Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Lorin Roche. Lorin has taken part in numerous psychological and physiological studies about how meditation affects human beings, and he’s been practicing meditation himself since the age of 18. Lorin has written several popular books on meditation and, forthcoming from Sounds True, a book [titled, The Radiance Sutras, about the Vinjnana Bhairava Tantra]. With Sounds True, Lorin has released the audio learning program, Meditation for Yoga Lovers, which invites listeners to leap into a meditation practice that’s unique to them and welcomes everyone to the beautiful art of inner connection with their own essence and life itself. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Lorin and I spoke about the posture of welcoming all experience. We also talked about how we can let the body teach the mind. Lorin also talked about the radical way that he looks at desire and the necessity for taking a very individual approach to the practice of meditation. Here’s my conversation with Lorin Roche.
Lorin, I want to begin with asking you to comment on a statement from your work that really got my attention—and at first I thought it was pretty outrageous, but I’ve kind of warmed up to it. Here’s the statement: “Yoga teachers are the future of meditation in America.”
Lorin Roche: [Laughs] Well, I really felt that is true for the last 15 years, but I have run into a lot of resistance. There’s a lot of pushback on the intellectual plane.
TS: Uh huh. Tell me about that.
LR: Well, like the Buddhists have their whole thing going. There [are] a lot of skillful Buddhist teachers that have been going full blast for a long time, and talk about many voices. There’s a huge diversity of cultures that have sent their emissaries here to the West. Japanese Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Cambodian Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism, [Korean Buddhism]—each with their own nuance, each with their own flavor, their own style of cooking.
So I thought that because yoga teachers and body workers would be coming in through the body that they would have a more embodied approach to meditation—that they would be set up to get it and transmit it. There are more challenges than I thought because the approach to meditation that’s widely available in yoga is so different than what I teach that we have to spend a lot of time un-brainwashing people.
TS: So talk to me a little about how your approach is different than what you see happening within the yoga community as a whole. How is it different?
LR: Well, I embrace the waves of the mind. For people who have jobs and dogs and families, rhythm is where it’s at. We don’t flatten our rhythm. These pauses or interludes happen spontaneously when we’ve tended to things. In our inner world, if we try to impose silence or detachment, it just breaks things. It just creates a suppressive atmosphere, and there is so much repetition of this idea in the world that you’re supposed to blank your mind—that you’re supposed to go into meditation and your mind becomes blank.
Whereas in what works in the people that I know—not just me but the people that I know who get it—is that you approach meditation more like house cleaning and taking care of your home. Like, you come home and the dog is barking and wants to go for a walk—or the dog wants to be fed maybe—and then go for a walk or have water and go for a walk. People need to be tended to. You might need to clean something up. You might need to pay some bills. Then, after doing all of this work, your house feels clean. Well, in meditation you often need to do a lot of house cleaning, and it’s after meditation that you feel peace of mind and your mind is clear. If you impose that clarity during meditation, for most people, it doesn’t work very well.
TS: OK, so let me see if I can follow you a little more clearly here. The metaphor of house cleaning—what does that mean when we sit down to meditate? What kind of house cleaning are we doing?
LR: It’s kind of one damned thing after another comes to mind. As soon as we begin to relax, everything we’re tense about comes flooding into our awareness, and anything unfinished comes to the surface to be felt. So I think Buddhists are in a position to get this—more than the idea of yoga that’s being promoted.
TS: So what I hear you saying is that within the yoga studios of America—that you’re sense is that meditation is being taught in a way such that you’re supposed to silence the thinking mind? Is that what you’re saying?
LR: Yes. That’s what’s being taught in many cases, and that’s what students expect. No matter what you teach, students have an expectation that they’re supposed to silence their mind. I’m not sure who exactly who told them, but it’s as if [it’s] written in stone somewhere or in a tablet inside of everyone’s head.
TS: And so, how would you say your approach differs in terms of how to work specifically with the thoughts that come up when we rest and we’re with ourselves? What’s your approach?
LR: Well, it’s instinctive that you welcome every single impulse that arises in you. Inside of all these impulses is life taking care of life. So if you sit to meditate and you suddenly remember, “Oh my God! It’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow and I didn’t get her a present,” or, “I forgot to call Sue back!” just welcome that impulse. Even though it might be painful, you want to welcome everything that you’ve forgotten and then welcome the rhythm.
For people with jobs and families and people that they love, meditation is often a very quick rhythm—rest for 20 seconds and then think about the outer world for 20 seconds or a minute and all of the chores that haven’t been done. And then they’ll rest for 20 seconds, and then they’ll think of a few more chores and then rest for maybe 30 seconds—and think of a few more chores and then rest for maybe 45 seconds. So there’s this quick fluctuation. This is what people normally experience if they do any kind of meditation that’s close at all to what their natural meditative state is. If you just follow this, it works beautifully. It’s completely unpredictable. It doesn’t feel like meditation, but afterwards people feel like they have meditated. They feel more relaxed and alert and their mind is clearer.
TS: So, Lorin, do I hear you saying that you don’t recommend people sit on a cushion for 20, 30, 40 minutes, an hour a day, morning and night? Do you not recommend that?
LR: No, I don’t. No, I think there are a lot of things wrong with it. It’s a beautiful experience if you have the body and the training to be there and 40 minutes is a good rhythm for you. But sitting on a pillow isn’t good for a lot of people’s backs or knees. Like a sofa or a chair is good for some people, and other people are great on the pillow. But it’s very individual. So that archetype that you’re sitting cross-legged on a floor on a pillow with no back support . . . there’s only a certain percentage of people for whom that’s really healthy. You’ll know you’re that person if you feel totally comfortable and your legs don’t go numb and your knees don’t hurt.
TS: OK, so let’s say we’re the type of person who’s more comfortable sitting in a chair or sitting on the couch. Still, this idea of setting aside a practice period—that’s not the same as 30 seconds in, do something, another 30 seconds. But an actual period of practice. Are you saying that that’s not consonant with your approach?
LR: No, it is. I love for everybody to have a good half-an-hour meditation in the morning and evening. But there’s a set of skills that people need to have going in.
Like, let’s just consider what goes through people’s awareness all day long. Those of us who aren’t monks or nuns have really complicated lives. We tend to other people most every minute from the time we wake up in the morning until we fall asleep. So we’re continually moving in sequence—through feeding ourselves, getting ready for work, bathing, dressing appropriately, lining up our to-do list, greeting people. Greeting each person in our life appropriately for who they are—you know: the lover, the dog, the kids, the friends, business partners, etc. Lining up this sequence of things to do and making sure that we are rested enough and fed enough and coherent [enough] to carry off all of these chores. And then of course there’s a limited amount of time in which to do all of this.
So, when we sit down to meditate—say in the morning before the day or in the evening—it’s not like our intelligence is going to stop. All of these intelligent impulses of life: greeting, lining up the chores, stamping out new territories, and establishing relationships with people—it’s not like this stops. So, when we’re meditating, all of this intelligence is streaming through us continuously and we need to welcome every bit of it and let it unfold. If we deny any of it, then our meditation becomes a way of installing deeper denial into us.
So, you can tell if you do a long interview with somebody who’s been meditating for a couple of years. You will get the impression that either they’re accepting their impulses and they’re thriving, or if they’re denying part of themselves, then you’ll see where they’re practicing denial and actually strengthening their denial system. So the skills meditators need are mainly the skill of embracing life in all of its complexity. Embracing anger, sexuality, regret, passion, peace. The startling emergence of what feels like enlightenment impulses or higher perspective. Things that feel like depression and sinking down. Fatigue, excitement, craving for freedom, craving to be held, all of these opposites stream through us continuously. To have a healthy meditation practice, we need to welcome it all because it’s just life at play. Just because we’re meditating doesn’t mean that somehow we have to edit life and keep it under control. We actually, rather, want to welcome all of the impulses during meditation that we don’t get to welcome during the day because we’re busy—because we can’t tell people in a meeting just to shut up. We can’t tell people everything that we feel all day long—but when we meditate, we’ll feel all of that. It will all come flooding up if we’re at ease in meditation. So meditators have to deal with a lot.
TS: I want to understand more of what you mean by “welcoming,” because you’re using that word, and I understand all of these different things that come up that we haven’t yet felt into and fully experienced from our day. I get that, but what is this posture that you are referring to—welcoming?
LR: We can think of it as embracing. We can think of this welcoming as a process where you allow an impulse—which is a sparkle of energy. Say you felt lust for somebody during the day that’s not your primary relationship. So then, in the meditative space—what’s so beautiful is that you can let in any impulse like, “Grrr, I don’t like that person,” or, “Hmm, I love that person,” or, “Hmm, what did they say?” Impulses come up into the space of meditation and that little package of energy—which could be regret, lust, anger, grief, happiness—it unfolds itself and the prana—your own life force that is to some extent trapped in that package—it gets to pop and be diffused. Then you have your energy back. It’s not in that form anymore.
Like say you were walking down the street and you saw a beautiful person and you felt a surge of lust. You didn’t know what to do with that little spark that flowed through you, and then you’re meditating and you feel it. What will then tend to happen, if you allow it, is you’ll relive that experience and maybe feel turned on. This electricity will then tend to spark and fill your whole body like a shower of diffuse erotic energy and then you forget the person—you forget the concrete situation—and you’re just left there sparkling, feeling refreshed. The energy is mine. “I’m happy to be alive. I’m glad to be alive.” That’s what tends to happen naturally when people are meditating and they just accept what’s arising.
TS: OK, so what you’re saying makes a lot of sense to me. Welcoming all experience in the practice of sitting.
I’m still a bit confused. I don’t really know what’s going on in yoga studios in American today and so it sounds like what’s going on in your experience is that meditation is being introduced in a more repressive way. Can you explain that to me? How would they deal—a yoga teacher who’s introducing people to meditation—if lust arose?
LR: Whether it’s what the teachers are teaching or just what the students are hearing, there’s a sense that you’re supposed to block out thoughts. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali begin with the statement that yoga is the suppression of the waveforms of the mind. Nirodha is used—this word “nirodha,” which means or is usually translated as suppression. So that’s what everybody is thinking.
TS: I got you. Do you think that there could be a problem in translation here?
LR: Well, nirodha—there could be a problem in translation, but nirodha is a pretty specific word. The dictionary definition of nirodha is “confinement; locking up; imprisonment; investment; siege; enclosing; covering up; restraint; check; control; suppression; destruction; disappointment; frustration of hope; a particular process to which minerals in quicksilver are subjected; hurting/ injuring.” That’s the dictionary definition of nirodha. So that’s in the second line of the Yoga Sutras and people are industriously trying to impose them on themselves.
So that is a big thought form in yoga. When I’m working with people who are in yoga studios or taking yoga, they have to deal with that. So I then have to say, “Are you willing to consider another style? Can you let there be different styles of approach to meditation? Don’t impose the rules from one style on another style. Let this approach be this approach.”
It takes people often an hour or two of just focusing on unlearning because the tendency to judge is just so intense in people. There’s a desperate craving for stillness, for silence, for the repose that comes from meditation. When people fluctuate between relaxation and excitement, they will tend to judge themselves really harshly. People are wanting to meditate. It’s amazing, the longing. People even feel guilty for not meditating. But the tendency to judge oneself and feel ashamed of having a busy mind—it’s really deep. I work with it every day.
TS: So I think I understand this emphasis that you’re placing on not repressing our experience—not repressing anything in our experience, but instead embracing it. You have a wonderful quote here that I quite like and I’d love to bring it forward in our conversation. “All of the practices of meditation amount to cultivating what we do naturally when we are in love.” What I’m curious about is this idea of being in love with prana and what that means to you.
LR: Being in love is probably the most interesting and the most challenging thing that we do because we’re stretched in every way. Our attention is stretched. Our capacity to pay attention is stretched. The one that we’re in love with—that person, that dog, or for some people it’s mountain climbing, violin—but that love calls us. We’re called to pay attention and we pay attention. We abide through ordeals. If it’s a person and they have the flu or they’re harassed or they lose their job or they go through a change. They have a toothache. We pay attention. We stay up all night with them. That happens once in a while, but day in and day out we spend time with that other being, with that which we’re in love with. And love calls forth the best in us.
When we meditate it is our own impulse towards freedom—which it seems to me is one of the strongest impulses in a human being, this mukhda—this impulse towards freedom takes over and we’re carried by it into the vast mystery of what it means to exist. Love carries us into the unknown. And all of the techniques—there are these fantastic techniques in yoga, and Buddhism, and Sufism, and Taoism. They are skills that serve love. We are engaging with life itself. Meditations practices of any kind that suit our nature help us to melt into the embrace of life itself.
We inhabit these bodies. We don’t know how we got here. We didn’t create these bodies by any conscious design. We find ourselves breathing, and our hearts beating and on millions of levels life is repairing us and keeping us sustained continuously. When we pay attention, it feels like love. It feels like the body is made out of love. And for however long we get to be here—a few more seconds or a few minutes or a few decades—it feels like a miracle that we get to be here and witness through all of these rhythms. The body is a collection of billions of little rhythms.
TS: Lorin, the subtitle of your new program with Sounds True is Let Your Body Teach Your Mind. So how, in your view, do we let our body—this body that perhaps we can feel as love—teach us? How do we let it be the lead here?
LR: The body’s rhythm—like if we’re just sitting there—say if we just sit down and close our eyes cross-legged on the floor or on a sofa or in a chair with our feet on the ground. Say it’s five or six o’clock. We just take a breath, close our eyes, and notice what we’re experiencing.
There is going to be a sense of fatigue usually—like a buzz of fatigue, and if we accept that buzz it will tend to turn into a mantra. It is a buzz of fatigue. It will tend to turn into something that we can follow, because fatigue is actually ecstatic. There is nothing as sweet as lying down when you’re exhausted. There is a sinking. So, accepting the fatigue, we sink down into the chair and maybe we fall asleep for a few seconds or a minute. “Oh my God, I am so tired. What a day. Whoa!”
That whole downward motion just pulls us down into the embrace of gravity. It is a great tool for entering meditation. I mean, if you’ve had a day and you’ve really done your thing—whatever it is. You know, loving people, doing chores. That fatigue that you feel is the perfect preparation for meditation because it’s the world’s greatest wine. It is the stuff of everyday life. All of the people that you talk to, the chores that you did, the work that you did—whatever your work is. Whether you’re planting trees or managing people or writing stuff or making sales. All of that contact—if it’s your piece of the world that you’re attending to, and the exhaustion that you feel—is rich stuff. The exhaustion that you feel makes you want to meditate. When you know how to meditate, there is nothing better, because meditation lets you rest more deeply than sleep and it rejuvenates.
So the fatigue of the day creates an incredible craving to meditate, in order to renew yourself. So say that you want to go home from work, you give yourself an hour, and then you want to go out dancing or you want go meet friends for dinner—well then you’ve got a time boundary. So you want to do something with your body after meditation, like you want to spend time with somebody you love and be awake rather than be a wreck. That creates a demand that you feel in your body. Like, I want to be renewed. I want to release the fatigue of the day, get recharged, clear my awareness, and be able—say, at seven o’ clock—to go for a walk with my best friend and feel great. That demand is another bodily demand. The space of meditation just loves that. You say to yourself, “Meditation, do your thing! I’m going to give you 40 minutes and I want to emerge renewed, refreshed, and full of energy. As if I just came back from vacation.” I think that’s a great demand, in a sense, to put on the space of meditation.
So, say you spent the first few minutes just feeling into your fatigue. Then you’ll feel all the energies in your body that you didn’t get to live out. I want a vacation. I want to have more sex. I want to eat different food than this boring health food I’ve been eating. I want to go see a movie. I want to go hiking. I want to listen to music. You get all of these cravings and just being on vacation with your fantasies is educational and refreshing. Some of them you can live out and some of them just light you up from the inside.
When you let the fatigue carry you down into your body where you’re just a hum of quivering flesh, having worked all day. All of the thoughts that flow through you—you realize that is part of my body letting go of any tension that I’ve been holding. Any sense that I was on guard against. Any thought you think is lighting up different nerves in your body, no matter what it is.
If you are thinking of your to-do list—like most people that I know have long to-do lists and when they meditate, they think of their to-do lists. They will spend long minutes where they’re sorting through their to-do list. Well what’s going on, on a body level, is that your body is rehearsing doing your to-do list and staying relaxed in motion. So all of that stuff is going to go on continuously—and for a person with a rich life, this daydreaming, planning the to-do list, fatigue, and reviewing stuff that you’re afraid of is almost half or more of everybody’s meditation.
TS: Lorin, I think the one thing you said that confused me is that you could put this demand on this period of meditation—that at the end of 40 minutes I’m going to feel renewed. What if at the end of 40 minutes, you realized how exhausted you are and you want to go to bed?
LR: That happens sometimes.
TS: How can you put a demand on your meditation practice period? That seems to be contrary to the type of spirit you’re describing of embracing whatever is happening.
LR: Well, those are the constraints that we’re all dancing in. Love is demanding. Like—if people who have babies, oh my God! What they do to show up for their kids, it floors me. No matter how they feel, they have to show up. There has to be breakfast in the morning. They can’t sleep in. The have to get the kids to school. They have to go to work themselves. They have to leave work and pick up. So that’s a demand. Love and work demand stuff from us.
I have found that if I’m really exhausted and I have to do something, my body knows that and it tunes me up so that I can function. But in those times—like you’re saying—we want to go out for dinner but after meditating we realize, “Oh my God, I really am exhausted!” That’s really, really valuable too. If we have the choice, then we can cancel some things and it will save us from getting sick sometimes. Meditators learn to read those signals from the body.
TS: It sounds to me, Lorin, like you’re offering a different approach to working with what I would call “desire” than maybe people are used to. I mean one idea would be that your desires are what get you into trouble or your desires are what you should release and become detached from. It sounds to me that you’re looking at desire in a pretty radically different way. I wonder if you can comment on that?
LR: Yes, desire is just spice of life. We may only be able to live out one percent of our desires, but we sure want to entertain them during meditation when they come and go. With people who really have a consistent practice of meditating 40 minutes morning and evening—if they’ve learned in meditation to suppress desire, you’ll see it in them after a couple of years. There will be an emotional flatness and then after maybe three to five years you’ll see them developing health problems. Like, “Why does that person have a health problem, they’ve been eating healthy and meditating?” They repress their vitality, their life force. We’re not supposed to be editing when we meditate. I mean, it’s unnatural.
See, when we meditate, we are actually in there—kind of in the “control room,” to a certain extent. So any ideas that we have propagate strongly. If we’re holding this idea—because we read a book—that you’re supposed to be detached or your inner life is supposed to be politically correct. Or that there’s somebody watching me—like there’s a nun watching me—so I’m not supposed to sit down and meditate and feel totally turned on or feel totally enraged. After a while, we’ll learn to do something repressive to those impulses. You’ll get a kind of a clear space.
But it’s different for meditators and for non-meditators. People who don’t meditate—they’re not inside the control room, so they can have the thought of repression and it doesn’t affect them as much. When you meditate, it’s more like you go into the kitchen or you go into where the switches are and your attitudes will actually influence the setting on your internal software.
That’s the way is seems to me. I’m just going by listening to meditators for 40 years and watching them evolve. It just seems to me that people who actually have a meditation practice can’t afford to entertain any anti-life attitudes. You can’t afford to be spiritually or politically correct in there. You want to just be wild and free inside of your meditation. After meditation, it’s completely different—you’ve got to be ethical.
TS: I like that, Lorin, and I appreciate what you’re saying. You also emphasize this idea of the individuality of how to approach one’s meditation and I wonder if you can comment on that?
LR: Yes. We all need to find those weird little preferences that we have. You know—I want a lot of mustard on my hot dog or I hate vinegar. I like salad, but no vinegar, just oil. I don’t like salt. I do like salt. I don’t like that kind of music. We all have these preferences and to thrive in meditation, we need to find what our particular, unique, weird, eccentric little things are—the things that are just right. “That’s the way I like to be touched.”
TS: Well, of course, often the way meditation is taught is more formulaic than that. Like, “Here is a set of instructions; please follow these instructions.” What kind of weird eccentricities are you talking about in the internal life of a meditator?
LR: Well there are hundreds of little teeny skills that are like the skills of say, being with an animal. Animals just come up to us and they want to be petted and held and babies want to be held, and we hold each other. But let’s look at the ways of holding. Say we’re at work—well, people shake hands now. Even women shake hands. In other parts of the world, people bow to each other—but in the Western world people actually reach out and touch. You extend your right hand, usually. If you look at it and feel it, it’s half a second or a tenth of a second or whatever. Maybe it’s a second, second and a half, a handshake. If you hold the person’s hand even for an extra half of a second, it feels clingy. Like, give me my hand back!
When we hug it’s even more amazing because we might hug for a second or two depending on the person and if we stay there for even a second too long when we hug somebody, it’s like, “Whoa, what – back off!” Or, “What’s wrong?”
That’s holding in the outer physical world. There’s exactitude when we meet other people. We welcome them, we say hi, they reach out and touch us, we reach out and touch them—and we touch them in exactly the right way for that relationship. That is what we aim to do—is to move through our world welcoming touch and giving touch.
In our inner world, we’re being touched by these energies flowing through us because we have our whole body. One of the things that I figured out how to get through to yoga teachers is that everything you think about that is noise in your head—that’s just your chakras talking to each other. Meditation is a space where the chakras can hang out and chat it up and line themselves up. “No—you go first.” “No, after you.” “After you!” “Hey, I’ve been waiting—let me join up with you.” Your chakras all want to join up together, so let them talk.
We need to find ways to ride those impulses, give them space, encourage them, pet them, touch them, and say it’s OK. So there are all of these little tiny skills for doing what we do with animals—kind of gesturing that it’s OK to come here. “Let me pet you.” “Let’s go.”
To feel at home in meditation—what I like is for people to feel at home in meditation. Like really, really at home and safe because that’s a platform to be thrilled to be alive. What happens is that if you’re at home, then it sets the foundation so you can be scared by your own aliveness and what you’re going to do next. Like: I’m going to fall in love, or I’m going to have kids, or I’m going to start a business, or I’m going to take a trip.
TS: Why would I want to be scared, Lorin, by my own aliveness instead of just excited by my own aliveness?
LR: Well, excited. We want to convert our fears into excitement, definitely. You’re right.
But often when the thing that we’re about to be excited by first comes up, it’s often scary. So we need a lot of hominess and safety in the body to tolerate all of that excitement. I think about half of meditation for people who have a rich daily life is just converting fear back into excitement. In listening to people, what they’re doing is converting little fears back into free-flowing life force.
TS: So when you talk about individuality, you’re talking about the meditator being deeply within their own experience and trusting this flow of prana in their own life and kind of finding their own way, like with a home? Is that what you mean?
LR: Yes. When I listen to people—everyone has things that they know already that are on the border of meditative experiences. Everyone knows one or more of the gateways into meditation. Like in a room full of yoga teachers, I’ll say, “When do you feel most glad to be alive?” [Laughs] This woman said the other day that she has two dogs, and when they’re asleep on the sofa she loves to watch them breathe and she has the most amazing feeling of peace. She hadn’t ever told anybody about it—because when is there time to talk about this? But she told the whole group about this experience that she has almost every day of watching the dogs breathe and she looked enlightened when she was talking about it. She was glowing with the mystery of what she experiences because she loves the dogs so much. Just watching them be utterly at peace—breathing in that natural way that dogs breathe—she goes into that state. It’s her pranayama and she just had never told anybody. I love hearing these stories. I feel like when I’m hearing things like this—and I hear things like this every day—I feel like I’ve learned some great secret. That I’m changed or improved from having heard that story. And I am! Like, how could I have gotten this far in life and not known that thing or not known how to say that thing?
It’s discovering these particular things that we love about life and letting that be part of our meditation. Other people have amazing experiences with music. They have had amazing, transcendent experiences listening to particular bands playing. When I spend time with someone and give them half an hour to tell me about it—like that’s an initiation that they had. That is as good as it gets. They felt the presence of God in that piece of music. Now, let’s figure out how to let your meditation feel that way so that when you meditate each day—even if you’re just breathing or listening to silence—that you’re able to be totally there, and totally absorbed listening to the flow of breath or silence as you were when you were listening to that incredible band.
TS: OK, so I get what you’re saying. This individuality has to do with letting ourselves really attune to and love what brings us deep rest and deep gratification and satisfaction—and letting that be very unique to our experience and trusting those moments and paying attention to those moments. Is that part of what you’re pointing to?
LR: It’s paying attention, yes. Yes, there’s a unique signature to attention. When people are paying attention—like they’re riveted, like really there, paying utter attention like we do when we’re in love—it’s always unique. Also, when anyone is doing it in meditation or in the garden, you can learn from them. When I’m sitting with people and I just say, “Tell me about what you love. Let’s build your meditation practice to feel like you being in love with life.” Every moment feels like the most incredible privilege to be there, listening to this person talk about what it’s like to love. It’s an honor to be in their presence and it’s relatively simple to transfer what they know about love to an internal skill of meditation.
TS: Help me understand that—how you do that.
LR: Well, there are these people that love gardens. Like they have a mystical relationship with gardens. They’ll go out in the garden all the time—and in a way that is a meditation already. They’re on their knees, digging in the dirt. But say they want to have something that looks like a formal meditation practice. Well, I’ll just have them sit with their eyes open—maybe with something that they brought in from the garden—and let themselves love it. Love that flower or that leaf or bug or a piece of dirt. And then if they want to do an eyes-closed meditation, we just continue picking some aspect of what they love and make a mantra out of it.
Or, for some people, they can actually get how they’re paying attention. When I’m in the garden, I’m paying attention in a certain way. They can actually model that type of attention and then just pay attention to anything that comes up. Garden people—people with a green thumb—they know that every plant needs a different thing. This plant needs sun, that plant needs water, that plant needs a container, and that plant needs to break out of the container. They have this sense of what each individual plant needs at each stage of its development. And so I’ll suggest that they just do that with their own prana flowing through their body—with that same skillful attentiveness and they’re good to go. It’s just paying attention to every part of myself and giving it what it needs and then you just move onto the next thing that comes up calling for your attention. Does that make sense?
Some people deal with animals, and so it’s the same thing. Go ahead, Tami.
TS: I’d be curious, Lorin, if you could give me an example from your own life of something that you really love and how that has become a “meditation” for you?
LR: Of something that I do?
LR: Well, for me, I grew up surfing and being in the ocean every possible moment. Every time of day is completely different. The ocean continuously changes, so every time I enter the ocean I’m slightly scared. It’s slightly terrifying because it’s huge and vast. And then when I get to be at home in the ocean, it’s thrilling. I’m at home and there’s an electric thrill of being in my little body in this vastness that is continuously in motion. There is diving under waves—like there’s waves on the surface and you dive under—and the waves let you—usually—escape from the turbulence when you dive under.
That was really helpful in learning how to meditate, because when I meditate there’s this vastness. I’m aware of the Earth, and the atmosphere all around me. I’m aware of the earth down below—the steady pull of this huge sphere that we’re on. [I’m aware of] the air—this huge ocean of air that we’re in. And then this inconceivably huge amount of space around the earth.
That’s all just like being in the ocean to me. The physical experience of surfing, and swimming and body surfing, and sailing helped me to accept and enjoy the interaction with nature that meditation invites me into. It’s being an ocean of space and the ocean of air and the ocean of gravity. So that’s always been really helpful for me.
TS: I think if I were to summarize our conversation I would say something like: For Lorin, meditation has a synonymous quality to loving life.
LR: Yes, and it’s odd that right now it can feel like a minority view. When I learned to meditate in 1968, this was the approach that I was taught in the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism. You have all of these energies—the chakra metaphor is just one of the metaphors. So there are all of these energies streaming through you. Every single impulse flowing through your body is a gift—accept it. Every thought you think, every feeling you feel—you can listen to it as a song, see it as a color of light, feel it as an impulse of electricity. Let if feed you, let it entertain you, and let it light you up. If you don’t want to live it out, then just let it dissolve and absorb the energy. The overall hum of everything you’re thinking—that overall hum of all the millions of thoughts you have ever thought— that’s a form of om. That is the sacred hum of life saying yes to life.
TS: Now Lorin, I want to ask you a kind of strange and edgy question here towards the end of our conversation together. Which is—on your website, where you teach meditation to yoga teachers, you have a statement. You ask people not to use marijuana or psychoactive drugs for two weeks before they come and work with you for training. I was curious about this—why this is important to you. I also noticed in our conversation listening intensely to you, I feel kind of trippy, if you will, just really tuning to you and to this flow here in this conversation, which makes this request that you’re making of yoga teachers who come to study with you even more curious for me. Can you explain?
LR: Yes, well, it’s kind of a joke.
Two things: I think people use marijuana as a kind of meditation. But the after-effects of marijuana seem to clog the subtle sensory pathways. To do the kind of meditation that I like to invite people into, you need to be clear. It really helps to be clear and sober.
The other thing is I don’t do drugs. I mean, I don’t have anything against them, but I didn’t do drugs in the 60s and I don’t smoke pot, so I’m not afraid to let meditation feel kind of like trippy and stoned. Most of my friends who are yoga teachers seem to smoke pot and do different drugs. So, when they’re teaching, they’re a little bit religious—like they’re being proper, because they have a secret life. Their secret practice is to kind of do yoga as their day job and then to have fun, they go and get stoned, whereas for me, meditation is fun. I want meditation to be trippy and to fulfill that need for the psychedelic.
So it’s different. I’m all one thing. I don’t want to meditate and then need to go get stoned in order to cut loose. I let meditation be naturally psychedelic.
TS: Well, I think you’re succeeding in being trippy—at least from my perspective here. Now, why when I asked you about this comment on your website about people coming to train with you—why did you say it’s kind of a joke?
LR: Oh, because, in 1968 I was at the University of California and everybody else was taking multiple drugs. [Laughs] Timothy Leary lived nearby. It turned out that in my first yoga class in 1968, I was sitting next to the main drug dealer on campus—and I won’t say his name because I call him every ten years and thank him. This guy, “Henry” —he decided to protect me from drugs and he put out the word that Lorin shouldn’t take drugs. “Nobody should sell drugs to Lorin.”
So I was running the Esalen at UC Irvine program and having all of these workshops and studying and teaching yoga and tai chi. Often, I would tell myself that I would really like to try LSD and his drug dealer team would talk me out of it. [Laughs]
So, I don’t think it’s my path. Most of my friends did huge amounts of drugs and they seem to be fine, but I don’t think it would be good for me. Then, my roommate died from drug-related things and there were lots of people back in the 60s who had terrible experiences with psychedelics. But I had this enchanted relationship with the drug dealers and so I didn’t really do any of that. So I don’t have to try to be respectable. I’m not like a priest or something, where I act holy and then I go and do something else. I’m one person. I learned to let meditation be that rich and entertaining and I think everybody has access to this.
People are naturally good at meditation. The work to be done is to increase our skill level and increase the skill level of the teachers in leading people into their own particular meditation practice. We need to upgrade the language of meditation, because it’s still oriented toward the male monastic tradition rather than people who live in the world. The whole language and expectation set of meditation—just speaking generically, which of course is a lie. There’s a lot of brilliant work being done by meditation teachers of all traditions.
TS: Lorin, I just want to end with making sure that the listener has some of your best thinking in terms of: Here, there’s something in their life that they love—and maybe it’s a certain beverage that they like, or somebody’s face that they love. How can they find the type of richness and words that you use a lot in your work—“wonder” and “delight” and “pleasure,” three words that I noticed you used quite a lot in your work. How can that person find the wonder, delight, pleasure in that experience at its depth? What would you recommend?
LR: Well, it’s a quest. Do research on yourself and notice and study. What is it that I’m built for? What thrills me? When do I feel glad to be alive? Was it Rilke—that poem on looking on looking on an archaic statue of Apollo [Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo”]? He describes looking at this statue and saying, “You’ve got to change your life.” That’s the end of the poem. You look at this image of perfection and you realize that you have to change your life.
Notice what it is that you love so much that you want to be with it, and then notice, “How do I need to change my life? How do I need to tune up? Do I need to stop drinking? Do I need to start walking more? Do I need to pay off all of my bills? Do I need to get out of debt? Do I need to clean up the garage? Do I need to start being more honest?” Because it’s challenging. It’s like getting married. There are things that you need to do to get ready to get married.
Be willing to make those changes that love calls for, and then find out how to spend more time being in the presence of what you love and be willing to wonder and search to find the techniques that work for you. Because everybody is different—there are so many different techniques. Buddha said one day, “Monks, I’ve given you 84,000 different dharmas.” For all the different people there are. Be willing to experiment and explore and trust your instincts, because when you find what works for you, you often know immediately. It works that very same day.
TS: Lorin, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. You are one unusual cat.
LR: I am a cat.
TS: I’ve been talking with Lorin Roche. With Sounds True, Lorin has created a new audio learning program called Meditation for Yoga Lovers: Let Your Body Teach Your Mind, and forthcoming from Sounds True, [a book titled, The Radiance Sutras, about the Vinjnana Bhairava Tantra]. Lorin, thanks so much for being with us.
LR: Thank you, Tami.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.