Gregory Kramer: “Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom” | Talks at Google


MALE SPEAKER: I’m very happy. I’ve been working on this
for several months now. So I’m very happy that
it worked out for Gregory to come and speak to you today
here as part of our mindfulness week. He has a book, same name as
his talk, “Insight Dialogue, The Interpersonal
Path to Freedom.” I guess the last
thing I would just say is it’s great to have a
personal mindfulness practice. But I think it’s important what
impact it has in your life, and what can have more
impact on your life than your relationships? That’s why I think
it’s so important, this work that Gregory is doing
with interpersonal practice of mindfulness. So I’m very excited to
hear what he has to say. Now, I’ll turn it
over to Gregory. GREGORY KRAMER: So
thanks for coming. Thanks for all the
work to work this out. A lot of behind
the scenes stuff. So there’s a lot of
talk about mindfulness and all kinds of practices,
a lot of exploration of how to do it. Actually, I will be speaking
about practicing mindfulness and other qualities
interpersonally, and what the values
are of that, how you do it, that kind of thing. But the place that I want to
start is more fundamental. It’s why, why we
practice mindfulness. And then specifically, why
interpersonal mindfulness begins to fall out of that. And then, we can
look at the practice because now we have a sense
of why are we doing it, right? So we’re oriented. And the story begins,
actually, in this what you might
call the human gift or the human dilemma, which
is this incredible sensitivity of the organism. Just pure, straight
out sensitivity. So I’m talking about
the eyes and the light touching the eyes. If you’re in a dark room
and there’s just one photon, it can be detected. That’s incredible, right? And then, in addition to that,
of course, all the specifics of color and shade, the
subtlety of a visual capacity is astonishing. Likewise, with sound, if you
go into in anechoic chamber, you’ll still hear lots
of stuff because you’ll be hearing your own
bloodstream, your own heart. You’ll actually hear the
blood moving through the body. And very slight changes,
even in the face of a sound, an acoustic signal, and
you’ll hear differences there. Millisecond changes, and you’ll
hear rhythmic differences. Spectral changes, and very
slight changes in loudness. The astonishing
sensitivity of the ear is– we just sit around hearing. I mean, right now,
you’re hearing me. And as you’re hearing me, you’re
hearing the output of this body and all of the muscle changes,
all of the movement of the air is wiggling your eardrum. So as I’m speaking, I’m
wiggling your head, right? You know what I’m saying? It’s very intimate. But until you understand
the sensitivity of this thing, this
body thing, you can’t understand the
complexity of being human. And then mindfulness
is like– it doesn’t have its
real purpose if we don’t understand the purpose. Likewise the skin, just
the touch, the temperature. I was once in you know
the invisible man exhibit where various plastics
were injected into cadavers to reveal different organ
systems, circulatory systems, nervous systems, and so on? And get rid of everything
else so you can just see that? You look at just the nervous
system, just the nerve endings through the body. And it’s a cloud. There’s nerves that go to
every part of the body. And they branch, and
they collect, finally up the spinal cord to
the brain, and so on. The data gathering that this
body is doing from the outside and from the inside, gut
feeling, is incredible. And molecules touch the
nose, touch the tongue. So all these different
ways of being in contact with the world,
and this is exactly the basis of how we
experience this life, right? So this sensitivity is an
essential starting point. Would that it were that
simple but it’s not. Because all of this
data gathering, all of these astonishing sensors
that material scientists could only dream of reduplicating
that kind of sensitivity all goes into, of
course, not just the neural system,
not just the brain, but the whole hormonal system,
all the cells, the whole body. It’s processing this stuff. So what we call perception,
sensation and perception, object formation,
is equally nuanced. And from the time
that we’re born, we’re constantly developing,
what is this world? What is this world? Where am I? And it’s remarkable that
we’re able to decode somehow this flood of
information coming in. The sensory information,
it’s not just signals. It’s the processing
of those signals to say, oh, there’s a desk. There’s a person. There’s a tree, and so on. And would that it were
even just that simple. It goes on from there. But look at what
happens with just, let’s say, just take something
like body contact, right? So it’s built in as
a biochemical fact, a biological fact, that
certain things are experienced as pleasant and certain
as unpleasant because it’s how we’re conditioned
for survival. We need food. We need oxygen. Absence of oxygen, unpleasant,
seriously unpleasant, right? But what about the
presence of sugar? The presence of sufficient
warmth on a cold day, or sufficient
coolness on a hot day? So if you take that to
the extreme, of course, one would die of the heat, or
die of the cold, and so on. But even just the moment
by moment contact, there’s this pleasant,
unpleasant going on with these incredible,
sensitive systems. Now, that’s what’s
driving the system, right? That’s where– if you just
picture us as some sort of kelp waving in the sea, where’s
the nutrients that we want? And of course, we’re
always going for the sugar. We’re going for the warmth. We’re going for the softness. We’re going for
the food and so on. We’re going for the sex later,
but I’ll get to that later. So this coupling, this intimate
coupling with our environment is a basic fact. Now, the yeast, for
example, is also coupled with its environment. And where there’s
sugar, it somehow gets itself towards the
sugar to be able to survive. Sugar, ah! Nothing. Sugar, nothing, sugar,
nothing, and then it dies. And that’s life. That’s life as a yeast– sugar,
nothing, sugar, nothing, sugar, nothing, death. So OK, very well and good. But now, you get
more complex systems. You’ve built up from the yeast
to multi-celled organisms. And there begins to
be this brain, which is really quite incredible. So we have not just sugar,
nothing, sugar, nothing, we have I prefer this or this. The pleasures that I go for. I have a certain
background, conditioning. And so I can actually not only
sugar, nothing, sugar, nothing, but it can be I like
a lot of sunshine. Or I like the color
blue, or whatever. And we go through life
trying to get that. So this sensory urge,
this sensory urge is really pushing us. And one of the unique
things about humans is that this cortex is
getting thicker and thicker and convoluted. So there’s more of it. And the neural
networks interacting with the whole hormonal
system created this organism for processing all this data. So now, we also have mobility. So there’s all the
muscular stuff. So we can go towards
the sugar and away from the loud noise or the
dog poop or whatever it is. We have this constant
moving in the environment towards and away from
pleasant and unpleasant. We’re still intimately coupled. We’re still this sensor
array and processing system intimately coupled
with the environment and moving away and
towards all of the things that we begin to
prefer culturally by how we were raised in
our families, and so on. So I want this kind of car. I want that kind of car. I want this kind of house. I want safety and so on. So not only is it sugar or
whatever it happens to be. You might like lemons,
so we could say sour. But let’s just say sugar to keep
it consistent with the yeast. Sugar, nothing, but
is it really nothing? It’s a yearning now. When do I get the next sugar? Because now, there’s memory. And now, there’s thought. And now, there’s all kinds
of baggage around what we get and what we don’t get. So sugar, will I ever
get any more sugar? Sugar, kind of stress,
sugar, stress, sugar, stress, then you die. It’s a fact. That’s how we go through life. And some of us have caviar,
suffering, Maserati, suffering, death. And some of us have pineapple,
suffering, banana, suffering, death. But it’s the same basic pattern. And the organism is
dedicated to what it can get and moved by these sensory
urges for pleasure. It’s also not that simple. Because it’s perhaps one
of the salient features, some would argue the unique
feature of human beings that there is this
developed sense of who I am, a sense of self. So what’s happening is all of
those perceptions of objects, of what is seen, all
of those preferences, and in fact living in the
miasma of the tension that’s formed with all this sugar,
suffering, sugar, suffering, all that stress,
all that wanting, all that fear keeps the whole
nervous system and hormonal system in a very
high state of alert. And then, we sleep
enough, barely. And then, we’re back in
this high state of alert. And all of that stress
and all of that memory and all of those particular
perceptions and preferences– actually, the consistency
of that, the steady pressure of that begins to
be identified as me. I am this person. I am this entity. I sense me moving
through the world. And as I move through the
world, the way I know I’m here is from these body tensions,
mostly, and then the pleasures that stimulate me. So it might be a
pleasant kind of tension. Or it might be an
unpleasant tension. Someone yells at me,
or I hurt myself, or I have some fear because
there’s an animal coming at me. But it feels like me running
away from that animal. It feels like me
eating that pineapple. And so the me at the center
now has this whole strategy it makes up to get the
pleasures, to think about the next
pleasures– because we have this powerful
mental capacity. Well, we can project
forward, right? And that’s me
projecting forward. So I’m going to get this. I’m going to live this way. I’m going to get a house. I’m going to get a
nice sofa for my house. I’m going to get a TV this big. I’m going to get
this kind of car. And that’s all me. It could be the yeast and the
sugar, but it couldn’t be. Because you don’t have
that constructing capacity. The yeast doesn’t. We do. So we’re constructing. And we’re constructing a self. We’re constructing a life. And the life is this being,
this sensitive organism getting and avoiding
and using our mobility, using this high
intelligence to move about, guided by this sensitivity. And there you have it. So this self now, this me that
wants to get and keep away also has to survive. It’s a big deal to stay alive. And there’s all kinds of
ways that this body mind is configured to
try to stay alive. And it’s a huge effort. And it’s the effort
of food, but it’s also the effort of the
mind, keeping busy, having a sense of meaning. All the things that we do to
orient that when we lose them, there’s actually depression,
insanity, and so on that comes about when
there’s no sense of orienting framework,
no direction. So this is really
life and death. But we don’t
necessarily distinguish whether it’s the
death of the body or the death of the
psychological self. At the deepest level, this level
where the whole body feels it, the whole body feels
that sadness and fear, that’s also facing death. And it gets even more complex. In fact, this is perhaps one
of the biggest multipliers of the whole formula that
I’ve just put out there. As humans evolved as
a species, a key point that differentiated and
enable their survival was what’s called eusociality,
the development of the intrinsic relationality
that has us cooperating together to survive
in a world where many of the other large
creatures are faster, stronger, and where the
environment itself is changing and very
difficult to live in. And by cooperation,
we could survive. In fact, by cooperation, humans
became the dominant species on the planet. We are the top of the food
chain in this ecosystem. How did that happen? It didn’t happen by
hundreds of thousands or even billions of
individuals being really capable and really smart. It came because we
could work together. A corporation is people
working together. Farmers is people
working together. Any specialization at all
is people working together. Money is people
working together. The legal system,
all culture, it’s all people working together. Intellectual knowledge,
language, everything. Everything that we identify
as the stuff of my life, I mean look around. We wouldn’t have
these desks if they hadn’t been made by
the manufacturer where human beings were working,
because we don’t have time to make desks. We’re busy making
whatever, search engines or anything else. But not only that,
the materials used in this, the plastics, and the
history, intellectual history, the scientific history
behind developing plastics, and where they get the resins to
make these plastics, all of it, is people cooperating to
make Formica or something. Let alone if you’re
wearing gold, gold mining. You’re not mining the gold. If you’re eating a banana,
you’re not growing the bananas. If you’re using some app,
maybe you made the app, maybe you didn’t. But the whole culture is made
possible by this cooperation, but at a much more
fundamental level. Getting back down to
this environmental, kind of the intimacy with
experience, families. You wouldn’t survive
if you weren’t cared for by your mother
and probably your father. And the development of
families and groups of families around a campfire, and families
or people working together, small warrior bands could always
defeat the individual fighter. So if you have a
culture or society of people who could work
together to fight together, then that genetic material
is going to pass along. But in order to fight together,
you have to communicate well. You go over here, I’ll go
over here, stuff like that. But you also have to be able to
read their minds, their faces. What is safe? Just with your mother and with
your father, when am I OK, when am I not OK? So built in to this social
edifice, this cultural edifice that I was just talking about,
all the way at the bottom is this intimate
reading of other people. Where you look in the eyes,
and you know something. You touch something. You’re doing that
right now with me. You’re reading me,
and you’re reading me with all the sensitivity
that you grew up with, built on the sensitivity of those
eyes, and this mind, your mind, saying, who is this guy? You can sense it? You can see. Do I trust this? Do I trust this person? Is what’s being said
reasonable with the intellect? That everything I’m saying is
also through reading my face and hearing my voice. Because this is what the
sensory systems were bred to do. It’s in your genetics to
be able to read, am I safe? That incredible
sensitivity now, combined with all the other sensitivities
we were talking about, also creates a field for
desire and fear, right? So now, the pleasures,
it’s not just sugar, suffering, sugar,
suffering, or cappuccino, suffering, right? It’s also seeing
the other person, receiving and being seen by
the other person, or not. So then something
like loneliness. Loneliness is adaptive. From the standpoint of the
survival of the species, loneliness, the pain of
loneliness, is adaptive. Because if you leave the
tribe, you’re off on your own, the tribe gets weaker, and
you probably won’t survive. So that sense of being
separate and outside, actually, there’s sensitive
systems through the eye and the ear and the body that
say, oh, wow, something’s wrong here. This hurts. It’s unpleasant. So there you are. Now, let’s go back to the yeast. Unpleasant, need sugar,
only the sugar is the tribe. The sugar is my mother. The sugar is my friend. The sugar is my partner. So we’re seeking that contact. And so now, we have
not only a craving for what is sweet or
warm or something. We have a craving for the
other, the other person. And the urges in our lives drive
us towards that nourishment and away from where
it’s scary, right? Which is also adaptive,
because maybe it was unsafe. But even where it’s
not necessarily threatening to
the physical body, but to the emotional body. I’ll just remind you that at
the level of the organism, it’s about survival. It’s not as though
when someone’s really angry and aggressive that
you think that they’re actually going to murder you. But the urge to get away and the
feeling of contraction and fear is happening as far as
this body mind knows at the level of survival. There’s a whole flush
of the hormonal systems that say, get out. Get out is get out. Then, it’s a matter of degree. So the urging to, for example,
exist and be seen by others is a hunger that, just like
the urge to breathe and to eat, rests in this wish not only
for pleasure, but for survival, for existence. Because when you see me, I am. Because this sense of me came
up from the moment I was born. Let’s say you’re my mother. In that moment of
contact with my mother, I began to feel like me. All my neural systems
weave together, I get this sense of me. Safety, ah! I can let go. And that’s OK. So now, let’s look at
this sensitive organism. And we can talk
about mindfulness in a meaningful way. So here, we have the sensitivity
to the physical environment, the touching of the eye,
the touching of the ear, touching on the skin, and so on. The touching now
also of the mind, all the thoughts
when they come up. And when what is seen or
heard is another human being, then there is actually the
recruitment of neural systems that have evolved
to be sensitive to other human beings. And they, too, are feeding
into this whole assessment of how I am in the world. Am I getting what
I want and staying away from what I don’t want? And I’m driven by that. And the sugar, suffering,
sugar, suffering pattern, at all of its levels, the level
not just of sensual pleasure, but of survival and of
safety has worked together with this astonishing intellect
and these incredibly complex social systems that we
have built together, patterns and layers
on top of layers, on top of layers,
where multiples of us are creating social systems with
all these aspects of pleasure and safety and so on. And so it’s sugar, suffering,
and now the suffering is this urging, this
urging for these pleasures, urging for survival,
and just urging to get out because
it’s too much. It’s just too much
because of the sensitivity we’ve described. It’s like, how do
you turn that off? So we find ways to get out,
whether it’s alcohol and drugs, or just losing
ourselves in media, all kinds of ways of dulling
the sensitivity, right? So we have all of
this complexity. And that tension,
that sense of me, that teeming, teeming
sense of, what now? What now? That’s the dilemma. And that’s where mindfulness
and other practices can make a difference. Because all of
this is happening, all of this construction
of the self, this reaction to
sensory, reaction to the interpersonal
contacts and so on, is all happening
moment by moment. And we’re completely
ignorant of it. And we’re driven by these urges
to get and to get away from and to gain safety and so on. And we don’t even know it. We’re automatons in our own
fabricated sensory social miasma. We’re just, wow, right? That ignorance is what
allows it to keep going. That’s why there’s
so much stress, because we don’t see that
there’s so much stress. And the reason we don’t
see why there’s so much stress is because there’s
so much stress, right? We don’t take the time to look. The surface of the
sea is so turbulent we can’t see underneath. So we stay in that
kind of ignorance, and sugar, suffering, sugar,
suffering, sugar, suffering, and then we die. But what if, what if,
we could wake up in it? It doesn’t have to be that way. Is that the only
script that’s possible? So at essence, mindfulness
asks, what do I keep in mind? That’s what mindful
means, right? It’s like remembering something,
holding something in mind. What can I keep
in mind that will help me wake up to how
things actually are, not just my running around
in the rat cage of my constructing process,
worried about how to perform, or how to get out, or the
usual life, just life? Is he going to like me? Is she going to like me? Am I going to get a raise? Is my car going to work? Will I ever get that
Maserati, and will I ever eat caviar all day? You know, that’s it. Can we do any better than that? So the power of mindfulness, of
holding in mind something like, let’s say this question,
what’s going on right now? Let’s say that’s what
we’re holding in mind. It’s like a question. What is my experience right now? You understand? So any time that I remember
to ask that question, maybe I can begin
to see a little bit, or remember to even look at
this turbulent surface of moment by moment experience. Maybe it’s still turbulent. But I begin to look. So the first affordance
of mindfulness is going to be what? Knowing that there’s turbulence. It’s not going to be
all sweet and light. You’re going to see the
mind as it actually is, not how you want it to be. So that can be pretty
discouraging, right? I mean, wow, I
think I’ll go back to being deluded,
ignorant, and dizzy-minded. At least I didn’t know
that it was so bad! But there’s a lot of problems
with that, aside from the fact that sugar, suffering, sugar,
suffering, and then you die, and it’s all kind
of meaningless. But there’s also a lot of
self-obsession in our suffering and self-involvement
in our world. And yet, there’s these
altruistic impulses that are built into the
organism just as much as this selfish urge to
survive and get pleasure. Because like I said, the social
evolution of the human species was dependent upon
the development of love and compassion. So that’s also built in. So not only does
mindfulness open up a look at what’s
going on, and you get to see the, oh my god,
I’m always self-obsessed. When am I going to get this? Am I safe? And all this kind of stuff. But you begin to see, oh. There is this friendliness. There’s this care. When I see your tenderness,
my heart vibrates. It does. And that’s quite sweet. And that’s part
of the deal, too. And so now, we begin to open
up to a moment by moment experience in a way
that the road isn’t just going to be set by habit. It’s a major change. It’s a big, big change. If there’s already some
kind of internal assurance that mindfulness
is a useful thing, like you go to look at a
video about mindfulness because you heard it’s a good
thing, or you came to this talk because you’re already convinced
that mindfulness is useful, then perhaps you have come
to see that when you actually go to practice, that very
often, the mind wanders off. But that’s sort of built
in to the experience of even a short session,
literally even one minute, of mindfulness meditation. OK, so we’ll stop. You say, what’s your
mind doing right now? And you can feel the
engine revving, right? It’s just like that
Ferrari of an engine saying, give me
something to do, please! You know, because that’s it. We’ve got this power, this
convoluted, cortical power built into this hormonal engine. Give me something to do. And that’s what we’re facing. So even a minute of
consistent remember to notice what is happening
now is challenging, let alone getting still
enough to see down into each moment
of sensory contact, social contact, and so on. So it’s difficult. So there’s all kinds of
practices, all kinds of tricks. Your one minute mindfulness,
your three minute mindfulness, mindfulness at the
desk, mindfulness while eating, mindful walking. There’s all kinds of
practices and all kinds of things you can try. I’m going to suggest just
very specifically and bluntly that opening the
practice of mindfulness beyond the isolated self unit is
an important and powerful thing to do. So that’s what I’m
going to talk about now. When we are practicing
mindfulness alone, we have the great
benefit of simplicity. For example, if your practice
is one of closing the eyes and just meditating and watching
the mind, watching the breath, it’s simple, and there’s
not so much sensory input. Maybe the mind can calm down. The body can calm down. And there’s always this
problem that we just mentioned of all that horsepower
of the body mind system, not knowing how to calm down. But gradually, this
has been trained. We begin to settle. But even as that
process gets stronger, as you’re able to sit, let’s
say, longer, more calmly, that very simplicity is both the
most profound gift of practice because, ah, enough
of the world for now! Just let me rest. But at the same time, when the
emergent stories of your mind come forward, you know
how they hook you? Have you practiced enough
watching your own mind to know how you get hooked
by the next thought, the next image? Once you’re hooked, how
do you get unhooked? Your a self-contained system. There’s nothing
else theoretically coming in that’s going
to help you get hooked. But now, let’s say
I’m sitting with you. And you with me. And we have this agreement,
and this agreement is, let’s practice
mindfulness together. Let’s enhance and
develop the ability to remain in this
present moment. I’ll remind you,
and you remind me. So here we are. And we talk about
something, something that has us looking at
moment by moment experience, like let’s say sensation
or thoughts or something. It doesn’t matter the
practice right now. But the point is because
I’m in front of you, if I go off and start thinking
about my next vacation skiing or something like
that, and you’re sitting there talking to
me, aside from being rude, isn’t it obvious
that I’m not present? Or if you’re talking to me, and
you completely wander and go all over the place and
you’re not alert and present, I’m going to notice
that you’re not present. You’re going to begin to
notice that you’re not present. Just because I’m
here, not because I’ve said anything or done
anything to you, just the fact that there’s someone
outside the system that says, are you awake? But when you tap
into– when practice gets more specific and stronger,
because insight dialogue is actually quite a
specific practice. When practice gets
specific and stronger, then it’s actually opening up
the pause that, in that moment, all of those sensitivities
developed over millions of years, me to
you and you to me, now those sensitivities
are in play saying, am I aware right now? Are you aware right now? And so that’s
actually activated. So rather than being with you,
and that being a distraction, all of a sudden, it is riveting. It’s riveting to be in
that vibrating moment where this sensitivity
is not denied. It’s not pushed away. It’s not fearful. But it’s also not
grab [INAUDIBLE]. It’s like, I’m not
being with you just to have, let’s say, the pleasure
of looking at someone lovely, or that because
you’re entertaining me or something like that. I’m with you in the bare fact
of alertness, of sensitivity. And when my mind goes off
of that, you notice it. If I start– you
know what I mean? You just get it. You get it, oh, wow. There is this moment. We can locate this moment. We can touch this moment
and remind each other with a refinement
that’s astonishing. So now, we have this
doorway into the practice of mindfulness that
recruits this power rather than be thrown off by it. Big difference,
because think about it. Isn’t social contact
usually where your mindfulness is weakest? You can be totally great
chilling out on the cushion. You get up, you go
into your meeting, or you go to your family,
or whatever, gone, right? Because it takes such powerful
cognitive resources to engage socially. And then, you become the
main self, you inhabit that, and you’re gone, basically. You’re in the
fabricating process of where is my pleasure? Where’s my safety? Where’s my stimulation? And there you go. Then, you’re just
back in the game. But when there’s
intentionality as there is in insight dialogue that says
we are gathered specifically to cultivate
mindfulness and calm, then you have set a
very different frame. And you’ve recruited the same
power that would draw you out to bring you into the moment
with strength and endurance. So to foster that, there are
specific meditation guidelines. Pause is one of them. Pause is the first one. It’s about mindfulness. It’s about interrupting
the stream of habit. Relax is receiving,
accepting, allowing what’s happening in
the present moment. Then this guideline, open, is
establishing the mindfulness both internally and externally
on the other and both. So you become
aware relationally. It opens out from
just this self unit. And then, trust
emergence is pointing us towards in that
moment where we’re both established
in awareness, there is this attuning to
the impermanence, attuning to the flow of
the flux of experience. And that’s something
one learns to do. One can cultivate that
quality of adaptability. And then, speaking and
listening, speaking the truth, listening deeply, are
actually developed over time as meditation
practices where there’s not only the
mindfulness of speech, but internal
sensitivity to find out what is true that I would speak. It’s quite a delicate,
beautiful process. And listening deeply. Again, yes, there’s mindfulness
as its basis, for sure. But it also has kind
of a receptivity to experience to the
other, and a recognition that you’re listening
musically just as you’re listening
linguistically. And you’re listening just
with your whole sense of being in that
moment of relationship. And what I’ve been seeing,
because I teach these retreats, I teach insight dialogue
retreats all over the world. If you do this intensively
and you interleave this insight dialogue practice
with silent meditation practice, the power of the
stilling, calming quality and the refinement of
individual meditation can help cut through
this entanglement that we were talking about. And then, you can move into
the relational practice that in some ways accelerates those
qualities of mindfulness, concentration,
investigation, energy, to really penetrate, what
is this entanglement? Can I be free? Is any kind of freedom possible? Or is there only this
conditioned sugar, suffering, death kind of cycle? And what I’ve seen with
literally thousands of meditators is that the
depth of insight possible is astonishing, really, to
me, anyway, very beautiful. And it’s very much fitting
with the maps of insight, the maps of human development
that are understood and known over thousands of years in
traditional, contemplative systems. Because my background is
as a Buddhist teacher. All my teachers were monks and
nuns in the Buddhist tradition. And I have a lot of
training and a lot of knowledge in that tradition. And that’s mostly what I teach. But it’s understanding it as
a deeply human practice built on this human entanglement and
this possibility for freedom. If you aim in that way for
either individual mindfulness practice or relational
mindfulness practice, if you aim for the
disentanglement, all of the other benefits
of mindfulness that are so desired,
they come for free. Being more relaxed, being
more creative in your work. With relational
practice especially, being able to work
well with others, being sensitive
relationally, being skillful in your relationships,
skillful in your speech. Those all come for free if you
focus on the disentangling, because that’s the
bigger problem, and that’s the core problem. And as a result, getting a
sense of this deeper potential, both of, again, individual
mindfulness practice or relational
mindfulness practice would be really
helpful thing, I think, for all of us who are involved
in the mindfulness activities that are so much needed
and growing in this world. So I’ll leave you with that. And I guess just close
by saying the movement of the mind towards
peacefulness, towards kind of
freedom, is ultimately not just a selfish endeavor. It really changes who
we are with other people and how we act in the world. If we can invite that
directly into our practice and realize that to
practice mindfulness is to practice compassion,
to be sensitive to others, it is to develop in
our own body minds this capacity for loving
kindness for care, if we don’t see
that as separate, then we can see we can
practice all the time. So thank you. [APPLAUSE] FEMALE SPEAKER: How do you stay
in mindfulness all the time? Like, it’s easy
to get distracted. But I know that
throughout practice, still our mind is sometimes we can’t
control it floating around. So I’m just curious,
how’s your day to day like to stay mindful? And do you meditate
in the morning to get better mindfulness? GREGORY KRAMER:
This is where I’m really glad I laid
the groundwork. We have this question, how do
you stay mindful all the time? Remember, the whole
first part of the talk I was describing the tangle? So we have to realize that this
human situation is complicated, and that it’s not easy. So you really want to come in
with patience and compassion for yourself and diligence. Just steady, step by
step, remembering, remembering, remembering,
how to remember. Well, you could put
a band on your wrist like Van was suggesting
at the beginning. And you can have
all sorts of tricks. But yeah, you
really need to shift the basic neural
hormonal subsystems in a significant way. And for me, a nice, longer
meditation time, especially in the morning, for example,
really is important. Because if you can
just for a moment step out of the system of
fabrication, then you remember. Oh right, there is a
difference, just that much. And then the rest of the
day, you might be in it. But you know you’re in it. That’s a big difference. Then, the heart
begins to yearn to not be a slave of that system. And that yearning
is your motivation. That kind of fire says, oh, boy! I thought this was really OK,
being totally tense and totally driven by hunger all the time. It was like, that was OK! Now, I don’t think it’s OK. Something like that. And you begin to change. Say, I want to be awake. I really want to be awake
because it’s less suffering. And lo and behold, I’m kinder,
I’m smarter, a lot smarter. So you begin to have the
carrot and the stick that’s moving you forward. Also, if you can ever
get off on a retreat– I know it’s hard to
do with a busy life. But if you can ever get away
for a couple of days or a week or something to go
deep into practice, then you touch a
quality of experience that is really different than
the mundane, entangled way of being. It’s really different. And you say, oh! That’s what we’re talking about. And then again, you
get the inspiration. You have a sense of
direction that mind is intending in a certain. And then, you get practices. Who are your friends? Who are you hanging out with? You don’t have to answer this. Don’t worry. I mean, who are you
hanging out with? Are you hanging
out with people who don’t care about that,
or are, let’s say, getting either
intoxicated or who feed on high level distraction? Because that just
feels like life? Well then, you’re going
to fall into that. So those kinds of
social decisions make a big difference, actually. It’s not a popular thing to say,
but I believe it to be true. MAKE SPEAKER: So just to prevent
this from being misinterpret, I’ll mention this is coming
from a partner dance background. I’m curious what place
you see for physicality in your system of
developing active listing and awareness of other people. GREGORY KRAMER:
You’re asking, and you have a particular interest from
the partner dance, you said? MAKE SPEAKER: Yeah, yeah. GREGORY KRAMER: No,
no, that’s good. I just want to name that
because there are so many skillful ways, skillful
doorways into being more awake. My particular background
has me inclining to these meditative
practices that are either in silent
meditation, look very much like regular
silent meditation, because it is, right? And in dialogic
meditation, of course if you’re introducing
speaking and listening, it’s already from a Buddhist
standpoint quite radical. But then what you talk about
is the lived human experience according to a framework
that says, look over here. Tell me what you see. And let’s talk about that. So it’s guided. And that’s skillful. You have all kinds
of movement systems from Chi Gong to yoga to dance
that engage the physical body in incredibly skillful
ways, ways that, in the case of partnered stuff,
really create a communications channel. I would just turn it back. And then you could answer
the question yourself. How is the development
of mindfulness involved? So you get that
there’s an energy. You get that there’s
some sense of inquiry, and maybe calming, tranquility. But is there are
also the, hm, what’s going on right now
question being asked? I’m not saying
there is or isn’t. But that’s what I
would ask, yeah. That’s all I have to say. Within inside dialogue
retreats, there are various periods of
movement and so on to bring the life to the body to bring
ease and comfort to the body and so on. But it’s not as nuanced and
skillful as a lot of other body based practices. FEMALE SPEAKER: I’m pretty
new to studying and trying to practice mindfulness. And a question that
keeps coming up for me is that I see here a
lot of people talking about mindfulness in a way
that’s just very accepting of everything and everyone with
this compassion, which is good. But how does mindfulness
come into play when there is an actual
danger, or you actually do need to get away from people
or situations that are actually harmful? Is that wrong to do that? Some people have this
sense like, no, nothing is good or bad. And everything is just this
base level happy all the time. And I don’t think that’s
truly what mindfulness is. But I think that’s where a
lot of people want to take it. GREGORY KRAMER: Oh, yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: Right. And it’s just
actually staying away. But boundaries are
actually important in interpersonal relationships. And how does mindfulness
play into that? GREGORY KRAMER: I
would put what you’re asking in a context of ethics. So am I causing harm? Are others causing harm to me? And so that’s a starting
point for saying, for example, there are boundaries. How are those established? How do we treat each other
with care and respect? And if someone isn’t treating
us with care and respect, what are we supposed to do? Just ignore that and
everything’s groovy, no problem? That’s not very wise because
harm can be done in this world. That’s not news. And harm could be anywhere
from the obvious physical harm to emotional abuse and beyond. So there’s the standpoint
of the practice the subtlety of development
of mindfulness and so on that requires safety. And in the case of a group
or a retreat or something, it’s up to the
person who’s convened that or the entity
that’s convened that to really
guard that safety. And as a teacher,
I can tell you I take that as a
very high priority. And I would imagine
that any group you would do, for example
here, would be really cared for in that way
and watched over. However, out in the
world where there’s not necessarily a
contract being held to for interpersonal
safety and so on, I would not put
that in the context of a formal practice
of mindfulness. That’s where your mindfulness
is going to come to serve you. So am I safe? And you know what’s
going on in the mind. You know what’s
going on in the body. And you can touch
down into that sense of being ill at ease of
being violated or potentially violated in some way. And then you say,
this isn’t safe. You get up. You walk out. But all in all, the
notion of, let’s say, mindfulness practices
or spiritual practices or what have you as being
like, everything’s groovy, is a gross distortion of what
being awake really points to. Because being awake is
being awake to actuality. And there is a tremendous
amount of degraded, let’s say, activity
in this world. And even subtly,
power differentials, racial discrimination. All kinds of things that
make for a lack of safety. And certainly in
interpersonal practices, you also have all the
potential sexual nuances, if partners who might be
attracted to each other, whether it’s male male,
female female, or male female, however it goes. There’s the potential for a
kind of unwise way of engagement that’s based on urges for
pleasure, and confusion, and basically objectifying
the other person. And then if that person
happens to be you, it’s absolutely not OK. And that’s to be known. That’s to be spoken. So yeah, I don’t know if
I answered your question. But I hope it at least
dispels any notion of the kind of
practices I’m talking about as being
everything’s groovy all the time kinds of attitudes. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. I guess other than
just dispelling that notion, how
does mindfulness help with I guess
interpersonal conflict, where it’s not just necessarily
to get away from something that’s actually unsafe, but in
terms of just people who are not necessarily part of your
retreat or something like that, you’re dealing with the
world, conflict with people. How does mindfulness
help with that? Or just one example. I’m sure there’s many. GREGORY KRAMER: Well, Jesus
said, wherever two or more are gathered, there
am I among them. That’s great. That’s beautiful. I have a little twist on that. Wherever two or more are
gathered, it gets complicated. Right? And that’s just true. And if there’s more, it
gets more complicated. So if you just look at–
I’ll get to your question more exactly. But we have to again
deal with the basics. You’re taking the most complex
thing in the known universe, which is the human body mind,
and you’re putting two of them together. Whoa! All these sensor arrays
are going like crazy, and all the neural networks
are vibrating all internally within one systems. It’s like, who am I? Where am I? Am I safe? I have to accomplish my stuff! You’re in my way! Get out of my way! And then comes abuse
back and forth, unkindness, or
maybe it’s not even unkindness intended
to be unkind. It’s just like, I’ve
got a job to do. What’s with you? You should have had that
on my desk, whatever. But what it is, it’s
just this system internally incredibly agitated. This one maybe
was less agitated, but now it’s getting really
agitated as this one. So now you have these two
incredible, sensitive organisms interacting. So the first thing is to say,
am I right and this guy wrong? Am I wrong and this guy right? Stuff like that. Maybe, maybe not. What am I feeling? Am I safe? Am I not safe? What is he or she feeling? Is there pain? Is there aggression? What’s going on? And so now, the sensor
arrays, all that data coming in moving through
not just perception, but all of our memories,
all of our conditioning is what’s acting. Are we reacting
completely slavishly based on that conditioning? Or is there in that
moment mindfulness of how I actually feel,
what’s actually happening, how this person
might be, and so on? It’s very difficult sometimes. Because when the
emotional stuff comes in, it hijacks the attention. And we move into the internal
loops of our concerns about safety or getting
something done or getting out there, whatever. So mindfulness opens up a
choice at such a moment. Do I pause? Do I actually try to
down regulate and assess? And can I be open to this,
not open like spill my guts, but can I be sensitive to
how this person’s doing? Do I fall into judgment? Do I fall into my
rightness and my stance? Because who knows, you may
have some baggage, too. And a level of skill that comes
out of that kind of activity, rather than whatever you were
conditioned to just shoot out at that moment. And then, the system resonates
as you go back and forth with this other person towards
anger, delusion, and so. So it’s possible to cut
that feedback system. And that’s a big step forward. If you’re asking
me how, then that’s a matter of– then that is a
significant matter of practice and developing the ability to
not be carried away, to pause, and to skillfully
observe the body mind. And have the intentions
for tolerance, also. You know how much
you’re suffering, right? How much are they suffering? Life is hard for everyone. That’s hard to remember
when it’s hard for you. But maybe that’s the better
time to actually remember, also. Thanks, good question. VAN: Thank you so much, Gregory. GREGORY KRAMER: Thank you, Van. Thank you, everybody,
for listening. It was nice to be with you. [APPLAUSE] So if you want to find out
more about this practice, about the retreats,
about online practices, you can go to metta.org,
M-E-T-T-A dot org, and there’s lots of
information there.

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