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Roshi Joan Halifax on Standing at the Edge

Roshi Joan Halifax

(A transcript of Deconstructing Yourself podcast episode DY 016. Please let me know if there are any errors in the text.)

Michael Taft: Welcome to deconstructing yourself, the podcast for modern mutants interested in mindfulness, meditation, awakening, compassion and much more. My name is Michael W. Taft, your host on the podcast and in this episode I’m very happy to be speaking with Roshi Joan Halifax.

Roshi Joan Halifax Ph.D. is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care.  She is founder Abbott and head teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and founder of Prajna Mountain Buddhist Order, her work and practice for more than four decades has focused on engaged Buddhism. Her books include: The Fruitful Darkness, Being with Dying, and her new book Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet

And now without further ado I give you the episode that I call Standing at the Edge. Roshi I’m so glad to have you here on the Deconstructing Yourself podcast welcome.

Roshi Joan: Happy to be here Michel and also it’s wonderful to be here in the Bay Area.

Michael Taft: Isn’t it gorgeous?

Roshi Joan: It’s not only gorgeous it’s far out.

Michael Taft: What are you noticing in the far out level of the bay?

Roshi Joan: So much cultural diversity, yesterday I took a walk and ended up in the midst of Chinese New Year and I actually walked the streets several times just milling in this huge crowd, listening to various dialects of Chinese being spoken, seeing all ages. The most amusing thing was we talk about commodification of Buddhism in the West but seeing the booth where a Buddhist monk is selling prayers, so you know what well that’s okay, interesting.

Michael Taft: Asia has a lot of-

Roshi Joan: Stranger.

Michael Taft: Yeah no stranger to commodification of Buddhism.

Roshi Joan: Hardly, but it brought me actually lot of joy to be in such a concentrated community of people of all ages who were non-western, non-anglo and who were enjoying their own culture so much, and you know it felt safe.

Michael Taft: Yeah.

Roshi Joan: That was one of the things that I was appreciating, sometimes there’s an intolerance of difference in our society and I’m here there was you know a lot of consistency and a lot of fun.

Michael Taft: It’s so beautiful that community has been in San Francisco for maybe a hundred fifty years.

Roshi Joan: Yeah.

Michael Taft: Yeah.

Roshi Joan: Yeah, with the… I think they built the Big Sur highway.

Michael Taft: That’s right yeah.

Roshi Joan: Among many other things and also they faced enormous discrimination and somehow you know Chinese character which we’re certainly aware of these days culturally, socially, economically has been a source of enormous strength and determination. So who knows what the outcome is going to be of China’s relationship with the West.

Michael Taft: We going to hope it is a positive one. Roshi you have a new book out or coming out called Standing at the Edge and I suspect that your willingness to come on my podcast has something to do with wanting to talk about that book. Now I’ve seen an advance copy of it and it’s quite an impressive document, going into such issues as engagement and compassion and empathy in the most difficult situations, how to bring those qualities into war zones and you know famine relief and so on, and it’s actually a manual as far as I can tell, like there’s a lot of practice and a lot of really clear understanding of how to do it.

Roshi Joan: But it’s not a how to book, I think it’s a book that’s edgier if you will than a how to do book.

Michael Taft: And what’s the name of the book?

Roshi Joan: It’s called Standing at the Edge.

Michael Taft: So it’s edgier and it Standing at the Edge.

Roshi Joan: Right: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet.

Michael Taft: Great title, so what’s your intention in publishing this book?

Roshi Joan: You know I’ve had the privilege of sitting with dying people over many decades and working in penitentiary system. Having students who are clinicians, human rights activists, politicians, and lawyers and bearing witness to the suffering that they encounter when they are engaged in service to others, and I also know that experience myself. Where my altruism has not always been balanced and I be again to look at some of the powerful human virtues that make for health in our society including altruism, empathy, integrity, respect and engagement and have recognized that there are shadows to each of these. And those shadows cause suffering not only for the individuals who are you know going through for example or caught in the grip of pathological altruism, but it can harm those whom where endeavoring to serve or even the institutions that were serving in or the countries that were trying to serve, or empathic distress where we’re in too great a resonance physically, emotionally, cognitively with another, we’re too fused and we experience empathic distress and empathic overload and integrity breaks down and we experience moral suffering, or when respect is absent and disrespect is present, or burnout which is the shadow side of engagement.

So I wrote this book for a number of reasons one of which is that we live in a really fraught time. There’s extraordinary challenges and opportunities in our world today and how do we use these positive and inherent qualities of the human character in a way that is skillful? How do we deploy them in a way that’s skillful and how do we be aware that when we fall over the edge into from altruism into pathological altruism that compassion is actually the lever or the medium of transformation of the shadow states. So that’s the core thesis in the book that compassion which has not been so well understood in western society has phenomenally enough no downside in spite of what maybe people feel like even the term compassion fatigue. Sounds like compassion can waste you but what’s happening in social psychology and neuroscience now is fascinating in the sense that it is validating what contemplatives have long known. That compassion like wisdom these are two qualities that are interconnected, that are fundamental to our human nature.

Michael Taft: This is the angle on the book that I think is so deep and unusual and fascinating is instead of being a text that merely tells people to be compassionate and altruistic and respectful you’re showing how even individuals who have a very deep relationship with those qualities or a deep commitment to bring those qualities forward can often fall into the shadow side of it, and that’s very unusual and I think a much needed thing to bring out.

Roshi Joan: It’s edgy.

Michael Taft: Its edgy yeah it’s so… it’s like a beautiful text for a people whose work and life is really about serving others and what I saw going through the book is it is how you can make sure you’re staying in the healthy expression of those virtues. So you’re talking about compassion what would you say is the shadow side of compassion?

Roshi Joan: You know my perspective is very simple of in relation to compassion, that it doesn’t have a shadow side but it’s often conflated with empathy and it’s not to say that empathy isn’t essential because clearly a world without empathy is a world where we are dead to each other but it is also not uncommon that we tilt from healthy empathy into empathic distress, into over identification with people and not just people who are suffering. A really unusual example of this Paul Bloom wrote about this in his book on empathy is how in the second world war an entire nation of Germans identified cognitively with Hitler, where they were experiencing they were kind of looking out through Hitler’s eyes and adopted his view and that’s a kind of mind reading or cognitive empathy and the result is that there are behaviors that arise out of this attitude or view or way of saying that we’re horrendously destructive and so perspective taking or mind reading is important. It’s important just be able to see how others see the world, this is really-

Michael Taft: Fundamental yeah.

Roshi Joan: Essential really but when the experience of cognitive empathy is swamped our own integrity then we’re faced with and others are faced with serious consequences like what happened in the second world war in the third Reich.

Michael Taft: Now you are I think contrasting empathy with compassion in the way that for example Tania Singer does where empathy is feeling what another person feels or cognitively sort of seeing their world view like they see their world view.

Roshi Joan: That’s right.

Michael Taft: And then compassion is actually the motivation to help them if I’m mistaken or please correct me.

Roshi Joan: Well you know when I begin to look at compassion as a subjective experience I recognize that there were certain features characteristic of compassion and they include attention, our capacity to be able to actually lend our attention to another and having attentional balance allows us to perceive things with more clarity and then pro-sociality and it is our capacity to feel concern, kindness, appreciation, gratitude a whole range of pro-social states. You know one can’t be antisocial and compassion that at the same time, in a way is a sort of behavioral oxymoron and then ones intention. It takes intentionality that is based in the aspiration to end suffering which is from the Buddhist perspective the cultivation of Bodhisattva vow to awaken in order to and the suffering of all beings, which is grounded in this experience of moral character. You know being able to have both moral sensitivity to actually sense what is happening not only in our own subjectivity but in the inter-subjectivity of the whole realm of our knowing and experiencing and that it takes moral nerve. In other words the aspiration to any suffering takes moral nerve, it takes commitment, determination, strength, the courage to actually step into the mandala of suffering and to work it.

Sometimes stepping into it means doing nothing, sometimes it means you know doing something really big or maybe it’s something just very subtle, maybe it’s just a touch of your hand to the hand of another but it takes a kind of moral nerve and this term by the way was a term that I picked out of a text from Joan Didion, the author Joan Didion. I really love moral nerve, so these strong back, equanimity, determination and it also compassion involves insight, not only insight into our own subjectivity and capacities and where we’re triggered but inside into the again this is out of the work of social psychology and Daniel Bateson, Tania Singer, Nancy Eisenberg that if we don’t distinguish self from other we can become overwhelmed from our experience of empathy. So this is kind of contrary to the non-dual perspective which is your thing of course but from the point of view of social psychology and how empathy can be healthy is that from one point of view it’s very important to distinguish self from other. Like when I was in Nepal in the room where a little girl who was severely burned, her wounds were being deprived and I had this deep identification with her and she was suffering so much and at a certain point I had to make that distinction I am not her.

Michael Taft: Yeah.

Roshi Joan: Otherwise I was going to pass out to a dead faint right on the floor and so you know that capacity to make that distinction is a kind of meta awareness that allows us to both feel the suffering of another but also at the same time to realize I am not that other.

Michael Taft: Yes.

Roshi Joan: And you know another aspect of insight that is very important His Holiness the Dalai Lama always talks about this you know saying he says ‘all of beings want to be happy even a microorganism on a sugar gradient, they’re looking for something nursing, they don’t want to run away from the sugar gradient they’re going up it,’ and even in working in the prison system with men who have murdered others. You know I worked on death row and in a maximum security as a volunteer for six years with really difficult complicated human beings but I recognized no matter how terrible their crimes were the terrible things they did to other people, rape and murder, it was all rape and murder, that they wanted to be happy to and so the insight into all beings want to be happy and then the final piece in this suite of elements which are all trainable elements Michael, which is really powerful.

I want to mention one other thing Michael and that is compassion entails this capacity that we have to give our best even when our best is only twenty percent at that moment we’ve given our best. But it also involves its complement not being attached to outcome. Some people don’t get that at all, what are you talking about? But it is that how do you give your best and at the same time knowing you really can’t control outcome. In fact if you try to control it often more harm arises then the last feature that I identified Michael in this suite of features which comprise compassion and I look at compassion as a complex dynamical system, the emergent process of these suite of features that I’ve just outlined is compassion but this last features is embodiment. Whether you know we’re in a wheelchair or like Stephen Hawking you know the body has dropped away but still we’re in the body and even though Hawking can barely move I believe that he is thinking about or operating from the body of the whole world.

So his insights, his kind of cosmic and political insights are those that relate to his bodhisattvas heart which still beats and is about you know how do we end suffering. So embodiment is an important feature in compassion because it involves as well not just somatic experience and not everybody like Hawking as an example you know he’s kind of like a brain that has very little body left but his concern about not just the farthest star so to speak, but about our intimate human experience on this earth is undeniable. So how do we enact compassion in the world?

Michael Taft: And so if we have a situation of empathic distress, we’re overwhelmed with our empathy for another how can we use compassion to counteract that situation?

Roshi Joan: So in the outlining of these features of compassion we begin really attention and to see how our attention is easily hijacked by ungrounded emotional reactivity to that which we’re facing.

Michael Taft: It’s really interesting I often have the experience of feeling the distress of animals that I’m presented with. A bird or a dog or something and just how to me they’re people and just like anybody else and they have such a beautiful presence and then in connection with them you see their suffering and it’s very intense and yet that’s just pure empathy. So I’m curious how you know one would or I would begin to change that. So you’re saying the first step is to have just attention to that emotional uprising?

Roshi Joan: It’s first noticing you know and that’s what we’re trained to do in meditation particularly when we’re in the beginning phases of meditation. We notice when our thoughts stream so to speak has been hijacked to Chicago or Birmingham or New York or the latest spat we’ve had with our good friend, so it’s that capacity to notice. In the case of for example you’re sitting with your dog which is for many of us has been the most undefended relationship we’ve had, you know here is this this big I mean you know I might be on Facebook and I’ll see a little video of a dog and I just feel my whole sort of heart melt, just same way of when I see you know picture of a baby. You know it’s very undefended relationship and if you see you know a creature who suffering and then there’s this identification with the creature and you become very up regulated and vulnerable and you have taken on the suffering of the dog or the baby and as a result of that you experience secondary trauma, your being traumatized or vicarious trauma, your being traumatized either by hearing about or witnessing the suffering of another and so this is where attention becomes really important because if we pay attention to what’s happening or lender attention rather to what’s happening in the body, and we start to notice the response of the body to witnessing suffering, you know suddenly our blood pressure drops or goes up suddenly our gut tightens, our shoulders go up we begin to have a kind of flight or freeze response, fear response to the presence of suffering and then our aspiration to be of service hopefully engages and we invite ourselves to get grounded to make the distinction between self and other, remember that we’re there to end suffering not today add to the quotient of it.

Michael Taft: So feeling the other being suffering isn’t necessarily helping in any way?

Roshi Joan: Well I think it does help but feeling too much doesn’t help, because we move into overwhelm. So you know Michael one of the things I did after I was this distinguished visiting scholar at the Library of Congress where I had a chance to do this humoristic map of compassion. What I wanted to do because of working with so many people in the end of life care field and also in relation to issues of justice and education and so forth, I felt like it would be useful to take this map and to develop an actual process that one could deploy or engage at the moment of encountering suffering as a means to cultivate compassion.

And so I developed this process called grace and it’s a mnemonic standing for gathering your attention, recalling your intention, attending or attuning to yourself which includes your physical experience, your emotional experience, your cognitive experience so you can one get grounded, two see your biases, the filters that are potentially distorting how you perceive the other and then attuning to the others physically, emotionally, cognitively, body heart mind and from that perspective then the sea of grace is considering what will really serve. Looking deeply, using the information coming from your body, your heart, your mind and what you’ve learned through allowing the experience of another to be included into yours and from that consider what will really serve and then the e of grace is engage. When you have that insight into what will serve we engage and sometimes it’s like a micro moment but sometimes engagement happens in a slower way where will say you know I need some time to really look at this with you and to see what is really going to serve here and then the second part of the e of grace is to end. How do you bring into conclusion the experience of compassion? You might need to ask for forgiveness, you might need to express appreciation, you might need to summarize and reflect. So you know how do you and interpersonally or if that’s not appropriate internally a connection where compassion has been actualized.

Michael Taft: So that final e is like a closing of the compassion.

Roshi Joan: Yeah exactly.

Michael Taft: So have you been engaging this strategy specifically in your work recently yourself I know you were just in Burma I believe.

Roshi Joan:  Actually we were working, we brought the nomads clinic to refugee camps of Rohingya people in Kathmandu, so no not in Burma nor Bangladesh hundreds of men women and many children have gone north out of these camps, a very difficult journey through Bangladesh and made their way into Kathmandu and there are these refugee camps where our clinic has served.

Michael Taft: And let me just ask you, changing gears slightly about that experience what would you like to say about what’s going on there?

Roshi Joan: Michael I didn’t realize that there were Rohingya refugees in Kathmandu. We go to Nepal every year with our nomads clinic and work with Nepali clinicians and western clinicians and serving people in very remote areas of the Himalaya where there’s no access to health care and I’ve been doing it since 1980 and it’s a great experience and we have a team of really exceptional Nepali doctors, nurses, physical therapists, acupuncturists Tibetan healers, Tibet doctors this fantastic team of people, dentist, Nepali dentist doctored many wonderful people. Before we go out into the field and we take our western clinicians with our Nepali clinicians as like after the earthquake in Nepali a few years ago we went to refugee camp or a camp where people whose villages had been destroyed and they resettled in Kathmandu for a couple of years and we served in those camps as a kind of check in with our clinicians. And so last year we went to this Rohingya refugee camps and I had been asked by one of our Nepali colleagues to help with medical services and other things. So we paid for surgeries and we supported clinics for people in the camps, we hadn’t gone until the end of August. Really it was at the climax of the genocide in Myanmar and it was truly shocking to listen to these people speak about what was happening in their villages, to look at their mobile phones with videos of their relatives being shot and burned. I mean it’s just overwhelming, so we have been in the process since that time of feeding everybody in those camps since August, and also providing health care, providing clothing and blankets and so on but as I said my initial experience Michael was of overwhelm. You know I’m watching this video being sort of you know held up to me as I’m in this hot tin shack in the middle of the camp with three men one of whom had tears trickling down his cheeks and you know the man in the center showing me this video of what was happening in his village, and I also realized as this feeling of horror was rising inside of me that again I was there to serve. So getting grounded, remembering why I was there and engaging grace at that moment.

Michael Taft: And how did they respond to you as a Buddhist cleric in a situation where well being persecuted by a nominally Buddhist government.

Roshi Joan: So that’s a great question Michael, I felt part of the reason that for me personally was important to go to those camps was to apologize. It was a personal apology, I can’t apologize on behalf of Buddhism I’m just one person but I am a Buddhist and this violence is being perpetrated by Buddhists and so you know I had on my robe and the people in the camp a number of them spoke to what they had been subjected to and then I was asked to speak and I expressed deep gratitude for them allowing me to come into the camp for… Rebecca Solnit was there by the way, the doctors on our team were there and all of us shared with me the sense of profound shame and remorse and grief that these Muslim people who had no place to go had actually fled from a Muslim country as well Bangladesh because they were subjected to abuse there to Nepal which is very poor country, it’s a second poorest country after Afghanistan. But there’s less discrimination there, more respect and inclusion I just I apologized, I felt ashamed it’s hard to grasp how for me personally how this ethnic cleansing could be carried out by Buddhists but if we look at what happened in Cambodia you know we have to take responsibility when in the name of our religion the acts of horror happen and so yeah I was grateful that we have been able as Buddhists to do something and Job one of the men in the camp said you know in ‘Myanmar Buddhists are killing us, here in Nepal Buddhists are healing us.’ I was very touched by what he said and at the same time this is you know just a small you know a drop in a great ocean of suffering, a drop of goodness in a great ocean of suffering and. I don’t know you know how the aversion that people in Myanmar feel toward the Rohingya and how that will resolve but I hope we can help in its resolution.

Michael Taft: Now you have been a scientist for more than fifty years probably fifty five years or more medical anthropologist and it’s fascinating to me how these days we’re in a period of investigation, science investigating Buddhism, science investigating states of mind that are related to meditation that’s been I would say kind of a big deal for at least ten years you know with Mind and Life and various work of Richard Davidson and Judson Brewer and really dedicated lab people doing their research and of course you’ve been involved in that with Tania Singer and everyone is well. On the other hand you have this very unusual and fascinating background working with Indigenous shamanic communities who are presenting quite a different world view than the scientific world view. I’m curious to me one of the most powerful experiences and really not just a powerful momentary experience but an ongoing continuous presence for me was a long retreat that I did in the forest like three months, and after a while it was very clear that the you know the forest and the turkeys and various creatures there were doing all the work for me, they were the meditators you know and all they had to do is just kind of be with that and just finished your book called The Fruitful Darkness which is more focused in that way the connection with the earth, the connection with silence and stillness. I’m curious how you see that fitting in in any way to this whole new wave of you know science ‘proving a meditative experience’ which of course I’m very interested in you know apps being used for meditation and this whole very in a way speedy and intense connection with Buddhism and your practice, once practice how do you see the silence and stillness and the earth focused experience fitting in with that?

Roshi Joan: I’m remembering some words about science in relation to our own subjective experience from Francisco Varela and Francisco felt that the most powerful lab was between our ears. I think science has been tremendously helpful in validating what practitioners have always known and great teachers of the axial period clearly spoke about which is the value of investigating our subjectivity, our direct experience and with the increase of urbanization and now the mind in a way extended through our digital devices we seem to be further and further away from the natural world many of us. In Japan there’s something called forest bathing and it’s just the value of going into the natural world where you’re in a less speedy context of a greater less constructed subjectivity than say San Francisco where we are today and that somehow being in the forest or you know now we’re looking at the value of being next to the ocean has positive effects on the nervous system. I mean in the Pāli Canon one of the prescriptions that the Buddha gave for practice is find a quiet place in nature, and yet I was talking with a young friend in Hong Kong who said to me ‘I’ve only lived in the concrete world,’ and he’s excited he’s the brother of one of our clinicians in the nomad’s clinic and he’s going to join us in Dolpo in September. He said ‘I’ve never you know been in the wilds,’ and he’s really you know nervous and excited because he knows that his nervous system will change or like a wonderful Japanese monk practitioner from Fukui who came to do a vision fast with me maybe twenty years ago and I asked him about what his experience in the natural world was and he said ‘well I’ve been to three baseball games.’

Michael Taft:  Those are outside I guess.

Roshi Joan: Yes they are outside but, so the challenge that we’re facing at this time is the destruction of the natural world and the natural world also seems to be rearing its head up from our consumption of goods in terms of climate change. You know with hurricanes and the desertification and so you know we’re in a kind of tipping point as Bill McKibben calls it where climate change is threatening civilization, at the same time we’re being asked to wake up and take responsibility and to actually see if we can reverse the habits of mind that make forest bathing impossible because we’re cutting down all the forests, or turning our beaches into collection systems for plastic.  We’re added time where we have to I feel take full responsibility for the changes that we are incurring and to think about you know what we’re leaving for our children but also how can we create the context where we value the natural world and can allow ourselves not to be threatened by it or turn it into a commodity but to go there to be healed.

Michael Taft: And from your perspective as both a Buddhist teacher and shamanic practitioner or healer how can we do that most effectively? Let’s say someone living here in San Francisco who wants to really begin to make that connection more explicit and meaningful in their life is it as simple is you know go sit on the beach or?

Roshi Joan: Maybe, you know walk up Mt Tam, follow the trails out to the headlands but also I think that you know because there are so many people have access to education to become more aware of cause and effect, and to see that what practice can do, meditation practice can do. Allow the mind to perceive things more clearly so we understand cause and effect and we begin to regulate our behaviors that are contributing to this dysphoric time.

Michael Taft: And so what are you seeing currently that you would like to direct people’s attention towards most poignantly?

Roshi Joan: Michael I’m really excited about this book, I feel like the book standing at the Edge doesn’t invalidate the difficulties that we experience when we fall over the edge but gives us a view that our character can be strengthened through catastrophe and that it’s not like a situation when for example we are suffering from empathic distress where we feel our world is collapsing internally and we feel aversion toward facing suffering. We actually look at that collapse and say this is a time for a deep exhale, letting go, taking care of it’s a kind of mindfulness bell. I think we are hearing a big mindfulness bell at this time, not simply about taking a backward step to quote Zen Master Dogen but the value of stopping, the value of inquiry, of turning our attention not only into our own subjectivity but creating the means for our own subjectivity to be radically inclusive to include others and to be able to actually modulating our experience of the experience of others in a way that we don’t become sick, we don’t become ungrounded, we don’t experience collapse as a result of radical inclusion and when we do we use that time intuitively, we use that time as a way to look deeply and ask what have I learned here? What has served? How can I serve a world that is so fragile so vulnerable? How can I see where the points of resilience are and begin to help to sort of build capacity in the world instead of draw capacity from it?

Michael Taft: Something I encounter quite often is practitioners of Buddhism or some meditation tradition who seem to have retreated from this edge of engagement that you’re really promoting into a kind of cocoon of nothing mattering or in my opinion it seems almost nihilistic withdrawal. I’m curious what you would say to someone who was in that place.

Roshi Joan: You know there are many dharma doors we could say that is one of them, not everybody has the make up to be so-called on the front lines to engage in social transformation and I also think that there are phases that we go through, there are times when we are actually too sensitive and unable to metabolize the shocks of the society that the exhale is really important that times of deep internal practice or of isolation or hermiting are very generous and if we don’t take advantage of those times sometimes they are given to us like for example we become ill because of overexposure to psychosocial and physical toxins. So I don’t find fault with anybody who is heaping, I have to heap myself, I have to take that exhale seriously, I have to go to the wilderness in order to allow myself that to you know press sensitively the restart button. I don’t have the internal elasticity to be able to sustain myself healthily in the landscape of suffering, I’m not that kind of enlightened person, I have to have the inhale moments, the moments of engagement, of taking the breath in and going out into the world but I also have to have moments of deep letting go and for some people it’s not moments it’s not days, months sometimes it’s years and I have to say you know I respect the different capacities of different individuals it’s not to say you know everybody is going to be Wangari Maathai planting in million years, everybody is going to be Fannie Lou Hamer you know working for SNCC and getting the voter registration happening in the South you know twenty four seven. We all have different make ups and we have to basically do what is appropriate within the range of our capacities and part of what the book is about is that you know some of us require more of an exhale than others and it’s to learn when that is the case to respect it, otherwise pathological altruism unfolds, we go over the edge.

Michael Taft: So we live in a pretty exciting time, right now there’s a lot of really intense things happening. I was noticing today that the arctic is sixty degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it should be, six zero degrees warmer and all the political chaos and other this weekend I live in West Oakland you know three people were shot on my block just randomly, so lot to feel overwhelmed about but I’m curious what do you feel hopeful about or inspired by currently?

Roshi Joan: Well I feel hopeful about your equanimity where you talk about sixty degrees warmer than it should be or three people on your block were shot. It’s not that you’re saying this in a dissociative way but you’re noticing, you choose to not put your head in the sand but to notice the suffering and you are doing what is appropriate for you about bringing hope into the world and I love Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark and she’s written another one A Paradise Built in Hell there are so many examples of people, of communities, of groups of nations like Bhutan is a good example really espousing an ethos of happiness. I feel that the toxic aspects of our society are in fact the minority even though they’re the loudest. That there is so much goodness in the current landscape and that in a certain way our media is colonizing us with hopelessness and yet I feel I’m not colonized by hopelessness, I feel inspired by the many people I meet every single day who are operating from a base of deep integrity.

Michael Taft: Roshi thank you so much for coming on the program.

Roshi Joan: It has been my pleasure, wonderful to see you again good to see you again Michael.

Michael Taft: So good to see you as well thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Roshi Joan Halifax on Standing at the Edge”

  1. Regarding empathy… When I see suffering in humans or other animals I usually get very angry and sad at the same time. Then I get so depressed that I’m hating existence and I want to die as fast as possible so that I don’t have to feel this pain anymore. I withdraw from life for several hours because I’m totally hopeless and full of pain, can’t work, can’t do anything. Death seems then like the only way to escape these things from happening again. I hate empathy, I try to avoid social media and news because the amount of suffering shown there ruins my day.

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