The Mindspace Podcast #6: Meditation and Well Being with Dharma Teacher Pascal Auclair

welcome to the Mindspace podcast I’m
Joe Flanders thanks for tuning in my guest today is Pascal o’clair and you’re
in for a real treat Pascal is a very well known Dharma and
meditation teacher he teaches retreats all over the world and teaches locally
with true north insight in Montreal Pascal is extremely knowledgeable about
the Buddhist teachings but maybe more importantly he embodies the practice
more authentically than maybe anyone I’ve ever met our conversation today
touched on his background how he got into practicing meditation and teaching
and we got a couple of interesting stories from some of the long retreats
he sent I got his take on how he thinks meditation really helps people live
happier and healthier lives I asked him what people can do to enjoy
the benefits of meditation even if they don’t have hours and hours and weeks and
weeks to spend on retreat I got his perspective on the secular mindfulness
movement including some recent challenges from the scientific community
suggesting that meditation teachers should have better sensitivity to the
mental health problems that can sometimes arise in meditation and
finally asked him about his commitment to social justice and how that shows up
in his practice in teaching you can find lots more info on Pascal at Pascal Clara
org and there’s lots of info on mine spaces mindfulness meditation classes at
mine space while being calm you can also visit presence meditation dot CA for
info on the drop in classes available at our meditations to you before getting to
my conversation with Pascal I just wanted to announce that for the next
episode of mind space podcast I’m going to be interviewing Colin DeYoung colin
is an old friend and a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota and he
specializes in the study of personality he’s got lots to say about personality
and well-being and mental health and all that kind of stuff so really looking
forward to that okay so now let’s get to my conversation with Pascal oh there okay I’m here with Pascal oh Claire
welcome Pascal hey Joe I how are you I’m good
it’s a nice a nice setup we have here it’s really nice to have here
Pascal why don’t we start by you just telling us like who you are I know I
mentioned the intro that you’re a meditation teacher and a Dharma teacher
but what does that mean exactly what do you do that’s a good question
well mostly what I do do is I go and retreat with people that’s mostly what I
do is so I’ll go somewhere usually it’s close to a city you know an hour drive
from a city in North America or in Europe and gather with a group of people
who signed up for a retreat and they’ll come and be in silence for maybe I don’t
know maybe a long weekend or week long or two weeks and we’ll be together
exploring the Buddhist teachings and the Buddhist practices meditation so in a
way you know I just do nothing with people for a number of days in a
beautiful rural rural environment and do this I’m also teaching in town mostly
here in Montreal and so people come for an hour an hour and a half class and
when you practice we practice just paying attention it’s an amazing thing
like how I something that really you touch me touches me yeah to be with a
group of people and just pay attention I think it’s a kind of a strange and
beautiful thing to do usually there would be you know like if you pay
attention is because it’s like in this case ideas of are being shared or
there’s music or movie or play or dance and people come together and they pay
attention to something you know some kind of entertainment we could say and
in the classes in the retreat we come together we pay attention but that’s
nothing being presented a that you know you know our psyches and
nature you know the life of the senses and it’s quite remarkable that people
can do that come together and offer attention of her presence to themselves
and to the space of those so for people that are less familiar with the practice
of meditation why would anyone want to do that I don’t know I’m always I’ve
been practicing for 20 years and I’m still kind of wondering but now I do
know I do know because as we sit let’s say that’s the form as we sit and we pay
attention first the mind might pacify itself you know like calm itself and
also we’ll notice how the the psyche behaves you know what and what it does
you know so if you and I and the people listening to us we were just to stop for
a few minutes and say let’s do nothing and just pay attention what would happen
to us you know one of us would start worrying about later today this or that
and another of us maybe would start thinking about earlier this morning or
something of the past and you know and and so by just doing this we notice what
are our habits of mind and are they really useful are they liberating or
entangling is one of the ways that I think about this and another thing that
happens I think is a kind of a softening of the heart so in just paying attention
like this there’s something that open opens up you know it’s maybe
appreciation for the quietness or maybe compassion for the confused mind or
agitated mind you can be touched by the way we live that’s quite remarkable
yeah so I definitely want to ask you more about what kinds of skills and
perspectives you cultivate in your own practice and you teach others if it’s
okay with you I would ask you first how you got into doing this in the first
place yeah so there’s two different stories two different way to tell what
happens I’ll give you both versions and you’ll see that it’s somewhere in
between or both so in the first kind of quick funny version of this is I’m
traveling in Asia 20-some years ago with my partner at the time adorable man but
we’ve been traveling for two or three months in India and Nepal Thailand and
24 hours a day together seven days a week you know and at some point I just
want a break you know something to my partner why don’t you go to the next
place where we’re you know next city we’re going to visit a couple of days
earlier I’ll stay here and then when I get there you’ll show me around and but
it doesn’t work you know my partner saying no we came together we’re staying
together and so I’m trying to find a way to have a little pause you know and so
we meet the traveler we just is coming out of a retreat in the monastery in the
south of Thailand and so she said how you can go there you’ll be in silence
for 10 days and they’ll teach you meditation so I just thought how in
silence for 10 days you know I’ll be alone and we’ll be together you know
like we’re all gonna get what we need so I said Anthony what about going there
you know that’s a cultural thing to do and and he said yeah let’s go free food and also been curious so so we found
ourselves that retreat center and I was able to be alone for a few days
with him and it was good for both of us and after we sat a number of retreats in
the years that came after him so that’s one of the answers do you want the other
one of course so the other one is a little bit more
dramatic a year and a half prior to that trip and that retreat I learned and I
was 25 years old at that time I learned that I was hiv-positive at that time
that year there was no good medication yet so it was definitely like like a
life a death sentence is that the way to say it and so you know I was 25 years
old didn’t have so many inner resources and I was very confused and afraid and
it didn’t look really good what was going to happen was you know the loss of
health and you know it was pretty bad what was happening with people with AIDS
at that time I had seen a few friends you know get sick and die and so so this
was the situation and so I needed some help figuring out you know like how to
live with that disease and the stigma around it and myself and
identity was very shaken to the core you know I thought I was youth health and
eternity you could say and I was learning that way I was none of these
and the uncertainty of life was very very much revealed I was really aware
that I didn’t know what was you know how I would accompany myself in that
adventure so that was part of what led us to traveling in Asia it was a choice
to you know I wanted to you know see the world and live maybe more intensely
knowing that it was going to turn ugly if I can say it like this so there was
this so the call for like meditation going on a retreat there’s a sense of
like there might be an answer there No you know you see a monks and nuns with
the shape that these archetypes are really powerful and to be in Thailand
there and to know that there was something that seems secret some secret
teaching some secret ways to meet I don’t know
life the mind so I was curious about this definitely okay and so you’re
saying the the truth is somewhere in between what exactly does that mean well
you know how things are complex I was really I really needed the break I’m
traveling with my partner which I will repeat here is an adorable man we
haven’t been together for many years now but he’s a good friend somebody that is
very dear to me and so it’s more like the dynamic of two
people being together a lot so this was true and there was something another
kind of undercurrent another thing going on where I was looking for I don’t know
if it you know some some some path some tools some way to understand I think I
was more than tools I think maybe there was a sense and people have that I think
in them certainly others listening will the reckoning some will recognize this
you know they a different view look like there must be another way to understand
it or another another way to enter in relationship with such a stressful thing
and so this is a very very deep question so the annoyance on one hand and the
surge the quest on the other and then how did that turn into you becoming a
teacher and what did you have to go through to be empowered yeah the inside
community mmm-hmm so there was this retreat and after this
retreat yeah My partner and i were really were
touched deeply by the practice both the practice and the teachings kind of what
you could call the Buddhist philosophy and also the actual technique of paying
attention in a non-judgmental way to what is happening here now so that kind
of a way to develop stability of mine and acceptance
I was really deeply moved by this I recognized immediately that there was
something in the technique and in the teachings you know the other Dharma the
Buddhist teaching talks about that there is difficulties in life it’s part of the
fabric of reality that we are separated from what we want that there will be
aging disease all this I could hear in a new way or like to me that was a new
message prior to this side thought maybe that
you know if something went wrong and was either my fault or somebody’s fault and
now somebody was telling me no this is really part of life and so it was
opening the door to a level of acceptance that was extremely moving for
me and healing and so after this we both had the interest to sit more a treat and
at the end of that particular retreat the first one somebody mentioned so this
was in the south of Thailand near Surat Thani Buddha does a bhikkhus monastery
suan mokkh and there I heard at the end of the retreat somebody talking about
the three-month retreat this was a 10-day retreat somebody was talking
about the three-month retreat in Massachusetts like just next to where I
live Montreal five hours drive and I remember
hearing this and recognizing oh my lord you know this is my next trip for sure
this is the next trip the inner kind of traveling and my idea was really clear
I’m going to set this thing and you know it took almost two years but I
found myself and maybe a year and a half later sitting the three-month retreat at
IMS and then there was so there was a few 10-day retreats like this over the
the year and a half that followed then the three-month retreat and then I was
so interested in that practice in that study of human psyche so my psyche but
also human psyche you know there’s something very universal
that I understand in this practice I’m I’m studying human nature and the kind
of setup I see it as a laboratory like so I’m going in this laboratory in the
woods for three months and I have all day you know 14 hours a day to actually
study the mind and I have good guidance around this so I did this and I ended up
over the years doing maybe 10 more of these you mentioned IMS just so yeah
this everybody knows IMS being the Insight Meditation Society exact Insight
Meditation Society in Massachusetts in rural my Western Mass and they’re people
who had sat retreat and address at long retreats Westerners had created the
center in the 70s and they were offering the same teaching they had received from
their masters in Burma in Thailand and and they had organized that three-month
retreat where they would support you with you know food lodging and guidance
in in silence and so yeah so that’s the place which ended up being my you know
training ground as a certainly as a practitioner and later as a as a you
know apprentice teacher or mentee being mentored by Joseph Goldstein one of the
teachers there and yes so a number of these long
retreats actually one year after a few years of practice I had that dream I
wanted to do a year-long silent retreat and being in the partnership with
Anthony we talked about this as a couple and Anthony said Baska be okay if you
went several times one two or three months and you came back you know every
so that was kind of the compromising was willing to do so then I did my own
compromise and did a year of sitting like this I would say the three month at
the Insight Meditation Society come back for Christmas so I would be sitting from
you know September up till a few days before Christmas in silence go back home
for Christmas then maybe in February ghosts it to two months in California
spirit Rock Meditation Center a center of creative founded by jack Kornfield
and others same kind of situation you know rural place where a bunch of people
are together practicing so I would go and sit there two months go back home
for a month or two then go back to another retreat one of these places or
another place after a year I was so interested by the studies I was doing I
thought like oh my god it’s the beginning I’m beginning to calm my mind
I want like now my mind is a little bit gap gathered instead of scattered you
know and it’s a more laser-like if you will and now I’m starting to see thing
in a much more refined way the quick behavior of the mind you know all kinds
of movements of mind and heart you know reactivity judgments are
floating granted self aggrandizement you know all these movements and noticing
the pain the mistaken views that were behind these attitudes and so I decided
to do a second year to which Anthony agreed and so there was a second year of
this and at the end of these two years of maybe six months of silence and
practice a year Joseph Goldstein the teacher at
the Insight Meditation Society and jack Kornfield the teacher at spirit rock in
California both said Pascal would be good if you were to be trained to teach
so we’ll do you know Joseph said that I’ll take three years three years with
you and train you and Jack said I’ll take four years Pascal with you and
train you and so I said oh but Jack is inviting me Joseph Judah etc and they
talked together and they decided to create a group of trainees and so they
did the four year training with we ended up being 24 of us being trained to teach
you know what we call the Dharma the Buddhist teachings and practices what is
it like to spend you know months at a time in silence I mean it’s very
different from day-to-day life here yeah so the individual experience might
differ so I’ll be representing my experience you know for me it was
definitely an amazing blessing you’re in rural Mass let’s say if we think of the
three-month always happens at the fall the fall three-month retreat and so
you’re in beautiful New England nature you know lakes and forests changing
color you actually have the luxury to watch the color change in the trees day
by day you know there’s there’s nothing else happening than that and so nature
is very powerful the Sun the rain time time opens up people cook for you
there’s a hundred people together in silence so socially it’s easier to be
together and at least for me you know in silence and then it’s a you know an
alternation of sitting and sitting for forty-five minutes of meditation and
then walking for 45 minutes in silence inside or outside and sitting again
twice a week you’ll have a 15 minute interview meeting with a teacher
basically they’re checking your practice your reporting I’m reporting on what’s
happening for me and they might give instructions
you know prescriptions say Oh be careful with this and this I remember was really
standing out because you know like I’ve been not talking to anybody you know for
three days and then I have like 15 minutes to actually have an exchange
with the human being and then I’m going back in silence but still I’m relational
because there’s a hundred people you know where we have tasks to do few you
know maybe 45 minutes of work every day so I maybe clean the pots and pans with
others were in silence but silence in this ways it’s very much shared you know
so I actually was sharing a room with somebody I was and we didn’t speak we
didn’t have the time to talk before the retreat started because I maybe I came
late or he did so we did it three months in silence and we develop a really
beautiful friendship it was really caring you know like waking up really
early in the morning you would like sneak out of the room so I could sleep a
few minutes more and that night I would practice late I would come and be really
careful and this had a really beautiful like we shared a lot and at the end of
the retreat you know we talked so no in October you know you got depressed I was
like yeah it was hard in October and you you know just from you know body
language and the way we move and etc so and all these hours of you know
discovering what it is like to be in a body to be in the heart and mind and the
way the heart and mind can behave and creates so much trouble for oneself and
the weight can also be so beautiful with itself you know it can you know calm and
curiosity and joy and benevolence friendliness when
it’s there the reality is so different and this is amazing to discover that
reality changes with mine States you know in hopelessness and despondency if
that’s a word you know you know oh my god I’m stuck here for another two
months you know and I’m I’m people are building careers and having families and
buying homes and and participating in society and I’m there you know people
cooking for me I’m doing nothing sitting on my ass all day you know so that’s a
mine state and another mine state is gratitude cannot believe I have I’m
given this time to actually detoxify this mine really take responsibility for
what’s happening in there and become starting to the word is not the right
word it’s the one that comes to mind to master maybe just make order clarify you
know how is the best way for myself and for others to use this mind you know
itself instead of cultivating self deprecation or arrogance you know you
know what is the taste of humility of true humility you know so I really want
to be there when it shows up you know I don’t want to be too occupied by other
things so that’s the laboratory there we were speaking earlier about you know
getting together and paying attention that’s kind of what you’re doing when
you’re teaching and leading retreats and stuff this paying attention and and all
the things you’re talking about that the retreat opens up for you maybe you can
flesh that out a little bit or unpack what you’re doing in meditation and how
overtime that helps people and I don’t know if we want to use the word sort of
liberation or well-being or so what what are we actually doing when we wrap a
attention paying attention and how does that end up being helpful
yeah yeah it’s yeah it’s a beautiful profound question there’s there’s
actually many ways to answer this this question so I’ll offer what comes here
spontaneously but so we just sit and we notice what’s happening you know and there’s a chain of mental qualities that
are developed as we do just this so we pay attention paying attention
something will start to stand out you know you know I’ll notice either sounds
or the quality of my mind you know the impatience the turbulence and this is
often in Insight Meditation it’s one way to describe this practice the first
insight we say is we notice that our minds are a little crazy I don’t know if
that’s okay to use this word in this way you know but you know you will just sit
and say let’s pay attention to you know just the quality of the air the
temperature or the quietness in the room and then we’ll be am I doing this right
I don’t know if I’m doing this right I should you know and the mind will and
will this will be revealed the tendencies of the mind and so we’ll get
curious so we’ll we’ll go from being duped by our mind States to becoming
awake to them you know instead of just believing you know impatience will start
to feel the effect of impatience on the body mind right now you know and if
there happens to be some kind of quiet listening then we might get interested
in the kind of contentment that arises in just being they’re attentive suddenly
I don’t need to be somebody else be further along so it cuts through some
illusions that I have they actually the illusionary
Mirage like nature of the beliefs is revealed just by that for me
that’s very powerful so I sit there like I think I’ve so many things to do today
and and you know and I should be somebody else and this and that and I
sit and just pay attention and suddenly it’s full and so when I go back to that
belief or the things to do maybe I’ll be a little bit more free from the grasp of
these thoughts you know so I pay attention
something will stand out so it will activate curiosity in my mind and
curiosity in time will bring some kind of enthusiasm or contentment something
like this this will lead to the calming of the mind that it was scattered and
busy occupy and preoccupied in all kinds of ways the mind will come because it’ll
be content interested in what’s here and in this way I’ll see more clearly
reality so that’s kind of a fast version I give you the reality is much more
messy than this you know I get lost doubt comes what am i doing why am I
doing this I’m losing my time but slowly I would get to clarify how I’m living
how I’m being so that’s one way to talk about this yeah just a follow-up
question on that what’s wrong with beliefs what why this
skepticism about reality yeah I mean beliefs I mean there’s plenty of
believes they’re they they’re I think they’re useful until we discovered that
they are actually hindering in a way you know for example if I believe that
something material maybe will bring me complete happiness then I’ll get really
greedy I want to get that thing I’ll be stressful
it’ll create a feeling of lack that completion fullness is when I finally
get this thing you know and I could actually could actually play with my
kind of values ethics wanting this thing
believing that it’s going to satisfy me believing it so much I might actually
start I don’t know lying to get it or you know
being rough to move ahead to get this thing and once I get it I might discover
that it’s not that actually satisfying I don’t know if I’m touching on something
for somebody who’s listening here you know but oh that relationship that
material thing that status whatever it is you know actually doesn’t provide so
much because it’s still a little unstable and you know so actually I want
to work on these beliefs earlier early on you know check out what I’m
projecting on things and so that’s just an example and so if I know deeply that
there will be this is for example in my case I mean in our case there will be
disease there will be sickness yeah then maybe I
can actually take care of health but I can let go of some of the fear that
sickness will come because it will come and so then I can be freed from sickness
nut because it doesn’t happen but because I’m not fearing it anymore and
and this is deep stuff and and I can learn to live in this life so for me for
example with the HIV that we talked about I could live and I did live for a
while under this belief that if I didn’t have that disease my life would be
totally fine you know this belief it seemed like it
was telling me about happiness you know happiness is not having this thing which
makes a lot of things very complex you know and that belief is stressful I
didn’t know that I thought you know it was that fantasy you know was helpful in
my life like I knew reality but actually looking at this that belief is
I found that is not true that I can actually be with HIV this disease you
know and meet it and actually it’s an amazing it’s an amazing thing that is
happening it there’s nothing that’s been a better teacher than this thing and in
terms of heart opening in terms of humility in terms of considering others
it’s it’s actually a really really amazing thing and so I find in myself
that carrying the disease in this way is helpful for me helpful for others it’s
not like I don’t take care of my health anymore it doesn’t you know hinder that
I take a really good care of myself but I hold it differently and by paying
attention I was able to clarify this oh I’m not holding this well you know
there’s another way to hold this that’s kind of a revolution of the mind and
heart we’re talking about yeah it’s a really nice example a nice illustration
of how you’re bringing your practice to your experience and I do want to ask you
about a couple other examples in a minute what’s true it strikes me in how
you’re talking about all this that you’re not appealing to any spiritual
beliefs you know there’s obviously no deities here we’re not talking about
reincarnation you’re talking of it you know very simple language almost sort of
psychological are you those what you’re talking about Buddhists are you a
Buddhist are you a monk like how do you locate these teachings and and what you
do as a teacher on a day to day basis in the sort of traditional context yeah so
I’m definitely not a monk because you know I would have shaved hair and wear a
robe so listeners don’t see this but I’m in urban you know layperson clothing and
I have a partner I’m in a relationship monks and nuns are celibate and yes so
not a monk I’m a layperson it’s these in French it’s it’s get these identities
labels I’m and they’re useful to some extent you know but I can’t say that I
recognize myself like I’m not I wouldn’t define myself as a layperson
I’m a human I’m a person I wouldn’t define myself also personally as a
Buddhist although my behavior and thoughts and things I do really can’t
indicate that I’m a Buddhist you know but I’m I’m not that interested in that
you know I’m interested in you know well-being in being a better whatever
you know son or a better neighbor or citizen you know I’m interested in in
feeling more at ease in the world I live in and being able to contribute so in
this way you know it’s maybe more humanistic or something like this it
happens that the Buddhist teachings are awesome in this way you know they really
serve that purpose really well and so I haven’t found something the body of
teaching and practices that is so powerful and so it seems to me
accessible you know like I don’t feel religious others might and do and it’s
it’s good there’s many ways I think to meet and use these practices and it’s
just for oneself to determine – yeah does that answer it I think it does yeah
so I want to ask you about a couple of the stories we’ve talked about the first
one you’re at home one evening you’ve got whatever to do you sure it’s a busy
evening like any other the phone rings and it’s some sort of customer service
rep from Videotron and you know she wants to take up some of your time to
review you’ll her file with them and make sure you’re happy and ultimately
there is a business case for why she is doing this and using your time for that
and I think you mentioned just that you know you were a little irritated by
being interrupted in this way and that you worked with that in in a way that’s
I think quite unusual relative to how I might or somebody else might receive
that call so maybe you could just tell us a little bit about that well so first
I want to say that maybe I disclose to you the best part I not maybe I know
that I’m not even you know that it’s more messy than this and I get caught
all the times in all different kinds of ways in all kinds of situations you know
and it’s not the best version of me that people you know have to encounter but in
that case like this one what comes to mind when I hear you describe this is in
the development of practice there is you know wisdom what is wisdom there’s so
many kinds of wisdom and so there’s one particular kind of discernment that we
talk about in this practice is the recognition for opportunities for
practice and so one of the ways for me being triggered by not getting what I
want sometimes in the in these kinds of phone calls or you know you know as a
customer of some sort of some institution or corporation
you know I try to recognize the opportunity I have for practice when I’m
you know on the telephone for example with with somebody or you know if I have
to take a plane and the plane is canceled and it’s messy and the airport
you know I’d like to remember Pascal this is an opportunity for you to
practice what you and your values which I think you say to people or like to
think that you value patience you know respect care clarity you know all this
so so I do want to live I think in a friendly world you know so how do I do
this this is hard work in the way you know but I’m happy that because of my
practice of mindfulness mindfulness the word in the old language in Pali is sati
it’s also translated as remembering so what I’m describing is that mindfulness
is also a way to remember my values so at the moment where I would snap you
know maybe I’m able sometimes the times I describe do you remember actually I
have values I want to live in a safe well do you know where I don’t take any
a you know mindless moment to become abusive in some ways or rough you know
and so the intent that’s what I find remarkable is that often there will be
suddenly some joy that comes in my mind opportunity for practice it’s my chance
to create the world I want to live in you know so you know Here I am at the
airport that’s one of the latest opportunities that I had you know was
Pascal there’s a human being here you know you want clarity you want to get
what you need or stuff but let’s do this and they really work together because
that is possible you know and often when I’m able to do this it’s so smooth and
it’s actually there’s a pleasant aspect to it you know and then it changes my
experience inwardly and outwardly and also you know I can experience another
kind of joy which is the Bliss of blamelessness as we talked about in the
practice so after you know an encounter like this where I can say like wow
Pascal you stayed calm you stayed calm you were clear
you know you were it’s not about being nice you know it’s not I just want to be
it nice and I want people to like me it’s not this it’s a deep recognition
that we are in a world that is you know uncertain unstable unreliable things you
know appear like they’re gonna go this way and they go another way you think
your evening is gonna go like this and then this happens you know and it’s
gonna be like this pretty much for the whole ride so how am I gonna
oh here’s an opportunity for me to practice not getting what I want
you know and of course sometimes I don’t have that sati that remembering I just
have like the mind that you know contracts and Rehab and reacts and you
know yeah it’s messy in this way the other story that I wanted to ask you
about I attended day-long silent retreat with you I think it was
in November December and it took a lot of arranging for me to be able to go so
I have little kids and I had to make sure that my wife had the support she
needed to do what needed to be done on that Saturday and I remember very well
it was like I don’t know again like late November early December and like we had
a really rough winter as people might remember and it started already like it
was super cold like unseasonally cold it was even like snowing and even raining
and it was it was a miserable day and I I think I walked I took the metro and I
was very preoccupied with all of the little things that were going wrong in
my day like that I was cold that it was tough to leave the house because my kids
were you know in bad moods or whatever it was I remember arriving and having to
go up the stairs and take off my boots and being annoyed like well if I take my
boots off here my sock you’re gonna get wet I’m gonna have a
wet socks all day and being very in a silly way triggered by these little
irritants and maybe there was some sleep deprivation in my defense and then you
showed up and I think you sort of sat down at the front of the room and and
you I think switched on a mic and your voice was a little nasally and you had
this huge smile on your face and you said hi everyone I just want to
apologize I’m sick I’m you know my voice might be a little off today and again
there was this smile and almost a joyfulness in the imperfection of the
moment I was just like I don’t know how he got there but I want to be able to
cultivate that kind of equanimity so how does that work well I mean for one thing
that the weird kind of joy is like the life never behaves you know the way that
makes me laugh is like of course you know what that they have to lead the day
long with a lot of people and and is the day that I feel all you know and so and
I’m touched by this you know the fact that life is not gonna behave like I
want you know it’s it’s so it’s a very humbling and you know and I think with
the practice and it’s that practice of mindfulness of you know daily practice
and paying attention like I’ve noticed that having an opinion about things you
know wanting things to be otherwise you know in the mind like this is not a good
way for me it’s what we call him this teaching the second arrow so the first
arrow of the sickness that day can’t do anything about it the Buddha apparently
had the bad back at the you know something at his feet one of his foot
was hurt and you know that’s the first arrow you
can’t do anything about this you know you take care of it of course but the
second arrow why me why today I don’t want this this is really extra and wow
the power of discovering that this is extra and this is a whole layer of
suffering that is that is pretty miserable and you know painful and this
is extra it doesn’t have to be there there’s another way to go about this
and this we have to find in ourselves so these three months to monthly
three-month reading all this and you know 20 years of practice I’m starting
to have some wisdom around that oh this is how it is Pascal this morning this is
how it is and having touched the experience in an experiential way having
touched the beauty of the feeling the felt sense of compassion instead of
grumpiness or you know I’ve clarified some of that for myself you know that I
could add a layer of judgment and one thing it to be otherwise in despising
reality or this or that and there’s a way where there can be tenderness and
there can be tenderness and accompanying oh how do you accompany somebody was
sick and is going to teach all day today you know so this another aspect that
comes to mind is so walking you were walking or traveling from here where you
live to that place where we were meeting I was traveling to so I’ve learned my
teachers I’ve taught me to actually not give so much interest to the content of
my mind especially that kind of content like why is it like this is it oh my god
a winter and you know anticipation projection storytelling of all kinds and
so my teachers I’ve been so generous and skillful to show me that now we’re
walking what is the experience of walking here now so that’s mindfulness
I’m paying attention to what’s happening instead of the kind of fascination
I would have for a series of train of thoughts that would be kind of miserable
you know and not helping me not creative not solution finding it’s it’s more of a
general than dumb word spiral kind of a way of thinking and so I know for myself
probably as I was what was walking there I can’t remember but actually do I’ve I
do have memories of that day that you’re describing and I was walking there and I
had the heavy pack because I had to bring stuff to implements you know
perhaps and things and I was just saying can we pay attention to you know the
weight on the shoulders and the weight of the sick body you know like the kind
of feeling and just you know is it possible to be friendly with this to
befriend this to make space for that because it’s like this anyway you know
is it possible to allow this to be and maybe can I notice something else you
know there’s no following what every snow that day was kind of beautiful I
could have easily missed it with my opinions and preferences but to actually
connect with that you know when the wetness on the forehead or whatever you
know and so so these are things I’ve learned to do yeah so that’s what comes
to mind around this another teaching that you raise that I think is really
interesting and relevant is the the tendency for us to personalize yeah oh
this is happening to me yeah why me and and the sort of the
sense of luck or unluck and the universe has it in for me or okay if today is a
good day for me and whatnot in and you often encourage me to to address the
sort of the conditionality of all that I wonder if you can elaborate a bit yeah
I’m really happy you asked because to me that is so central I have so much
gratitude for this I’m listening to your questions and I have honestly really I
have tears coming to my eyes and so there’s the technique in mindfulness and
you know Buddhist practices there’s the technique of meditation and
and the technique will lead us to change our views on things and there is the
view also that we can talk about even before we start the practice it’s the
view is that kind of what I mean by this is the way we look in the world the way
we understand it our understanding of what’s happening and so something that I
find so incredibly powerful and beautiful in this practice is the view
so the view is what is happening right now yes it’s personal that’s one view
one way to hold it and it’s important to hold that view and there’s maybe another
way to hold this that this is human nature this is the kind of things that
happen to human beings and so it’s so in that the switch of view here is nuts
nuts not so personal so there’s a reframing so it’s not that my bus is not
arriving at the corner you know why me kind of thing is how being separated
from what we want this is such a human experience and to me what it happens
when I do this I change that view or reframe things in this way it’s very
liberating in some ways it’s very touching also because it the feeling I
have is I’m the first view was you know the world is against me or some kind of
like the world against me kind of understanding and suddenly with this new
view I’m welcomed at the heart of human in nature like I’m the at the center of
it like welcome in humanity this is exactly it and so it’s the birth of
compassion for me ah look at that human beings they want to feel good and
they feel down they want to be light and their heart is heavy sometimes you know
they want a person to call back and the person doesn’t call back
they don’t want a person to call and the person calls no and all these my mind
now has been trained to see a lot of the events of life like this human beings
you know and I don’t want to kind of wash out you know privilege of all kinds
and you know the differences that there are in society you know around you know
the different identities we have and how it’s valued in society or this valued or
rendered invisible but I think it’s also really useful to go to the universal
aspect of being a human being you know and so for me it could be my story about
with my HIV but disease happened to human beings you know and HIV is one of
them it does happen to human beings it it seems to me that in the timeframe
that you have been teaching there have been a major major change in how
meditation is viewed in Western society and I’m not sure I have the right
expression but I you know sometimes talk about the secular mindfulness movement
particularly you know as it exploded around Jon kabat-zinn and MBSR
mindfulness based stress reduction I’m curious what your perspective has been
on this like major cultural shift and how you’ve experienced that as a teacher
you’re kind of famous you’re kind of a famous meditation teacher and you’re in
a way a beneficiary of this transformation or this movement but of
course I you know it may come with some downsides as well so just what you know
what’s your perspective on what’s happened yeah it’s it’s I can tell you
that I I didn’t I would never have seen I never saw it coming so I was
practicing because I needed these tools I discovered that there were these tools
they seem to be you know they were not in the main
culture at all you know I would tell my friends I was going on retreat doing
what I was doing and there was not much resonance you know and you know in the
conversations with stranger what do you do you know I I even before teaching but
when I started teaching seeing a teach meditation end of the conversation you
know like that most of the time the conversation would just drop flat you
know with probably a label and weird kind of new agey you know like no
resonance at all and and you know when I started to practice I was the only
person I knew was practicing in a way even here in Montreal I was not aware of
other people doing this it but to me it was resonating a lot inside of me and so
it was I had to do it because it had sent it made sense it was helping me
really very applicable for me really changing my life the view I had on it
and the way I was holding it and and living and then when the offer came from
Joseph and Jack to do the teacher training it seems such like a weird kind
of moved actually four years of teacher training to teach this thing that
nobody’s interested in and that doesn’t make sense to anyone but still to me and
the way I why I said yes was because I knew I would have four years of really
high quality teaching close and you know closeness to teachers wise beings and
that you know I did it mainly for my own practice really it was an opportunity
for me to go deeper in my practice but it I didn’t have the idea that actually
people will come and listen like it would be very kind of rare and on the
side you know very marginal and then you know there’s a right time where it were
right at the same time as I finished my teacher training and started teaching
this suddenly you know John John kabat-zinn was already there doing its
thing but it was really not not really well-known and suddenly
this wave I still can’t explain what what how it
came to be except that me in the way it makes sense
because it is such an amazing tool I knew that from for myself I did but I’d
so didn’t expect the popular culture in the corporation and the military and the
you know prison system and the education and the University of Montreal in the
and McGill you know to take it on in this way it’s yeah it’s I’m almost
speechless and in a way yeah now it makes sense
you know now what I see that I find I’m curious about a little worried about I
don’t know if it’s maybe a strong word but is the there’s a word for it of a
verb threat but the you know the weights can be used in all kinds of ways by
people who don’t know what this is and kind of it’s a trendy word now
mindfulness and so I have friends who are psychologists and they say that
every thing they receive in the mail everybody is like mindfulness and
mindful that and and and so if there is some of mindfulness in there I’m happy
you know and and but if it’s just like a word that is used to entice people and
it doesn’t have the depth then I’m really sorry because it’s a very very
powerful thing I think all in all it’s a good thing you know and I think people
are genuinely interested in learning about it and those who want to teach us
we really want to teach and the real thing you know yeah just be curious to hear your
thoughts you know play social scientists for a second why do you think this has
happened like what do you attribute this wave arriving to well we we are you know
or many of us know somebody an acquaintance we want human beings we
want to be more at ease if that’s the right way to say it in our world we want
to understand better how to be inside ourselves and with others and we have a
sense that there’s another way to do it that we might not do it the best way you
know and so when something comes like this that says look you know it’s it’s
kind of simple in a way it’s a simple practice that can have some efficiency
to it you know some can really have an impact on one’s life I think that’s
interesting that you know we’d bring somebody’s attention plus people doing
it practicing experiencing the benefits of it reporting it to others saying that
and you know and as a teacher I hear a lot of these people telling me like that
made really an impact in you know my divorce or my with my health problems or
with the way I see things you know in so many ways and yeah it’s also accessible
you know it doesn’t need any props in a way you know it’s and it’s also it’s
also part of our nature you know we we are beings that have attention that we
pay attention we we know these tools they’re there I think they’re actually
in the cup they were all within the culture not just as valued you know and
you know people can recognize intuitively or naturally that you know
what’s the best way you can be with a friend when they talk to you about their
problem is to have opinion and judge them
give them space you know – and you know allow them to be who they are you know
it’s that easy in a way so your concerns about mindfulness being used as a
marketing term is definitely part of the pushback that is that is gaining in
momentum I’d say there was a lot of you know pushback let’s say from more
traditional Buddhist communities that were concerned about the practice being
adulterated for commercial interests and also in the scientific community that
the the data that has come out doesn’t really justify all the hype around the
practice and as you know one very important figure in the pushback from
the scientific community is Willoughby Britton and she was just in Montreal and
I had around the podcast and she’s kind of raised the flag on meditation and
mindfulness teachers sensitivity to mental health issues in the practice so
meditation can be risky that there can be some adverse experiences that arise
and Willoughby’s argument is that we really need to be very sensitive to what
these adverse experiences mean and interpret them in the appropriate way
and know when some kind of more formal mental health intervention is called for
yeah yeah unfortunately I was not there when she came to visit here in Montreal
and offer you know teachings and conferences and all this yeah it’s maybe I’ll start very very
broadly you know life is risky you know eating is a very risky thing you know
not eating also by the way you know breathing is an extremely risky thing
sports are being a pedestrian driving a car you know that its inherent in life relationships you know relationships can
be a healing and and they can create trauma in people and so that’s kind of a
very large view that I have on this and so you know probably meditation too you
know retreat you know so going on a retreat meaning retreating from our life
our habitual stimulation and relationships and going in silence as
yeah I can totally recognize it’s with I would advise you know good mental health
to do this as you know running a marathon for example it’s not just like
you dive into it you know you have to prepare and so around retreats I totally
recognize this and so you know I don’t don’t try to present I hope I don’t I
don’t think I do present for example retreats as it you know and for
everybody the best thing ever you know that’s much more tricky than
this you know so if somebody comes to tell me you know I’m not sure you know I
hear you in the classes talk about retreat you know I’m not sure I totally
want to honor this to me that might be a sign or something you know and if I feel
that people just need to understand what’s actually happening in this then I
reassure in a way you know but I would never want to say
is what you need to do to fix you total in some ways you know so it’s a personal
choice to go on a retreat also try to keep it really open to people you know
and say you know after a day it’s enough for you or you see you know that it’s
it’s a perturbative in some ways you know and then you you you can always
leave and it could be a really wise thing to see you you know and people do
that sometimes they realize pascai’s not the right time for me to be here too
fragile you know and then my job as a teacher is to help the person leave with
a good sense a sense that they made the right decision that they could they take
really good care of themselves you know you know and in the classes you know
inviting people to keep their eyes open if they want you know so it’s not that
as intense as it might be with the eyes closed or to feel free to move that
they’re not stuck in the body move out of the room if they want you know so
kind of opening so then people can make that decision and track themselves and
see what’s good for themselves I think a lot of these things can be extremely
helpful by knowing the prior conversed conversation we had you and I I was
telling you that I see on retreat for example that when we go beyond the
threshold is that the the word here of 45 people above I find it the old thing
is a little bit more unstable you know like the anonymity like people don’t
feel like they might not feel like they exist so much like I’m a little bit more
less at ease when there’s a higher level number of people but under 45 I think I
always have a sense that we can create some kind of intimacy some kind of
people can feel seen and I can see them they see me you know I knows they’re
and I tried to bring a lightness so some kind of playfulness so humor and I feel
I could discharge a lot of the intensity that can build in a really wholesome way
like it’s not it’s discharging in a way that helped us stay in the process
tons of friendliness and compassion and so like last week I was teaching and
somebody was saying Pascal you’re particularly kind of trauma sensitive in
the way you talk you’re using a very innovative Invitational language if you
feel like you could bring the attention towards your heart area but if you don’t
feel like you know you can stay with sounds knowing that the heart area the
chest maybe as more intensity of emotions there you know so things like
this it’s actually been working really well for me
maybe I don’t hear about all the stories but you know the association’s I have in
my mind from my own practice but also meeting hundreds of people a year you
know and classes and retreat is that it’s a very very powerful beautiful
practice and so I do want to consider you know the dangers and but not in the
alarmist way and maybe I’m maybe I’m checked out this subway you know but
that’s it’s not been my experience I’ve been in this that field a lot I spend a
lot of time I spend almost most of my time on in retreat space with people
having conversation you know talking about their practice and sometimes
there’s a level of stress you know that will come you know when we touch you
know grief deep grief or you know self-loathing or but the idea is to wake
up to this mind state you know to see you know there are erroneous nature I’m
thinking about self loathing or to learn how grief
can be accompanied with amazing deep great compassion and people find this
all the time so the reports I hear I our lot a lot of this yeah that’s what comes
to mind I think I’m part of what’s been sort of
motivating Willoughby’s work is this awareness that because meditation has
become accessible to so many people there is such a broad range of things
that can show up on a retreat and there’s some question of well how does a
meditation teacher meet clinical presentation like dissociations like
psychotic breaks severe depression panic attacks how does a someone with all you
know only Dharma training and scare quotes address these things and you know
I suppose I would wonder if there’s a sense of like you know Western you know
psychological science knows best about these things which may or may not be
true but I do think it’s important to mention that in all of your experience
you have met some of these let’s say rarer more severe presentations and yeah
maybe you can just speak to that and how you meet them and how you’re you’re
teaching invites you to meet those things and to what extent it’s different
or similar to modern psychology and if and how do again how to reconcile these
two perspectives like is it wrong to do what you know the Buddha said or what
the Buddhist teachings say to do with these states or the psychology have it
wrong or is there a meeting point between these things yeah yeah many of
the teachers I work with are actually also psychologists I would you know and
when we were I was sting or teaching on the three-month
retreat for example we would have a biweekly meeting with a psychiatrist and
we would talk about a few people who are on were on retreat and we were curious
about the worried about and and I think we try to be really out about it that I
mean we are really out about it I’m not a psychologist haven’t been trained in
the clinical psychology and that’s not what I offer I’m offering psychology
it’s a spiritual practice and so in my mind these things are in order you know
like that’s that’s I I understand how this works you know it makes sense to me yeah so if somebody comes with some time
we’re getting trained also around this you know it was part of the four years
training meeting with psychologists and learning about the different mental
illnesses and things and and we asked people to disclose this when they come
to retreat you know and so we can work with it in the ways that we know yeah
it’s different it’s different angles on life I see that a lot of psychologists
actually come to retreats and classes and want coaching from from this lineage
from this tradition so this this tools there that I think are are really good
and so then there’s a lot of communication between the different
fields so that’s what that’s what I I I can see I don’t know if I have much else to that
comes to mind now around this I wonder if we we wouldn’t want a priest for
example in the Catholic Church to be a psychologist if it wouldn’t make sense
so it’s it’s kind of related but different yeah you know different so the
kind of knowledge that that I’ve been exposed to is a very ancient you know
knowledge it’s in the way I’ve learned it is no it’s not through going to
university it’s a different approach it’s an old kind of system of
apprenticeship mentorship tons of our you know and it’s its own system and yeah I actually it’s the it’s the first
time that I think as you were in your question you were saying like that will
be I’m using her first name I’ve never met her we don’t know exactly what her teachings and research and stuff but
it’s the first time I hear that there’s this that Dharma teacher should have
maybe a clinical background or something that’s it it’s a new thing for me but
and and it makes sense I understand how it would I don’t want to misrepresent
will be I’m not sure that she would actually say that explicitly but I do
know that she advocates for mental health training for all teachers of
meditation of all kinds yeah I see this conversation about let’s say sensitivity
to mental health as part of a larger conversation about diversity in general
and I know you sort of alluded to it earlier wanting to stay open to
different experiences the way some groups are either seen or not seen and
privileged in this and that yeah so how does that enter your practice mm-hmm
so the Buddhist teachings are about suffering in the end of suffering that’s
that’s how you know that it would be all about that suffering in the end of
suffering so part of this as I was sitting the tree three months or as I
practice at home a really big part of this is the suffering that this system
called Pascal you know this body psyche hormonal everything the system how it
creates suffering for itself and how it can with the same tools of a psyche and
a heart and the body with the same tools it can create some kind of a healing
maybe psychological healing or inner well-being or yeah something like this
and so a big part of the practice is to sit in meditation and in daily life to
observe how the second arrow is planted in the heart you know by one’s own
psyche and so that’s a lot of the Buddhist teachings is about this to see
how one creates trouble for oneself you know and how we can untangle the tangles
of the heart and mind so that’s one aspect another aspect of this for me
very very clear I have no doubt about this is that if I think about suffering
and the end of suffering I can see it really clearly that a society is also a
system like Pascal is its own little system there’s a larger system called
society at different scales you know but let’s call it society society has in it
a lot of tools to create suffering for itself or some members of you know of it
and it also has everything there to create healing and support and
visibility and and safety and protect and you know you know the it has
everything to make people be the best of who they are and you know contribute and
so as I’m interested in suffering in the end of sufferings I’m very interested in
how in the system make way we create oppression and and you know how we we
create privilege for some of us how we start valuing in overt and hidden hidden
or hidden for some of us unknown for some of us in ways that and so to me
that requires the same tools so in the sitting practice I learn how to quiet
the mind so it can really feel reality instead of being agitated by its pre
conceived ideas you know how I can slow down and pay attention so that I can see
really what’s happening in my heart and my mind so what I need is quietness calm
some kind of calm stable mind that is very curious honest courageous investigative investigative and so these
qualities I I think are the same that I needed to look at society you know it
produces well-being and and so it needs what to go underneath my ideas that
we’re all equal you know I might say oh no it’s all equal it’s all the same you
know it’s like well but if I look a little closer and see that we might all
be equal in thoughts but in treatment it’s not exactly what’s happening you
know so I need honesty I need calm curiosity and so for me mindfulness
teaching mindfulness is giving us the tools to address the issues of sexism
racism ableism ageism fatphobia transphobia homophobia you
know all the ways that we elevate some of us and put down some of us and so I’m
interested in that so I’d like that my practice and the teachings that I do to
serve that goal of protecting human beings you know I’m mindful of the time
here and we’ve been going for well over an hour maybe one final question if
you’re not too tired no please this kind of clarity that you have in these habits
and skills you’ve cultivated over many many years and many many many hours of
practice you certainly seem to embody some of what you teach and the
well-being seems evident just in looking at you but not everybody has time or the
values or the interest or for whatever different of course it always becomes a
question of choice to some extent like okay I can just spend the next two years
on and off long retreats but what do you say to people who want to move in that
direction but for whatever reason can’t take that that big bite of of practicing
in that way at least at the beginning yeah I don’t think it’s required to do
like these extensive I mean maybe to gain like you know some with ajahn Chah
you know if famous revered teacher and destroyed tradition said you know
something like let go a little and you’ll have a little peace let go a lot
a lot your lavel a lot of species peace and let go completely and your
experience complete peace so what I see when I teach classes here in Montreal
people might never come to retreat or maybe once or once a year we
and you know that they gain a lot from this practice that’s mainly what I see
you know even some people will come for a few months to classes and then they
disappear and I might see them in the street you know and and I’ve been there
they’ll be thankful and and say you know two years ago I I was coming to your
classes for a while you know it was really really valuable it had an impact
on my mind you know when the ways that I live you know and so this I see all the
time people will come to one class you know and they’ll get a little hit of
something and I see it in their eyes you know and they’ll linger after sometimes
you know when class is finished just to say thank you and that thank you is not
it’s personal they say thank you to Pascale but it’s it’s thank you to the
the practice and the view that is presented and that the technique the
suggestion of just paying attention not being so faithful to our ideas that this
is so important and I want this and I want to get there you know and to
actually abandon this for just a moment and feel what is here and just in that
little thing a second I’ve a sense that there’s a lot there
and and so it doesn’t have to be a big amount I think I think that can be an
impression in the mind because it’s something of quality we’re talking about
so it leaves an impression and we might forget it but you know jack Kornfield my
teacher was telling this story he said you know he met a man came to him in the
airport somewhere in the United States and said excuse me are you jack
Kornfield and Jack said yes and he said I just want to thank you because you
know I practiced with you in 79 like 30 years ago or 20 years ago or something
you know at that point and and he said I I just did that weekend and forget about
the whole thing but last year I had a serious heart problem
and while I was being transported to the hospital and entering the surgery room
and all this I remembered I should maybe just be with the breath and the body
laying down you know and not you know depart in my head about like just stay
here I said it made such a difference joy I want to thank you so you know
there was a 20-year gap of not remembering and still it was valuable
that weekend that’s the way I see it that’s a lovely story so how can people
practice with you oh yes so you know there’s a website called pescado Claire
org and you can go and see on that website mainly what is there is the
teaching schedule of retreats so you can see the opportunities there and the
classes in town and also there’s a audio and video teachings so these are all
ways to practice and yeah so I’m here in there you know it’s possible to come in
the organization we founded here in Montreal is called true north insight
and it offers a whole you know catalog of retreats with different teachers all
really good teachers in this tradition and lineage and so you know if it’s not
with Pascal it could be with Daryl or gene or other teachers that are
well-trained ok Pascal thank you so much for doing this and it was a pleasure
chatting with you thank you Joe and I know your heart is in this is very
beautiful so thank thanks for listening to the mindspace
podcast the purpose of this project is to inspire people to cultivate
well-being the science tells us that well-being is best understood as a
series of skills and habits that can be learned and practiced and I hope
listening to these episodes helps you move forward on your own path to
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