Shambhala SunSpace recently published an interview with Charlotte Joko Beck, conducted by Donna Rockwell.
In my experience, few teachers have Beck’s willingness to jettison all the trappings and traditions of Buddhism, in order to express themselves without disguise. I hope you’ll read the entire interview, below.
How old were you when you started meditating?
Charlotte Joko Beck: Thirty-nine, forty, somewhere in there.
Did you have any realization through meditation?
No. Of course we have realizations, but that’s not really what drives practice.
Will you say more about that?
I meet all sorts of people who’ve had all sorts of experiences and they’re still confused and not doing very well in their life. Experiences are not enough. My students learn that if they have so-called experiences, I really don’t care much about hearing about them. I just tell them, “Yeah, that’s O.K. Don’t hold onto it. And how are you getting along with your mother?” Otherwise, they get stuck there. It’s not the important thing in practice.
And may I ask you what is?
Learning how to deal with one’s personal, egotistic self. That’s the work. Very, very difficult.
There seems to be a payoff, though, because you feel alive instead of dead.
I wouldn’t say a payoff. You’re returning to the source, you might say – what you always were, but which was severely covered by your core belief and all its systems. And when those get weaker, you do feel joy. I mean, then it’s no big deal to do the dishes and clean up the house and go to work and things like that.
Doing the dishes is a great meditation — especially if you hate it…
Well, if your mind wanders to other things while you’re doing the dishes, just return it to the dishes. Meditation isn’t something special. It’s not a special way of being. It’s simply being aware of what is going on.
Doesn’t sitting meditation prepare the ground to do that?
Sure. It gives you the strength to face the more complex things in your life. You’re not meeting anything much when you’re sitting except your little mind. That’s relatively easy when compared to some of the complex situations we have to live our way through. Sitting gives you the ability to work with your life.
I read your books.
Oh you read. Well, give up reading, O.K.?
Give up reading your books?
Well, they’re all right. Read them once and that’s enough. Books are useful. But some people read for fifty years, you know. And they haven’t begun their practice.
How would you describe self-discovery?
You’re really just an ongoing set of events: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, one after the other. The awareness is keeping up with those events, seeing your life unfolding as it is, not your ideas of it, not your pictures of it. See what I mean?
How would you define meditation?
Awareness of what is, mentally, physically.
Can you please complete the following sentences for me? “The experience of meditation is…”
“…awareness of what is.”
“Meditative awareness has changed my life in the following way…”
“It has changed my life in the direction of it being more harmonious, more satisfactory, more joyful and more useful probably.”Though I don’t think much in those terms. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m going to be useful. I really think about what I’m going to have for breakfast.”
“The one thing awareness has taught me that I want to share with all people is that…”
I don’t want to share anything with all people.
Who do you want to share with?
Nobody. I just live my life. I don’t go around wanting to share something. That’s extra.
Could you talk about that a little bit?
Well, there’s a little shade of piety that creeps into practice. You know, “I have this wonderful practice, I want to share it with everyone.” There’s an error in that. You could probably figure it out yourself.
I think that’s something I need to learn.
You and I know there’s nothing that’s going to make me run away faster than somebody who comes around and wants to be helpful. You know what I mean? I don’t want people to be helpful to me. I just want to live my own life.
Do you think you share yourself?
Yeah, but who’s that?