Episode 006 :: Greta Christina :: Secular Meditation on Freethought Blogs :: Part One

| October 5, 2013 | 3 Comments


Greta Christina

New meditator and Freethought Blogger Greta Christina joins us to speak about her experiences with an MBSR program, her practice, and a series of blogs on secular meditation.

Today we have part one of a two-part episode, in an informal conversation with Greta Christina. In this, part one, we ask our guest to share her experiences. In part two, the tables turn, and Greta will ask some questions of her own. This is less of an interview, and more of a dialogue. I also wanted to take a moment to thank Greta for her candid discussion and blogging about her practice, sharing how mindfulness can have value to people regardless of their ideological views. This is a key feature of the secular approach, that it applies to everyone, not just those willing to accept a particular tradition that might not resonate with them. This was one of the most enjoyable long conversations I’ve had both on an intellectual and personal level, so Greta, thank you so much for spending time with us.

Greta Christina has been writing professionally since 1989, on topics including atheism, sexuality and sex-positivity, LGBT issues, politics, culture, and whatever crosses her mind. She is author of “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless,” and of “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More,” and is editor of “Paying For It: A Guide for Sex Workers for Their Clients.” She has been a public speaker for many years, and is on the speaker’s bureaus of the Secular Student Alliance. Her writing has appeared in multiple magazines and newspapers, including Ms., Penthouse, Chicago Sun-Times, On Our Backs, and Skeptical Inquirer, and numerous anthologies, including “Everything You Know About God Is Wrong” and three volumes of “Best American Erotica.” She lives in San Francisco with her wife, Ingrid.


Today’s quote is from Rick Hanson’s book, “Just One Thing” —

“Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actually it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things: they’re intertwining, messy, imperfectible, and usually not about you. Patience also contains a wonderful teaching about desire: wish for something, sure, but be at peace when you can’t have it. Patience knows you can’t make the river flow any faster.” p.99

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TM: Our guest today is writer, speaker, and activist Greta Christina. Greta, welcome to Present Moment.

Greta: Ah, thank you so much for having me.

TM: So glad that you’re here with us, uh–you’ve been speaking about a recent mindfulness-based stress-reduction program you participated in and you have been blogging about that on your FreeThoughtBlogs.com/Greta blog–and for folks who are listening I’ll be linking to all of those, uh, those blog posts–I wanted to ask how you find–how you found out about MBSR and what made you decide to try it.

Greta: Oh well I first found out about MBSR specifically, uh, through a Skeptics in the Caf event, I think it was–or Science in the Caf–event–at a caf that I go to here in San Francisco–you know it was not specifically about mindfulness; the discussion was about neurology/neuro-psychology generally and sort of the science of consciousness. But this was one of the things they focused on at some length and, you know, the, you know, science behind meditation, you know, and the, the actual–the neuro-science behind meditation. And this was just really fascinating to me because I’ve–have friends who meditate and who clearly get something very valuable out of it. But they all do it through a–some sort of spiritual context. You know even though they’re not religious themselves–they’re atheists themselves–but the teaching and the support they have available is through these spiritual contexts. And I’ve–not comfortable with that, I’m pretty antithetical to that, that’s really not going to work for me, and so when I found out about this science-based program I was really interested. And then I just really kind of let the ball drop, I didn’t pursue it, and then I was at Kaiser, uh, here in San Francisco just doing something else and there was a flyer on the table saying, you know, we have these mindfulness-based classes and I was like, oh that’s right I remember I wanted to do that! and so it really was just kind of getting back that [indistinguishable], um, so, and having it done through my healthcare provider gave me some reassurance that this really was going to be medical–medically-based, that this wasn’t going to be supernatural/spiritual/woo-based practice.

TM: Yeah and that’s a very key point for many people who come to this outside of, either they are within a religious tradition that’s not one that typically supports that and so they don’t want to be in conflict with their beliefs, or like you and I for example, I–we’re, we’re not particularly religious, and so finding something that’s really grounded in this human experience and has good science behind it–that’s really what we’re looking for; that’s our context.

Greta: Well and especially–it’s especially important to me–and it’s important to me for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons why it’s really important to me is: when you’re doing something like that through a spiritual or supernatural context, first of all it’s hit or miss, you know, because you know you’re not actually doing careful evidence-based/double-blind/placebo controlled/replicated/peer-reviewed/et cetera research; it’s just trial and error. And also there’s often an attachment to religious dogma. And if the evidence contradicts the religious dogma, what happens? Well of course if it’s a science-based program, if there’s new evidence that says, you know, that this particular practice doesn’t work, this other particular practice works better, you know, if you’re you know doing it in this context works better, this other context doesn’t work as well, there’s certain people with you know mental health conditions who shouldn’t be pursuing this practice, et cetera, then that’s fine. You know, you’re not, it’s–you’re not attached to a religious or spiritual dogma so therefore you can just, you know, follow whatever practice the evidence shows works. And that’s something that’s really important to me so that’s again one of the reasons why it was very important for this to be in a medical and evidence-based context.

TM: Yeah and I think that should be for everyone, is that whatever an intervention is being used, for whatever the issue, whether it’s jogging for cardiovascular health or whatever, it should be something that’s based on, here’s what works best for this particular situation–and we’re seeing an increase in the number of not only studies around these kinds of mindfulness interventions and how we clearly identify that it is the mindfulness practice itself and not something else going on–we’re able to see in particular with brain scans, the MRIs and the other studies that we do–we’re able to see corollaries between different areas of the brain that are activated under different circumstances that may lend credence and open up avenues for treatment modalities for other issues that haven’t yet been targeted with an MBSR treatment.

Greta: Well that’s actually a good point, is that if you’re doing, you know, evidence-based research, you know it’s not just that you could look at oh well what works and what doesn’t for the conditions that you’re already looking at, where as you say if you could actually see what’s happening in the brain while this is going on, then, as you say it’s–that hadn’t occurred to me but you can, it can open up other avenues for, for research.

TM: So you’ve been blogging about your experience and, again, for the listeners I’ll be linking to those posts on the episode page for this episode–what were some of the surprising things that you learned and that you experienced?

Greta: Well I think one of the most surprising things about it was just how dramatic the effect was so quickly. You know there’ve been very few–you know I’ve done lots of things in my life of course to make my life better and, you know, everything from you know eating differently to working out or whatever–and I was surprised at how quickly and how dramatically this made a difference. You know now obviously I’ve only been doing this for a short time, I’ve only been doing it for about three months, so we’ll see what the long-term effect is but I noticed very quickly an effect on my mood, uh, you know definitely feeling–you know the main effect was–still continues to be–you know I think we’re all familiar with there’s like a hamster wheel going on in your brain all the time, you know, it’s con–you know this constant little chatter of voices and sometimes it’s critical and sometimes it’s anxious and–but even if it’s not–this is one of the things that I–was, became aware of while I was doing this practice–even if it’s not, even if it’s like a chatter of things I’m excited about and I’m making plans and, you know, it’s like oh I want to make sure I don’t forget to do all these things I’m excited about doing, even then, just the fact that it is this constant hamster-wheel chatter–that’s anxious; that’s stressful. And that, that has quieted down considerably and also it’s been uh easier for me to notice it when it’s happening and kind of step away from it and focus on whatever it is that I’m actually trying to do with my life, whether that’s meditating or just, you know, eating breakfast or writing or, you know, walking to the vet or whatever. And I was surprised at how rapidly–how–just–just how rapidly how dramatically the effect was, you know, it’s, it’s had a very, uh, dramatic effect on–um–like I say you know my mood, you know, my ability to calm, my ability to focus, my–my work productivity has gone up by, like, fifty percent! Which really surprised me and that was one of the things that I was very concerned about–was, time. You know, it’s like a lot of people: I’m over-scheduled, I’m over-booked, you know I have way more things to do than I have time to do it in. And I was like how am I going to find time to do this every single day! But what I’ve been finding is that when I do set aside the time to do this every single day I get more work done because I’m better able to really focus and, and it’s–I’m less likely to get distracted. So you know that cost-benefit analysis has, has more than paid off. It–also I would say one of the surprises from it has been–I had been aware of having a hamster wheel in my head for a long time. But I don’t think I realized just how much it’s there, and just how powerful it is, and just how readily those sort of automatic thoughts pop into my brain until I started doing this practice of, okay we’re going to notice that and then move my focus back to something else; notice when that crops up and move my focus back to something else; that’s happening every five seconds. And when I’m really stressed or really anxious or have a tremendous amount on my plate it’s less, it’s like every two or three seconds. And I was not really aware of just how, how dominant a force that was in my life until I started really reducing it.

TM: Yeah it’s very interesting that in the first few times in particular, at least in the experience of a lot of folks, is when they start for the first time, first few times, looking at what’s going on in their mind, paying attention, turning that spotlight inwards, there’s a bit of a, of a freak-out at how much the, the hamster [laughter] is really going around in that wheel! and the reassuring thing that many of us will tend to say to people who are, are a little bit anxious about that, is that that’s actually been there the whole time; you’re just looking at it, this is not a new change, you’re not making things worse right now, this has been going on: you’re just now looking at it–and, and that’s okay, and that helps, as you’re seeing with noticing it and maybe setting it aside a little bit more. How’s your practice been going and what has changed for you since participating in the program itself? You’ve already mentioned a little bit about getting a little more distance in the moment.

Greta: Well again I’ve only been doing this for about three months so I’m, I’m well aware of the fact that I’m just a raw, raw, raw beginner at this. You know these are like my first baby steps. Um, so it’s a little hard to say what’s changed because I haven’t been doing it very long but, that being said, there are some things that have changed. One is that it’s both become easier and harder; the practice has become both easier and harder: it’s become easier because it’s more natural–you know I’m more familiar with it, you know I can, you know what–what I’m mostly doing, I’m doing a couple of different things, what I’m mostly doing is a body-scan every, every morning or every morning when I can, you know–I travel a lot and, you know, my schedule is up in the air sometimes and–and, uh, uh, I’m happy to get to that in a bit actually; it’s, I have some questions about that–but, uh, but you know most mornings I do some sort of body-scan and then I also just try to apply mindfulness just to some extent throughout my day, you know, just have there be at least a few moments to every day where I just stop and experience whatever I’m experiencing. So on the one hand that’s become easier–it’s become more natural, it’s become more familiar. At the same time, as it’s become more familiar, it–this is hard to put into words–a lot of this stuff is hard to put into words ’cause we don’t really have a language for this–but you know as I’ve become you know more able to really pay more attention to, you know, whatever I’m feeling/whatever I’m thinking, sometimes I get a little deeper into whatever I’m feeling/whatever I’m thinking and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. And you know it’s often it’s uncomfortable to just stay present with–you know, one of, one of the things that, that’s been interesting for me is, you know in the practice when thoughts and feelings come up that are not what you’re focusing on at the moment–you know, you notice them, without judgment, you let go of them and then gently return your focus to whatever you’re focusing on–one of the things that I realized was that, when I would notice a thought, I would rather than sort of note–really notice it and really acknowledge it, I would try to shove it away.

TM: Our habit of suppression or avoidance.

Greta: R–yes, yes, and wh–and when I did that, it w–oddly enough made the practice more difficult. You know if I’m like getting mad at myself and saying oh God damn it I–there’s that stupid freaky thought again and get away and try to kick it out, uh, then that jars me away. Whereas if I can really just notice it and take a moment and say okay what is this thought, especially if it’s one that’s really stubborn, overly persistent, just really notice it, let it be, and then just sort of–I have this actual mental image where I like imagine a door opening out of the top of my head and going, okay you can go now, and then closing the door again and returning my focus, and when I do that in a way that’s gentle it becomes part of the practice rather than a disruption of it. It’s more in the flow of the practice–and I realize that all of it is the practice but it becomes more fluid. Whereas if I’m getting very frustrated with myself for having these thoughts it’s much more jarring and it’s much more difficult to get my focus back. So, so that’s been something I’ve been just recently beginning to learn, is how to let myself really have whatever thoughts or whatever feelings are rising and really notice them. But again sometimes that’s difficult ’cause sometimes, you know, it, it can be painful, it can be sad, it can be feelings of guilt, it can be feelings of, you know, anxiety–you know all of that being said, sometimes that can be really valuable–I mean one thing I was doing a practice of–a couple of weeks ago, and there’s this one particular feeling of guilt and I don’t want to get into what it was specifically but I was having this one particular feeling of guilt that just would not go away. And it was just, no matter what I was–would do, it would just–kept coming back, kept coming back, kept coming back and I finally just was like okay you know what, I need to stop my practice–now–and I need to take care of this. Because this isn’t just hamster-wheel guilt, this isn’t just reflexive, you know, me-beating-myself-up guilt, this is something real, this is something that I really am not okay with having done–and I need to make it right. So that’s really valuable. But at the same time, it’s really uncomfortable.

TM: You bring up so many wonderful points in that sharing and I want to thank you for that because that, that in itself can be very difficult–first is this idea of non-striving that is often brought up in–in the various programs of mindfulness, not just MBSR but others also bring that up–in part is because of what you describe when, when you push against it and go, aw no I’m having this thing again–that can actually help solidify it because you’re, you’re giving it a, a form [chuckles], you’re giving it–it is something to push against–and that what you’re running into, that it’s a bit easier, sometimes, to really explore that, and then, observing it, go away, and, and using, ah, imagery of the hole through which it can escape–is fine; whatever it is that takes it, that, that’s okay–and inviting it to be here and experience it and allowing it to be without that striving can be very helpful. And also the questioning–uh, one exercise that we often do as part of the practice–and it’s okay to try a few different things during meditation; you don’t have to stick with just one–is the what-is-this, and that open inquiry, and finding out more about: where did this come from? And in some cases you may find, as you were just retelling, a particular situation where, no I, I need to deal with this–that’s all right! Deal with that; that, that is the appropriate thing for you to do. And it’s not always the pleasant things that come up; sometimes it is the more difficult; and when it does–is more challenging and you’re having a, a harder time shaking it, uh, it is often helpful for us–and one reason we practice the body-scan is to really get some facility with doing this intentionally–is rather than have our attentional spotlight be on that thought, is intentionally put our attentional spotlight on our foot, and then doing a body-scan up to that because it can only be in one thing at a time and if you’ve got it in that, and you’ve really built up that muscle of directing it towards for example a body-scan–or the breath and just resting it on your tummy or nose or where it is for you–that can really help disengage and diffuse the power of that thought and that narrative to sweep you away with it–and get a little room elbow in the moment.

Greta: Well it’s funny that you talk about one of the things that really surprised me, uh you were talking about the one-thing-at-a-time thing–and that’s been–boy if there was a–if there’s one thing [chuckles] I got out of this class and out of this practice, it’s that–’cause you know I’m somebody who’s just an ardent–has been–an ardent multi-tasker; you know you have the six different windows open on the computer browser–[indistinguishable] you spoke in Twitter and e-mail and whatever you know–I’m writing and three different blogs I’m all trying to read. You know like a lot of people I had this idea that, well, course that’s more efficient, you know, if like doing one thing takes–you know it’s like you’d do six things at once if it’s faster. And it’s been dramatic for me how much not doing that–how much just, no I’m going to close Face–if I’m writing, I’m going to close Facebook, I’m going to close Twitter, and I’m going to close my e-mail, and I’m just going to write. And occasionally I will need to look something up or whatever–it’s like–if I’m writing something I need to consult–something that someone e-mailed me of course I need to go open it up–but then I close it again. And it’s been dramatic how much oh! when you just do one thing at a time, I do it faster, and I do it better, and I do it with more joy. Y–I do it with more–you know that sense of–you know people talk about this a lot with creative work, there’s this place sometimes you go when you’re doing creative work–or you know creative work could j-j-just be a hobby–when you’re doing some sort of creative work, you sometimes go to this place where the hamster wheel shuts up. You know and where you’re not constantly detached from yourself and commenting on yourself, where you’re really just doing what you’re doing. And when I’m not–when I’m multi-tasking that’s much harder to maintain, and when I’m just doing the one thing at a time that’s much easier to maintain. And I was very–you were talking about striving: that’s what made me think of it–you were talking about striving and when I was taking this class, the teacher also talked a lot about striving as this bad thing, and I was–had a hard time with it–that because I’m a very ambitious person. You know my work is very important to me; I’ve worked very hard to get to this place where I can be a free–you know I’m a freelancer writer for a living; ninety-eight percent of people who are writers do not get to be a freelance writer for a living full-time. And the reason I’m there is you know a lot of it was luck, a lot of it was help, you know, uh but a lot of it was really hard work and being very forward-focused and being very ambitious. And I was very much afraid that I was going to let go of that, that I was going to lose that ambition, that I was going to lose that drive. And what I found, at least for the moment instead, has been rather the opposite, has been that I’ve been able to work in a much more focused way. And, you know, I’ve been able to sort of figure out what is the most important thing that I have to do right now and do it. And that’s still–you know I still have that drive–I don’t think it’s ever going to go away; I don’t think I’m ever going to not be a very forward-looking, future-oriented person–but I can do that in a way that’s, you know calm and centered rather than a way that’s fragmented and in a hundred places at once.

TM: Yeah one of the things that this brings up is this idea of non-striving–does not mean we give up our energy; it doesn’t mean we give up our passion; what it means is, we don’t struggle against things we can’t change. That we don’t have a fight with reality. And that, in fact, by being more accepting of reality–and that doesn’t mean we don’t work to change it; of course we do; that, that’s what people do; we’re good at that: that’s how we survived and evolved to change our environment; that’s one of our skills –it’s that we’re able to do so more creatively in the moment because we’re more present, and we’re able to more creatively engage in this because we haven’t put walls up against what our decisions have to be based on our striving and our building walls and reifying problems by pushing against them as hard as we do–we’re just, we’re just compacting them and making them more solid when we do that. You also mentioned, ah, the idea of how you’ve been so much more productive and creative if you focus on one thing at a time, and what we often see is, when we drop that shifting between many things at once–because we’re not doing lots things at once; multi-tasking, computers do that; human brains don’t do that: we shift from one thing to the next very rapidly and we don’t really realize that’s what we’re doing until we start taking a look at it–and what–by focusing on one thing at a time, we’re getting rid of that transition of setting aside one thing, shifting our focus, opening up the other thing, being on that, closing that down, shifting our focus, opening up the other thing–hundreds of times a minute if we’re shifting in-between lots of different things, so, of course we’re more productive because we’re getting rid of all that extra transitional activity.

Greta: That’s–that, that’s a really good way of thinking about it, actually–I haven’t thought about it–that, yeah, that, that’s true, that every time you shift from, you know from Facebook to Twitter to your e-mail to your writing to, you know–book you’re reading, whatever–every time you shift it you have to put attention into that shift. And there’s an anxiety that it produces, you know–there’s a what-am-I-doing-now, what-am-I-doing-now, what-am-I-doing-now–and if you do that a few times a day, as opposed to hundreds of times a day, then that anxiety comes down and–you know not going to disappears you know–again, you know, it’s, it’s one of the things I’m also looking at, is, or with this practice is, what is going to change and what isn’t change–isn’t going to change. You know–and you talk about that in terms of the reality of the external world but that’s also true of your internal reality–uh at least with mine; I shouldn’t speak for other people. Um–

TM: Yeah let’s talk about that for a minute. You, you have some experience with depression and anxiety and in one of your blog posts you talk about that a bit and you practice on a plane–so give us a little bit of a background and then tell us that because I think this touches very much on that internal reality you’re talking about.

Greta: Sure okay well so the–the, the background is I’ve had situational depression off and on–mostly off, but you know I’ve had these episodes of situational depression a few times throughout my life–uh I’ve been having a pretty bad one recently back in October; uh my father died and then two weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer, which was just kind of this double-whammy; um and the cancer’s fine now; it’s taken care of; the surgery took–got rid of it all–so don’t–don’t worry listeners!–I’m–but it was just a really, obviously, traumatic episode and I hit a pretty bad depression. And I’ve been doing a number of things to take care of that: I’m in therapy; I’m on medication; I’m, you know, getting exercise, I’m getting time outside, you know socializing and so on–and the meditation has been just sort of one piece–the meditation and mindfulness practice has been one piece of trying to, to help this depression. So anyway so the depression has been getting better–it’s been getting significantly better but it’s been feeling a little fragile, and I had this, there was this–I don’t want to get into it, the details of it, but y’know I got this really upsetting news and it triggered–and, and really kinda scary news–and it triggered a, a sort of depression that went on for a few days. And I was on this plane, on this trip that I kind of–you know, I was just stressed out and travel is stressful anyway–and I was like you know what, I’m just, I’m going to meditate, I’m going to do a body-scan, just here on the plane, and I’m going to see if that makes me feel better and there’s also somewhat anxious about it because, it’s–this is the thing we talked about before, is being present with your feelings–well if what you’re feeling is clinical depression, that [indistinguishable] be very hard; if what you’re feeling is despair, this feeling of nothing can–nothing’s going to get better–that–that’s a very hard thing to sit with. Um, and I think–and I think that there is sometimes when maybe that’s not what you should sit with, where what you do really need to do is just set it aside and try to–

TM: Absolutely.

Greta: Under, you know, and it’s–as opposed to knowing when, when to do that and when not to–it’s–uh–that’s another conversation that I would actually like to have but anyway back to the story: so I was like, I’m just–I’m going to do a body-scan and I’m going to see if it makes me feel better. And it was a very difficult body-scan to do; it was just one of these things where every three seconds thoughts would come in, feelings would come in, anxieties would come in, you know it’s like you know it took me like uh fifteen minutes to get from my heel to my toe: you know, it was that, it was that intense. But I, I stuck with it and, you know–and I could notice as I progressed with this, oh this is getting a little bit better, I’m getting a little calmer, and the hamster wheel is quieting down a little bit. And, um, by the time I was done, I felt better; I was–dramatic–and that never had–that’s not true–I was going to say I’ve never had anything really dramatically relieve a moment of depression like that and that’s not strictly speaking true: I’ve had like really vigorous exercise do that–but, but this is something that I had the power to do just anywhere.

TM: Yeah. Just sitting with your own intentionality, being able to do this.

Greta: Yeah–the, the, the thing that I feel is like important to say about that is I don’t think it’s a panacea for depression. It’s, it’s one piece of the puzzle and I don’t think I would’ve been able to do this if I hadn’t already been on medication, in therapy, you know exercising, eating better, getting time outside, getting time with friends, and, j–so the fact that I was already working with my depression gave me the–just the ability to, to have motivation, to do, to do this. But, given that, you know it’s like it’s another tool in the toolbox and it’s a pretty powerful one.

TM: I want to add onto what you’re saying is that it’s very important for people who, if you yourself in listening to this podcast or you know someone else who is, suffering from a clinical depression: this is severe, it can be life-threatening, if–particularly if it’s that bad–you need to seek professional help. And as Greta is saying, mindfulness is wonderful; practice that one can do, it is part of a portfolio of options for you in helping with depression; but please, professional help is often required and don’t hesitate to do that. We, we also brought this up in our interview with, ah, John Orr in “Mindful Youth” who had a, a similar experience with a dear friend of his–and, and did not survive his depression–so please, don’t just do one thing; if it is a severe and on-going depression, do get professional help; that’s okay; that’s not a sign of weakness; that is a sign of taking care of yourself and getting what you need to lead a more fulfilling life.

Greta: So sometimes even if I’m just, um, s–waiting–waiting for a bus, um, you know, it’s like there’s almost always some kinda downtime in our life: you’re waiting for the bus, you’re waiting for your cup of coffee at the caf–you know there’s downtime in most of our lives and I–wh–one of the things–you’re–you’re talking about things that have changed about the practice–one of the things that’s really changed in my life is that I’m actually kind of looking forward to those moments. I don’t see them as like, oh God, it’s like the ten minutes, it’s, it’s like I’m never going to get that ten minutes back again that I waited for that bus–and I’m finding that I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. You know, or, or embracing it when it happens. And not always; I mean there’s times of course when I get irritated, you know, but I’m finding it much more easy to just, you know, say okay this is an opportunity for me to just be present in the moment where there aren’t demands on me and nobody’s asking anything of me and there’s nothing expected of me–um, except to just be here and wait.

TM: Yeah and those moments of waiting with mindfulness [laughs] to use that word a little too much–but to do it with that, with that attention to the experience itself, we can start to notice how really rich those experiences were that we’ve been ignoring ’cause we’ve been playing that track in our minds rather than really being in that moment.

Greta: And one of the things that I’ve–very much been noticing; I haven’t written about this yet, I’m kind of writing a piece in my head about this–is how much it’s changed just ordinary human interaction. You know just taking the ten minutes to look the cashier in the eye when they give your change and say, “thank you.” You know and, and–it’s sort of made me more–you know I’m, I’m a fairly shy person, I’m a fairly introverted person–and which is kind of funny ’cause I do all this, like, conferences and stuff like that and–and I like them and I like other people, it’s not that I don’t like–

TM: But you recharge by being by yourself.

Greta: Exactly, I recharge by being by myself and, you know, being present with other people is [indistinguishable] I find to be exhausting, ultimately, after a long time. But I’m finding that that’s becoming–that balance has shifted a little bit–that, that I’m finding other people somewhat less exhausting and I think some of it is just I’m not rehearsing what am I gonna say next; I’m just listening to what they say.

TM: You bring up one of the most important features–and I, and I think, ah, often hidden, secrets–about meditation, is that meditation is not about meditation; it’s not about what we do in the chair or on the cushion or however we meditate, whatever there–our particular mode of meditation is–it is about what we take out in life, and how we engage with others; that’s where, in addition to the, the benefits that we enjoy ourselves–in our own moods, in our creativity, in our productivity, in the light-heartedness that can rise over time–and bear in mind, things can take time–we also see these reflected in others with whom we engage, and they notice this transformation in us, and those engagements aren’t just more pleasant for us: it also impacts the world, and that’s really where the big benefit is, that I can–because I’ve lightened my own mood, because I’ve practiced setting aside that train that was getting me all bunched up–I had better responses with others during the day, and that may in turn impact their responses. And, and I see this, Greta–I imagine you noticing this as well, is that–when you do take that moment to really make eye contact and listen to the person who’s at the cash register, and you thank them, doing it sincerely, there’s a double-take, and they smile! and they lighten! because someone noticed them–it wasn’t just faceless engagement again.

Greta: Yeah no I mean they get treated like crap or, you know, like, like a robot at best and like crap at worst, you know, it’s like, by ninety-five percent of the people who they come into contact with, and yeah it’s like being the person who notices that they are in fact a human being.

TM: Raise your hand everyone listening if you’ve ever felt ignored…and…it sucked [laughs]. Should be a lot of hands up right now! Of course it is. And we can help change that, and that’s really one of the big powers of having a practice like this that helps us, is that it really can chain-out into others and, and really be transformative on a larger scale than just inside our own skulls.

Greta: No absolutely, that’s the–and that’s been one of the things that’s really–that’s really surprised me, is the degree to which that’s, you know that’s, that’s changed. Um and e–again even in just a few months–um, of doing this.

TM: Wonderful. I’m eager to hear about the rest of your progress over time because lots of things do happen and there are greater insights that occur–and can continue to occur over the years. Our guest today has been Greta Christina. You can find out more about, uh, Greta at FreeThoughtBlogs.com/Greta and I’ll be linking to that and a number of other things on the episode page for this episode. Greta, thanks for joining us today at Present Moment.

Greta: Oh thank you so much for having me.

Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour


Category: Podcasts

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90's, and has studied in classroom, seminar, and retreat formats for various contemplative practices, including mindfulness and its foundations, concentration, friendliness, and compassion practices. His background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, and he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions. Ted works at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society doing community development and teaching Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

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  1. Mariehtp Mariehtp says:

    Wow!!! This one is so powerful and moving and to the point and relevant in so many ways, it leaves me speechless and vaguely shaking and high at the same time. Can’t wait for part two!! Please don’t make us wait too long 🙂 And now, off to a Body Scan! Thank you!!

  2. Mark Knickelbine says:

    What a nice interview! It’s heartwarming to hear that Greta’s practice is off to such a productive start.

    She brought up the question about how to know when and when not to focus on being present with difficult feelings and thoughts. It can be exhausting and overwhelming sometimes, especially when we notice how persistent and repetative the negative stuff can be and that it doesn’t necessarily go away just by being aware of it. A couple ideas:

    When we’re observing painful stuff, we can balance that by taking time to be aware of the natural openness and spaceousness of the mind. Shift the focus of awareness from the sensations or thoughts to observe the sense of the whole body sitting or lying there. You might focus on sounds and notice the sense of depth and space they bring, or be aware of the space surrounding you. Notice how the sensations and thoughts aren’t all there is to your experience, and how that vast, open, silent space of awareness is big enough to hold your feelings, thoughts, and everything else besides.

    We can also cultivate a sense of kindness and compassion toward ourselves and our suffering. Seeing if it’s possible to approach our own pain the way we would that of a dear friend who was suffering in that way. You can even place a soothing hand on your heart or belly, and offer some phrases to yourself: “I’m sorry you’re hurting. I wish you could be free of suffering.” Let your heart open to yourself. This may sound corny but it’s a valuable way to step back from our pain and recognize that mindfulness is inherently an act of love and self-caring.

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