really in connect yourself after love yourself, that I really look at dissolving the barriers, and my talk about the elements practice and, you know, other ways of understanding our interconnection that goes beyond our small self.
RICK: Let’s talk about that, because we haven’t talked about that too much yet.
SEBENE: Yeah, so I, I mentioned in that chapter, something that is a, a deep part of the mindfulness, the traditional classical mindfulness practices. So you know, what we call mindfulness for the most part comes from the Sati Putana suta, which is a particular teaching from the Pali canon. And we’ve taken like very choice points from the Sati, Putana, suta, and kind of ignored some of the others. And one of those is it’s in the first foundation, there are four foundations of mindfulness is this practice and mindfulness of the four elements. And I just find it so fascinating that we’ve left it out. And I have some thoughts about kind of the bypass of things that seem more kind of elemental, literally, but also kind of basic and not important because they’re not about us and our psychology and you know, but it’s such a profound practice and really like on a one woman mission to like really bring this back into a mainstream practice. And also because the elements practice you find it through ancient cultures, literally around the world, like every continent, you know, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, you find out your VEDA, you find it in Chinese medicine, Native American internet, indigenous spiritualities around the world, sometimes it’s not for it’s five or six. But this idea of using the natural world and its elements as metaphors, for interconnection is so powerful and it’s such a simple practice. It’s really just to contemplate and be aware of earth element, water element, fire element, and air element internally, externally, and both internally and externally. So it’s a felt sense experience of those inside of us. It’s a, you know, contemplation and experience of those around us. And then it’s understanding that there dissolves that barrier between inner and outer to recognize that we are these elements. So, you know, I love it as a very simple but profound practice, like practical practice.
RICK: So I don’t know if you could elaborate on it more here to make it even more clear to people what what you’re saying, but I presume you teach this in courses,
SEBENE: I do. Yeah, I’ve done an online course for tricycle magazine that’s accessible, and goes through each element. And I have a couple of talks or meditation on my website, too. But it’s really simple, you know, the earth element is what solid so we really feel that sense of groundedness. And we start with that, it always starts with the earth element, we see that in cultures around the world, you know, starting with these kind of grounded practices. And so you feel your muscles, you feel your bones, you feel the weight of your body and feel that density and connection with the earth underneath. And then you move to the water element, which is all that is fluid and moist. And so you know, you can feel the wetness behind your eyes or your mouth and, and acknowledge that we’re mostly water. And the world is mostly water and kind of the paradox of that, like, we don’t feel mostly liquid, but we are. And then to feel the fire element as kind of temperature in the body and the energy and power of that. And you know, the sun epitomizing that, and then to feel the air element, which is maybe a more common practice for people to feel the breath and to recognize that this is an element that connects us not only in this moment with each other, but throughout time that we’re breathing the same air as, you know, all the ancients. And yeah, all our ancestors. Certainly, I
RICK: mean, right now, each breath you and I take we’re breathing in some molecules that Buddha or Jesus, exactly, yeah, yeah.
SEBENE: And so, you know, again, really simple practice. And, and I always say, and I say in the book, we’re not practicing to become good meditators, we’re practicing to kind of bring this kind of awareness into our lives. And so I use the elements practice all day. If I’m in the shower, you know, I’m feeling water, if I’m turning on the stove, I’m interacting with fire. And so it kind of switches us out of this wordy, logical, mind centered way of interacting, and to really come into that, as we’ve been speaking about that, knowing that everything’s consciousness.
RICK: Yeah, yeah, it sounds like it would make one more grounded and integrated. And, you know, living in not only the now, but in terms of like, living in what they’re actually experiencing, as opposed to being sort of often lala land while they’re doing something else.
RICK: Yeah. It’s interesting. I once heard read a paper by a physicist to went into, in fact, people can look it up if they want. It’s by John Hagen. And it’s called it’s case consciousness, the unified field, and you’ll find that if you do a Google search, but it’s he went into this whole explanation about how this idea of four or five elements, some some say Akasha, or spaces, the fifth is not just some primitive, you know, ancient understanding it actually, he correlated it with modern physics in terms of the spin types of fundamental fundamental particles. And,
SEBENE: wow, that sounds fascinating. Yeah.
RICK: And he is most of the papers over my head, because he’s a bunch of equations and all sorts of things. But, but that that I remember, and that, you know, he felt like they had really gotten on to something in terms of the most fundamental way that nature actually functions as understood by modern physics. Yeah, I
SEBENE: would love to look that up. Yeah.
RICK: Make a note. I am
SEBENE: taking out my journal where I put all my notes.
RICK: Yeah. So go ahead. I’ll let you jot that down. So as John Hagen Ha Ji Li N. Thank you. And the title of the paper was his consciousness the unified field. Yeah. All right. So that, I guess mostly relates to connect yourself, and then Are these all sequential? I mean,
SEBENE: you know, yeah, you know, again, metaphors is all we have, and it’s given us beautiful things like poetry, but it’s also given us linear thought and And so yes, I kind of laid them out in a sequential way. And I don’t think that it’s sequential in our lived life. So I do believe we have to have some kind of embodied knowing to really go into this question of belonging. But, yeah, it’s not like I get up and use the five step process throughout my day to meet every moment. Yeah. So yeah, be yourself is kind of the last one, but I find it such a beautiful one. And I really, in that chapter, I talk a lot about my sister, who is intellectually disabled, she’s my older sister, but I’ve, you know, really been kind of entrusted with a lot of care for her since a young age. And we, I kind of used her experience of our mother’s death and our relationship together to explore this idea of really being your full self. And I talk a lot about, I talk to them about intimacy and imagination there. And the importance of being intimate with our experience. And I think that’s what the the previous six chapters were really about, of, you know, learning how to kind of become intimate with ourselves and with the world around us. And then imagination, as the place where that curiosity can lead to creativity, to generative opportunities, and I use where my sister lives now, which is a community in upstate New York, that’s Rudolf Steiner, connected community, they’re called Camphill communities. And it’s one of just the most beautiful, thoughtful, imaginative, intimate, creative places I’ve ever been. And actually use this idea of the conspiracy of consciousness, and talk about how, you know, to conspire means to breathe with. So we we use conspiracy, often nowadays, especially as a pejorative, but that we can conspire in positive ways so that we can conspire, as we are doing now, and to to actually encourage and invite more wisdom, compassion, awakening into the world.
RICK: You said in one of your earlier chapters, that your sister, although she’s intellectually challenged, she’s emotionally very developed. Is that right?
SEBENE: Yeah, so she’s 54. And she has led 54 years of life, you know, she’s a woman, and she’s been through surgeries and losses and lived in different continents and traveled back and forth a lot. So she, she has this, you know, wisdom of just what it means to be alive that long. And she can’t express it necessarily through language and intellectual ways. But she is very emotionally astute, and so responds to doesn’t miss a trick, right? She really doesn’t. And she, you know, when we were living together, both grieving our mom’s death, she lived with us for a year after my mom died. You know, some days I would wake up, and she could just tell us just tired and exhausted from trying to figure out, you know, what would be the best situation for her and exploring options, and she would just stand at the other end of the hallway. Career. Here. Tell me, give me a big hug. Yeah, just that real emotional openness and honesty,
RICK: is that I wasn’t totally clear on how your sister was an example of be yourself. But is that it right there. I mean, she just know, What You See Is What You Get no guile, no. subterfuge, no, no complications, like many people have.
SEBENE: Yeah, and you know, just her own way of processing, like the grief that we were processing together. She did this thing for weeks after my mother died, where she would name everyone who had died, that she knew this kind of a way to process her mom’s death, she would say, you know, so and so died and her uncle died and Michael Jackson died and just go through this list, which was the long list. Yeah. And then she would go through the list of everyone who was going to die, which is everybody, everyone actually would kind of go through the list of all of her family and friends and our dog and, you know, and, you know, and sometimes you’d get things wrong should be like, you know, Stevie Wonder is dead. And I’m like, No, Stevie Wonder is not dead yet. Obama’s gonna die. You know, she just like whatever. And it was it was a death metal.
RICK: This couch is also yes, very wise. Yeah.
SEBENE: Yeah. Which is a you know, as part of the mindfulness practices, the mindfulness of death and contemplating death, and that was her way of processing. And it was a beautiful meditation for us. Right? She would do this multiple times a day for weeks. So just so we would just kind of go through this lesson patiently and kind of say, yes, yes, yes. No, yes. No. And it was such a gift right, of just being herself of like, and, and giving us this incredible teaching.
RICK: That’s great. Yeah, I mean, contemplating death is a spiritual practice. You remember that famous painting of a monk, looking at a skull, you know, I forget what that painting is, but and various spiritual teachers, Shankara Omma, various others have said that, you know, we should kind of like, live life as though our next breath may be our last. Or as I’m gonna put it live like a bird perched on a branch that might just break at any time. There’s nothing more bit about it, you know, nothing scary about it. It’s more like, get real, you know, and realize the ephemeral nature of life and make hay while the sun shines, I guess, you know,
SEBENE: right? Yeah. And she wasn’t, you know, sad or more a bitch was just really matter of fact and such a gift and invitation really?
RICK: Yeah. Here’s a nice question that came in from someone named Lesley in Amesbury. My geography skills are weak. I don’t know where Amesbury is. But, Dan, you got to find out where these places are. Then his fields the questions. Leslie says, I work with kids with emotion with social emotional problems. Do you have any suggestion for ways of working with students like this elementary middle school to help support their healing from trauma and heat? And drop from trauma? Big question, but just wondering if you have thoughts on this?
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, thank you for doing that work. First of all, that is, the work we need was to really start young. And to address some of these things. There’s been huge growth in what’s often called trauma sensitive mindfulness. There’s actually a book, I think it’s by David traveling or, and it’s of that title. But there, you know, a lot of work being done around somatic experiencing, which is a trauma centered, therapeutic approach, that really recognizes that trauma is stored in the body, there’s the work of Bessel, Vander Kolk, who coined the term and has the book, The Body Keeps the Score. So there are a lot of resources out there more and more coming into the educational field, you might want to check out Mindful Schools, just based in the west coast and has a lot of online programming as well and is buried connected to that trauma sensitive framework. But there there are more and more resources. And you know, I would just say as a as a big caveat and starting point is to take care of one’s own self. So especially people who are in caregiving professions, who are first responders who are teachers, there can be this emphasis on kind of serving, giving, taking care of others, but the only way we can really serve is by leading as as an example. And then sharing, you know, kind of what’s real for us. So just to really make sure that you are not just seeking that out in service of others, but that you take care of your own needs.
RICK: Yeah, I’ve personally, I’ve always felt meditation to be such a battery, recharger, you know, it’s like, you can just feel exhausted and burned out and sit down and meditate and come out half an hour an hour later, feeling like, you know, you just had a good night’s sleep or something, it’s just really can recharge you so. And if you can do that regularly, you build up a kind of a reservoir or something that is that carries you through difficult situations. So I wish all the healthcare workers and people who were experiencing burnout could have access to something like that.
SEBENE: Yeah, you know, just to plug 10% happier, I get nothing from this, even though I work for them. But they have made their app free for first responders for healthcare workers, for grocery workers for teachers. And, and, and are open if you can’t afford the app, you know, you can always contact them and they’ll help you.
RICK: Yeah. How expensive is it if you pay for it?
SEBENE: I don’t think it’s that much. Less subscription or something. Yeah, it’s I think it’s probably Probably around $10 a month, something like that.
RICK: Yeah, Sam Harris does that too with his waking up app? It’s like, if you can’t afford it, it’s free. No questions asked. The Harris is a very generous boys. Okay, so we’re getting on? Well, we have a little time left, if you want to cover some more points, is there anything we haven’t covered that you feel, you know, after we hang up, you’re gonna think Darren, I wish we had covered that.
SEBENE: You know, you know, I don’t shy away at all in the book. And we’ve talked a little bit about it, around issues of identity and race, and just coming from different realities, perspectives from different points along those margins and centers. And, you know, it’s something that I would like to just emphasize that that is a place of possibility that we’ve had so much wounding in this country, but around the world, and these being separative identities. And so in that equation of we are not separate, and we are not the same, that we have this real opportunity to learn from each other. And I would say that one balance of that equation is that a lot of folks of color and, and especially black people in this country to survive, we’ve learned a lot about white culture, about dominant culture, that that’s the general education and kind of information, we get it just a real invitation for white folks who are listening and in general, to kind of use this as an opportunity to not kind of fall into the bypass of we are not separate, but really use the diversity that we’re surrounded by to learn about other cultures, to read books, from other perspectives from other communities. And just the richness that I’ve seen that comes from that I work in a lot of multicultural communities. And I run a lot of retreats where we really intentionally create a balance, particularly around race, but other identities as well. And it is so healing for everyone, when there can be that opportunity to, to really, especially for white folks to step forward around that.
RICK: Can you give two or three specific recommendations? You mentioned books, and you know, what, what can people do?
SEBENE: I have a friend I like to tell this story, my friend, Elaine, who is in her 60s or mid 60s, she’s a white, Jewish, Ashkenazi Jewish, lesbian. And we used to teach together a lot and became very close. And we would see each other, you know, a few times a week, usually when I was working full time at a meditation center. And we’d always talk about what books we were reading. And for a while, every time I saw Elaine, she would name a novel or a nonfiction book by a black woman. And so finally, I just said, Elaine, what’s going on? And she said, Oh, well, you know, I’ve spent 60 Some years basically only reading white people. So I’ve decided I’m only going to read Black women. And she went to a website and she kind of just cut and pasted the the reading list, I think it was well read Black Girl or one of those, you know, wonderful sites. And she’s just kind of making the commitment to change her perspectives change her understanding of things, you know, kind of see things from the margins. And so I challenged myself with that I you know, try and educate myself in things that I’m less aware of. So it’s been, you know, a few years ago, some time really learning about fat, what’s called fat liberation and body positivity and kind of looking at the ways that I had absorbed all these ideas about fatness and the biases that I had had kind of just adopted from the society and started listening to fat people and fat activists online.
RICK: They take it they don’t mind are using that word.
SEBENE: Yeah, they actually reclaim that word. Yeah. So I learned that you know, and so there’s there was that to learn recently, I’ve been trying to educate myself more on disability activism and ableism and, but you know, really had like, had some kind of eye opening perspectives about ability and disability and just by reading books and following different people on Instagram, there’s a great film called crip camp on Netflix. That is just
RICK: beautiful. The Rip like the Crips, the Bloods and the Crips. Yes,
SEBENE: so they you know, a reclamation of crippled Right. So
RICK: that kind of grip I see. Yeah.
SEBENE: And it’s, it’s the story of this summer camp that existed in the late 60s and early 70s for disabled youth, and then tells the story of the activist who worked to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. And it was a whole history of activism that I’d never been aware of, and a conversation and perspectives that I wasn’t aware of. So, you know, broadening our awareness, broadening our understanding, by changing kind of what we take in, by noticing what we take in and looking for different voices, you know, that’s really the beauty and we are not the same.
RICK: I’m glad we drifted onto this topic. Because, you know, we started talking, we started out talking about separation. And, you know, most of us are oblivious to such a great extent of what other people go through, you know, various types look like the kinds of people you just mentioned. And we probably have, not only are we oblivious, but we have all these biases and attitudes, and all that we’re not even aware of, it really does seem to be, you know, whether you frame it in a spiritual context, in terms of, you know, spiritual growth, or just being a decent human being functionally functioning properly in society, it seems like the time has come that we really need to sensitize and educate ourselves about these other perspectives, in order not to be a jerk, you know, unwittingly in order to be inclusive and kind and, you know, compassionate.
SEBENE: And in order to awaken, yeah, that’s because if we, if we have these blind spots, then we’re not seeing clearly. Yeah, and so that’s the, again, there’s this subtle way. And I can fall into this to where we think that the Absolute Truth is more true. Like it’s truth easier, in some way, even though it’s called the two truths. And so this is where that relative spiritual exploration, and I do feel that learning and loving each other is part of our spiritual practice, that that relative spiritual exploration is just as much a part of our awakening because as our consciousness awakens to all the ways that we’ve actually created barriers between us and others, it actually starts to dissolve those barriers will first show us that they were there and see that kind of separate of consciousness that we’re moving with unconsciously. And really, that’s where we’re headed is to this unbounded love that is, is not clouded by these unconscious, unconscious separative ways.
RICK: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, you can’t love your neighbor as yourself if you you can’t in appreciate unbounded love if you have all these blind spots about people, about groups of people and so on. I just want to touch on the absolute truth being more true point. Which I think what the eye you know, it’s, I know where that idea comes from. I mean, it’s more the Absolute Truth is more is permanent, I guess you could say and there’s a verse in The Gita which goes, the Unreal has no being the real never ceases to be. So, you know, the gold ornaments might be melted down, and you might turn rings into bracelets or something like that, but it’s all the gold is the same gold in both circumstances. But
SEBENE: I think I think it’s, I think, I think it’s just a perceptual misunderstanding, because we are only seeing things in terms of our understanding of time. But, you know, I think material manifestation is, is just as you know, it, it’s timeless in its own way.
RICK: Yeah. There’s actually a traditional sort of tug of war between these perspectives between Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, where Vedanta hasn’t Mondeo Gu upon Ashad, which is kind of like nothing ever happened, the universe never even manifested the whole thing is an illusion. Whereas Kashmir Shaivism, is more like wait a minute that this whole relative creation is actually the divine, you know, in more of a an embodied, playful form and is worthy of reverence. And, you know, not something to sort of be escaped from as soon as possible. I just want to mention on this theme that we’ve been just discussing that I’ve been going to the science and non duality conference for years, although it was cancelled lately because of the pandemic. But at one point, there’s a friend of mine named Vera Sharam Shaolin bear, who has been on that gap. And she started going. And she, she went to the organizers said, Wait a minute, where are all the women? Where are all the black people? You know, where are the gay people, whatever, because it was just sort of this lot of white men up on stage talking non duality. And so they really took that to heart. And the whole thing has become extremely diverse. And, you know, and they also have a whole group called the Young sages, which all these kids under the age of, I don’t know, 22, or something like that, and, and they’ll come on scholarship. And there’s a whole group of young people sort of thinking and planning and getting up and reading poets, poet poetry to the whole group. And it’s really cool to see how that has evolved.
SEBENE: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Happy to hear that. And, yes, that’s also a group that I really try and learn from and have been really privileged because of the work I did for so many years to have been influenced by youth culture for most of my adult life, but I try and really pay attention to the kids because they, they really, they understand so much. And, and then they often have such incredible ways of expressing it.
RICK: Yeah. Good. All right. I’m gonna show your website here. There it is. Subsidized velocity.com, right? Yes, you belong, you’re not separate. You never were, you never will be. So I’ll be linking to this from your page on bat gap calm. And if people go there, there’s an events menu, which I’m sure you have all kinds of. There we go. I’m looking at it now. Oh, there, there’s your back cap nav listed and other kinds of things that you have planned. So as usual, people can probably just go there and look at what you have to offer and get on your mailing list and everything else. But is there anything particular either coming up soon? Or, you know, if someone listens to this a few years from now, or maybe both things that you want to call people’s attention to?
SEBENE: Yeah, I think the best way is my website. And you know, my name won’t change. So my website probably won’t change either. And, yeah, my newsletter I send out on the new moon and full moon, and Brock, this is usually very filled with kind of musings and resources. All I might list events, but it’s not kind of a promotional newsletters, really. I try and share what practices and you know, also music and books and things are influencing me and you know, hope that it’s nourishing for other folks too.
RICK: Good. And you are on the 10% happier podcast or app quite a bit. I listened to quite a few of those during the week. So people can check that out, too.
SEBENE: Yeah, I’m on the app. And I’ve been on the podcast a few times. And yeah, people can find me there too.
RICK: Good. Well, thanks, Sabina. enjoyed spending some time with you?
SEBENE: Yeah, it’s been really great, Rick. It’s really beautiful conversation. I didn’t know where it would start or go. But it really was. Yeah, fun exploration.
RICK: I didn’t know either, actually. Larry King has a flop had the flight died recently. But he had the philosophy that he didn’t want to know anything about his guests because he wanted to sort of be just like his audience and just totally in the dark and start asking questions. Sometimes that worked for him. Sometimes it didn’t. Like he interviewed who was it? Marlon Brando one time and he said it was his toughest interview because he’d ask a question. And Brando would just say, yeah. Know what to do next. But um, remember, there was one clip they played recently after he died, where he was interviewing Jerry Seinfeld. And you know, he obviously hadn’t really prepared insightful so do you even know who I am? But anyway, I have a certain balance we say in preparation and winging it.
SEBENE: I think you strike a beautiful balance. Thank you. Good.
RICK: Thank you. So and thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. As you know, this is an ongoing series. If this is new, do go to bat gap calm and you can sign up to be notified by email of new ones. Or if you’d like YouTube to notify you just subscribe to Subscribe on YouTube. And as you may know, there’s that little after you hit the subscribe button, a little bell pops up and then if you click the bell, then you can opt to be notified even more or all the time of anytime there’s a new thing, which in my case is about once a week. My next guest will be Richard tarnis Who is a cosmologist teaching at the California Institute of integral studies. And I have two great big humongous books that he just sent me that I’m going to try to read as much as during the week because cosmology fascinates me. And so that should be an interesting conversation. And of course, there are many others scheduled and we continue to schedule them if you’d like to see what’s upcoming. There’s an excuse me an upcoming interviews page on bat gap where we show everything that has been scheduled. So thanks again. And we’ll see you for the next one. And thanks again. 70.
SEBENE: Thank you, Rick.
RICK: Say hi to Dan for me if you talk to him.