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: Its really simple. Its just being aware. Its just paying attention. Its really that simple. Its nothing esoteric. Its nothing fancy. Its 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 doesnt like going to the movies. Whatever it is… Its just constantly becoming a slave to your own thoughts. Thats 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 its the child of alcoholics, or whatever it might be. The way with which we identify ourselves… cancer sufferer, whatever it is. Thats not the whole of us. Thats not who we really are. Thats just a manifestation of fact. Its 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 dont 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 doesnt matter. Good or bad. Youre depressed… youre saying, “oh wow… Im depressed. Lets 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. Dont 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 its 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. Thats what I have learned from you two.

DEB: Its like the saying, “why do angels fly?” Its because they take themselves lightly.

DONNA: Yes. Yes.

DEB: And its so true. Youre the one that says, “if you dont have a sense of humor, then its just not funny.”

ED: I think its more. Its 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, “Ive 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 dont have to share anything. You just have to live it. Just live your awareness.

DONNA: You know, I love… and Im 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 Im 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 its 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 wouldnt be able to really share who you are. Intimacy to me, is, into me you see. And so, its 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. Its 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. Hes 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, hes very, very good. He looks like the smartest person in the class. And yet, he doesnt have the ego of a person. Hes like a simple guy. It was great sitting with him and seeing how his mind works. We sat 45 minutes with him. Its 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 wasnt deep enough.

DEB: I think the best was when we arrived to see them and we were in India at his residence. Its 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 hes 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: Hes even silly.

ED: Hes one big giggle. You are like the Dalai Lama.

DONNA: Well, I love to laugh. And its contagious. It just brings a joy to everything. I dont 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 wouldnt wobble at the same time. And thats stayed pretty strong throughout.

DONNA: What do you mean by that?

ED: Shes British. Debs British.

DONNA: Feeling… something going on… getting into your own trips? Suffering in some way?

ED: Youve got to be strong.

DONNA: You carry each other.

ED: We can be there for each other and Id say, shes done much better than me.

DEB: And there have been a couple of times that weve wobbled at the same time… No, no, no… this isnt going to work.

ED: In a way, its taking yourself too seriously. Its being in a challenging situation that can overcome you. You really have to be strong because (Chanting)… Thats 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 dont remember why. I never remember why. And shes usually right, so it makes it easy.

DEB: What would I say to them… Id 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. Dont 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 dont 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… Im 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 spiders 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 didnt like it, I would get the spider out. So, in a relationship, very much… its 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. Its almost like there is only one law of the universe. Teflon. When you connect with your true nature, it awakens. Theres nothing there to graft. You are in this incredible bliss.

DONNA: Dont let the challenges stick.

DEB: Water off a ducks back.

ED: Its in a position where anytime you are with someone else, its compassion because anyone who is not awake is going through their own sense of suffering. Because we identify with that isnt real. There is nothing real. I mean, of course, its real. Thoughts are just thoughts. Yesterdays thoughts are not todays thoughts.

DONNA: You know, you said something so interesting a moment ago. Always assume the best. Dont think the other person is trying to offend you. Its coming from their own pain and suffering. I think that is the mistake we make so often.

DEB: Thats 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 dont know its 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 dont like me. Tough… Tighter… Tighter… So, when we are very relaxed, and in that peace, then we cant 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 didnt 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. Its his anger.


DEB: I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasnt actually about anything I had done. I had been a child. I hadnt 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.

ED: 1966.

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 werent about to leave me in London on my own. Very wise woman. I was a very wild teenager. And she said, “Im going on this Buddhist retreat and you are coming with me. So, you neednt 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 dont think I knew anything that was being said, and what the teachings were. I dont 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 wasnt counting my breathing; I was just in the silence. And that was it. From then on, I couldnt 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 mothers 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, thats 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, shes 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. Debs 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

Awaken Interviews

Awaken Mind

Awaken Spirit

Source: AWAKEN