It is important to cultivate an awareness that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Everything is not about you but it’s about others. People need to be more compassionate, humble, and frugal. It’s their choice to make. Instead of choosing to waste your food, be grateful for it. Be fully aware and make good choices. Mindfulness is to be aware that you have a choice in things, so make the right decisions. Unlike animals, humans have the ability to make great change because of the choices they make. Join Adam Markel as he talks to Daoist monk, Monk Yun Rou about the power of awareness. Monk Yun Rou has been said to be the new Alan Watts for his Daoist teachings and the Zen Gabriel Garcia-Marquez for his spiritual works. He is also an award-winning author and a master of tai chi. Discover that you have the ability of choice and why you should use it. Learn about mindfulness and awareness. Understand why you should practice being compassionate, humble, and frugal. Find out how you can make a difference in other people’s lives by just choosing what’s right.
- 0:01 Finding Enlightenment
- 16:14 Responding To Change & Shifts
- 27:50 The Root Cause Of Suffering
- 39:40 The Power Of Choice
- 45:37 Resilience
- 52:39 Mindfulness
- 1:00:14 Achieving Awareness
- 1:06:50 The Starbucks Story
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The Power Of Awareness: Being Mindful And Compassionate To Others With Monk Yun Rou
This episode is going to be spectacular. He is called the Alan Watts for his teachings and the Zen Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his writings. Daoist Monk, Yun Rou, formerly Arthur Rosenfeld, received his academic education at Yale, Cornell, and the University of California. He ordained a monk in an official government-sanctioned ceremony at Chunyang Daoist Temple in Guangzhou, China. His work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Parade, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, WebMD, Fox Business News, and numerous other websites and newspapers.
Yun Rou’s unique and primary calling is the ability to make obscure ideas, arcane information, and transformative philosophy compelling and accessible through a story. Yun Rou is the author of more than twenty award-winning nonfiction books and novels of magical realism that have done exactly this for some decades, several earning Hollywood and Chinese film industry options. He also hosted the national public television show Longevity, Tai Chi with Arthur Rosenfeld. It reached 60 million households and was named by the American Heart Association as an inspirational resource in 2016. I’m happy to have you as my guest on the show, Monk Yun Rou.
I don’t know about you but I always feel funny when I hear somebody reading my bio. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe I will get to the bottom of that with you, monk. I would love it if you would share something with us that’s not a part of your typical bio or an introduction that you would love for people to know about you.
In September 2021, I succumbed to a serious illness. My wife found me expired on the floor. The paramedics brought me back. I had a rough time for a long time. I was in the hospital for a long time. During some of that, I was unconscious. In that unconscious period, I had an interesting vision, which I talked about a little bit in one of my books. I was shown the future of humanity but also a lot of other galactic things of interest. I zoomed around with a curator as a guide. Don’t ask me who that was. I would love to tell you it was Lao Tzu or Buddha but I have no idea who it was or what it was.
What I came away from that realizing is that I’m a bad monk. When I woke up, I was obsessed with the song, Amazing Grace, fixating on the wretch in the song. The reason that I felt such a wretch upon waking from a 4 or 5-day journey in La La land is that I came to the conclusion that the monk that I would like to tell you I am is the guy who climbs 1,000 steps and gets to near the pinnacle of the mountain, eight steps away from waking up, enlightenment, and all that.
Some old sage comes in and says, “Lots of steps. You must be tired. Good job. You only got eight more where you have been trying to get to for the last 50 years but those 8 are bad. They are going to be the most grotesque experience of your life but frankly, it’s beyond imagination how much you will suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. You cannot even conceive it. If and when you make those eight steps, you will be the awakened person you want to be.”
If I were the monk that I had always hoped for, I would say, “Bring it on, baby. Show me. Let’s go. I will dance right up those steps.” Having gone through those eight steps in real life, I woke up realizing that if anybody gave me a choice, I would say, “I’m good here. I like the view from 1,000 steps. If you gave me 25 more years of practice, maybe I get to 80 years old or something. I’m good with that. I don’t need to zoom up there. I will hang here.” That made me feel upon awakening, that realization of my own weakness and failure in terms of the resolve that I would like to imagine I would have was extraordinarily humbling and erased whatever remnants of the ego the rest of life battering me around having already done. That’s the answer to your question. I’m a wretch.
I’m thinking to myself of being substantially less than enlightened being myself but certainly wanting greater enlightenment. As I was listening to you speak about what you’ve learned through your struggle physically and the humility that it taught you, isn’t that some form of enlightenment all by itself if not?
I can’t claim to be an enlightened person. Number one, we have a much more specific description of what it means to open your consciousness to all that is. It’s not completely dissimilar. There are a lot of bits of pieces and bridges of crossover and interwinding of fabric between Buddhism and Daoism, particularly in certain later around ages. It would be far from my place or even for me to know how much I have woken up. I can say that I’m more awake than I was. I can say that I walk around with a pretty much 24/7 awareness all the time of the interconnectedness of things.Be sensitive to the workings of the world. If you get good at that, then you don't really ever have the feeling of exhausted striving. Click To Tweet
I see it in a way that has changed the way I interact with the world which has changed the way people interact with me before the suffering and challenges of the last couple of years of difficult illness. Number one, I wouldn’t be so bold as to use that term. Number two, probably there’s a continuum. I would like to think that I will become more sensitive and aware for as long as I have left. All I was trying to get at was that it was a shocking experience to find out how much I didn’t have the balls for those last eight steps.
It stirs up a lot for me to hear that. For those who are reading, I hope you will get some of the flavors of attitude, irony, and sarcasm that sometimes are tough to discern if you don’t have a physical of somebody’s face, body language, and nonverbals as it being said. The attitude and the body language convey a lot as well. We are more than talking heads and a voice. There’s a lot more than meets the eye even certainly.
I was thinking about how we strive and how we are taught from the time we are young, or at least it seems like we are taught or were programmed into striving in life. It often feels like it’s a carrot that’s always out of reach. I hear you. He’s talking about those last eight steps and the courage it would take to endure whatever is unimaginably difficult to attain those last eight steps to make it to some higher state of consciousness, realization, heavenly place or position.
I wonder if that’s not somehow baked into our suffering that the constant and never-ending striving for something other than the bliss or the perfection of this moment as imperfect as the moment is on whatever level. We are living in a strange time but we are always living in a strange time. There’s always suffering, hunger, death, murder, and other things that people call evil and whatnot. I wonder whether this whole concept of striving for those last eight steps is the form of suffering itself. Is this sacrilegious what I’m asking you?
It affords me a good opportunity to qualify the metaphor that I gave you, which is designed for a Western audience. I said that in honest self-deprecation, breast bearing, I suppose. There isn’t such an idea in Daoism. I always get into a little trouble when I have short interviews like this because there’s so much to say about the richness of the Daoist tradition. There are sects and interpretations of Daoist Laws and practices, which involve a lot of self-abnegation and self-cultivation. There is a word Kun Chinese bitter. It’s applied to Kung Fu training. That was a practice in general. There’s a lot of motivation, self-discipline, and other things that are required to achieve certain kinds of awakenings in certain sects.
There’s also another more popular. When I say more popular, I mean more widely associated with Daoism, which is the go with the flow. It’s the yin and yang symbol on the back of surfers’ trucks. You don’t fight the ocean. That symbol is rich, and it refers to a lot of things probably beyond us. What we could say is that there is a concept called wu wei or living an effortless life. The description of climbing mountains or stairs to exhaustion would be more of you climb a few, you look around, maybe back that one because you saw a pretty girl or a beautiful mountain view. Maybe you take a few more steps and have a pork bun.
Not all Daoists are vegetarians, I am, but some aren’t. The idea is that you have followed this increasingly honed and ever sharper sensitivity to the workings of the world. If you get good at that, then you don’t ever have the feeling of exhausted striving. You are floating down the river as opposed to either vigorously and fruitlessly swimming hard against the river or vigorously and then necessarily swimming as hard as you can in the direction that the river is already taking you to flow. Alan Watts has written many wonderful things for the rest about this. It’s much more an accurate portrayal of what I used in my self-abnegation about the last eight steps. As we look at it in a richer and deeper way, it wasn’t intended to imply exhausted striving.
You made that clear. I appreciate you did that as well. It couldn’t have turned out any better, frankly. That was our lead in because I wanted to ask you about the reference to Alan Watts. You have been compared to Alan Watts, which we both know is a wonderful thing to be. Compare is the wrong word but spoken in that regard. I wanted to read a quote to you, an Alan Watts quote that comes from our brand-new book, Change Proof, which, interestingly enough, the start of this book is a story from the beach. It’s a story from Jones Beach, which was home turf for me growing up as a kid in Queens, New York, that little suburb of Manhattan and not having a beach anywhere nearby.
We used to take the bus out to Jones Beach. Hundreds of thousands of people would come out there on a Saturday or Sunday. The beginning of this book is all about somebody getting up in a rip current. Not only was I a kid that went out there but I eventually became a lifeguard at Jones Beach at Field 4, where they had the boardwalk and the restaurant, all these wonderful things. The book starts where it describes the current and what lifeguards often refer to as the suck, and how people respond when they are caught in that rip current.
Part one of Change Proof is Choose Change Before It Chooses You. The quote is, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance,” Alan Watts. I would love for you and me to talk about change. When we think about the opportunity to become more sensitive and then ultimately be guided to move in ways that are in harmony with the world around us, that’s what Alan Watts is getting at. What do you make of that quote? Can you start us off by giving your philosophy of how we respond to change?
A lot of time in the water. I was an avid scuba diver for many decades of my life. Eventually, my high standard anymore but I have some fantastic memories. I was a competitive swimmer early in my life. What I remember of rip currents is you let them drag you out a good bit until they become weaker, and then you swim across and get out of them, and then you go back at your leisure to the beach so long as there are no great white sharks or anything. I’m going to beg your indulgence because I’m wanting to use the change question to address the thing that I feel most compelled to share in various ways. I do that these days, teaching in person, workshops, online, and so on in my books.
I have a strong feeling about the subject of change. There’s a Daoist concept of balance and harmony, and the way of looking at the world, that things go to an extreme, and then they need to be corrected back to a harmonious place. That correction can sometimes require overcorrection. If you think of a pendulum, it swings all the way. What you want is it to come to dead center. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re going to have to swing all the way in the other direction for that equilibration to occur.
That process is a feature of the way Dao, nature of illusion, God, and choose your poison works. Your own efforts are only important as far as you do not strive against that process of re-equilibration. The biggest mistake you can make is raising both middle fingers and stubbornly saying, “I’m going to hang out on this extreme,” even though you may need to go all the way to the other end to come back. The pendulum is only one way of looking at this. There are others. I have been aware for a long time, many decades before I became a monk. I had the genetics of a seeker. You can imagine what a joy I was to my parents, professors, and various academic pursuits.
An annoyingly curious child.When things go to an extreme, they need to be corrected back to a harmonious place. That can sometimes require overcorrection. Click To Tweet
The stubbornness about not wasting time on stuff that I instinctively knew didn’t matter and going all in for things that I thought did, even if other people disagreed. A lot of the ridicule that I received growing up from my teachers and fellow students, a lot of those people, and the rebalancing of things are the ones coming to me now for counseling and advice on how to deal with this or that.
What is required because of the great lack of balance at the manic murder monkeys we call people have created on planet Earth is something so potent that it could be expressed as a genetic evolutionary revolution. That means we have to change who we are so profoundly that it would be coming off all fours and standing up for the first time, becoming bipedal and looking out at the savannah, and seeing everything with new eyes.
It would be the same as suddenly having a thumb and being able to pick stuff up and manipulate the environment in a way that an animal, probably more intelligent than us like a whale, cannot do. I say more intelligent than us because I have come eye to eye, maybe 20 inches away from the eye of a blue whale. I have looked at that pizza pen-sized eye and seen galaxies in there and understood that we are not only all connected but far from the smartest game on the planet. That’s an old experience but it stayed with me forever. Anyway, this spiritual evolution/revolution would necessitate seeing who and what we are completely differently, how we treat the rest of the sentient world, including trees and everything that is alive, mushrooms, at that motion.
That shift where we see who we are, we see our correct place in the universe and shift completely into a new model of the way we treat ourselves and each other and all other sentient beings. That is necessary for one way or the other either we will nuke ourselves there or the Earth will punish us to the point with pandemics and other things to force us there.
One way or another, that evolution must take place. It’s required for the cosmic balance. Again, take a lot of grief sometimes about referring to the way we behave as cancer on the face of the Earth. I don’t say that human beings are cancer. I said the human beings behave like cancer. There are a lot of good analogies there about the way we destroy and out-compete other things and attack each other and all healthy things.
I want to dwell on that but it is important to recognize how destructive and off the path we are. None of this, by the way, is to suggest that there are not plenty of compassionate, wonderful people working hard towards this goal in the world because I believe there are. My job is not to be a politician, electrical engineer, code writer or something. My job is to keep the Dao Wushuang. That is to say, my lens dialed out as wide as possible to see everything, this little speck of a blue planet and all the shenanigans that we do in perspective, and to have talks like these.
It’s more important even than the ritual things that I do as a monk or the physical or mental practices that I engage in and how that shift is going to happen. Dr. Andrew Weil talks about it coming from everybody taking psilocybin or LSD. Maybe they could work. It’s as good a plan as I’ve got however it’s going to happen. It must.
I don’t know if you’ve ever have spent time with ayahuasca either with people who are being facilitated through ayahuasca journeys or you yourself have participated. You don’t have to answer that question if you feel uncomfortable in any way. I will say I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last several years being a facilitator at retreats where ayahuasca was being taken and then ultimately joining that community as well.
Facilitating, and then at other times, being facilitated. When I say facilitating, I’m there to speak about change and resilience and the things that I have been fortunate to experience in my own life, the concept of mostly dealing with change through pivoting and reinvention strategy and things like that. The elements of those retreats were about medicine. I was there being guided by a shaman.
The things that we are carrying as a species and not having seen thousands of people move through medicine ceremony but certainly hundreds now, what’s uniformly true is that we all have a great deal of shadow, a lot of traumas in our lives, and haven’t processed a lot of that. We don’t even know where to begin frankly to process it because we are not taught it. We are mostly moving past it even as it’s happening as a way to survive. In seeing that and the relief and the release that’s possible for people, I’m always that much more realistic, not even optimistic, that the evolution of the species is moving towards something that is more harmonious than less.
Despite in even days and weeks, murderous behavior, the sickest of what human beings are capable of, war, and everything else. My question for you is about whether you have observed there being a root if there’s a root cause of the suffering of the misery of most people, not all, but most, what would you say that is? I will share my own answer to that but I want to hear from you about this.
The state we are in now can be traced back to a series of grievous mistakes that we made in our own history. We made them largely unwittingly. We made them think that we were not making mistakes but they were making great strides. It may be that we could call coming from the neolithic into agriculture the first big mistake. Suddenly, in one fell swoop, we messed everything up. It gets worse but that was a big first step.
We went from free and easy wandering as my friend, Professor Livia Kohn, refers to the early state of human beings, which was not as more and more science came out on these lives that were short, brutish, and nasty as she famously said. We were living to our 80s without our skeletons showing any sign of disease or anything.
Was there the possibility that a tiger would jump out and eat us? Yes. Far less likely than we would get hit by a bus or a drunk driver but yes. Was there a possibility that we would be hungry in the winter because it was a lean rainy season, there was a drought, and not enough grew for us to put away things for winter? Yes. Did we have the bus buddy starving? Yes. Once we began to limit our diet by instead of eating 400 different things, eating 3, 4 or 5 that we could easily grow, once we began to put limits on what was my patch of dirt, once we had this us and them thing going on, mine and yours, we started to create this gigantic problem. This eventually evolved into tribal stuff on a scale that we could never have foreseen.There's some legitimacy to equating the word 'dao' to evolution. Click To Tweet
Agriculture maybe not be the first but let’s say a good early starting place in tracking the time of troubles and when it began. There was industrialization and then the digital thing. Now, life is miserable for many people, particularly many young people, that the prospects of this virtual reality, whether wasting their lives sitting in front of a screen or mistaking relationships for key clacks. That is sending us towards what I was showing in my vision, which is this artificial future for humanity that I strongly reject. I was told by my guide that no matter how I felt about it, it wasn’t about me. I got the message. Nonetheless, I would be lying if I said I was delighted to see it.
Is there a counter-argument to all this? My brother, a physician and a scientist always challenges me, saying, “This is exactly what we are doing as opposed to what we are supposed to be doing?” We are going to evolve into AI. Our entire purpose is to facilitate the generation of strong AI, and then human beings are as irrelevant as the dodo or megalodon that got out eaten in the news by great white sharks millions of years ago. Is that a legitimate intellectual point of view? I’m not enough of a computer scientist to say. As a spiritual person, I find it disturbing. That makes it much about my limitations as anything else.
The one thing that if we were to pull back the lens or open the aperture as wide as possible, for me anyway, I would say it’s an evolution that is ultimately what is to be revered, honored that evolution is something that we have some effect on, I suppose, for sure but no control over. I don’t see us controlling it. Everything is evolving to a state that is required. Therefore, to be revered, honored, and respected. To judge it as something as good or bad, or right or wrong is challenging because we don’t see the whole picture.
We never see the entire picture of we are even somehow able to take in the enormity, potentially our species not even existing in the same way that it does. It wouldn’t be surprising given where it all began or where we can trace it back to. From the standpoint of this tiny little bit of human experience, you and I are engaged in a conversation. Our spec of the whole entirety of it is infant, small. Even the thing that we can envision, which is this little piece of dirt spinning through infinite space, it’s the tiniest speck in something far greater and infinite that we can’t even conceive.
In that space of our own experience, what is enjoyment? What brings peace? What brings serenity? I don’t know that we can grasp anything more than that. I love the James Taylor song, this old song, Secret of Life. I shared this with our kids years ago. “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” That’s the lyric, “Try not to try too hard. It’s just a lovely ride.” On some levels, it’s beautiful, profound, and feels right.
With that, my answer to the question of, “What’s causing the greatest amount of suffering?” might even seem self-serving because it is the thing that I study. It’s the research I’ve done for this book, Change Proof, but also, it’s what I’m fascinated by, which is we are in a perpetual state of fear interrupted by moments of love, by the opposite of fear, which I would call love.
That fear is of what’s unknown, what’s uncertain. I’m wondering if there has been something in your practice, you’ve learned and have been vigilantly and diligently practicing to deal with the unknown and uncertainty. That, to me, is what is rooted in our fear and why the aperture of our heart is frequently closed.
My son, who is an evolutionary biologist, would roll his eyes and gnash his teeth at my simplistic characterizations of evolution, which is a far more nuanced process. Most people outside of academics realize it’s a deep field of study. I do think that there’s some legitimacy to equating the word doubt to evolution. I’ve heard people talk about this. It doesn’t make me kick and squirm. I’m okay with it because people need to bring their own lens to things and re-express things in words that are comfortable and understandable to them.
You don’t have to be a Daoist monk to have any of these sensitivities or sensibilities at all. You can discover deeper things. You can be Carlo Rovelli and discover them by studying physics and astrophysics, and particle physics. Great thinkers in a lot of different disciplines, not only some great monk thinkers but many others, have come to the same place on the mountain that took a path up the backside, the left side or the right side.
What I will say is that although there have been many species that have come and gone, which have written themselves out of existence by some feature or other of their interaction with the environment. For example, dinosaurs might’ve eaten their way out of existence had the asteroid not destroyed them. There was a certain consequence of their proliferation, which might’ve changed forests and introduced opportunities for mammals to rise. Indeed, some of that happened. It was all accelerated by an asteroid. My point is that human beings are not the only ones who disturb their own environment and sometimes kick it out of balance, at least in a way that leads to their own extinction. The more important point is that evolution is full of species that are not here anymore.
In fact, extinction is the rule, not the exception. There are a million times as many creatures that have gone extinct as ones that are still here. What we are talking about is how we feel about this process, which is what you ask when you ask about stuff. There is a little element that we have not discussed so far, that is, the kingpin upon which all of this rotates or balances, and that is choice. It would be a powerful argument that might not be 100% true because we don’t know about the consciousness of species that have come and gone but knowing that we have a choice in the decisions we make about our own future and the future of all sentient beings on this planet.
Knowing that we can, if we choose, act with humility, frugality, and compassion puts our responsibility as a species and individuals in a whole new place and that we have the capacity not only to destroy but to create in ways that other species have not. This changes the game profoundly. Is this itself a feature of evolution? Is the idea that the whole point was to get to us and that we are, in turn, to get to something that is intelligent and that it appreciates the nature of the universe itself feel diverse, multi-verse? I am sadly and mentally not equipped to say. I can speculate and find great succor in the idea that some other universes and many other realities.
The Carolina parakeet and the mastodon are still here, and even maybe T-Rex is still here. No asteroid hits. There are no people. Reptiles flowered into something amazing. That’s part of that Dao Wushuang. That’s part of the zooming out to the widest view. Although that’s my work to think about those things, on a more prosaic daily level and for most people to understand. You asked me about practice, in all these things we do, the choice flows from awareness. Cultivating that awareness can be done through a variety of things from chi gong to meditation, to Tai Chi, and other internal arts.
They don’t have to be Daoist things. They can be playing the piano or practicing archery or many other things that in my young life before I became a monk, I was thinking about this and don’t know what brought it up. I used to achieve these things with diving. That’s what it was. I was listening to something on NPR from a guy who spends in the water, and I was thinking about how much serenity I found and how my brain waves changed the minute that the water closed over me, and all I heard was the water.Humans have the choice and capacity not only to destroy but to create, in ways that other species can't. Click To Tweet
What that did to my brain right away to focus, to have that quiet and that floating sensation was, for me, an ADD and unfocused kid, just pure magic. I know it helped me through a lot of things later in my life, motorcycle riding. These are things that I have not written too much about. They are not in my recent memoir or anything but they are a subject maybe for another time, another book.
You didn’t write Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, then?
I wish I had written it. It was a good book. I’m in the middle of writing my own version of that book. It’s funny, you should mention it. It’s a road trip book. This is my long-winded way of saying that I don’t believe that although I am partial to the practices that I’ve embraced in my maturity, that I don’t think that they are the only way to get somewhere with all this.
I would love to get your own philosophy of resilience. We are weak because it’s not me alone. It’s a team of us that are often studying and researching resilience. I would love to find out if there’s either something in the Dao teaching about resilience that you could share with us or something in your personal philosophy. Resilience, given that you’ve had physical challenges in the last little while and have been working through those things and hopefully creating harmony in your body, mind, and spirit. I would love to know how you define resilience.
There are many things that come to mind. There is a Daoist view that in the first half of our lives, our purpose is to propagate and continue the forward movement of Dao by having kids raising them. More commonly, in Daoist circles, you hear the adage that for the first 50 years, you accumulate stuff, all those books, which is about what it was several years ago. Money, influence, power, everything else that goes along with some material presence and success.
The second 50 years you spent getting rid of all that until you go off into seclusion and focus on the last bit of connecting with the divine. That is a Daoist model. Without getting down that rabbit hole too far, let me say that in the many sects that I referenced earlier, there are other areas and other models for personal development but that’s a common one in Daoism. In that one, resilience can be seen as having the 1st and the 2nd part.
The first part is by extending your legacy, you create some resilience in the things that you appreciate. If you are as lucky a person as I am to have a kid who seems to connect with these ideas, then that’s a great joy but not everybody does that. In any case, you have fulfilled the requirement let’s say in some parts of the Daoist canon. The second, it’s the increasing awareness of the mind and the way mind and body interact. The idea that mind and body are expressed as they were in the cardian times, we are looking for an even more non dual. When I write about these things, I write about them, the body-mind, one word.
I have been termed a medical miracle because in my certain condition that I have, pretty much everybody else is dead or they are in dire condition having all kinds of holes in their head and putting terrible drugs and all that. It isn’t clear entirely to people I work with to stay alive how it is that I am still alive. I’ve had to think about this a great deal personally. There is something at our core that we can cultivate. There is a whole slew of Daoist texts on the subject of the little embryo inside and keeping the little homunculus alive and esoteric things that are not appropriate here. Having a practice that cultivates awareness of one single thing, which I want to say in this connection, is the key.
The one single thing is this news flash that nobody wants to hear. The news flash is it’s not about you. Much of the self-help literature, which I try not to read and contribute to because I feel not that I judge it is not being worthwhile but I worry. I’m not referring to what I’m sure is an excellent book that I plan to read. As a category, I would say that books that read with messages that support narcissistic ideas of what one’s life should be, entitlement, “You deserve this and that.” These messages and words are low to me because they enhance our disconnection one from the other. They reinforce a world in which all the weapons of mass distraction that appear in our media are constantly reinforcing a view of who and what they are that does not serve us.
It serves various and sundry other interested parties, whether you want to call them your corporate masters or government. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, let me say that this is a whole system of living, which is not only in the West. We exported it to Asia. Now it’s everywhere. It’s material. It’s capitalist. It’s a doggy dog and all that zero-sum stuff. That is not the way. No matter how many podcasts are out there, how many books are written, or how many workshops are taught about that, that will not lead to the aforementioned evolutionary shift, in my opinion.
Is the way, the way of center? Is that too simplistic to say that? If that’s even modestly true, what does that mean to you?
Let me liken the word that you used to what has become a dirty word, honestly, to me. It shouldn’t be, it isn’t a dirty word but in context to the things that I’ve mentioned, it seems to have become a little sullied, that word is mindfulness. The word mindfulness, which is used widely in Buddhist circles and Jon Kabat-Zinn and any other people who have pioneered this idea, it’s important. The first step in any kind of spiritual pursuit, no matter what your motivation for pursuing anything that you would think you would call spiritual. My dear and departed friend, Doshin Cantor, who was a Zen monk, we had decades of friendship. He had this wonderful saying, “Everything is happening exactly on schedule.”
He also said that if we want any kind of spiritual awakening at all, the very first thing we must do is notice that something is going on. This is such a seemingly trite and simplistic thing to say, and yet, if you go out into the forest and stop or if you take a little boat, roll out from the beach, sit there, rock a little bit, and look around, even at night, the things you will smell and see in the sky and feel, and the movement of water.
If you are in the forest, the things you will hear, smell, and feel underfoot, if you stop and pay attention, if you can be mindful, awareness that something is going on, which is not you. You are a part of it, of course, because you are the one doing the proceeding but it’s more than you. It is going on. It speaks exactly to your theme, your book, and your show. It’s change that is going on.Resilience is the increasing awareness of the way the mind and body interact. Click To Tweet
If you want to test that hypothesis, let’s take you not to the sea and not to the forest but into the deepest, furthest outreaches of space where the temperature is 0 degrees Kelvin, and we are as far as we could be from the origin point of the Big Bang. We are as far as matter and energy have gone from that central initial point. We are now at the place where nothing is moving because it’s cold that even atoms and subatomic particles are not moving. You take away heat and motion and change. When you take away change, you take away time.
Time is only something that we attribute our senses connect with the fact that we can see things changing. If they don’t change, you have no idea whether you have been sitting there for a year or a thousand years. In that circumstance, nothing is going on, and you have nothing to notice. That’s a thought experiment to validate the point.
People have that experience during the pandemic.
Not quite 0 degrees Kelvin but okay. I take your point.
For a lot of people, that is a bit of a black hole of time that stood still. It’s unaccounted for on some level. The pendulum is such a great way to describe it for me to hear it that way to have you reaffirm the description of these extremes, and then there’s this place where we are not unchanging. It’s interesting because, to keep to that example, when the pendulum stops moving, it sits in place of the center of harmony.
I’m not a big fan of balance. I push back on this, at least on the concept that people are seeking a balance, because it seems like the hardest work in the world is to balance anything. I was a lawyer for many years. The fact that the scales of justice, this idea of balance, and this amount the balance is connected to justices has always been an issue for me. To find harmony is a worthwhile pursuit. That feels attainable, even if only in moments but something that the human experience can experience.
Number one, I would’ve worn a wig if I had known the attorney stuff. I’m grateful to you for bringing me back to the rest of my point. I got a little distracted with the 0 degrees Kelvin. Where I was going with all that is that mindfulness is not by itself enough. It’s not enough to notice that something is going on. It’s not enough to notice the process of change or the passage of time, although it is required.
It’s the soil in which you must grow because that’s how it is. If you don’t even see that, you got zippo. Noticing mindfulness is an important step. Mindfulness practices of various sorts are a good tool. Where I fork off from some mindfulness teachers is that I don’t believe nor do I teach that is sufficient. It is necessary but it is not sufficient without going into the whole difference between Bharhuts and all that Buddhist stuff, which is useful but not for now.
Your next work after achieving some awareness is to become compassionate, humble, and frugal. Humble in the sense of understanding a little you or anyone else has any idea of what the hell is going on. Frugal in the sense of awareness that we have finite resources. Especially now with far too many people on the planet, water wars, sand wars for concrete, and air wars, all that stuff that is already here, and then some places are devastating and for the rest of us coming soon. Frugality is linked to compassion because you have to share those resources, not waste them.
You have to think of people who don’t have enough water when you are brushing your teeth, and you leave the faucet running while you are doing that. Water literally goes down the drain because you can’t be bothered to make a tiny turn and turn that thing off and then turn it back on when you need to rinse your mouth with a glass or your hand, and then move on.
There are a thousand little things. Turn off the light when you leave a room. Your house, modest or grand, does not need to have 8,000 feet illuminated when you are sitting in the corner, reading a book. We are out of touch, many of us are. It has been my great privilege to be able to do monk work in places of dire, imaginable poverty to people reading and to have drilled into my memory not to waste any food, not to order more than you need in a restaurant because you want to try six different things.
I hope this is clear. This is not a life of penury that I am suggesting. It does not make life poorer. It does not mean that we are not entitled to something. In fact, it means that we are entitled to something much bigger, greater, and better than the third pastry we wanted to take one bite of and send it all to the trashcan. It is a much more profound experience of connection, which utterly transcends such transient the lights as a bite of this or a bite of that.
It goes back to what you said earlier, the practice that cultivates awareness that it’s not about me.
It’s not about you or me. Four little words. How could that shooter go into a school if that was his mantra?If you want any kind of spiritual awakening at all, the very first thing you should do is notice that something is going on. Click To Tweet
No, couldn’t possibly. There isn’t that absorption of self.
You asked me about ayahuasca. There are various ways to achieve those states of mind, not only different compounds but different practices. I’ve had some experiences. Mostly in the last number of years, my health would not support some of the things that I would like to try to do that I haven’t done but I get there a little more arduously. I have been doing it so long that it’s not painful anymore to stand in one place for a few hours. When I began that practice, a few minutes was misery. I’m not natural at such things. Anything modest that I’ve achieved in this area at all has been not from native gifts but a lot of bitterness and hard work.
I don’t think that the practice element of many things can be overstated that vigilance is so important, especially when it comes to the mind. At least that’s my own experience of it. Maybe other people have an easier time with their thoughts than I do. It feels like the price of freedom in freedom to choose because you brought up choice. Choice is such an important thing. The price of it is vigilance forever.
Maybe your next book will be a change and choice. Those two concepts are inextricably intertwined in that they define us as human beings, even though it’s tempting to think of a lot of other much more negative things to finding us these a fuel to watch the news. That is a rich vein to mine.
[00:54:54] We are winding down our conversation but I’m fascinated by what the thread is there. Let’s follow that thread for a moment more here. What’s coming up for you with regard to those two things?
If you consider that the purpose of mindfulness is to make you aware that you have a choice, then you have taken a good step. I have a story. This one helps. It has been widely repeated, and it’s YouTube and all that. Years ago, I was in line for some tea at Starbucks. I’m not a big coffee drinker but I do drink tea. I was at to teach that day in the park. I had forgotten to bring my own. Halfway there, I went, “I’m going to have a dry day without some tea.” I had water with me but I wanted a tea. I stayed in the drive-through line. When I got to the menu board, I made my selection. I talked to the girl who took the order. I recognized her because every once in a while, I went into that Starbucks, and she had a heavy British accent. I had talked to her once or twice I went in from London.
I told her what I wanted. It was the next person’s turn but there was a line of cars in front of me. I have to order and couldn’t move any further. A guy behind me lays on his horn, opens his window and yells, “Move up, you idiot,” or some such thing. It’s because I was a great and enlightened master guru to the stars, my first instinct was I was going to get out of the car and go to his window and say, “It was around Christmas. I was going to send you to the dentist for a holiday visit. I will show you who you are honking.” I had 3 inches between me and the bumper of the car in front of her.
I put my hand on the door. I’m looking in the side view mirror. I see his face, and he’s infuriated and agitated. At that moment, I saw my own face also, which looked exactly like the face of the guy I was looking at. This is a sobering thing to see that I look just like him and realize in that flash that whatever it is that got to him is now in me. He’s communicated it to me. I gently closed the door. When I get to the window, I pay for my tea. She said, “Would you like anything else?” I said, “I would like to buy the coffee for the guy behind me.” “He’s an ass. Everybody heard him.”
I said, “I don’t know. Maybe he’s found out his wife has cancer. Maybe his kid ran away. Maybe he got fired. I don’t know why he did that but it’s not my problem. Buy us coffee.” She said, “The problem is that he didn’t just buy coffee. He bought breakfast for his whole office. It’s $100 or something.” I look in my wallet, and there’s a lone tenant there. I took out my credit card and said, “Do it. It’s a holiday. Do it before I change my mind?” I did it, signed it, and drove away.
I didn’t want to encounter him again either to have him thank me or to give me the finger or whatever else was in his mind. I took a busy team route where I was going so that I would not come to face him again. Many hours later, I got home and found my answering machine was chock full of messages back in those days, a little window. It told you how many. If it was too many, there was a little line through it. I listened to the messages. They start from the Starbucks. Being born a Jewish kid in New York, I figured that the credit card was no good. They are after me. I knew it was okay.
I listened to the messages, and then it was an NBC or ABC reporter calling me. I’m thinking, “What?” He said, “This is my cell phone. I’m here at the Starbucks.” I have no idea what this is all about. As I’m listening to these messages, the reporter calls again. I answered the phone. He says, “I want to come to your house.” I say, “No, don’t come into my house. Is this a call about philanthropy for the holidays? Call Bill Gates. There’s nothing. I bought some bagels. There’s nothing here. Go away.” He said, “What you don’t understand is that when you did that, the guy behind you did the same thing. That was 8:00 this morning. It’s 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s still going on.”
I said, “That’s interesting. He came. He convinced me to meet him at Starbucks. What I explained to him simply, there are three doors that we can look at all the time. Door number one, force against force. He honks. I get out. I whack him. I go to jail. I’m waving to my family through thick glass for Christmas. Door number two, I say, “You are right. I’m an idiot. Let me spit shine your windshield and clean your hubcaps with my sleeve for you while I’m at it.” Door number three is something that is defined as an option for you to do in your conflict or your choice, which is simply defined as being not door number one and not door number two. That’s it. Unique every time.
In this case, it was to buy him the coffee because I got my harmony and equilibrium back. I cruise down the road. I spent $100 but it was the holidays and whatever. That door number three idea went viral in those days. NBC put that story internationally. I got all kinds of emails from people. That’s such a powerful thing. It was so small. All I did was a search for how to keep my chill. That’s it.
We are not doing a tit-for-tat because if so, and I’m a competitive guy. I grew up in the schoolyard. My small little can’t help myself moment to say this was in this book, we talk about the pause, ask, choose. This model isn’t anything profound but, on some level, its simplicity. It’s similar to what you described. I got interviewed by a reporter from Psychology Today a couple of weeks back after the book gut got out. It was wanting to get my thoughts on Will Smith, a famous actor, philanthropist, author, and all that. To discuss what had happened at the Academy Awards when he got up and slapped his friend, Chris Rock. I said, “I would be happy to be interviewed about that for your article.”Your next work after achieving some awareness is to become compassionate, humble, and frugal. Click To Tweet
What I observed there was the antithesis, the exact opposite of what you described. At that moment, my view was that he didn’t pause, didn’t ask, and then his choice was defined, was already predetermined because it was more about the older groove in his record that was the response or the reaction to trauma. We don’t have the time, and it’s not the point of the show to dive into that.
I said that from the standpoint of a conversation about being change-proof and developing resilience, which is why they were interviewing me. I said, “Even someone who sits in such a seat as his, almost anybody you could ask would want to trade, would want to sit in that seat at the Oscars in the front row and be a wealthy, famous, so highly regarded person.”
He’s going to win the Academy Award later that night. He’s going to win an Oscar that night. At that moment, to understand that is a human being, he was depleted to the point where he could not take that breath the way you did take that beat to then ask the questions that you asked, “What is my best course of action here? What are my options? I can get out of the car. I go punch that guy. I can cower to the aggression and whatever.”
“I could choose something else. I could choose to be compassionate. I could choose to open my heart in the oddest of circumstances that I would open my heart to someone who’s being abusive.” You asked those questions. You made a choice. That choice had a ripple effect that was transformational that day and beyond, I’m sure. Will Smith had that same opportunity but he chose the path that you were ready to choose but didn’t.
Door number one, force against force. My parting thought on this is that people reading this and go, “That’s nice that the monk figured that up. How does that help me? I don’t know what door number three is. I can’t even stop myself from cocking my fist.” The answer to that, which is another conversation maybe for another day, has to do with creating space in your mentation so that you have a little bit of room to find that. That space is created through these various practices.
I’m glad we are going to end there because when I asked you about your practices earlier, whether it’s practices that are spiritual or practices that don’t even have to be tied to spirituality but are more about how do you practice making right decisions? What is your process to practice and perform the right decision-making, making the right choices? I know this has been a part of your life’s work. I would love it if you would share with our audience so that people can find out more about the work that you have been doing in the world. You’ve written twenty books. The things that are most important to you now, where can people go to find out more about that?
I have a website, which is MonkYunRou.com. My classes and various things are listed there. Many other podcast interviews are linked there. My books have become particularly during the pandemic and then its aftermath most effective way for me to communicate that in interviews like this, for which I had the opportunity for which I thank you. Everything is there.
I did come out with a memoir. It’s not the most important thing in my Uber. I did it kicking and screaming. If you are curious about how somebody starts as a little boy in Manhattan and ends up a Daoist monk, you can read about it there. It’s called The Monk of Park Avenue, humorous, I hope. There’s a book that’s a little more expository about my beliefs and how I see the world. It’s called Mad Monk Manifesto.
There’s something about nature which I love very much. It’s my favorite of these three, which is called Turtle Planet, in which I do an animal farm thing. I’m interacting directly with nature and sharing my experiences. I liked that more. It was well received. These are all within the last few years. I have several new books in the pipeline now. You can easily sign up for my Newsletter. I do have a monthly newsletter. It’s a subscription. It’s popular. People like it. It’s a few thousand words. All that is on the website. You just click, and you are in. Thanks for giving me a chance to mention that.
It has been a wonderful pleasure. Maybe there’s a part two to this. Our audience will be clamoring to have us talk a little bit more about some of these things that we were only able even to go a few inches deep on. I appreciate you. I appreciate what your work has been in the world and what you are continuing to do. I wish you the greatest resiliency, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, so that you can continue to do this work that we also need. Folks, I would love to get your own feedback. As always, please leave a review. Let us know what you think. Share it with a friend.
I thank you for the honor and the opportunity.
I thank our community as always. For everything you bring to the table for us, please let us know your feedback. You go to AdamMarkel.com/podcast. Leave a comment. I will personally respond to those. Again, if you have a friend, family member, somebody that would benefit from reading this conversation, please feel free to share that with them as well.
I will do so in my newsletter and other places. I will see what we can do.
I love that conversation with Monk Yun Rou. A peaceful person but yet also in touch with his normal emotions, the emotions that we all have. Sometimes that includes anger, getting good and worked up about things, getting good and pissed off. It’s important that we understand that just because somebody is a monk doesn’t mean that they don’t feel or don’t have emotions. In fact, that would be the strangest of all things that I believe that we would somehow be looking to someone for guidance who was not able to realize the expression of their most basic feelings, that they didn’t have access even to a fuller expression or the full expression of their feelings.
It blew me away. It made me feel comfortable, warm, welcome, and everything else to be in the presence of somebody who, while studying Daoist principles and is a monk and was ordained a monk in 1980. He has been practicing and vigilantly and diligently working on himself. He expressed so clearly to us that it’s ultimately not about us. It’s not about me. It’s not about him. It’s about others. Ultimately, that is the practice that he is working on to cultivate an awareness that it’s not about me. Meaning when we are saying that, it’s not about me. It makes possible for us to be compassionate toward others. It makes it possible for us to have humility in the face of many things that we don’t understand.
It enables us to be frugal. That’s the word he used. To see frugality as not needing to be inflated and satiated with things in our lives but rather to understand that there are people with limited resources and quite a bit less than we do. To be able to appreciate our privilege, even though he didn’t use that word. We all have so many things that we can feel we are privileged to have and be not merely aware of those things but to be grateful for them. To be able to make better choices in the moment because of that appreciation, compassion, frugality, and humility that enables us to sit in the seat of the present and the seat of awareness a little differently than when we are all consuming and self-absorbed in our own experience.
It’s not an easy thing to do to. He described the story of him waiting in line for his Starbucks. The monk was waiting for his tea, as it were, and having a gentleman person behind him leaning on the horn that, he ultimately had to decide how to deal with and in what manner he would deal with this aggressive behavior from someone he didn’t know.
I couldn’t have been more blown away by where that story went and what he shared about it, and ultimately, what the ripple effect in the world was from his decision in that moment. We all have this chance, this opportunity to pause, ask, and choose. The monk certainly shared with us how important our choices are. I felt in tune with him and the fact that even our brand-new book Change Proof is very much a book about choice.
It’s a book about how we pause, ask, and choose. That process, that practice, that performing, that ritual of pause, ask, and choose is ultimately a thing that leads us to make better decisions, be more resilient, and be able to sit in the present moment a little bit more comfortably, especially when the present moment is changing always. There are many unknowns and so much uncertainty that is truly a part of every single moment, at least on this little spit of sand spinning through infinite space we call home Earth. Again, I love the conversation, the connection, and the insights that we were able to get from Monk Yun Rou.
I know you will all and have already enjoyed so much of it. Please, again, as always, share what your thoughts are about it. Share it with a friend. Let us know if you have questions for myself or for the monk. If you’ve not yet taken your own assessment, gotten your own resilience score by establishing your own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual baseline for resilience, all you have to do is go to ResilienceRank.com.
In three minutes, you will literally get that baseline score as well as a whole host of resources that will help you to create greater mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual resilience, including access to some of the resources that were referred to in this episode. Again, I’m happy you’ve joined us here. I look forward to getting your feedback, as always. Enjoy.
- Yun Rou
- Change Proof
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- The Monk of Park Avenue
- Mad Monk Manifesto
- Turtle Planet
About Monk Yun Rou
Called the new Alan Watts for his teachings and the Zen Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his writings, Daoist Monk Yun Rou (formerly Arthur Rosenfeld) received his academic education at Yale, Cornell, and the University of California. Ordained a monk in an official, government-sanctioned ceremony at the Chun Yang Daoist Temple in Guangzhou, China, his work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Parade, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, WebMD, Fox Business News, and numerous other websites and newspapers. Yun Rou’s unique and primary calling is the ability make obscure ideas, arcane information, and transformative philosophy compellins and accessible through story.
Yun Rou is the author of more than 20 award-winning non-fiction books and novels of magical realism that have done exactly this for some decades, several earning Hollywood and Chinese film industry options. From 2010 – 2013, he hosted the hit (reaching 60MM households) national public television show Longevity Tai Chi with Arthur Rosenfeld. The American Heart Association profiled Yun Rou as an inspirational resource in 2016. Respected by academics, practitioners, and lay readers alike, Monk Yun Rou began his formal martial arts training in 1980 and has studied with some of China’s top Chen-style tai chi grandmasters. In 2011 he was named Tai Chi and Media Master of The Year at the World Congress on Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In July 2014, Yun Rou joined the heads of the five tai chi families on the dais, representing American tai chi at the International Tai Chi Symposium in Louisville, Kentucky. He teaches in Southern Arizona, South Florida, and around the world.