Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos (#414)

“We have the opportunity, even in difficult times, to let our spirit shine.”

— Jack Kornfield

Jack Kornfield (@JackKornfield) trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, shortly thereafter becoming one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974.

Jack has had a profound and direct impact on my life, and I’m thrilled to have him on the podcast once again.

Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein), and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is a father, husband, and activist.

Jack’s books have been translated into 20 languages and have sold more than a million copies, including The Wise Heart; A Lamp in the Darkness; A Path with Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (one of my favorite book titles of all time); and his most recent, No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are. He offers a brilliant online training program for those who want to learn to teach meditation at JackKornfield.com

This episode is more of a personal therapy session for yours truly in some respects. You will notice that I sound anxious and unsure in this interview, and that is very much by design. I think it is unhelpful when people in the public eye hide the fact that they also struggle, and it puts them on this illusory pedestal that I think is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, I want to share with you that no matter how much Stoic philosophy I read, no matter how often I meditate, there are times when I struggle, and this week is one of them.

I also hope that you’ll listen to portions of this conversation multiple times. There are a number of exercises that Jack shares that I will certainly be listening to in the upcoming weeks.

Please enjoy.

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

#414: Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear Jacks first appearance on this show? Listen to this episode in which we discuss hang gliding, monk training in Thailand, unpleasant mystical experiences, the difference between compassion and empathy, lovingkindness meditation, and more. (Stream below or right-click here to download.):

#300: Jack Kornfield — Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy in the Present
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Jack Kornfield:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SHOW NOTES

  • Amid COVID-19 fears, I confess this conversation isn’t entirely selfless — it’s as much therapy for myself as it will likely be for my listeners. Jack demonstrates an exercise he used to help a large virtual class in China cope with the fears and anxieties generated by the current situation there. [08:10]
  • How might someone blend a Western developmental framework with an Eastern fruitional framework to best solve the unique problems we’re facing today? Could it be as easy as remembering “your Buddha nature and your social security number?” [16:06]
  • Jack recalls the first time he got malaria as a monk in the forests of Thailand and Laos in the ’60s, how his teacher helped him through it, and the lesson we can take to find our center in the midst of outwardly miserable circumstances — how we can witness what’s present without being lost in it. [21:08]
  • Our society may not be well-prepared to deal with the further spread of COVID-19, but here’s a lesson from WWII that might help us prepare ourselves with some perspective. [25:41]
  • If it’s true that adversity reveals — rather than builds — character, has Jack noticed any patterns among people who are having the greatest psychological difficulty dealing with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and is there anything to be learned from them that can help us? [28:15]
  • At nearly 75 and part of the demographic most susceptible to the COVID-19 coronavirus, how does Jack relate to his own mortality? He tells us about a visit with his twin brother shortly before his passing a few years ago and what he did to facilitate peace at this difficult time. [31:43]
  • Meditating on the four dimensions of freedom that allow us to “enter the terrain of birth and death with a wise and spacious heart.” [38:52]
  • What might Jack suggest as a way of helping people overcome their fears and anxieties around the process of dying — either for themselves or their loved ones? [49:19]
  • I concur that using an altar for the sake of visualization can be surprisingly effective, and that linking consciousness with others may be helpful for people who feel isolated during periods of quarantine or social distancing. Jack expands on the idea that we shouldn’t be squeamish about letting things go. [57:44]
  • What is the significance of Guan Yin for Jack as a symbol of something we all have inside of us, and what is spirituality really about? [1:01:22]
  • Jack’s take on psychedelics as sacred medicines throughout human history, their welcome reintroduction to the mainstream after being demonized for decades, and the complementary relationship between psychedelics and meditation. [1:07:21]
  • In what ways does Jack feel these sacred medicines can be overused or abused when they’re not treated with due respect? [1:16:34]
  • Often underrated ways that we, as spiritual beings, can access and interact with the mysteries around us — from poetry to sleep. [1:20:33]
  • Recommended preparations and precautions before dipping a toe in the pool of psychedelics. [1:23:05]
  • According to Stan Grof, what is experiencing an urge toward suicide really trying to tell us? [1:26:31]
  • Jack’s favorite Stan Grof book. [1:27:42]
  • When Ram Dass passed the torch of psychedelic research to Roland Griffiths. [1:28:27]
  • How experiencing psychedelics under a controlled setting at Johns Hopkins differs from casually taking them at a party. [1:31:11]
  • How would Jack suggest that people think about trauma? [1:32:16]
  • Jack explains how, in his final years, Ram Dass became “a lighthouse of love.” [1:44:03]
  • What is Jack focused on these days? [1:48:52]
  • My personal endorsement of the expansive toolkit that Jack and clinical psychologist Tara Brach brings to the table — especially for anyone who has ever considered learning to become a meditation teacher. [1:51:03]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:53:21]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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34 Replies to “Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos (#414)”

    1. To turn attention from experience towards the mystery of consciousness that is ever present. Sit with the interaction of experiences and ourselves, how does it build/break us.

    1. 2nd time it’s happened actually! And if have been following Tim’s work, it comes as no surprise. He is now focusing on understanding and implementing tools & habits to promote mental wellbeing.

  1. You know where coronavirus is going via the Tomas Pueyo article. I, Brian Wang, have written [Moderator: blog name removed from published comment.] for the past 15 years on breakthrough technology and science. I have been angel investing, fundraising, and helping businesses grow. For the past few weeks, I have been all in advancing a solution that can scale in weeks to mitigate disease spread by 70%. We have Alessio Fasano, Harvard doctor/specialist as part of the team. We are in talks with Italy, other countries and major corporations. URGENT that we talk today. [Moderator: contact info removed from published comment.]

  2. Tim, loved the episode.

    But I have something on my mind…I would also love to hear from someone who can weigh in on distributed computer processing right now. Recently SETI shut down and most of the users are converting their processing power to COVID19 projects such as on. (I found out about the projects on Reddit).

    As another person stuck home due to the virus (Baltimore, MD), I am excited at the thought that I can somehow join arms with others to help in some small way in the “fight”.

    But I also have a lot of questions: Am I really making a difference? How many people will it actually take to finish a project? Is the project we are working on a “nice to have” or a “need to have”? Is there any way to even know?

  3. Sorry. This podcast doesn’t do it for me. Ive tried but there is way too much abstract to the point that it sounds like BS.

  4. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for this episode. I loved the calm that I felt while hearing it, and will continue practicing thanking my anxiety for trying to keep me safe and placing it in a bowl in the care of my angel. Stay safe and healthy!

  5. Ciao, I’m Luca and I’m writing to you because you have been one of my mentor during these years, and considered the current crazy situation, I know truly believe everything is possibile in life.
    First, thank you for everything you shared with your community, you are a very inspiring human being for a lot of us.
    Secondly, this is something I think you could be interested in.

    You don’t want to receive emails so I have to try here. You teached us to try to reach our mentor. I’m doing it.

    Be safe you and family

  6. Thank you for having Jack Kornfield on your show (again). He has the most soothing voice and eloquent words. At these very unsettling times, he calms my person. BTW I absolutely love your podcast and all you share. Thank you!

  7. Hi Tim,

    Loved this podcast and again how you show yourself fully. I applaud your courage and vulnerability.

    I’ve gotten so much value out of your content in the past decade and am very grateful for it all. Thank you!

    I wanted to try and return the favor. I believe we have similar hurts (distress patterns) as although I am older I grew up in Brooklyn during the 70’s and spent a lot of time on Long Island during my youth.

    I’ve been a meditator since the late 1980s and in the 1990s had my 1st spiritual awakening during that time period when I got to experience 1st hand what “Presence” (or my Soul) felt like. It was no longer a mental concept.

    However it wasn’t until recently (after a sever illness) that I moved into living from that place (which some call enlightened living).

    I think that what had such a big impact on that process was doing Tara Brach’s mindfulness training (thanks again for pointing me towards her work) and then rereading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (which had a much bigger impact on me now then it did when i attempted to read it when it first came out).

    The key foundation seems to be the Self Attunement meditation work (http://www.csaprocess.com/).

    Let me know if you would like more information.

    LOve,

    Stephen

  8. Hi Tim, the way you stepped into vulnerability was great leadership-by-example for us to follow. Thank you for this timely podcast.

    As a therapist I’ve been putting all the main info I want to give people right now on [Moderator: link removed.], and I’ve just added a link to this podcast on there. It’s all about well-being, adapting and thriving in isolation / quarantine / lockdown. (It’s a live page, it’ll be evolving and improving over coming hours, days and weeks).

    Thanks again and looking forward to more.

    Best wishes,
    James

  9. This was a lovely episode with Jack K, very insightful. These dialogues between Tim and these spiritual teachers are fantastic.

    However I’d love to hear Tim and/or others explore more the “Innate Health” model pioneered by Sydney Banks and taken further by George and Jack Pransky, Michael Neill, Jamie Smart, Elsie Spittle, Ken Manning, Robin Charbitt etc….

    They all talk about the “inside out” perspective which for me surpasses all of these other approaches. In a nutshell: we already each have this intact mental health but it’s obscured by our thoughts. It’s the over-thinking, ruminating which blocks a clear sense of mind. It’s like the sun is always there but blocked by the clouds.

    Ryan Holiday touched it only briefly in his last (great) book, Stillness is the Key. What I love about this body of work is that you don’t have to “earn” this sense of clarity and stillness, it’s already here. Also there’s nothing to do like trying to eliminate or reframe our thoughts. All thoughts pass and they only stick around because we focus on them.

    This understanding has changed my life and I only hope more people are exposed to it. Of course Tim would benefit from it as everyone would.

    Cheers and stay safe out there!

    1. Richard Lang was interviewed recently by Sam Harris on his podcast.

      Lang talks with Harris about “The Headless Way” which was created by
      Douglas Harding.

      In this “way” a few exercises—found for free—on their website can lead a person into a spacious awareness and contentment without hours of grueling meditation.

      Thousands of people are enjoying the peace, freedom and relaxation this “way” provides now. For Free.

  10. Thank you, Tim, for bringing people to this podcast that give uplifting, tangible messages. You have saved my sanity many times over the past couple of years…..and Now, more than ever ❤️

  11. Please invite Peter Levine for the podcast one of these days. He has so much valuable information to share on trauma and especially how to get through these times untraumatized. Hope very much Tim’s team is getting in touch with him!

  12. Tim,

    I just want to express how much I’m grateful of this session with Jack. It has been a real healing session for me and helped me to find inner peace (at least for now) and get my own pace back. His voice and the rhythm he spoke were so calming and infuse me a lot of power and makes me feel safer in my current living context.

    I cam from China, Shanghai and moved to Rotterdam in early Jan this year to start a master program. The Covid 19 happened just a few weeks after I arrived here and all of my friends and family in China were suffering for almost 2 months. I wasn’t able to feel them until now. Like other countries in Europe, Netherlands has also closed all the social activities including school and implementing strict social distance policies. Everything because virtual, and I am not good with virtual connection. Lacking of human touch and engagement had me quite helpless and feel very lonely at this point. Especially these days, I was on the 12th days self quarantine schedule without any fixed routine. Everyday waking up to many chaotic news and damage report. I couldn’t get away from it. I experienced strong sense of disorientation, paranoia of getting unwell and depression from disconnecting with people. All of these were draining away my energy. This episode with Jack was just in time like remedy to my chaotic mind. The immediate effect after this episode to me was so magnificent. I felt relieved and warm and I even burst into tears. This is a truly a therapeutical 2 hours and i cannot thank you and Jack enough for giving me such a candid and sometime venerable sharing. I like what you said in the notes. no matter how much Stoic philosophy i read, no matter how often i meditate , there are times when i struggle and this week is one of them. Thanks for being so genuine. I am sure i will come back to this session multiple times.

    Thanks for the power.
    Em

  13. After listening to your recent shows with Brené Brown, Jack Kornfield and Laura Gottlieb someone you should consider having on your show is Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. She is an associate professor & researcher and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Trauma and Bereavement at Arizona State University. She received her Doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    Dr. Cacciatore is also the founder of the MISS Foundation, an international nonprofit organization with 75 chapters around the world aiding parents whose children have died or are dying. Her book, Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief, is a national award winning best seller that has helped revolutionize the way our culture thinks, and feels, about grief. Dr. Cacciatore works with and counsels families from around the world who have experienced catastrophic deaths. She and her work have been featured in top print venues such as Boston Globe, New York Times, Newsweek, BBC, and the Wall Street Journal and on television shows such as CNN and BBC.

    Dr. Cacciatore is an advocate of “green” emotional and mental care for those suffering traumatic grief. She received the prestigious Hon Kachina Award, the Sr Teresa Compassionate Care Award, the Empathic Therapist of the Year Award, Arizona Foothills Arizona Women Who Move the Valley Award, and the Parents of Murdered Children Father Ken Czillinger Award.

  14. This was a beautiful discussion – especially paired with Tim’s patient, listen-focused interview style. You can sense Kornfield’s genuine tenderness and joy of life. Many nuggets of wisdom, here. Grateful for this episode.

  15. Hey Tim:

    Your openness about your fear of the pandemic is exactly what I needed when I listened to this podcast a few weeks ago. Thank you for all the inner work you have done to get to a place where you can express that fear publicly.

    Would you say you have Thanatophobia? I do.

    My meditation practice and therapy sessions do not seem to help. I would love, love, love to hear what others have done to integrate a fear of death in a healthy and holistic way. It would be so helpful to hear from a combination of perspectives on this topic, like plant medicine researchers, meditation teachers, psychotherapists and people who have changed their relationship to their fear.

    When I tell people about my fear of death, I’m often met with unknowing, glazed-over stares or distant words of reassurance. As Alex Lickerman MD writes in his blog: “I’m always surprised by people who say they’re not afraid to die. Most are usually quick to point out they are afraid to die painfully—but not of the idea of no longer being alive. I continue to be mystified not only by this answer but by the number of people who give it. Though I can imagine there are indeed people who, because of their age, character, or religious beliefs, truly do feel this way, I’ve always wondered if that answer hides a denial so deeply seated it cannot be faced by most.”

    I welcome any resources you have on the topic. I recently purchased two books that I am hoping will help me transform: Staring at the Sun by Irvin Yalom and Overcoming the Fear of Death by Kelvin Chin.

    Thanks for considering these ideas––

  16. I’d write a math book of some sort, probably Algebra or Pre-Algebra, as it’s always in demand and if I could explain it well…

  17. Thank you for this episode.

    The discussion of trauma, and particularly the example of the hare trembling as a means of discharging acute trauma, reminded me of Trauma Releasing Exercises. TRE is meant to induce this physical state in humans as an additional tool to discharge trauma from past experiences.

    Examples may be found on YouTube; I also found the book, Trauma Releasing Exercises by David Berceli, to be helpful.

    1. Anthony, would you know where to find a video of the hare releasing the acute trauma? I’ve been searching for it for years and this podcast brought it back to my mind. Thank you!

  18. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for this episode. I loved the calm that I felt while hearing it, and will continue practicing thanking my anxiety for trying to keep me safe and placing it in a bowl in the care of my angel. Stay safe and healthy!