The Nonduality Highlights
Monday, May 6th, 2014 – Editor: Dustin LindenSmith
Today’s issue is devoted to a surprising interview I heard this week between one of my favourite comedians, the Emmy-award winning comedy writer David Feldman, and the TV and radio personality Shadoe Stevens.
They started by discussing the heights of fame that Stevens reached during the 80s and 90s on commercial radio and television (e.g. American Top 40, Hollywood Squares, Dave’s World, etc.). Stevens gave a brief overview of his own drug use history during that period, and describes how his regular psychedelic use at the time changed the way he perceived the world and his place in it. He described some very dark nights of the soul, interspersed with transcendent moments of bliss, all courtesy of the drugs he was taking. On one of his acid trips, he remembered thinking to himself, “I’ve gotta figure out a way to get back here without the drugs.” It wasn’t long after that he discovered meditation, which he says changed his life.
David Feldman halted the interview for a moment at this point to ask him a pointed question: “Should really bright people like yourself be doing acid?”
“NO!” Stevens spat. “No! People should do NOTHING—they should meditate. It’s the only important thing I’ve learned in life.”
Feldman asked if it’s the unpredictability and the excitement of what will happen during a drug trip that holds the allure. Steven replied that for him, it was about trying to tap into the spiritual. However, he has since realized that what he now gets from meditation, he once got from drugs.
Feldman then asked if it’s healthy for a person to become famous. Stevens said it takes a pretty strong person, because the spoils are so seductive. It doesn’t take long until you start to believe all the grandiose stuff people are saying about you.
“One of the things that happens,” he said, “is that you get to a place where you go, I got it; I have ARRIVED. And it will just get better from here, because new opportunities will continue to open up because I’ve attained this kind of accomplishment so far.” He paused. “NOT necessarily true. In fact, frequently not.”
Feldman continued by fleshing out his own personal fantasy around fame, wherein he walks into a room and everyone knows who he is without him having to prove anything to anyone in the room. He clarified: “But then I think, that must be a nightmare, because you walk into a room and everybody has a preconceived notion of you from something that you’re not. And they’ve already decided whether or not they like you, and everybody who walks up to you kind of has an advantage over you because because they know who you are but you don’t know who they are…”
Isn’t life always like that, I thought as I heard those words. It’s seemingly intrinsic to our human condition to be concerned about how others might be perceiving us. I enjoy looking as deeply as possible into that question, asking myself harder and harder questions about who really is underneath that personality anyway; questions about who is asking the question in the first place.
About 70 minutes into the interview, Feldman returned to the topic of meditation. He happened to excerpt that part of the discussion on this YouTube video, which I’ve queued up to the exact place when there discussion goes into the topic most deeply:
He asked Stevens if it’s true that meditation can bring you to the same level of enlightenment as LSD can. Stevens replied that of course that’s true, and then some. He also testified to a common misconception about what meditation is or should be. He said, “People think that meditation is, ‘I HAVE TO QUIET MY MIND, I HAVE TO QUIET MY MIND,’ and then they give up” because they think they’ll never be able to stop their chattering mind.
“It’s not that,” Stevens implored. “It’s all about concentration. It’s all about focus. The primary way is you focus on the breath — you just sit upright and you watch your breath go in, and you watch your breath go out. And you maybe add a spiritually-charged word like God or OM to it, and then there are different mantras, or spiritual words, that have different powers about them.”
He had the potential to take a hard left turn to Wooville there, but instead he turned to an eminently practical way to overcome your own reticence or ambivalence to developing a regular meditation practice. First, he described the well-known relaxation response that occurs whenever you concentration your attention on absolutely anything: your heart rate slows down, the muscles relax. He also described the deep sleep-like state of yoga nidra, although he didn’t name it as such during the interview.
After attaining this state of profoundly deep relaxation, he said, “you then experience pure consciousness; the I AM; the witness. And you’re able to tap into how much more there is IN there than OUT there. That I am not this body that’s born, lives and dies, I am this… essence.”
Feldman related his own first experience with meditation a few months earlier using the new online meditation classes offered by Deepak Chopra. He did it for 20 minutes and felt 20 years younger: “I told myself, ‘I’m going to do this every day.’ And I have not done it since.”
He asked Stevens why it is that people think meditation is such a good thing to do, but that they don’t do it. “You have to make a commitment,” Stevens replied evenly. “You have to say: five minutes, no matter what… The first thing I do [in the morning] is I go into the child’s pose on my bed… And I start giving thanks for all the things that are right in my life. And then [before my morning coffee] I go, ‘I’m not doing ANYTHING until I meditate.’ And it’s just five minutes. But just five minutes a day, every single day, and not EVER veering from that. And that five minutes will become ten, will become fifteen, will become twenty because it feels REALLY good. And then you go, ‘Oh! There’s something going on here that’s more than me. and I need more of it.’ And the more you need, then you start learning deeper ways to meditate.”
Stevens went on to describe some of the experiences he’s had with his Kriya Yoga practice, which he typically does between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s almost like being in light. Your body becomes like a light; your spine gets bigger, and inside your spine, and your awareness, and your whole being… There aren’t words to describe how extraordinary it can be. And then sometimes it’s just really, really hard but I never not do it… I just know that this makes sense to me, and that I want this experience of conscious contact with the infinite unknowable in a really significant way.”
Feldman continued by asking Stevens about how meditation seems like it’s an inward-looking practice, and wondered if doing it well means that you’re necessarily disconnecting yourself from other people.
Stevens was unequivocal in his response. “No, you’re more of everything, when you go IN. Everything that you are is coming from WITHIN, and the more you get IN, the more you’ll have WITHOUT. So, your ability to concentrate, to learn… it helps everything… You know how it is: you’re preparing for something that’s really big, and you want to do really well, and because you’re prepared, when you get there, once you start, you’re relaxed. And because you’re relaxed, you’re really good. As soon as you’re tense, then you question everything, and doubt sets in, and pretty soon I’m not at the best I can be… Meditation allows you to experience calmness on a really significant, fundamental level. And that carries into the day… Because you do it so regularly… little gratitude things [come up], you’re walking along and you go, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you…’ That positive, optimistic mindset that you have to nurture, because the mind left to its own will go, ‘What else is wrong?’ And as soon as you pay attention, it’ll make a list—you know The List of the failures, and the disappointments… ‘How old am I? How old am I?’ And it’s trying to cripple you, and make you small and weak… ‘Just stay in bed, just stay in bed.'”
The standard objections to putting too much focus on transcendental enlightenment experiences during meditation all apply to this discussion; it’s clear that Stevens is enamoured with the mystical experiences that appear to be a hallmark of Kriya Yoga practice. However, I still appreciate Stevens’ underlying motivation to look more deeply within; to understand the nature of mind and the way that its incessant chatter can pull you under; and to develop authentic and unconditional gratitude just for pure being itself. I also think it’s kind of brave for a famous Hollywood personality to speak so openly and honestly about seeing past his own persona like that; it’s not exactly common to hear about famous stars not taking their fame and self-importance so seriously.
For my next issue, I’m working on highlights from a fascinating interview between the eminent neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris and ABC Nightline contributor Dan Harris (no relation) about the former’s upcoming book about meditation and the latter’s recent book about it.