Episode #13 Finding Stillness, Finding Wholeness: Sharing Enquiry with Daniel Thorson of Emerge
The Emerge podcast is a must-listen for anyone interested in exploring human potential as we surge into the anthropocene. Its host, Daniel Thorson is fearless in exploring the ways we can evolve, interviewing thought-leaders in the fields of psychology, philosophy, spirituality – all individuals engaged in finding ways we can become the best of ourselves – and better.
A former activist/organiser at Occupy Wall Street, Daniel has spent tens of thousands of hours in meditation, and almost as many thinking deeply about the ways we can move forward in the heart of the Anthropocene. In this conversation, we have the opportunity to join his enquiry, to find out where his work has taken him, to dive deeply into what it means to be alive now, and the ways we can move forwards as individuals and as a collective.
Daniel’s suggested must-read book is The OverStory by Richard Powers
His suggested listening, is this series of talks – Rob Burbea’s Dharma Talks
And the Emerge podcast website is here
In this episode, my guest is Daniel Thorson of the absolutely groundbreaking Emerge podcast. Podcasts can be many things, but there are few that explore so deeply and with such absolute integrity and rawness of being the edges of human potential and how we might be what we need to be in this era of the Anthropocene.
Daniel lives and studies at the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth in Vermont and has spent many thousands, tens of thousands of hours in meditation. In this study of Buddhist philosophies and the inquiries as to what that is, he has one of the most engaged and engaging minds that I have heard anywhere in this field. He has a particular interest in how spiritual practice can make the world a more just and equitable place.
In this podcast we have a discussion that really takes us deeply into the experience of what it is to be what we need to be for the world, of how that feel, of how it manifests, of how we can explore it more deeply and of where that might begin to take us. So here’s Daniel Thorson. I hope you enjoy him…
Daniel, welcome to Accidental Gods. It’s a real pleasure to have you here. I want to dive in because I’m hoping that quite a lot of our listeners will have listened to the Emerge podcast, and if they don’t, they will go off and listen to it now. And so I want to pick up in a way where that left off. Towards the end of the last episode with Rob Burbea and Jamie, you offered a quote from The Listening Society by Hanzi Freinacht. And I wondered if you could remember that and if you’d share it with us again now and if we could use that as our springboard into a deep dive into everything that that unfolds. Does that feel all right?
Sure. If I remember correctly, I was referencing something like ‘He or she who dies with the most perspectives, wins.’
Yes. What you said at the time was ‘She who dies, having mastered the most perspectives, wins.’
And I thought that had a kind of Zen koan effect of of opening all the gates in my brain. They all leapt open simultaneously and all the ‘racehorses’ ran out in many different directions. And I thought that if we were to pick and – leaving aside the winning and losing, things, which leave us in zero sum places we don’t want to go, where does that take us in terms of the value of mastering many perspectives and how we might in practical terms do that.
I think that for me, to the degree that I have, as you say, mastered many perspectives, it’s more about taking on a multiplicity of perspectives. Reflecting on my life there are two major forces. One is curiosity – a kind of fire I feel to want know reality more deeply in all the ways that I can. And that’s a relationship of love in my world.
Then the other is a feeling of deep care, of wanting to care for this this world. And some sense that the more that ways of knowing that I can inhabit and move from, the more opportunities and refinement and sensitivity that care can manifest us.
So I think it can get really abstract, if we just talk about taking on perspectives without being grounded in the motivational forces that would cause somebody to be called forth beyond whatever perspectives they’re currently in, whether they’re trapped in them or they love them or whatever.
I think that, if I speak for myself to the degree that I’m connected with those two forces, I inevitably explore many perspectives, perhaps master many perspectives. And it does seem like that’s part of what’s really necessary at this in this planetary transition.
Do you, in your own practice, from your own perspective, come back to a stable baseline?
I’m thinking of your podcast with Rob Burbea. (It took me about five listens to begin to get to grips with it).
He speaks of coming back to a place of clarity and a place of emptiness, from which then to explore different perspectives, different aspects of reality. And my own experience is that I have baselines that feel almost empty. I hesitate to suggest that I’ve ever got to complete emptiness, but that I can go off and explore ways of being, ways of looking, ways of visioning.And then I tend to come back to somewhere that feels like home. But I think that home is probably another perspective. And so just in terms of the actual practice of this, I’m wondering what your experiences are. Does that make sense?
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense.
One thing that comes to mind is actually a kind of principle, a rule of thumb that Rob Burbea often shares. And it’s from the alchemical tradition and the principle is do not proceed until all is turned to liquid.
And so I would I would have trouble with this construction of such a thing as a baseline. Because one of my assumptions or one of the kind of ways that I model the experimentation that I engage in with my perception is that all of this is dependent arises dependent on the way of participating that I invoke.
So whatever this baseline or home is, I’m constructing that. That’s that. And it may be a beautiful place to rest, rejuvenate, reflect. But it, too, is a coming together of causes and conditions that if I take seriously this superordinate goal of agility and malleability of perspectives.
Another thing that Rob Burbea says is that the only perspective that is problematic, the only perspective that is problematic is the one that you’re stuck in, the one that you can’t leave. And so that’s always for me in the back of my mind – do I think that this is it? Do I think that this is somehow where it all gets to or is this me? That’s the traditionally Buddhist reflection.
I’m interested for people who haven’t got a lifestyle where they can sit and meditate for many hours – but they can maybe sit for some hours.
For them, could you say where your mind rests when you’re having breakfast, for example? I’m curious about the baseline resting place? I need to find another metaphor. But for me, there’s a ‘settling’ in a sense, a texture within myself. And I completely know that I bring this [that I construct it]. So would it be better to find discomfort?
That’s a beautiful question. There’s so many ways to answer this. And for some reason, I feel called to do it this way, which is that you’re never not practicing according to this way of seeing. We’re always relating to experience in a way that is itself part of the causes and conditions that gives rise to what we experience. And then perhaps forget that we are participating in its construction and take it to be real and immalleable, inflexible.
And so, for me, step one is that I can go meta on my experience a little bit and trouble it – is it that I feel this is how it is or this is some kind of permanent situation that I find myself in. But the question that you’re asking is one of the deepest questions. And the way I interpret it is something like, where should I put my attention? Where should I come in to intimate connection with all of this experience that I find myself inexplicably embedded in.
It’s a deep question. It depends on what you want. It depends on what world you’re attempting to create. It depends on all the causes and conditions that are present now. I’ll say in a very prosaic way for me during breakfast – it depends: Is my heart feeling some kind of like emotional charge that I want to feel into and invite into the open and soothe or something like that?
Am I feeling inspired? And I want to kind of draw that out or feel that in my body. Am I too much in my head? So I need to feel my butt on the seat. And so it’s a really sensitive dance. That’s why I think for me there is a superordinate goal of malleability and agility and sensitivity. This is, I think, a bit different than a lot of meditative traditions where the answer to your question, Manda, is “just focus on the breath up your nostrils”. To me, that seems like a very boring answer.
And I would struggle with that answer to understand how we as a species might transcend ourselves. I await someone able to explain that. Whereas your explanation makes my heart dance and I can feel the real wish to explore in that way more deeply, whereas, the breath up my nostrils is a fascinating objective observation.
But I think for me when I’m doing that, I’m training myself to stand on the knife edge of the moment so that I can do it through the day, not particularly because the breath in my nostrils is that fascinating.
Okay, so lots and lots of different ways to go forward.You said, it depends on what world are attempting to create…. I’m exploring Buddhism from the outside as a kind of occasional visitor. And my very basic Buddhism 101 understanding is that everything is illusory. Which I get on a head level, but then one of the things that came out of your conversation with Rob Burbea was that we deconstruct and then we reconstruct and that we have the responsibility and the agency to reconstruct.
And you said it depends on what world we are attempting to create and that for me then, then I feel the little nugget of gold in my heart and I want to say, ‘Yes!’ What world are we attempting to create and where does that come from? Where does the desire come from? Where does the framework of what we might want to create come from? Because actually in the end, I think we both want to step into a place of absolute malleability from which something arises, but the desire to get there must come from somewhere. And where does the agency arise and how do we implement that? Is this making sense as a question?
Yes. And it’s such a beautiful question. And for me, part of the reason why it’s such a beautiful question is because it points so directly the mystery that is the participation that we all have in life, to moment to moment, give birth to new worlds. And how does that happen? And from where does our desire come? That’s such a beautiful inquiry. Jung calls desire a cosmic organic force. Meaning that it’s that which gives birth to the cosmos. And I would invite us to ask ourselves, why do we want what we want? Why do we want what we want?
Because often in our world today, that is not a question that we end up asking. And there’s so much fertility, there are so much fertility in asking why do we want what we want? It’s a very disruptive question. And actually, for me, it leads quickly into questions of a soul and divinity and sacredness.
As long as we can dematerialize our desires sufficiently to see them as being somehow alchemised or transformed into something less – and more – profound than they appeared to be when they first arose in our consciousness. And part of my assumption, I suppose, is that desire is divine. And it gets distorted or confused. and then we just want an iPod or something.
Rupert Reed is an amazing philosopher the University of East Anglia .He’s big in XR and in his latest book, This Civilization is Finished, is a step on from Deep Adaptation.
In it he describes a colleague who was in a supermarket and there was as a small child, an infant, a toddler having a meltdown, screaming, “I want! I want! I want!” and the mother says ‘Well, what is it? I’ll get it. What do you want?’ and the child says, ‘I don’t know!’
We just need to look around the world and see – oh, my goodness we’re all three year old children in meltdown.
And then we all need to know from where does the desire arise and then how do we channel it? And I think what comes up for me then is that there are layers of the 3 year old me screaming ‘I want’ that are my unhealed traumas of childhood, my feeling of being loved or not loved – pathologies of the 21st century modern humanity and probably pathologies of what Jonathan Heit calls the WEIRD society, Western. Educated. Industrial. Rich. Democratic. (We can ditch the Democratic and assume we’re just the WEIR society now!)
And yet under if we’ve can take a step back from that, there is also the desire to be conscious; the desire to be part of a generative, regenerative creative experience. And so I’m guessing that when you talk about soul, divinity and sacredness, it’s that desire. And I wonder, can we unpick this? What does divinity mean to you?
So a lot of how I approach these kinds of topics is informed by the teachings of Rob Burbea and his soul making Dharma. And my sense of Divinity and Sacredness lies in or emerges from a sense of multi dimensionality or unknowability or beyondness. A sense that what I’m seeing or what I’m perceiving – that there’s more there. And that my heart is calling out to to know that.
There’s some kind of erotic pull to know that beyond. And that’s even back to when I talked about curiosity. This is a kind of development of that. So there’s a divine curiosity, a divine erotic wanting to know the object of the beloved object and that could be anything: a person, a tree, the world, an ideology or a topic or idea value.
And yes, so that the sacred for me is this quality of relationship and endless emergence into novelty and new dimensionality and new refractions and new creations and playful embraces of paradox and strangeness and all the things. And I can look back on my life and see that this has always been calling me forth. And the more directly that I can acknowledge that motivation and that love, the more closely I can be in that… – it’s like a kind of sexual tension because you never actually know it.
And that’s the point. And part of the way that I think our world currently shuts down this dance is by boxing things in and relieving ourselves of the mystery, because we think that we ought to know with certainty, which is a great way to kill divinity.
Yes. Yes. Beautiful. And in the seeking of this playful fluidity we we are unboxing things. So I feel… my heart is is singing and is open and I feel a kind of heart based vibration that says, yes, this is right. And in a way, I don’t want to spoil that by asking head based questions, so maybe I’ll leave the head based questions for later.
Yes. But it’s really interesting because logos and ideas and the mind are also an object of this sacred dance – we can, I mean, I love ideas. And part of it is relating to this in a way that opens up that erotic relationship and doesn’t close it down. Because the mind has this weird capacity to do both. I can both open the world and I can also close it down.
Concepts have this kind of like Janus-faced capacity or possibility to do both. And most people, I think, or many people have experienced concepts being used to shut down this whole world that we’re talking about. And that’s how I think they’ve been used a lot in modernity, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And I personally feel very inspired by the possibility of using concepts as a way to fertilize and open and kind of impregnate this sensibility.
All right. That gives me permission to open into more head-based things.
So in my previous conversation to this one, I was talking to a lady Rabbi who has set up a school for Hebrew priestesses. She’s the only Hebrew High Priestess for thousands of years. And we ended up talking about the Hebrew concept of divinity and particularly the one that is described in the Kabbalah, which comes came as close as I understand it, to my felt sense of what I would call the All-That Is which is timeless and boundless and feels to me that if I give it words, like Raw, Wild Compassion. (I think I need the adjectives because otherwise compassion feels a bit of a tame thing to me. I suspect that’s my stuff.)
Anyway, we got to a place where this exists and connects to us in the shamanic realities and in the Hebrew realities through what we might call gods. But the gods are our small manifestations of something that is Infinite and Boundless and is both the source of our curiosity and the object of our curiosity.
And so I’m feeling that we were heading to the same place. And then I’m remembering that when you and I had a conversation before, I had a kind of a glib frame that all spiritual parts are heading to the same place. And you said, but no, in Buddhism, everything is an illusion. And yet what I’m feeling is that we have a space of this energy. This object of our erotic desire and our curiosity and for me, the felt sense of that kind of heart exploding opening – this feels alive to me, and not something that illusory.
In your world, do you find that you end up on a knife edge of a paradox where it is both illusion and not illusion? Or is this something that is real? And then we just have to explore ‘what does real mean?’
I hope I didn’t say in our previous conversation that Buddhism says that everything is an illusion because that would be that would be inexact. It’s better to say something like – Buddhism, as I understand it, says that everything is constructed. Or to be a little bit more annoying, they would say something like everything is neither real nor not real.
That’s the middle way. And my experience with that in in life is that it’s at first a razor’s edge which becomes a very wide highway. It seems like very hard to nail that weird space between real and not real, but actually that is a space that gives permission to everything to be as it is. And so that’s what comes up for me after hearing you your share.
So I have a construct which I find useful on occasion, particularly when I’m teaching the shamanic stuff of Head-mind, Heart-mind. Gut mind. Can we bring those all into coherence?
And yes, obviously they’re not separate, but my Head mind has a tendency to want to box and frame and structure things. And then my Heart mind is much more fluid and flowing. And this feels as if my Heart mind can find a place where both reality and not reality are a broad path, and then my Head-mind can relax and not have figure stuff out. Does that feel accurate?
Yes. Totally. That’s certainly by experience and a lot of this is just to relieve us of the burden of thinking that we need to figure things out definitively. At a very like grounded level, it seems like a lot of how this path is constructed – and this is me just speaking as a practitioner – is all in service of liberating us.
It’s not true. The path itself is neither real, nor not-real. The teachings are neither real or not-real. They are also to be burned up in the end in order to liberate us and allow us to walk freely and fluidly and malleab;y through the world and through our experience.
Manda: [00:30:05.35] Yay! Yeah. Glorious.
Yeah. And I think the really exciting thing for me too is – and I will say too, for folks that are listening – a lot of what I’ve been saying about soul and divinity and sacredness… most Buddhists would not be down with that. The sacredness of desire is non-standard Buddhist dogma. That’s a new saying. That’s a pretty recent. That’s, largely based on the teachings of Rob Burbea.
Manda: [00:30:45.15] It feels really alive, though.
Yes. And I think it’s extremely beautiful.
The fruit of that kind of way of approaching things is that I feel then that I’m liberated to participate in elements of Jewish mysticism if that calls me forth – because that’s the freedom I have. So I have recently gone to a evangelical Christian rock and roll Sunday celebration. And it was amazing! It was so beautiful! Because I could bring forth what was meaningful to me in the context. I had that fluidity. And for me, so much of what is exciting as a possibility is that we come to a place where we can embrace all the faces of divinity and sacredness and beauty and interesting experiments in how to bring that forth. Different logoi. Different ideas, ideological complexes, different psycho technologies, different practices, different sorts of relationships. All of that is fair game as fertile territory
So… this is my stuff and may not be your interests at all, but have you ever explored the neurobiology of what you think is happening?
Okay, Let me take this back a little bit. Years ago, when I was reading about the early studies that the Dalai Lama instigated at Boulder, and then they moved on into the Heart Math Institute. Way back, they came out with their EEG equipment and to put on the heads of the Tibetan Buddhist monks. And the monks fell about laughing because the crazy white people were measuring their heads when everybody knows you should be measuring your heart. And there are a lot of questions about to what extent does the activity of our brain reflect our consciousness. But I am looking at some of the EEG work and thinking that it’s it is really interesting that when we moved from Beta to Alpha to theta to Delta to Gamma to hyper Gamma, it is reflecting something. And this is just because I have a back history of being a neurobiologist. But is that something you’ve explored and do you have ideas of wether that’s a door that opens for you.?
Yeah, I mean, so I have a pretty long history with what we might call contemplative technology. Previous to hosting my podcast, I worked at a company called Buddhist Geeks, and that was one of the topics and themes that we really focused on and one that I was really excited about. Because I have a long history with technology and the idea that we could use technology to amplify or invoke or accelerate that journey towards awakening or just mindfulness in general is really interesting.
I am at a place now where I’m a lot more cautious about it, partly because the mind will conform to whatever kind of incentives are presented to it through the technology that it is using to transform itself. So I, for instance, use this Muse headband. Have you ever used it?
Manda: [00:34:50.26] Yes!
So you know about that. So you know how, if you kind of quote unquote, meditate? Well, you get a bird.
Manda: [00:34:58.72] Yes. And you end up trying to get more birds.
Yeah. I played for a couple weeks. And I just get bird after bird after bird. And yet I knew because I meditated for a while, I wasn’t really meditating. I was doing a thing.
Manda: [00:35:16.36] You’re making the birds happen.
Yes. I was conforming to what this technology thought meditation was at the expense of this playful, emergent, spontaneous life that meditation is attempting to get us to connect with.
And so is it possible to use technology to kind of accelerate these things? Maybe. I know of some really cool experiments being done with things like low frequency ultrasound that seem to be able to just bump people directly into non-dual consciousness. And that is an extraordinary power, but I would just invite a lot of humility and the need to talk with experts. There’s a kind of sense that, ‘oh, mindfulness is really simple. We’re just training our brains.’ Well, you need to talk to people who have been doing this for tens of thousands of hours and get their perspective on what is going on here. Because what is dangerous or what feels very dangerous is that we reduce this ancient, incredibly mysterious psycho-technology into neuro physiology and stress reduction. And that would be a tragedy for me. Still, it’s super cool. And I’ve played with, you know, binaural beats and EEG’s and all that stuff as long as it’s held, with a right view. And then it’s awesome. And I love it.
Yes, because you are someone who’s done tens of thousands of hours. And so we are asking you!
Because I have the Muse, and to my great shame, I was really enthusiastic about it. So my students got it. And then I haven’t got round to saying ‘Guys. Actually, it’s not all that great. I got to the point where I couldn’t stop the birds. I’d get up and walk around the room and put on Facebook and the birds still didn’t stop and I’d think, I’m really sure I’m not still meditating!’
But then I found when I went out into the world that the real live bird song would trigger things. It was an interesting experience and I tried to work it out. I downloaded the app that was supposed to tell me what actually my brainwaves are doing that was triggering the birds so I could see. Because I’d go out into the world and the birds would sing and my brain would flip into that particular little box that I put my attention in to get the birds to happen. Which is pretty interesting. I have no idea what’s going on.
Okay, this is taking us somewhere I wanted to go by a slightly different route. That’s fine…
Because your podcast and Accidental Gods as a project are exploring the potential for humanity. I have a kind of idea of where I want to shepherd everybody, and I think yours is a more open inquiry, but still we’re looking at the fact that we have this moment to moment capacity to give birth to new worlds, as you said earlier. And I look at the world to which we are currently giving birth and I have moments of deep shame and deep grief and deep horror and deep terror and deep rage at the unraveling of the biosphere and everything else that goes with it.
And yet I feel the capacity for humanity to be in love with the divine and to be beautiful and glorious and extraordinarily creative is unmatched in our history. And I look at the two of these and I wonder how can we in our moment to moment practice create a world that moves forward into something that I would believe to be flourishing.
I’m trying to give as much space as possible to this. And most of us aren’t living in Buddhist monasteries with tens of thousands of hours of meditating. And in the timescale that if Deep Adaptation is right, we’re not going to get 7 billion people to that place. But we need to get 7 billion people somewhere other than where they are now. And I thought for a while that something like the Muse headband or Mindfulness apps or whatever was a step in the right direction. And I’m increasingly less sure of that. And I wonder if you have any insight of what we can do? Other than bringing everybody into a Buddhist monastery and setting them on a cushion. How how do we help the world? The woman with three kids under the age of 10. The guy holding down 3 zero hours jobs, one of them with Amazon who are trying to grind him into the dust or whatever. How do we shift.
Fundamentally, I don’t know. And I think it’s really important that we all admit that. Everybody who’s investigating the space. Everybody who’s very interested in this kind of question…none of us knows. And even the people who position themselves or reposition themselves as experts, they do not know. This system is so complex and the exponential forces in player are so complex, there’s no way to know.
I spent a week in Costa Rica with Joe Brewer, who talks really beautifully about the dynamics of planetary collapse, which he quite persuasively argues we’ve essentially been in for the past 70 years at least. And now we’re starting to see certain systems unravel.
And if you look at how systems, complex systems and meta systematic collapse dynamics happen – certain systems start to collapse and they shift load onto other systems and those shift loads and other systems… and perhaps at some point you do have a more catastrophic collapse.
Or things really do start to stop working. The order of complexity of the civilization just drops, which is an abstract way of saying that a lot of the things that we depend on and appreciate about life now just don’t work. Garbage doesn’t get picked up. Police just don’t function. Whatever.
And so for me, the question is, ‘Is there a way to thread the eye of the needle?’ That’s one metaphor. Or is there some kind of black swan that might actually prevent this sort of thing?
And what I look at emergence in general. As we’ve talked about so far there is this unbelievable generativity and resilience of the human spirit. It’s easy to forget that they too are complex actors within this complex system of systems, and we just don’t know how we’re all going to respond to this. This planet has never seen this before. We don’t know. So there’s that humility again. We don’t know. And it might be that we’ll kind of figure it out.
I don’t see a future in which lots and lots of death doesn’t coming our way. For me and my sense making, it doesn’t seem like a possible future that there isn’t some kind of contraction. We’re just so out of balance right now with the global supply chains. So that’s one thing.
The other is actually what you said, that there could be some kind of radical mixture of contemplative technology and psychedelics and a global movement of people supporting each other at emancipating themselves from the worst aspects of this system… That seems possible if we had enough time.
And beyond that, I look at things – perhaps there maybe some kind of decentralized autonomous organizational structure comes into being that really allows people to make the leap out of those terrible, terrible situations that you mentioned – of people working 80 hours a week and barely scraping by or something like that.
I think you’re right to point that out. For those of us in the kind of transformational world, it’s hard to imagine how dire that kind of situation is. And then the last thing I want to suggest is that there are a lot of people very, very, very, very, very smart people – the smartest people I’ve ever encountered – working on this. And I don’t know…. I’ve heard some ideas, some of which I’m not really allowed to to talk about, but that feel like credible. Maybe they’ll be able to kind of hit the trim tab and that Bucky Fuller metaphor of the ship and they’ll just find the leverage point and then stuff will start to spin in a different direction.
I don’t know. I will say that that where this question brings me, though, is is back here to my community, back to my relationships, back to my life. And it’s much more about how can I be a steward of all the systems that I interact with? How can I be a hero here? How can I be proud of my participation here? Because this is where I live. If we look at things in terms of game A, game B, this is the game that I’m playing. Here I am. You know, if everything falls apart, I want to do that beautifully. if we thread the needle. I want to do that beautifully.If somehow nothing goes wrong in this infinite growth system that is infinitely growing in a finite playing field, and I have to throw out basic logic then I want to do that beautifully too. And so that’s that’s ultimately where I go which this kind of question.
Thank you. Because we can’t have any idea where we’re going. That’s the point of complex systems is when they emerge, whether it’s into chaos or into a new system, you can’t predict it. No system is certain. No problem is solved in the mindset that created it – that kind of thing. But still, I think with your 10,000 hours and many more and that sense of the erotic connection to the world, to the All that is…however we frame that, I wondered if… I loop back to this and I think this may be ushered by my own fear and dread of the alternatives, but I keep coming back to the idea that consciousness itself is generative and out of that generativity, many times in the history, arises the consciousness that got us to here. There has always been something arising that was not predictable from the moment before. But now we are capable of our own consciousness. Which has to mean something.
I think, leaving aside the people who are listening to these conversations – which is ninety nine percent of people – who aren’t aware that we’re on the precipice of a cliff or whatever. Those of us who are aware have made sense out of looking up and seeing that we’re heading towards a cliff… to those I would say – and this is Jordan Greenhall’s advice – Be comfortable with your death. As best you can be comfortable with your death.
This, it seems is almost like a precondition to really be of service in this situation. And part of what for me that means is that you need to live in integrity with what your heart knows is right as best you can. If you haven’t already been doing that, do it now and then do it forever.
Manda: Because you don’t know when death is coming.
Yes. And then do the work with your whole being.
Yes. Because global cataclysm aside you could get hit by a car tomorrow. Is probably not very likely out in the middle of nowhere in Vermont, but we are all going to die. That’s one of the very few certainties and we don’t know when it’s gonna happen. So the injunction to constantly live with death row over your left shoulder as your advisor every moment of every day… that’s from Castenada.
Yes. And it’s funny because something the teacher here at the Monastic Academy where I live, says is –
The crisis has always been here. This is not new. The Buddha saw it, right? The Buddha saw it. And he knew, ‘Oh, this is not right. This Will not do!’
So, thank goodness, now it’s right in our faces. We can’t ignore it. Here we are. Here we go. Use it. Use that desperation.
Yes, because if you feel it, that fear, that anxiety, you feel as if it’s precious because it calls us out of the hypnosis of business as usual into a point where action is essential. And then we just have to work out what what is it that I need to be doing. And you’re right making peace with our own mortality and finding out Who do I want to be if this is my last moment on Earth? How do I want to live if this is my last moment of living? Yes, if only that washed across the world, that would be quite remarkable.The world would be a different place.
So… I have some some slightly smaller questions. And one of the first of these is is entirely for myself, which is, Do you dream of meditating?’
So – in my own dreaming practices, when I become lucid, then my intention is to settle into mindfulness within the dream. But within the last year, as I’ve been building Accidental Gods, I’ve found that in the non lucid dreams, in the night dreams, I have begun to dream of meditating.
So for instance recently, in the dream, I’m in a city, I’m looking around, I see very wealthy hedge-funders being wealthy hedge-funders, and I see incredibly poor people being downtrodden. And I feel all that I feel under those circumstances of ‘This is unjust. It’s unequal, it’s it’s horrendous.’ A bit of me wants to be as rich as a hedge-funder,a bit of me is desperately wanting to bring the poor people out of poverty. And in the dream, for the first time, I sat down in the middle of the road, to seek for the place of non-duality within myself in the dream. That was my response to those circumstance, which was interesting. Normally, I just watch the flow of my dreams to see what they bring up more than anything else. But I’m just curious. I’m in deep envy of your 10,000 hours assisting (and endeavouring not to be) So I’m wondering whether that then feeds into your dream life. Really, that’s the core question.
No. That’s a very underexplored practice for me and I would appreciate any pointers to how to step in that direction. Most of the way that I use dreams is in terms of harvesting imagery that I then intensify or amplify. When I meditate the next day there may be some image that feels really poignant or profound or fertile, and then I’ll take that and resonate with it in my practice. But the actual dream yoga or doing work in the dreams, I have not yet really explored that. But I’m curious to.
I think the intent to do it is probably the most important thing, to be honest. And in terms there’s a lot we could get very heady about and there’s a lot of very structured stuff around dream yoga that I explored and would recommend not exploring, because I think it’s an avenue of self judgment because it’s hard and and it may work a long way down the line, but it’s much easier to be kind to ourselves and just to invite in our dreams other teaching, I suppose.
If you have an 80:20 on how to kind of just kickstart hat whole arena, I would love that. I’m about to go on 75 day solo retreat. So it seems like good time to perhaps invite that.
Let me think about that and I’ll write you an email because off the top of my head, other than setting the intent, that woudl be hard. But I’ll think hard about that because it is my field. But I don’t want to drag you into shamanic realities. That’s not necessary.
Okay… so some quick fire things towards the end:
First – what have you read recently that really inspired you that we can share with people listening?
I feel a little bit not ashamed, but like shy to admit this, but I haven’t been listening to podcasts at all recently. All that I listen to is talks by Rob Burbea. That’s what excites me. He just released a new retreat and that’s 30 hours of materials. I’ve just been working my way through that.
And I think we answered this earlier, which was, ‘What one thing could we do now? What one thing could the people listening do to make a difference to the world? But you said really ‘Come to grips with your own death.’ That feels to me huge and it’s a practice that everyone can undertake with benefit.
Is there anything else that leaps to mind?
I think that’s pretty good and there’s lots of good ways to do that. You can look at the five remembrances of Buddhism, one of which is remembering that you will die. That’s a practice that in a lot of Buddhist schools they do every morning before they meditate. And that that seems like a great a great thing for everybody to do.
And then one last one. This is entirely mine. I wrote it on a Post-it at the end of our previous conversation because my great dream is to set up a shamanic monastery.
So if you were setting up a monastery from scratch, I want the 80:20 on setting up a monastery. Monastery building 101. What what would be your core foundational intents and practices. What would you say? If you were going to set up a monastery from scratch, what would be your basis for that?
Well, I would say, if you want to build a monastery, go and live in a monastery for a while, because there’s so much that you learn just from entering into that space, even for a day or a week. And then the second thing I’d say is whether you can do that or not and you should. If you can… is get somebody who has lived hopefully for many years in a monastery to consult with you, because there’s just like in starting a business, there is a lot of mistakes you can make that will ruin you/
In lieu of being able live in a monastery, build a functional, intentional community and see how that works. Because a lot of the difficulties of running a monastery are similar in my experience. I’ve lived in co-ops and things like that to that sort of environment, although even more intensified because everybody’s meditating, at least in our case, meditating intensively, so all of their stuff is out there. They’re going through it hard and they can’t escape – all the time.
But also, as a kind of side note, the monastic academy where I live – our goal is to fertilize a planetary movement of new monastic institutions. And so if you’re listening or you want to collaborate with us to build new institutions of this sort, please reach out. That’s something that we as an organization dedicated to. So we have now three locations and we hope to have a fourth in the next couple of years and we’re just going to keep going as long as there’s hunger and resource to do it.
Oh yes, that makes my heart sing. Thank you. Okay. That’s the deal. We’ll do it.
All right. I think we’re there. Thank you so much for this, Daniel. This has been so heartfelt and fertile and beautiful and everything that I hoped it would be. So thank you very, very much. And I wish you well in your three months intensive solitude.
Thank you, Manda. You were just such a beautiful interviewer. I’m really struck by your skill and your the space that you’re holding. I can feel my being kind of relaxed into the safety I feel with you, even though I know that other people will be listening to this conversation. So that’s a that’s a wonderful gift that you’re giving to me and to the to the world.
Thank you. And if I have that, I learned it from you, listening to the Emerge podcast. So thank you. Thank you so much. And I hope we’ll have the chance to talk again at some point.
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