Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway (#531)

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“There’s something about deep wounding that can be a pathway to deep, deep love. It’s a very beautiful thing when the wound becomes the doorway.”

— Henry Shukman

Henry Shukman (@mountaincloudzencenter) teaches mindfulness and awakening practices to a wide range of students from all traditions and walks of life. Henry is an appointed teacher in the Sanbo Zen lineage and is the Guiding Teacher of Mountain Cloud Zen Center. He has an MA from Cambridge and an MLitt from St Andrews and has written several award-winning books of poetry and fiction.

Henry’s essays have been published in The New York Times, Outside, and Tricycle, and his poems have been published in The New Republic, The Guardian, The Sunday Times (UK), and London Review of Books. He has taught meditation at Google, Harvard Business School, UBS, Esalen Institute, Colorado College, United World College, and many other venues. He has written of his own journey in his memoir One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir.

Henry has also recently created a new meditation program, Original Love, which aims to provide a broad, inclusive path of growth through meditation.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Allform premium, modular furniture; Pique Tea premium tea crystals (pu’er, etc.); and You Need A Budget cult favorite budgeting app. More on all three below.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#531: Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who relies on Zen to get things done? Have a listen to my conversation with Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta in which we discuss uncertainty training, embracing the suck, habit breaking and forming, standing out from the competition in a crowded arena, unschooling, and much more.

#488: Leo Babauta on Zen Habits, Antifragility, Contentment, and Unschooling


  • Connect with Henry Shukman:

Mountain Cloud Zen Center | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram


  • Why did Henry once identify with Typhon, the mythological beast who lived under the volcano Etna, and how did this lead to his first foray into meditation? [06:13]
  • How examining the deep wound that results from childhood trauma has the potential to become a doorway to deep love (and what so often stops this from occurring). [09:51]
  • What was Henry’s introduction into the world of meditation? [15:19]
  • What does Henry mean by the term “awakening?” [16:40]
  • Is awakening a repeatable phenomenon, or is it something that only needs to occur once? Henry conveys how Zen master Yamada Koun described it, and shares his own first experience. [20:02]
  • Was Henry under the influence of any substances when this happened? In retrospect, what does he think brought it on? [32:12]
  • Was Henry later able to replicate this state of awakening at will, or control it in any way? [36:17]
  • How experimenting with jhana meditation brought Henry to a state similar to what he’d experienced the very first time, and why he thinks this may have happened. [38:10]
  • What happened during the year following that first experience? [40:33]
  • In Henry’s experience, how might an awakening be distinguished from what a psychiatrist with a DSM desk reference might categorize as a psychotic episode? [43:41]
  • Why the modern Western embrace of Eastern spirituality isn’t without its hazards. [46:36]
  • Why awakening doesn’t require us to become hermits and live away from the world, and what Henry learned while roaming the countryside as a teen being mentored by an “old school tramp.” [49:38]
  • What is Zen and how did Henry find it? [54:16]
  • How long was Henry’s first Zazen meditation, and why does he think it moved him so powerfully? [1:01:25]
  • What is a koan? You’re probably familiar with at least one (even if you don’t know how to answer it). [1:02:46]
  • What is nonduality, how do koans guide us toward it, and is the increasing awareness of awakening in the Western world akin to transcending the geocentric worldview that prevailed before Galileo and Copernicus? [1:05:14]
  • Has Henry found it common for Zen practice newcomers to experience a nondual awakening early on? While a psychedelic compound is almost guaranteed to give someone at least a glimpse of this state, how might someone be prompted toward an awakening without it? Additionally, why does Henry consider the term “non-ordinary consciousness” — when applied to an awakened mind — a misnomer? [1:07:59]
  • How awakening can be a “marvelous kind of loss.” [1:15:48]
  • What is Henry’s new program, Original Love, all about? [1:17:59]
  • What does “Mu ichi motsu; muju zo” mean, and can “Koan” be roughly translated as “Over the precipice of nonsense?” [1:20:31]
  • Under what circumstances did Henry make the decision to consume ayahuasca for the first time, and how similar/dissimilar was his experience to koan-induced awakening? How did a later ayahuasca outing under much different circumstances compare? [1:28:24]
  • We ponder how a psychedelic experience might differ from an awakening on a neurochemical level, how each can be useful for exploring different facets of what we perceive as “reality,” and where caution should be exercised. [1:38:46]
  • Has Henry ever witnessed someone having a bad experience through Zen that required special aftercare? [1:43:38]
  • How Zen can be a rewarding journey even without a destination. [1:44:42]
  • Revisiting Original Love: it’s a program, a course, and an upcoming book. [1:46:36]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:47:54]


“There’s something about deep wounding that can be a pathway to deep, deep love. It’s a very beautiful thing when the wound becomes the doorway. I think there’s always that potential with a wound, but so much of the time we tend to accrete protection over a wound and sort of stay away from a wound and avoid it and live as if it weren’t there.”
— Henry Shukman

“There’s another dimension, another aspect, another face of our experience of this very moment in which we are totally part of everything.”
— Henry Shukman

“In awakening, one thing vanishes, that sense of self, and another thing appears, which is what that sense of self was occluding.”
— Henry Shukman

“All space had disappeared. There was no distance anywhere. I felt like my nose was pressing against the end of time. My nose was touching the furthest reaches of the universe because it was all just here. It was one reality without space, without time.”
— Henry Shukman

“I knew that I had found the answer, but I hadn’t even been asking a question.”
— Henry Shukman

“I felt that I had found sort of the answer to life, which I hadn’t been looking for and wasn’t interested in. But now it was like I knew I could die and my life had been fulfilled.”
— Henry Shukman

[On his first experience with Zazen meditation] “It’s not like I had some marvelous enlightenment experience right then, but I did have a sense in that first sit that this was a way of contacting life.”
— Henry Shukman

“The first thing to say about koans is they are not riddles to be solved, and our mind wants to make them that.”
— Henry Shukman

“I suppose I still am a bit of a troubled soul, but I’m a happy one.”
— Henry Shukman

“It’s not like it’s ‘Awakening or bust.’ That’s a wrong mindset.”
— Henry Shukman

“In any level of any zone of practice, love is usually the thing, somehow or other, that triggers the transformation that opens up things.”
— Henry Shukman

“It’s like love to find that we’re part of everything. It’s like love to find that this nothing—no thing—is producing everything, generating everything, infinite generosity. That’s like love.”
— Henry Shukman

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


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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16 Replies to “Henry Shukman — Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation, Intro to Koans, and Using Wounds as the Doorway (#531)”

  1. Hi Tim! I’m thrilled to hear you talking about awakening. Last summer I had the silliest “awakening vs. psychosis” story. Basically, something very interesting happened spontaneously, I found a bunch of articles by Sam Harris, Rick Hanson, and other neuroscientists who talk about it, then tried to contact a neuroscientist for a brainscan. I ended up in the hospital with a computer full of articles, a paperback of “My stroke of insight”, then being told “spiritual” experiences don’t exist..

    I would love to hear to hear you speak with Dr. Daniel Ingram and/or Dr. Willoughby Britton, who are both do important work at the intersection of Awakening and “mental health”. The awakening of all sentient beings is an noble goal, but before that it’d be fantastic if we stop locking people up for realizing things and feeling to happy! Love ya bud, thanks for doing what you do.

  2. Tim, can you please get Dr. Thomas Sowell on the podcast? He would be an atypical personality in comparison to who you normally bring on which I think would lead to an incredibly interesting interview. Dr. Sowell is a fellow at the Hoover Institute and a true American treasure.

  3. Dear Tim, I’m grateful for all you do to make the world a better place. I don’t know where else to request an interview, so I’ll say Jane McClelland, author of “How to Starve Cancer ” is tops. She’s my hero, and I went from stage 4 adenocarcinoma to NED in seven months by her method. I made a YouTube video on my journey, and while I think self promotion stinks, I am wanting as many folks affected by Cancer to see it. All the best, Shamus [Moderator: YouTube link respectfully removed from comment to prevent video embed.]

  4. Tim thank you, I am another fan of your body of work it has had significant impact in my life. Looking forward to many more of your Podcasts.

    Guest Suggestion : Mark Epstein, MD Author of “Advise not Given: Guide to Getting over yourself” . He has a blend of Psychotherapy and Buddhist Zen mediation, which provides a different perspective to life and awakening.

  5. I really loved this one….so many things stuck out in my head. Looking forward to the second interview. So glad you are exploring these types of subjects. Thank you!

  6. Your title caught my attention and made me read and listen. Using Wounds as the Doorway is a concept that I connect with. When life knocks you a hard enough blow, you can hold onto that hurt let it make you someone or you can try to grow from it. Also the idea of a troubled but happy soul is inspiring.

  7. Haa thanks for poking around with the questions on psychedlics vs “zen awakening experiences”. Loved what Henry said about them resonating differently because of the fact that you know you have not taken an entheogen. Fascinating field. Life is awesome 🙂

  8. Thank you as always, Tim – just FYI, the correct characters are 無一物無尽蔵; literally (having) nothing, limitlessness/inexhaustible.

    If interested in zen, especially practical zen, stripped bare of complicated monk terms and tradition, I strongly recommend Inoue Gien Roshi’s line – not taught outside Japan, but very recently now translated in English and with English interpretation in Zoom sessions.

  9. Thank you for this discussion on the awakening and for all you do! Would you consider some of the topics below for the next Random Show with Kevin?

    I’ve heard awakening referred to as “ascension” – ascending from the frequency of fear to the frequency of love (see David Hawkins Maps of Consciousness). I once read that we will discover the soul/spirit somewhere around 2070….why not make that discovery sooner? (unfortunately I cannot find the source at this time).

    An interesting perspective from Magenta Pixie’s book Lessons From a Living Lemuria — Light Body Ascension Stages (DNA Reconstruction):
    Step 1 – Awakening to where your food is coming from (GMO’s, factory-farmed meat)
    Step 2 – Away from land animals to sea animals
    Step 3 – Fully plant-based / vegan – with intent and compassion – creates blue sapphire celluar structure
    Step 4 – Liquid Diet only
    Step 5 – Breatharian / Ambrosia / Nectar / Eating Light

    An interesting CIA study on the gateway experience (brain hemisphere synchronization) :
    [Moderator: link removed.]

    The Alphabiotics Alignment involves a process of unification of brain hemispheres and integration of higher levels of life force. Increases frequencies that activate the reptilian brain (fear / instinct) to the limbic system (emotions) eventually activating the neocortex (connection to universal love, cognition) : [Moderator: link removed.]

    A number of new regenerative technologies are becoming available :

    FSM – Frequency Specific Microcurrent – releases toxins from the cells – Your body uses very small amounts of current, in millionths of an ampere to increase cell wall permeability, stimulate the critical protein production and promote ATP. This helps to promote cellular healing and facilitates many metabolic processes. FSM has been shown to increase the production of cellular ATP by 500% and to be effective in the reduction of pain, to reduce inflammation by 62% in four minutes, and aid in wound healing.

    MyAct (Myofascial Acoustic Compression Therapy) PiezoWave – soundwaves increase blood flow and metabolic processes for cells at depths of between 20 mm and 100 mm.

    Healy is a quantum sensor that reads a person’s energy field and provides frequencies to rebalance that energy.

    Everything is energy video – [Moderator: link removed.]

    [Moderator: link removed.]

    Tesla Biohealing Med Bed. [Moderator: link removed.] – Below is an excerpt from the website:
    “Cancer cells have a very low electrical frequency (15-20 millivolts) compared to healthy cells (70-90 millivolts). Tesla Life Force brings those cancer cells up to normal energy levels, possibly accounting for the healing that many cancer patients have experienced after exposed to Tesla Life Force embedded products.”

    BIO MEDBED – Neutralizes damage on a cellular level through electron donation negative ion information age technology. Reducing Oxidative Stress by repairing your free radical damage statically. Assisting the human body in the form of accelerated repair and regeneration. Stay within 1” of the top mattress cover. Clinical studies and cited reports include increasing blood viscosity and massively reducing inflammation. The core technology of the Anti Oxidant Bed.
    [Moderator: link removed.]

    QRS PEMF – The Purewave Pulsed electromagnetic frequency systems QRS – Increases the vibration of our cells. [Moderator: link removed.]

    Magnesphere – Magnetic Resonance Therapy system with extremely low-level, natural magnetic fields. FDA-authorized claim of “Enhancing Feelings of Relaxation” helps reduce the symptoms associated with chronic stress – A network of chiropractors have said this is excellent for people with MS.

    Energetic Enhancement System – EEQube is a miniaturized 4 unit system, aligned for precise phase conjugation inside the cube creating coherence and nullification of detrimental field effects, with the monitors facing out for generation of the quantum photonic fields. The longitudinal scalar field effect is broadcast from this true standing columnar wave. The technology itself is more than scalar in that it also has the bio photonic (light), DNA patterns, and cellular communication algorithms that are broadcast via the monitors [Moderator: link removed.]

    Tachyon Chamber – Tachyons are faster than light particles, working at the sub-atomic level. They have a profound effect on the human body, energy field, emotions as well as the mental and spiritual makeup of a person. Tachyon works directly with your DNA to initiate, repair and upgrade the body’s template. Tachyon also works to assist in manifesting the life you want and amplifies your desires and intentions. It’s the Zero Point field of high vibration where neutral energies clear and accelerated frequencies are attainable.
    [Moderator: link removed.]

    Celestial Chamber – Capable of healing and repairing DNA along with curing all ailments, age regression (up to 30 years), no more cancer. [Moderator: link removed.]

    Biocharger – It is the world’s first software-based, solid state, mobile & cloud compatible, high voltage, multi-frequency, resonant transformer (modified Tesla coil) that wirelessly and simultaneously transmits pulsed waves of electromagnetic, electrodynamic, and photonic energy. [Moderator: link removed.]

    Harmonic Egg – Sound and light therapy operate under similar principals. Using frequencies and vibration emanating from music and light within a resonant chamber, energy therapies have been used since ancient times. These methods of treating afflictions of the body and spirit are part of Asian healing practices like acupuncture, yoga, and Qigong. All operate based upon the theory that illness is the result of blockages or imbalances in the body’s life energy. These healing techniques work to unblock or rebalance that life energy.
    [Moderator: link removed.]

    Anti-Aging Bed – Neutralizes damage on a cellular level through electron donation negative ion information age technology. Reducing Oxidative Stress by repairing your free radical damage statically. Assisting the human body in the form of accelerated repair and regeneration. [Moderator: link removed.]

    Paul B. is a medicine man hoping to include some of these technologies and set up a healing retreat / sanctuary / permaculture center in the Northwest U.S. and needs help with funding — if you know any conscious, heart-centered investors that may be interested.
    [Moderator: link removed.]

  10. Hi Tim, what a ride this podcast was!! Amongst so many treasures, for me the crown jewel was the briefest acknowledgment of purging for others / being purged by others. So glad you didn’t let Henry completely off the hook on that one 😊. I’ve had experiences that I suspected was me purging for others but it’s such a crazy idea I’ve never really spoken of it. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t just me trying to dissociate from doing my own work. Please please unpack this idea in a future episode, either with Henry Shukman 2.0 or whomever else you think best equipped for the task.

  11. Super interesting. Combining all of these practices definitely has changed my life for the better. The other thing I added recently was consuming Ormus [Moderator: link removed.]. It’s been an amazing addition to my mental and spiritual clarity and vision. Have you ever worked with it?

    Thanks, Tim!

    Josh Didge

  12. You guys were edging towards the overlap between Zen practice and psychedelics. There’s a great book called Zen and the Brain: Towards an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness by James H. Austin M.D. It is an 800 page book that covers lots of ground with religion, meditation, mystical experience, makyo, pschedelic experience, mental illness, lucid dreaming, and of course Zen and neurobiology. At time of publishing, James had over three decades of Zen practice experience and worked as a clinical neurologist and researcher.