Donna Quesada: And that is one of my favorite books that you two co-wrote together: The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness and Meditation.
And, since you brought up this word mindfulness, can you just define what that means to you, and how breath takes us into that place?
Deb Shapiro: It’s really simple. It’s just being aware. It’s just paying attention. It’s really that simple. It’s nothing esoteric. It’s nothing fancy. It’s literally just paying attention. So, as we watch our breathing, we are paying attention. You can watch your thoughts. They try to distract you away from it, at the same time. But, simply watching your breath is immediately putting you in touch with mindfulness.
Ed Shapiro: Like Deb said, paying attention is the key. Just really paying attention, more and more. And, through the breath, you become more and more, you might say, detached from your thinking. Because the thinking tells us that we are the thinking. I just thought and that means I do because I thought I had to go to the movies, even though my wife doesn’t like going to the movies. Whatever it is… It’s just constantly becoming a slave to your own thoughts. That’s why it’s important to remember that the mind is a perfect servant and a terrible master. The awareness that we are talking about… The mindfulness is seeing that the mind is not forcing us around like an annoying child.
DEB: The mindfulness is watching the mind and seeing it playing out its games, but not identifying with it. This sense of intensifying applies to illness. It applies to whatever might be going on in our lives. We are not it. We do not have to identify with… I am this. Whether it’s the child of alcoholics, or whatever it might be. The way with which we identify ourselves… cancer sufferer, whatever it is. That’s not the whole of us. That’s not who we really are. That’s just a manifestation of fact. It’s not something that we need to identify with.
ED: So, as I said, the children and the young children… they are getting to the point where they are evolving. This is a human race. Awakening means evolution. Awakening means the evolution of consciousness. The human race. The whole entire human animal. We are evolving. So, with the meditation, we take the evolution and we accelerate the evolution. When we do the breathing, when we do the Yoga… using the breath to open the dormant centers of the brain… we have a brain, but we don’t seem to use it properly. We just seem to have it. What we learn from Yoga… what we learn from Buddhist teaching… anything that is teaching awakening… we learn that as we are evolving, then we get to see the things that run us. We start saying, “aha… I see.” When that happens, it doesn’t matter. Good or bad. You’re depressed… you’re saying, “oh wow… I’m depressed. Let’s see what this is about.” When we go through any of the changes, we are able to look without feeling the suffering and the pain because we are not identifying with it, as who we are.
DEB: And, I think within that awakening is also not taking ourselves too seriously. When we do take ourselves too seriously, all manner of things goes wrong. And we get all caught up in our own neurosis, and ego, and thoughts. Don’t take any of it too seriously.
DONNA: I love that. As I was preparing for this time that we would spend together, you said that… that we forget to laugh. We take everything too seriously. And it’s so true. We take a step back and we see all the lightness in all of it. It just brings that joy back to our days… to our lives… to everything we do, and we so often forget that. That’s what I have learned from you two.
DEB: It’s like the saying, “why do angel’s fly?” It’s because they take themselves lightly.
DONNA: Yes. Yes.
DEB: And it’s so true. You’re the one that says, “if you don’t have a sense of humor, then it’s just not funny.”
ED: I think it’s more. It’s a way of communication, which is good. The thing that I enjoy, is when, after we were married in Scotland, a Rinpoche… a teacher… a future yogi came to us and said, “you just got married.” He said, “I’ve got some advice to share with you,” “If you get into a quarrel…
DEB: Which you will…
ED: Which you will…
DEB: Just go away from each other and be able to recognize what I had done that created that response in him. Rather than pointing the finger at someone else, point it at yourself. What have I done that added to that? And he does the same thing. What has he done that made me react like that? And then, come back together again. You really don’t have to share anything. You just have to live it. Just live your awareness.
DONNA: You know, I love… and I’m going back to this book, The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness and Meditation. I have it all marked up, so… You talk about that. The power of communication. This is the passage… I don’t have my glasses, but I think I can pull this off.
Without communication, hidden resentments, secret feeling and the I’m right but they are wrong syndrome grow. And intimacy suffers. A lack of communication will act like a quagmire.
I love that. Pulling the relationship down… I just love that passage so much!
DEB: And it’s so true. You think of any relationship you have had. Any times when the communication was not really honest and open. And look how many dark corners it went into? You wouldn’t be able to really share who you are. Intimacy to me, is, into me you see. And so, it’s allowing someone to see into you. To do that, you need to be able to show yourself.
ED: Yeah. But all this is nonsense. Because here we were on our honeymoon, sitting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence. Deb and I on our honeymoon, holding hands with the Dalai Lama. It’s the Dalai Lama and it’s 45 minutes. I said, “I don’t want to leave.” If we were together all the time we would quarrel!
DONNA: It’s true. He’s so delightful. He’s someone who takes himself lightly. You can feel it.
ED: I would love to introduce you.
DEB: We were watching a TV show on the Dalai Lama years ago. 25 Hours in the Life of the Dalai Lama. And at one point, he is meditating and the interviewer says to him, “what are you doing?” And the Dalai Lama just burst out laughing and said, “imagining my death…” and roared with laughter.
DONNA: He is the light. He really is.
ED: Oh, he’s very, very good. He looks like the smartest person in the class. And yet, he doesn’t have the ego of a person. He’s like a simple guy. It was great sitting with him and seeing how his mind works. We sat 45 minutes with him. It’s so funny because we were with him two or three days after he was with the pope and the heads of all religions. And I said, “Your holiness, how was it? How was the Pope?” He said it was almost like they were walking around in all their garb and robes and stuff… the meeting wasn’t deep enough.
DEB: I think the best was when we arrived to see them and we were in India at his residence. It’s like a big, old bungalow, that the English built in the old days. And so, we are in one room in the waiting room… an outside veranda, and he was just out there checking it out and we saw this monk further up the veranda, beckoning us.
ED: Suddenly, seeing this guy and he’s telling us to come. So, I said, “Deb, Deb, Hurry, hurry… this monk is going to bring us in to see the Dalai Lama.” And he comes out, and we walk closer and closer until…
DEB: We realized it was the Dalai Lama.
ED: And we followed his feet.
DEB: It was the Dalai Lama that was beckoning us. So, I went to prostrate, which is normal, meeting a great teacher. And he made me stand up. No, no… we are all equal here. And that was a very important teaching. No matter who we are, we are all equal.
DONNA: He’s even silly.
ED: He’s one big giggle. You are like the Dalai Lama.
DONNA: Well, I love to laugh. And it’s contagious. It just brings a joy to everything. I don’t doubt that has been an important part of your life together. You talked about your honeymoon and here you are, 33 years is it?
ED: And she still likes me!
DEB: We made a pact right at the beginning of our marriage that we wouldn’t wobble at the same time. And that’s stayed pretty strong throughout.
DONNA: What do you mean by that?
ED: She’s British. Deb’s British.
DONNA: Feeling… something going on… getting into your own trips? Suffering in some way?
ED: You’ve got to be strong.
DONNA: You carry each other.
ED: We can be there for each other and I’d say, she’s done much better than me.
DEB: And there have been a couple of times that we’ve wobbled at the same time… No, no, no… this isn’t going to work.
ED: In a way, it’s taking yourself too seriously. It’s being in a challenging situation that can overcome you. You really have to be strong because (Chanting)… That’s Sanskrit, and it means, “Not the body.” We don’t focus… this is not the place. “Not the mind… not the emotions.” We are compassionate human beings. Inside, there is only goodness.
DEB: And, there will be times, as in any human life, where that is not always the case. Somebody dies or something is going wrong and you are going to feel that sadness. Of course you are.
DONNA: What is the most important glue in your relationship? What would you tell couples that have just gotten married?
ED: We forget everything right after it happens. So, if I get pissed at her. I don’t remember why. I never remember why. And she’s usually right, so it makes it easy.
DEB: What would I say to them… I’d say stay open. Always stay open to each other. Love endures. Let love endure through whatever you go through.
ED: Forgiveness. Forgive. There is only one thing in that sentence that is important. Don’t create suffering on purpose. If you are in a relationship be very careful that you are respectful. So, I would basically say that the only thing that you can do is knowing that you should really deeply connect with your own peace. No one should break your peace. No one should threaten your peace. Not your father, not your sister, not your brother, not your friends… If anybody does, you have to say, “peace.” No one does that, and if they do… Goodbye, I don’t need to know you.
DEB: Also, in a relationship… When someone is getting at us… or, is angry, or whatever it may be… they are within themselves, suffering. It may not be about us, but it may be that they are suffering. And it reminds me… a long time ago, I was running a bath. I went into the bathroom to run a bath, and there was a spider in the bath. Normally… I’m not particularly friends with spiders, but I could get the spider out, and then draw my water, or I could drown it. And in that very moment, my suffering, or my state of mind would determine that spider’s life. If I was angry… if I was upset… I would just turn the water on. And, if I was taking the care, and I was in a loving space, no matter how much I didn’t like it, I would get the spider out. So, in a relationship, very much… it’s that person is suffering in the moment. I need to be able to pay attention to that. Rather than pay attention to hurt me.
ED: It also takes an awake point of view, as I shared with you. It’s almost like there is only one law of the universe. Teflon. When you connect with your true nature, it awakens. There’s nothing there to graft. You are in this incredible bliss.
DONNA: Don’t let the challenges stick.
DEB: Water off a duck’s back.
ED: It’s in a position where anytime you are with someone else, it’s compassion because anyone who is not awake is going through their own sense of suffering. Because we identify with that isn’t real. There is nothing real. I mean, of course, it’s real. Thoughts are just thoughts. Yesterday’s thoughts are not today’s thoughts.
DONNA: You know, you said something so interesting a moment ago. Always assume the best. Don’t think the other person is trying to offend you. It’s coming from their own pain and suffering. I think that is the mistake we make so often.
DEB: That’s the ego. The poor me. They are hurting me. When it may not have anything to do with you, at all.
ED: The ego is almost like something that is hiding behind a screen door. Because you don’t know it’s there. Suddenly, something arises and you tense up. As soon as I tense up, Wham… something negative can come out. As soon as something scares you… something goes on… Boom… You don’t like me. Tough… Tighter… Tighter… So, when we are very relaxed, and in that peace, then we can’t do anything but create peace.
DEB: I was just thinking, from my own point of view, my own experience… I mean, I grew up with a very abusive, angry father. I didn’t really grow up with him. Thank God. They were divorced by the time I was six. None the less, that had a deep effect, as I saw him over the years. As a teenager… It had a very deep effect. In some way or another, I was bad. Because he was always so angry with me. And so, somewhere along the line, I said it was my fault. Until I began to grow with awareness, and until I married him, who allowed me to feel upset. I was able to understand myself more deeply. Until finally, I realized, he has nothing to do with me. It’s his anger.
DEB: I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t actually about anything I had done. I had been a child. I hadn’t done anything on purpose. But his anger was within him. And it was being expressed or projected on to me. The more I realized that, the more I was able to separate his anger from mine and begin to forgive him, and make friends with the real person, not the image I had grown up with.
DONNA: Now, to take a step back… You started when you were very young. What I mean is, on your spiritual path in Zen. Is that correct?
DEB: Well, yeah.
DONNA: You were studying with the Woodstock Yogi.
DEB: It was almost the same time. I was in England and he was in New York.
ED: And then, I was on the way to India, in 1968.
DEB: I was on my way to a Buddhist retreat.
ED: And she was 15.
DEB: I started when I was 15. It was spring break and my older brothers and sisters were off doing their own thing. And they weren’t about to leave me in London on my own. Very wise woman. I was a very wild teenager. And she said, “I’m going on this Buddhist retreat and you are coming with me. So, you needn’t worry about it.” And I knew some of the people that were going to be there already. And I said, “three days… I can manage that.” So, she stayed three and I stayed ten.
DEB: And that was the beginning of it for me. I don’t think I knew anything that was being said, and what the teachings were. I don’t think I even understood what to do in meditation.
DONNA: Most 16 or 17 year-old girls are partying. What brings a girl that young to meditation?
DEB: I just fell in love with the silence. I totally fell in love. I would just sit there for hours in silence. I wasn’t counting my breathing; I was just in the silence. And that was it. From then on, I couldn’t stop. That was the beginning of it all.
ED: And she also had the big fortune that her mother was a Buddhist scholar and teacher. And her mother’s best friend was Alan Watts. She grew up in her house with Alan Watts.
DEB: He used to come over for dinner.
ED: Dinner with Alan Watts.
DEB: My mother was kind of… part of a group of renegades. Alan Watts and Douglas Harding… And they used to meet in a pub once a week, to sort of commiserate about the state of the world. And so, that’s how I knew him. He was writing the forward to my mother’s book when he died. I just remember seeing him one time, when I was 16 or 17.
ED: You see, she’s British!
DEB: And I was at a talk he was giving. And I was with a friend and he was standing up there. He was talking about the ridiculousness of life. And he realized that the suit he was wearing had a whole row of buttons by the cuff. And he was looking at them and saying “these buttons have no purpose what so ever.” He started pulling them off, one by one. Immediately, I was in fits of giggles. At that age, you see someone pulling off the buttons of their jacket…
DONNA: Perfectly charming. Well, his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity was my gateway into Zen teachings, and my love of all these wisdom traditions.
ED: You have to come over here with us. Deb’s mother is 96 and she speaks to her mother every Sunday.
DONNA: That’s beautiful.
DEB: And she still remembers me. I remember how she used to say that every morning he would stand in front of a full-length mirror and just roar with laughter at the site of himself… which I thought was the best way of being comfortable in your own skin. You could imagine…
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Ed and Deb Shapiro Pt 3 – Be In the World, But Not Of It
Read and Watch Part I Here: Awaken Interviews Ed & Deb Shapiro Pt 1 – We Are Not The Movie – We Are the Blank Screen and the Observer