Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Henry Shukman (@mountaincloudzencenter), the Guiding Teacher of Mountain Cloud Zen Center. Henry is an appointed teacher in the Sanbo Zen lineage. 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.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, this is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is Henry Shukman, S-H-U-K-M-A-N. You can find him on Instagram @mountaincloudzencenter. Henry 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 Samba Zen lineage, and is the guiding teacher of Mountain Cloud Zen Center. He was introduced to me by my very close friend, Kevin Rose. That is how this came to be. He has an MA from Cambridge and an MLitt from St Andrews and has written several award-winning books of poetry and fiction. His essays have been published in The New York Times, Outside, and Tricycle, and his poems have been published in the New Republic, Guardian, Sunday Times, that’s in the UK, and The London Review of Books.
Henry has taught meditation at Google, Harvard Business School, UBS, Esalen Institute, Colorado College, United World College, and many other venues. He’s written of his own journey in his latest book, One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir. And that book was gifted to me by the aforementioned Kevin Rose, affectionately known as Kev-Kev on this podcast very often. The website is mountaincloud.org. You can find both Henry and Mountain Cloud Zen Center on Instagram @mountaincloudzencenter, Facebook, facebook.com/mtncloudzen. And you can find Henry on LinkedIn, linkedin.com/in/henry-shukman, S-H-U-K-M-A-N. Henry, welcome to the show.
Henry Shukman: Well, thanks so much for having me. I’m really, truly honored and humbled to be with you.
Tim Ferriss: I’m excited to dig in. And as I mentioned before we started recording, I think we will run out of time before we run out of material, but we must start somewhere. So I wanted to start in perhaps an odd place. And that is to go into mythology for a moment, and specifically to talk about, if I’m getting the pronunciation right, Typhon, the mythological beast who lived under the volcano Etna. And I’ve read that at one point, you felt like this mythological beast, and I would love for you to explain why that is the case.
Henry Shukman: Okay, well that’s going right back to early years. Great place to start, actually. Basically, I had raging, severe eczema. That’s a skin affliction, many people might know of it and think of it as just a rash or something now and then, but it can be quite severe. And I had it chronically for, I guess, more or less the first, it’s hard to say, two to three decades of my life starting from the age of six months. And when I was a kid, I was often in hospital for stretches and stuff, it was at that sort of level. And Typhon, I remember hearing about him in class at school. It’s Greek mythology. Lived under Mount Etna, the volcano. And he kind of could survive the sulfurous, raging heat down there. And I lived quite a lot of my early life in a kind of sulfurous, raging heat that came out through my skin. And I don’t want to overdramatize it, but from living it from the inside, it was very difficult.
It was kind of like being slowly on fire or something. Eczema is, when it’s bad, it itches to an unimaginable degree. It’s really quite debilitating. And the doctors in the UK, in the 1970s when I was growing up, they didn’t really have a lot of great set of tools.
They had one tool that was really effective, which was heavy steroids, but they didn’t like to use them. The thing that really made the big difference for me was actually meditation. I took it up in my early, mid-20s and it made a dramatic difference quite quickly. It wasn’t that I was over it forever, but things really shifted once I started meditating. And I’m not suggesting that all eczema sufferers will find the same thing, because it is a complicated, multifaceted affliction and there aren’t clear cut factors actually. It really is rather tricky, I think, for a lot of people to handle it. But for me, that piece of essentially getting a method for calming the nervous system, which I had not realized needed calming by the way.
The thing is, again, if you grow up with this kind of thing, I think anybody with a chronic ailment of some kind knows what this is like. I mean, I suppose it depends when you first get it, but especially for kids, you just think this is normal. You don’t know that there’s something dysfunctional going on. It’s just, this is how the world is. So when in my case, I started to actually taste a different kind of a way of being alive, it was a really big deal. It was wondrous to me.
Tim Ferriss: I was just going to hop in to also paint a picture for folks, because you had this itching, weeping, bleeding and so forth, and the severity of it is remarkable. And what I’ve read it, at least, that is, having a district nurse coming to you daily, laying you on a towel, bathing you in antiseptic solution, wrapping you in coal tar bandages, and so on. I mean, this was a nontrivial condition. And when you say that you weren’t even aware that the nervous system needed calming, do you think the eczema was in response to something that was psychosomatic? And not in a way that diminishes it, but literally psychosomatic response to something that you can identify. Do you have any thoughts on what generated that experience?
Henry Shukman: Well, yes I do actually. I mean, of course in a certain sense, this is kind of private, personal mythology of another kind. But what I know happened was that when I was six months old, my parents were living for a semester in Helsinki. And actually, both my parents were professors, both in Russian studies and they had — my dad actually, I think, had a fellowship in Helsinki University for a semester. And we all went over there. There was my older brother and myself, just six months old, Mum, and Dad. And this may sound a little fanciful, but it’s actually real and true because this was actually back in the 1960s when the Cold War was really hot, it was really happening. And at that time, basically anybody who could speak Russian in Britain was likely to be in some way or other approached and used by the intelligence community.
And that was true of my mum and my dad. They were both recruited early on actually, while they were studying Russian still, to MI5 or MI6. And they didn’t do anything massively sort of — it wasn’t kind of James Bond stuff. It was just like, “Could you tell us about this scientist who’s just been sent to the gulag?” Or “Can you read this report?” And occasionally they’d get involved in little minor operations or whatever. This all came to light much later, by the way, after the 50 years of the Official Secrets Act expired, when a lot came to light about things that have been going on in the world of espionage in the UK with the Soviet Union. But anyway, while they were in Helsinki, my dad was sort of requested that he would go to Leningrad, which is just not so far away across the Gulf of Finland.
And my mum actually, I don’t know the exact circumstances, but for whatever reason, she went too, and that was how she weaned me. So she left this baby that had been seemingly well, went to Russia for whatever they were doing there, came back a week later, or 10 days later, or five days later — I’ve heard different versions of the story — and when they got back, I was covered in eczema. And so I imagine that I went through something pretty difficult while my mother was suddenly gone. And at the same time, was weaned off the breast and put on formula, and by probably somebody I didn’t know. And it must have been very, very difficult for me. I think in some way that, if I can call it trauma, which I guess I can, that trauma has been very, very important for my whole life, actually. And even for the path to and beyond awakening. I’m very interested these days in how trauma and awakening relate to each other.
I think I’m not the only one; people are starting to look into that. 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. So unpicking the defenses and actually finding some kind of way, usually it needs support, actually, some sort of supported way to go into our wounds, and what we find there in the place that we’re most terrified of can be just, of course, pain, but also great, great love. Honestly, in certain ways, I’m jumping crazily ahead, Tim, in terms of a trajectory. But to me there’s something just amazing at how deep, deep wound and deep, deep awakening, they’ve got things in common that I find mind blowing and really, really beautiful.
And I think there’s a blessing in going into our wounds. And maybe to a lot of people this sounds crazy, but I really think often the thing that we fear most, the thing that seems most what we don’t want, can turn out to be the great opening for us.
Tim Ferriss: What type of meditation did you start with? What was your first entree to meditation which helped you to calm your nervous system and begin to resolve the eczema?
Henry Shukman: That was TM, Transcendental Meditation. In the sort of late ’80s by then in London, that was the most sort of conspicuous game in town, if you wanted to meditate. And they still had this kind of cache in England because the Beatles had done it. They went out to Rishikesh or whatever it was and hung out with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. And so, there was this sort of endorsement that somehow TM wasn’t sort of too weird. It was kind of weird, but not so weird. And actually, their tagline was, “Life tool for the busy.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s great. I’ve never heard that.
Henry Shukman: So they undercut any worry that you might be sort of checking out from life and going into some weird cult. This was going to help your career.
Tim Ferriss: That’s how all the best cults get ya.
Henry Shukman: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Also, I still practice TM at points, so I’m not casting aspersions, I’m mostly just poking fun. Let me come back to a term you used, because I want to keep track of definitions for people who are new to all of what we’re talking about, and I’m going to be new to a lot of what we’re talking about. You mentioned the term “awakening.” What does that mean here? How should we define it for people listening?
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Well, okay. I could give a really dry definition, or I could give an account, or I could do both.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s do both. In whichever order you like.
Henry Shukman: Okay, let’s do dry, first. I think this will be quite short. The sort of working definition, for me, and I think many others in this field, would be: to awaken is to see that the sense of self, the me that I’ve taken myself to be for as long as I can remember, has been a kind of genie. It’s been a kind of mirage that constructed itself and then believed in itself. Now, this is not in any way to sort of diminish the — I want to get to this later. Really, the whole world of sort of healing the self is dear to my heart and very, very important. And I don’t go along with people who just sort of trash the self, say, “Forget it, self is just a delusion.” You hear that in spiritual circles, “Self is just a delusion,” and it may sound like I’m saying that right now.
In one level, it is. And in another level, we must take it seriously. That’s how I take it. So to awaken is actually to see that the sense of self, the sense of “me,” has not been what I’ve taken it to be all along. Instead, it can actually be seen through so that we realize it’s never been here the way we’ve thought from the start. It’s never really been here quite the way we took it to be. That’s one side of awakening. The other crucial component here is that when that happens, when we see through the sense of “me” as a separate being, or “The rest of the world is out there; I’m in here,” when that is gone, we discover that we belong in an utterly wonderful way to and with everything. We find that there is actually another level of our experience and it’s right here now.
It’s not some weird other state we go to; it’s actually right intrinsic to our ordinary experience. It’s just that we don’t see it. We rarely see it. Most of us seldom see it, but it’s actually never hidden. It’s just that we’re totally conditioned away from seeing it. It sounds very weird, and it is very unusual in the sense we don’t normally experience things like this, but it’s actually present right now and always. There’s another dimension, another aspect, another face of our experience of this very moment in which we are totally part of everything. And so that’s the flip side. So, in awakening, one thing vanishes, that sense of self, and another thing appears, which is what that sense of self was occluding in some sense, which is that there’s this unbelievable wondrous participation that we have. We are part of everything. Even to say we’re part of everything is not quite getting it. We discover in a moment of awakening, we are all. Is that enough for now? Do you want to respond to that?
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’d like to encourage you to perhaps illustrate it with a story. And the question perhaps that I could ask in the meanwhile is, is it fair to say that the experience of awakening or waking up, of course you’ve done quite a lot with Sam Harris on the Waking Up app with Sam, who is also a close friend, and is this experience of awakening a repeatable or repeated phenomena? In other words, you hear the term, which I have never really gravitated towards, “enlightenment” gets used in different spiritual traditions or different practices. And it seems kind of like a zero to one, one time event, and lickety split, there you are. Even though you still have to carry water and file your taxes and so on, typically. But is this experience of awakening something that, in practice, recurs with some regularity, in your practice?
Henry Shukman: Here’s a metaphor that a great 20th century Zen master called Yamada Koun used. He said: “It’s like this. Imagine that we’ve been living in a room made of opaque glass. In a moment of awakening, a hole is suddenly poked or drilled or smashed through part of one of the walls of the room, and we see kind of a bright world outside the box of glass, of opaque glass, dark glass that we’ve been living in. Suddenly we see, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a world out there that’s really so different.'” So that’s one instance of awakening. So that would be one way that awakening can be defined, is a sudden moment of revelation. Can I tell a little story now that would just be appropriate to what that’s like?
Tim Ferriss: You’re very British, my friend. Yes. It would be entirely appropriate. Please continue. I love it, I love it. I wish I had your accent. My God, it would give me a bonus 20 IQ points. I would love that. But please, please continue. Yes, this would be a great time, perfect time for a story.
Henry Shukman: We’ve got two hours here, so the IQ level will tank, I’m sure, as we go. Here’s a story. When I was 19, I’d actually gone away from the UK to work abroad during my gap year after school. I went to Argentina and then I backpacked through Bolivia with a friend, and while I was doing that, I wrote my first book actually. And then in Peru. And toward the end of the journey, having written this book and 19, I’d always wanted to be a writer, a poet. And I was just, I was so happy. I’d actually finished this whole book, and I’d worked and earned some money and seen the world. And I’d been in a totally different universe from the rainy, academic, library-riddled world I’d grown up in. Books and rain, basically that was Oxford. It was very beautiful. Books and rain and old, stone walls. I mean, it was marvelous and poetic and lovely and all the rest of it. To go to Bolivia, 13,000-foot plateau with people living just utterly different kinds of lives, just so different.
And to be able to travel, this was, again, back in the ’80s, traveling in the backs of trucks everywhere, just trundling through this immense landscape and the ultra clear air and sky, and with my best friend who was a photographer and I’m writing and he’s taking photographs and we’re going to make a book together. And actually we did, a few years later, it came out. And it was the opposite of the life I had known, so constricted. And on that journey actually, before going, I’d managed to persuade my doctor to actually give me a tube of steroid cream, because I didn’t want to be 5,000 miles away with a raging eczema flare up. He gave me that and I hardly ever used it. Somehow in the new climate, in the totally different dietary system, whatever, I don’t know what, and this feeling of being free and out from under a heavy cloud and not having realized I’d been living under such a heavy cloud all those years, somehow that was the first taste actually for me that eczema might clear up.
So I’m just painting the picture a little bit. Eczema gone, my skin was normal. Can you imagine, after all those years, to see that I had this beautiful, brownish, sort of part Jewish, Sephardic a bit, brown, beautiful skin, smooth and not a blemish on it, and not an itch, not a hurt. It was amazing to be healed like that. And I was writing this book. And there was a certain point towards the end of the trip where I holed up in a little hostel, in a room, 50 cents a night or something. And just drank Coca-Cola, pints of coffee, smoked Winston cigarettes, and wrote about 80 pages of this book.
Tim Ferriss: What was the book about?
Henry Shukman: Well, it was about this journey, this very journey, and it was called Sons of The Moon. And it was very exciting, it got published in London and New York. I was still pretty young, and it was very thrilling. But anyway, having done the book, having healed the skin, towards the end of the trip I was alone on a beach on the Pacific Ocean late one afternoon, and the beach was deserted and I was just watching this desert coast up there — I was going to say featureless; that’s not quite right, but just kind of bare, barren, stark coastline.
And there’s the sun getting close to the horizon, nobody around, a little boat anchored offshore, and I’m just gazing at the path of light that the sun was laying on the water. It was probably only a hands’ width above the horizon or something like that. That beautiful, scintillating path of light that leads out to the horizon that you get on the ocean. And I noticed that this boat had disappeared, I knew it was there, but it disappeared. And then suddenly I saw it. It was just a silhouette inside the path of light. And it was there as a sort of black silhouette, and then it disappeared again in the sparkling light. And it just struck me as extraordinarily beautiful. I don’t know why, but that image of a boat being there and then not being there and being there again, kind of like a stain on the retina when you’ve looked at a bright light, that was what it was like to me, in reverse.
It came, it went, it came, it went, and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. I don’t know what more to say than that. But as this sense of its great beauty sort of welled up in me and filled my heart actually, with a great sense of love, suddenly something utterly unprecedented for me, unexpected, unknown, weird, happened to me, which was that the scene I was looking at wasn’t outside me, and I wasn’t outside it. We became one. It’s a glib way to put it, actually. When I say it now, “We became one,” it doesn’t convey what it was really like. It was utter beauty. It was like being swallowed up by beauty and coming home, coming home in a way that I didn’t know I hadn’t been home, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I’ll just finish the experience.
It was like becoming part of the world instead of being an isolated entity stalking the earth, upright on the earth, separate from it, moving through it as like a sort of bubble almost, like it’s got this membrane around it called skin. And that skin separates the entity from the world. Instead, it’s like the skin was gone, the separation was gone. There was just one reality, one kind of dream, one kind of movie. And that’s what I was. It was like finding I belonged to a degree that was inconceivable, because I didn’t just belong, I was actually part of the very sort of fabric of everything. That’s what happened. And in the midst of that — I don’t know if I’m going too fast, too deep, too weird, but I’ll just carry on.
Tim Ferriss: That should be the tagline of my podcast. Please continue.
Henry Shukman: Basically, in the midst of it, there was a sort of moment also where it was mind blowing, because 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, it was just utterly mind blowing. And so, that — okay, so here’s — I’m describing a moment of awakening. So how long did it last? I don’t really know, but not very long. Somewhere between five seconds and five minutes, I’m guessing. Then there was kind of like knowing I was a human being on a beach again, taking a step, and how extraordinary it was just to take a step.
How marvelous to be able to do such a thing as sort of be a body and take a step. Everything seemed sort of new. It was like a new world, and it was so, so beautiful. My heart was just, it felt like a flame was burning in my heart. I know it sounds a little bit like the old eczema trouble, but actually it was a beautiful, beautiful thing, it was a flame of love burning in my heart. I knew that I had found the answer, but I hadn’t even been asking a question. It was like, I’d had no interest at all in spirituality, definitely not religion, I was very atheist, or just totally atheist. I was — I kind of still am actually, but that’s another matter. I had no interest in whatever that experience might have been. It wasn’t in my worldview, at all. And I think, because I had no preconceptions, at all, about whatever that kind of experience might’ve been, none at all, I was able to just go with it like a complete ingenue, totally naive. I just was, “What’s this? Whoa,” and, “What’s this?” As it sort of got deeper and weirder. I just went with it and it was so beautiful that I sort of trusted it. And then, kind of in a sense, I was back in a known world, but it was also so different because it was just so, so, so beautiful.
And it was like everything was featherlight and paper thin, as one of my teachers likes to say. I weighed nothing. I was sort of see-through and the world was see-through. I mean, it existed, it would look like it normally did, but it had become weightless and so beautiful. So that was a moment of awakening, but the real moment itself was only short, but there’s long, long afterglow that lasted weeks. And my heart was so alive and as I sort of walking through streets of town, seeing kids on the street, I just wanted to help wherever I could. And I felt human suffering in a new way, a different way. Like I said, 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. It wouldn’t matter what else happened to me.
Tim Ferriss: So if I could pause for a moment, I have a number of questions. And I’m going to act as a stand-in for some of the audience here with one. Were you entirely sober for that experience or was it enhanced in any way?
Henry Shukman: Stone-cold sober. I’ve never had anything stronger than sort of a beer, virtually.
Tim Ferriss: You have not?
Henry Shukman: Then I hadn’t.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. All right. I have some follow-up questions.
Henry Shukman: A few years later, I dropped acid and it was meaningless. It was so shallow compared to —
Tim Ferriss: To what you’d experienced?
Henry Shukman: It didn’t even come close to what I was — yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Interesting. All right. We’ll have more follow-ups on that theme. But the next question is, in retrospect, now, as someone who studies, I suppose, the phenomenon of this experience of awakening, this type of awakening, what do you think were the ingredients in that encapsulated period of time that led to that spontaneous actualization or realization of feeling as you did?
Henry Shukman: I’ve wondered that myself at times. I could say one thing, the most immediate, probably, was the fact that I was really closely studying what I was looking at and asking questions.
Tim Ferriss: As a writer, you mean?
Henry Shukman: Yeah, but I mean, I had been doing that as a writer, exactly. But actually in the very moment, I was staring at this phenomenon of the very bright light on the water. This boat sort of appearing and disappearing in the light. I was asking myself, I know the physics of this, basically. There’s water, which is transparent. There’s air, which is transparent. There’s the surface where these two things are meeting. And there’s light landing on that surface. That’s what’s going on. “Why does it look the way it looks?” was kind of my question. Because the surface, I noticed that it was so dazzlingly bright, but it was really composed of these bright scales that were shifting over the surface and where a scale was, it was super bright. But when the scale slid off, it was actually super dark. So it was this mix of black and white.
And I was just looking at it very closely. And I think one ingredient was scrutiny. I was really studying what I was looking at. And this was, as you mentioned, it was on the back of several months of considering, to the best of my ability, deeply, what I was seeing as I’d been traveling. And also when working, because it was also a novel, so that was another factor. I suspect also, this is maybe a little bit weirder, but the eczema, years of eczema, of having to somehow sit with, or lie with, or be with, quite intense discomfort that wasn’t going to go away, I suspected it had done something to my consciousness as a kind of training of some kind.
I mean, it wasn’t one I’d wish on anybody and I certainly didn’t appreciate it for this. But I think it probably had somehow taught me very, very unwillingly, some kind of tolerance. And I suspect that I could only find that tolerance when I sort of shifted gear in my mind, in some way. There were certain times when that was quite vivid. There were times where the eczema, especially sort of lying in bed itching at night, when I would really go into a different state of mind that was very alert, very present, very attentive, and blissful, and peaceful. And I’d feel like I was in a kind of cocoon and I could have stayed there forever.
Tim Ferriss: Was there something you did consciously, or is there a method to achieving that state, or did it just manifest itself unexpectedly?
Henry Shukman: Unfortunately, it was the latter. I wished I could. I remember wanting to learn how to make it happen and I didn’t know how to make it happen. It would just randomly happen. I kind of learned how to let it prolong itself, which was, I found there was a way of being with it, without holding onto it, if I could put it like that. I noticed that if I wanted it to stay, it would go away, but I could just be with it and not wish it would stay, and it would stay. That was the only level of proficiency, so to speak, I got with it, but I couldn’t make it happen.
I started getting interested in this form of practice called jhana practice. This is really getting into the weeds, so I won’t take long in it. Some people might’ve heard of this, many probably won’t. It’s a particular form of practice from early Buddhism known as dhyana or jhana, and actually —
Tim Ferriss: How do you spell that?
Henry Shukman: J-H-A-N-A, that’s the Pali. And dhyana in Sanskrit is D-H-Y-A-N-A. And actually that is the word that became Chana in Chinese or Chan, which then became Zen in Japanese. So Zen is connected in some way to this kind of practice. But the jhana practice, man, it’s this regarded as quite esoteric, and sort of tricky, difficult, sort of advanced practice. The first time I got trained to do it — there’s eight different states by the way. I just went into the first one fairly easily. I couldn’t believe it. It was exactly that state I’d been in as a kid. I don’t know how this actually all fits together, but I had been doing something in the midst of eczema that had some kind of correlation very vaguely or in a sort of abstruse connection with meditation. I had, somehow.
And I don’t know whether, could it be that that in some way precipitated that experience? I don’t know. I don’t really know. Could it be that years of living with great discomfort and somehow having to find ways to just endure it or not, and just sort of be tormented by it? Could that have been some kind of preparation or was it simply that having lived like that a long time and suddenly being well? It was sort of mind blowing to be well, and in this moment of solitude in the midst of the sort of mighty forces of the ocean, the sun, the sky, the sand, and alone.
I remember actually before it happened, I thought I could be any man in any century, because all there was was the sea, this boat. There was a kind of timeless type of boat shape. It wasn’t some modern speed boat, or cruiser; I think it was just a simple boat. Could have been the year 1200. And I had a pair of shorts on. I could have been any century, any person. And perhaps, in that moment, there was a bit of a loss of identity that paved the way maybe.
Tim Ferriss: What happened after that in the, let’s say the subsequent 12 months. Was there anything notable that happened after that?
Henry Shukman: Oh, my God. Yeah, totally. Totally. Because about, I had a sort of blessed few weeks, transfigured world after it. And then I went home. My parents had split up when I was young and I’d had a very sort of difficult relationship with my dad, feeling very sort of abandoned and just heartbroken at his leaving. Then there was a difficult remarriage. It was a very complicated, emotional, domestic arrangement that we all had to live in from when I was about seven onwards. And it had never been resolved. It had never really been spoken about. It was this awful, English middle-class sort of reticence to talk about feelings, and that we were all seized by, possessed by. And as kids, my brother, and sister, and I, we were caught in this very difficult parental tangle.
But somehow, the absence of speaking about it led to any sort of understanding that this was a difficult situation. Again, it’s the sort of kid thing where I don’t know that this isn’t normal. This is the way the world is; I’ve got to learn to live with it; it’s me that’s at fault if I don’t like it kind of thing that I think many children, I assume, would feel that way. So I have had this awakening, I’m wide open. My heart is just so full of love and of wonder, and I come home and I walked through the door of my dad’s house. Within half an hour, I had a kind of breakdown.
I felt overwhelmed by the unhappiness of my childhood in a way that I’d never actually felt it during my childhood. I’d had defenses against it. And when I came home, I had no defenses, I was wide open. All the unhappiness that I actually experienced during it just kind of tumbled on top of me. And I kind of collapsed. I went into a very sort of closed down and miserable state of mind, actually for several years. I kind of got through it. I somehow sort of limped along, very unhappily, with the help of alcohol and not very good hash and —
Tim Ferriss: Not even good hash. Junior varsity hash, on top of it all. Books, and rain, and bad hash.
Henry Shukman: Exactly. And some good friends. Although even my friendships have been sort of — I mean, they’re very good friends, but somehow I was so broken that I couldn’t even really connect with my old friends. It was a miserable time. It was Transcendental Meditation that helped me out of all of it. I’m not sure whether that’s enough on that misery?
Tim Ferriss: I’m a somewhat connoisseur of depressive episodes, and anxiety, and so forth. But let me ask you on that topic. How often would you say do, what you would consider awakenings, overlap with what others might call a psychotic episode? Or are they easily distinguished? Or would a psychiatrist with a DSM desk reference categorize it as a psychotic episode? And part of the reason I ask is that I’ve seen people in multiple practices, sometimes breathwork, could be Kundalini, it could be any number of things, extended, silent retreats, extended fasts. I’ve seen people have what some or what they might consider breakthroughs. I’ve observed people, certainly you see this with psychedelics as well, who’ve had what many would consider breakdowns and to become untethered for some period of time. How do you think about distinguishing those, if you do?
Henry Shukman: First of all, I’m not well-versed in Kundalini. And I know that there are powerful experiences that happen in that. I’ve seen somebody go through something like that during a retreat I was part of. And it was much more about energy and not so much about discovery. I would want to be quite careful in our taxonomy and not just put them all under one heading: awakening experiences. There are different kinds of breakthrough experiences. Actually, there are different kinds of awakening experiences even within Zen. But fundamentally, I don’t think they overlap. The way that it could be highly problematic and even, in a sense, could get muddled up with psychosis, is really more if the context isn’t a very supportive one.
But the fundamental thing discovered in real awakening is that we’re part of everything, and that’s a blessed, most blessed thing to discover. And yeah, it can be very destabilizing. For me, it wasn’t destabilizing. What happened was I went home and had to face the trauma I’d never faced, because I was now open enough to. In the hands, if I’d had a great therapist at the time, it would have been a golden opportunity because I was open at last. My defenses were gone. I don’t actually think that the misery that followed was because of the awakening. I think it was because I had all this unprocessed misery that I had never known how to let myself feel. And suddenly, in that context, I had no choice but to feel it.
And actually in a way, it took years, but I’ve come to see that that experience of the breakdown, so to speak, was as important, in its way, as the awakening. Because my whole thing now is, it’s a path of awakening and healing, both. And I think one of the hazards of the modern Western embrace of Eastern spirituality — which has been fantastic. I mean, how amazing that we’re even sitting here having a conversation about something called awakening, and we kind of have enough common ground to have a sense of what that might be? That it’s in the zeitgeist, now? It’s just —
Tim Ferriss: You’re giving me a lot of credit, but please continue.
Henry Shukman: One of the hazards have been that there’s been this sort of overenthusiasm about enlightenment and awakening that can leave behind the healing side that has to go on as well. And on the other hand, we’ve had all this deep Freudian therapy and all kinds of therapy now. It’s fantastic that we do. But it doesn’t really know about awakening and often it’s very suspicious of it. Thinks Freud thought it was sort of oceanic and infantile regression. Many therapists, when they write about enlightenment and awakening, they try to bring it into their worldview and it doesn’t fit in their worldview because it’s a totally different register of experience.
So my whole thing now is like, let’s get clear. There are these different dimensions of experience that human beings can go through and they’re not all on the same sort of level. They’re all in our heart. They’re all sort of what we’re capable of, what we can experience, but they sort of shouldn’t tread on each other’s toes is kind of how I feel about it now. For example, deep, profound, nondual awakening is a fantastic thing. Somatic release of trauma through deep somatic therapy, that’s a fantastic thing. Working with, I don’t know too much about it, but I’ve done — actually we can get onto it. I’ve done ayahuasca, which — so I’ve got a little bit of a sense of plant medicine for healing. That’s fantastic. And there’s different levels of experience, so there’s different levels of healing.
I would say awakening is a kind of most profound healing, but it’s not on the same level as the trauma that I needed to heal from my childhood. It was a more universal kind of discovery of what a human being is, any human being. What human consciousness is, what human awareness is. It was a discovery about that, about what this life is. That it’s not really on the same level as the psychological healing I also needed. It happened to open that up. And it took me a few years to find ways to do the healing or begin the long healing that was needed on that level. But on the level of awakening, I was still somehow fully healed in the awakening experience. This is one of the weird things about it is that — God, I’m still worried that I’m going off the deep end too soon.
Tim Ferriss: Well, deep end. We’re just getting warmed up. We’re still in the kiddie pool. We’re going to go to some very strange places. So before we do, I want to mention a few things and to maybe provide a bit of a teaser for folks also. So there are certain terms that I still have an aversion to rightly or wrongly, like “enlightenment.” Awakening, I can get on board with for a number of reasons. So we won’t dwell on that right now, but I do find that it could be helpful to add a bit of color in a few areas for folks who are listening. And hopefully I’m not stealing thunder here. I just want to mention a few things. And then if I could ask one very crass question, which is a total non-sequitur, but I have to ask because I’m too curious and I have to scratch that itch.
So the first thing I want to mention to folks is that, and we can certainly talk more about this, but part of the reason that your teaching and lineage appeals to me, and I’ve spoken to Kevin about this, is because awakening does not equal checking out. You’re not requiring the people join a monastic order of ascetics and give up all engagement with the world. And we’ll probably come back to this, one of your, if not your primary teacher, we can talk about this, but Yamada Roshi is CEO of a company with 2,000 employees, wrote the biggest check in its history, or maybe we can get more context there, while leading Mitsubishi Securities.
And so for people who don’t know, Mitsubishi is like one of the keiretsu, like one of the gigantic, monster conglomerates in Japan. It’s hard to overstate how big a deal that is. He also continues his own Zen training and trains around 75 Zen teachers worldwide. So you can be of this world while still developing these tools or utilizing these tools in the toolkit. I just wanted to underscore that, just so it doesn’t seem as though we’re kind of frolicking in a bath of esoteric sciences that don’t apply to people who still want to engage with the world.
I also want to paint a picture, because there’s no way we’re going to get to it all, but I want to paint a picture of your bizarre and incredible life story. I just want to give a couple of samples. So as a young man, you worked as a professional trombonist playing in calypso and salsa bands, all over the place. Hitchhiked across the Sahara as a young man. And I don’t think we’re going to get to the Egyptian doctor. I wanted to ask you about that, but we might not have time.
This is the part where I have a crass question. And I think it might be because I don’t speak the Queen’s English, but you roamed the countryside as a young teen, sleeping out, and were mentored by an old school tramp. That is the term I’m very interested in. Trying to live like an ancient Chinese Chan poet. There are a lot of loose ends here. But I found “old school tramp” to be very intriguing. Could you just explain that portion of everything I just threw out there, please?
Henry Shukman: Oh, my God. Well, the term “tramp” in the UK, it used to refer to these guys who just wandered the highways and byways.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Got it. It wasn’t some out-of-work geisha. Okay. Got it.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Exactly. These days, they talk about the tramp stamp. I don’t know if you know the tattoo. Do you know that term?
Tim Ferriss: Yes. I’m familiar with tramp stamp. I don’t know much about enlightenment, but I do know the term tramp stamp. Shows you where we’re going to have to meet in the middle.
Henry Shukman: So yeah, I had this friend. I mean, he would come to our valley every summer and put up in this ruined mill. And he kind of mentored me and a couple of friends of mine, how to live on the land, when we were 14, 15. We got into that. We were would-be young poets and we knew these — there’s Chinese poets, we were into them. They were seventh, eighth century Wu Weiye, Du Fu, Li Po. Great, great poets who did a lot of wandering, at least we got that impression. They would wander around the gorges and write poems and drink rice wine. And they were actually a great inspiration for the Beats as well. Kerouac and Ginsburg, and so on, Gary Snyder. They got into these poets, they got into Zen. Because those poets used to do Zen as well. They would meditate, they would go to monasteries, go to hermitages.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Salinger, Allen Ginsburg.
Henry Shukman: Right, right. Salinger used a koan in one of his books as an epigraph.
Tim Ferriss: Let me zoom out for a minute. And I want to hear the story of how you got to Zen. And you noted, for instance, that at one point TM was all the rage, the sort of hippest game in town. What was it? “Life tool for busy people?” They had a great sort of celebrity outreach program. They had the Beatles. Even today, of course, they’ve got Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman. They’ve many, many celebrities who practice TM. And there was a period of time where that was all the rage. And then you have sort of this Yogananda period. Steve Jobs, et cetera. Was Zen just sort of the zeitgeist for a period of time and you became engaged while it was sort of in the slipstream of the zeitgeist? I’d like to hear that story. And in the process of telling that story, I would love for you to, best you can, define what characterizes the practice of Zen Buddhism, because I have found it very confusing. And part of me thinks that’s kind of the point and I’ll give you an example.
I was at a retreat at Spirit Rock in Northern California. This is many years ago. And I heard a story from one of the teachers and she described how she was having a lot of trouble figuring out certain aspects of Zen Buddhism. And at one point she was having breakfast with her teacher and they were eating in silence. And then suddenly he shouted, “You know it’s not logical, okay?” It was a teaching moment for her and she took a lot from that. And when I sort of think of koans and these various things, it seems like almost the point is to bludgeon your rational mind into submission so that you can experience reality past the constructs of concepts, and labels, and so on. But that’s my best guess. Honestly, I don’t know what Zen Buddhism or Zen practice is. So that is a huge mouthful. I just kind of foie gras-ed a lot of word salad into the microphone. But the story of how you found Zen and then what in fact Zen is, would be very helpful.
Henry Shukman: The story of how I found Zen is I was doing another book that my publisher commissioned me to write. It was about New Mexico. It’s about the English writer D.H. Lawrence in New Mexico and I was 28 at the time. While I was out here, I made friends with a dear friend of mine, Natalie Goldberg, who’s a writer who writes — a sort of Zen-based writer.
Tim Ferriss: Writing Down the Bones?
Henry Shukman: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a great book. Yeah, great book.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. And Natalie and I, we hit it off. Actually, she rented me a room in her house in Santa Fe and it was a great entree to living out here that she offered me. But along the way, one evening she was reading me a bit of this great famous Zen writer, teacher, poet, Dogen from 13th century Japan. She was reading a bit of Dogen; I didn’t understand a word of it. It was just kind of weird nonsense about mountains walking. And I just sort of didn’t even want to think about it. I couldn’t understand it, wasn’t interested, and conversation moved on, and I found myself thinking about it. And the next day I was still thinking about it. And the day after, I was still thinking about it. And then I remember vividly, I was washing a mug up at the sink in her kitchen and I suddenly got this thought: maybe Dogen was speaking from what I had experienced on that beach years ago, nine years earlier.
And I got to say, ever since that beach moment had happened, one of the things that made me so miserable, one of the ways I made myself very miserable, was by thinking, “But oh, my God, I discovered this freedom, this beauty, this wonder, this love, this total fulfillment and look at me now, depressed, and miserable, and anxious, and eczema has come back actually, by the way. Why haven’t I managed to keep hold of that incredible discovery? Why haven’t I managed to live from it? Why haven’t I taken a step to sort of somehow revisiting it, whatever the hell it had been?”
And so, by now, by this point, I’d been doing my TM for four or five years, absolutely religiously every day, twice a day. It was my lifeline and it had really been helping. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that the meditation thing I was doing with them could have anything to do with that moment on the beach. It just hadn’t occurred to me, but suddenly I hear this bit of Dogen that makes no sense, but somehow, it came to me from the perspective of that moment, it would make sense. I can’t exactly explain how I knew it. I just knew it. And I said to Natalie, “What’s this Zen all about. I want to know more.” And she said, “Well, you don’t really know about Zen. You just do it.” And I said, “Well, I want to do it.”
There and then she phoned up a friend of hers who was a Zen practitioner in town. And the next day I went and met with him and he taught me how to do Zazen, or Zen meditation, which was beautifully simple. We sat, and there’s this beautiful little Zendo that’s still here in Santa Fe. Beautiful little Zendo. Sitting on a black cushion, on a black mat, facing the wall, and all you do is breathe. Maybe in a way, that’s part of the challenge. There’s not a lot to it. With TM, you had this mantra that you use, and it’s a lifeline through the practice. And you kind of know, you’ve got some sense of this mantra’s doing you some good, kind of thing. But with Zen, you just sit there in a posture that is a little bit more prescribed and sort of set up, but actually it’s very — the posture has got a beautiful intrinsic, peaceful, liveliness in it, that I felt the first time this guy set me up in it. I felt, huh. This feels weirdly good. Somehow an aliveness, a different quality of awareness just switched on. And I felt like I was right in that room in a more vivid way than normal. And then all I had to do was watch the breath and count it in sets of 10. So simple. And 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. This was a way of being alive that brought you in intimate contact with being alive. And that wasn’t something I’d ever felt in TM. I’d felt many other marvelous things, but not — this is a sort of, if you want to know what life is, this can help you. That was the feeling I got from Zen. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Can you remind me of how long that first session was?
Henry Shukman: It wasn’t long. It might have been 15 or 20 minutes. I can’t remember, but it was enough.
Tim Ferriss: What characterized it, that led you to feel the way you did about it? Why did you feel that way?
Henry Shukman: I think there may be something in the posture. I think there may have been something in the way this guy taught it to me. He was a very experienced practitioner. It could be, honestly, the fact that I’d done four years or five years of meditation by then. So I was a little more open and ripe for another practice than I might otherwise have been. I think there was probably something of a set up from what had happened this piece of Dogen that I’d been fascinated by. Because that had reawakened my curiosity about the beach. That beach experience — what the hell happened there? Might this be a way to revisit that? Might that even be a way, not just to revisit it, but to go through it and beyond it, might there be a land, a world, a life beyond that experience?
So it wasn’t just the flash in the pan and it sort of closes and you’re done with it. And you have to sort of limp along in your ordinary life. May I just pivot to the koan question? Because actually it was a little bit later that I found my first Zen teacher that I really connected with.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please. I have a lot of questions about koans. So please segue as you like.
Henry Shukman: I’ll start out and we’ll see where I get to, and then I’m dying to hear your questions. Because basically you’re on track a bit with the way you described them, but I can elaborate maybe a little bit more. So I got lucky. I did my first Zen retreat sometime a couple of years, I think, after that. I’d been sitting diligently daily in my Zen and had done some weekend retreats and introduction to Zen and stuff by then. And then I did a week-long retreat led by a Korean Zen master. He himself was a Westerner, but he’d been — it was a Korean lineage he had been trained in; he was a deep guy and he was sort of throwing out koans through the retreat.
And actually, I was sitting with one of them, it was just the basic question: “Who am I? Who am I?” Which is a fundamental koan. I had a glimpse of what it was pointing at. I was very lucky. I got a glimpse of how a koan can work then. It’s like this. Let’s say you take the most famous koan that probably, I would guess even here, probably most people have heard. By the way, here’s the correct wording. “You know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand?” That’s the formulation. You could say it like this: “You know the sound of two hands clapping, but do you know the sound of one hand?” That’s more or less what the koan is trying to push us to say, “What the hell does this mean? Do you know the sound of one hand? It’s a preposterous question.” I get people that try to snap their fingers. They’re, ‘Well, this is one hand.” No, no, no, no.
So the first thing to say about koans is they are not riddles to be solved, and our mind wants to make them that. It wants to problem-solve them. “This damn thing makes no sense. I’m going to make it make sense. There must be a way in which it makes sense.” Well —
Tim Ferriss: Good luck.
Henry Shukman: I might say something like this: “There is a way in which they make sense, but your mind will never know it. But part of you will. There’s part of us that the koan is speaking from and speaking to, and it’s basically a nondual level of experience.”
Nondual is where the sense of being separate from the world has gone. Self and world are one. There are flavors and varieties, but fundamentally it means that the duality of me being in here and the world being out there has gone. So koans are actually emissaries of whatever that was that I discovered on that beach when I was 19 years old, and thousands of millions of people have discovered. What’s beautiful about koans is that they know that that experience is here all the time. They know it’s precious beyond belief. They know that it is somehow, in some way, what we humans are built to discover. It’s a thing that can transform our life in an utterly wonderful way because they show us something about who we are that we couldn’t imagine.
And it’s so crazy. We’re going around living our lives the way we do, all predicated on this basic assumption, which is that I am me in here. And we don’t really question it. We’re too busy living out the dictates that flow from the assumption that I am what I think I am in here. It’s a disstudy, this radical thought like, “Well, hold on. If I’m going to build my life on this assumption that there is this me in here and it wants these things and it doesn’t want those things, and my happiness depends on having X and not having Y, if I’m going to build my life on that presupposition, shouldn’t I at least take a look at the initial assumption?” It’s really, I think is equivalent to Galileo and Copernicus going from a geocentric worldview where we’re totally convinced the world’s flat, the sun, the moon go around us to, “Well, actually, wait a minute. Maybe not. Lo and behold, we go around the sun.”
I think we’re in the midst of a transformation. Actually. I’m going to be careful what I say. This is really, this is going off the deep end. But perhaps, perhaps in this globalized Western culture, where there’s so much more interest in awakening these days than 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 60 years ago. It was pretty niche 50 years ago. Now people are hearing about it. That is a reality that we can find about who we really are, and there’s a lot of neuroscience now backing it up. What we think we are is a construction, and actually the way we think the world is, is also a construction that follows from that.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned ayahuasca earlier. We’re not going to go there yet. I would like to hear more about that at some point. But when I think of your experience at 19 on the beach, that distinguishes you from a lot of people in the sense that you had this spontaneous experience of nonduality. So you knew it was a possibility going into years in training. Going into these various practices. And I’m wondering if, or how common it is for people to get an appetizer or a taste of these non-ordinary states?
Although one, I know that label is not perfect, but let’s just for the time being call it a non-ordinary state. Is it common that people have that experience relatively quickly in their practice? Because I could see it being very difficult for someone who has not had the firsthand experience that you had on the beach, or something like it, to dedicate years with the hope that there is some payoff that they have never tasted or had a glimpse of. And conversely, and I’m not saying that I recommend psychedelics for all people. I don’t. I think they are very powerful tools that have some applications for some people. But where they do perhaps represent an unusual tool in the toolkit is that with rare exception, you are guaranteed to see an effect.
If that makes any sense?
Henry Shukman: Yes it does.
Tim Ferriss: A sufficient dose with proper plant or compound, if you want to induce the realization that you are not exactly what you believe yourself to be, or at the very least that there are invisible scripts and stories and filters that assemble your current reality, that’s a very reliable way to induce that type of realization.
So to summarize, is it common that people get some taste of what you are describing relatively early in their practice? Or is it something they have to kind of cross their fingers and hope for long down the road?
Henry Shukman: Honestly, it’s a bit of both. And here’s a couple of ways to think about it. One is that yeah, if you add a koan into the mix, once somebody is really committed and settled in their daily sitting, it can be a powerful stimulant, a powerful fertilizer. Koans are weird. They can actually trigger profound experiences — who knows when? They really can. So that’s on the one side. On the other hand, it’s unreliable and it’s certainly not reliable the way that I think safely administered plant medicine may be. But here’s the thing, two things actually. One is that what Zen is teaching us about, is ordinary consciousness. It’s showing us, this —
Tim Ferriss: This is why I knew that I knew my term “non-ordinary consciousness” is a tricky, it’s a tricky one. So, please. Yeah. It’s not a perfect phrasing, but please continue.
Henry Shukman: I mean, the wonder of this is that the most profound things we can discover through awakening are here right now. And the process of training with koans is to go, like what I experienced on the beach, that was a beginning experience. A far deeper thing has happened to me working with koans. That was a gateway that got me onto a path. It took me a long time to find a path and a long time to go down the path. But man, it was a beginning. The things you can discover through these koans that these masters have discovered, and they’re sharing with us through the koans hoping that we’ll join them in what they’ve discovered is even more radical and crazy. But the point is, is here right now, we’re making discoveries about our ordinary experience. And this is the wondrous thing about it, that you don’t have to have some totally different life.
I mean, again, my master, Yamada Roshi. It’s not like he has to reign in his Zen mind when he’s in a board meeting. There’s no need. The boundless reality is right there at the board table, able to do everything the board chair needs to do. That is the wonder. So when, whoever this — I think it was Layman Pang, the old master, said, “my miracle is that I chop wood and draw water,” or whatever it was. “I draw water and carry wood,” I can’t remember. “That’s my miracle.” He means that pouring out the kettle for a cup of tea, if we’re awake to the boundless wonder, that’s a miracle. It’s not like it’s a miracle in a way that we’ll have to sort of swoon and put the cup down in case we drop it.
No, we just behave normally. We can have a normal conversation. I don’t know if everybody would consider this a normal conversation because I’m saying some weird shit. But kind of a normal conversation, we’re having it. I’m sitting here and I know this boundless, infinite, nothing and/or everything, whatever, that’s so full of love, is right here right now. It’s clear and it doesn’t mean like, “Now I’ve got to do something, so I’ve got to switch off the wonder, the boundless love.” It’s not like that. That’s where koans can take us. I’m sure way further as well. I’m a beginner.
But on the other hand, what about the people who, they want this, they believe in it and they sit with it, and nothing happens? They’re sitting with their koan. Well, see, I think, personally, what I’m now trying to teach people is deep in the Zen tradition, there’s a metaphor. It goes way back to fifth or sixth century China, of a cart track having two ruts. And the idea is that one rut is awake in nature itself. That’s always here and awake in nature by the way, is everything is one, everything is infinite, and everything is empty. Those are the three main things we can discover about it through personal experience. That’s awakened reality. But the other rut is they call it the four foundations of mindfulness, which comes from early Buddhism in India. And the four foundations of mindfulness are a gradual path of learning to be more present, learning to sit with difficulty, learning to sit with our wounds and pains and gradually release them. And we may need help with that.
And you might bring in therapy, you might bring in pharmaceuticals, you might bring in plant medicine, or you might bring in all kinds of stuff to help with that. That’s the beginnings of this is — the beginnings of psychological health and well-being, really. Gradually, how practice can help with that. So there’s two ruts for one track. One rut is awakening, and we could put the koans on that side. The other rut is a gradual path of sort of healing. And that takes us to deeper and deeper states of absorption. We start to get more well-being with less, it’s generally a path of growth whereby we can be happier with less and less and less, until in deep states of absorption, which is growing out of the mindfulness, we’re basically happy with basically nothing extra. We’re completely fulfilled, just sitting and breathing.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve read you describe awakening as, quote, “more of a loss than a gain — a marvelous kind of loss,” end quote. And then there’s also a set of expressions here that maybe you could explain: “Mu ichi motsu; muju zo.” I don’t know if they’re long vowels or not in Japanese for the muju zo. I think I can guess what the first three characters are, but I can’t guess what the last two are. So by “more of a loss than a gain — a marvelous kind of loss,” what does that mean?
Henry Shukman: Okay, so in my book, I go into these sort of various experiences that befell me on the koan path. One of which was, it was basically, it’s hard to talk about it. It’s so amazing, but it’s sort of the loss of everything. That somehow seeing that everything has been a dream. And when we see that everything can actually fall away, self and world fall away, is the way Dogen described it. He said, “Body and mind fall away.” And various Zen masters have spoken about this, this experience where everything’s just gone.
And instead of it being a horrific, ghastly void, it’s the opposite. Because everything is coming from that emptiness, that goneness. It’s generating everything. If we fall away sufficiently — I don’t think I’ve had the great, profound experience or anything. I’ve just had experiences that were profound enough for me, that changed my life. And this was the pivotal one. It happened at a certain point, a certain time, during a retreat, everything disappeared and I then discovered, and henceforth, it hasn’t gone away, really. I can see everything’s being born right now. It’s coming out of nothing. And that is the ultimate wonder.
Tim Ferriss: That’s very interesting. There was durability to that. There was kind of a before and after.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes that is.
Tim Ferriss: With respect to that experience. That’s very interesting.
Henry Shukman: And I never believed that could happen to me. I was such a troubled soul that I’d done all this practice. I’d even had several kind of mind blowing awakenings, and still I was a troubled soul. I didn’t think, I mean, I suppose I still am a bit of a troubled soul, but I’m a happy one. It’s weird. I never thought that I would be — I could see my teachers, these amazing, patient teachers that were guiding me. I could see these people, “They’ve sort of done it, whatever it is that can be done, they’re the kind of person that could do it, not me, no way.” And then it just happened. This thing just happened. And it was a fulcrum in a lifetime. And I believe that all of us can go through this. That’s why I’m a teacher — because I want to share this. But here’s the thing, I don’t think we should sit around in misery waiting for this kind of thing to happen.
So this two rut track idea is really important to me actually. And I’ve got this new program called Original Love. The Zen awakening is often called “seeing original nature.” And original nature is what I was saying, it’s one and it’s boundless and it’s empty. That’s the original nature. What it’s like when we find it, is this like, love. 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. So in this Original Love program I’ve got, we’ve got, there’s awakening is in it, but so is mindfulness. So is support, deep kinds of support that we can open to, that are so crucial. I’ve done a lot of dreamwork, archetypal kind of work where figures come and help us and challenge us.
And I think that’s really vital for our growth. And then the third zone in it is sort of, it’s got four zones, actually: mindfulness, support, deep support. Third zone is absorption. Becoming one with this moment through flow states, absorption states. Samadhi, as they call it. And then the fourth zone is awakening. So it’s not like it’s “Awakening or bust.” That’s a wrong mindset.
Tim Ferriss: That shouldn’t be the title of this podcast episode?
Henry Shukman: Please. Well, you could say, you could call it “Awakening or bust — NOT.”
Tim Ferriss: NOT! Like Borat, could add some soundbites spliced in. There was a term that I mentioned that if you can translate it, I would love to hear what it is. Just with my fascination with Japan and having lived there for some time. So “Mu ichi motsu; muju zo.” In what context is that used and what does it mean?
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Okay. By the way, you’ve got a very nice accent.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Thank you.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. I don’t actually speak Japanese, to my shame.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not the easiest. It’s time consuming.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. I’ve been quite a number of times and spent most of the time staring at the wall in my master’s Zendo.
Tim Ferriss: Not the most effective way to learn Japanese. It was just like my friend who spent a lot of time in Peru. He spent tons of time in Peru doing dietas and working with ayahuasca and so on. And I asked him, I said, “You spent nine months in Peru. Why is your Spanish so terrible?” And he said, “Well, I was in the forest trying to talk to plants the whole time.” I was like, “Yeah, all right, that’ll explain it.” So yeah, you were staring at a wall. Understood.
Henry Shukman: The vomiting into a bucket —
Tim Ferriss: Makes it hard to pronounce things correctly.
Henry Shukman: Yeah. So “Mu ichi motsu; muju zo.” One of my teachers, Ruben Habito Roshi, is a guy from the Philippines. Who’s also in the same lineage who teaches in Dallas. And he’s also a professor at SMU in Dallas. He actually used this phrase with me once when I was in Dokusan with him, going through koans with him. It means —
Tim Ferriss: What is Dokusan?
Henry Shukman: Dokusan, yeah thanks for asking. It’s a one-on-one meeting between a Zen student and a Zen teacher. And actually that’s a — when you’re working seriously with the koans, if you’re getting into koan training, you can work with them in different ways. Because they can provide a really helpful frame when you’re sitting just to have a koan in the background, it’ll change your sitting. But if you’re going seriously through a koan training, at least in our lineage, there’s a way to do that with a teacher. So you meet with a teacher and you work on a koan and I won’t go into too much detail. But anyway, we were meeting, Ruben and I, that style. And at some point he said, “Yeah, yeah, mu ichi motsu; muju zo.” Which means “Not a single thing; an inexhaustible treasury.”
In other words, what I was trying to describe, this experience of everything disappearing isn’t a horror. Quite the reverse. It’s an inexhaustible treasury. Everything is being given by nothing. I don’t want to get too abstract, because the point of it, it sounds so abstract until you experience it. When you experience it, it just changes your life irrevocably. It can’t not.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. There are certain things that require experience and words do a very poor job of encapsulating or conveying, right? I mean, it’s like, if someone’s never orgasmed, and you’re trying to explain it to a male and you’re like, “Yeah, it’s kind of like a sneeze in your balls,” and he’s like, “What?” It’s just, you kind of have to be there first in order for the descriptions to make sense. So “Mu ichi motsu” is just, for people who are curious, I’d actually love help from any native Japanese speakers on the “Muju zo.” The “Mu ichi motsu,” I’m pretty sure, is yeah, “Mu,” like “Mushin,” like “No heart, no mind.” “Mu” is a very common character in discussing Zen Buddhism. “Ichi” is like “Ichi, ni, san,” and then “Motsu” is “Thing.”
Henry Shukman: Thing.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Or “Carry.” It’s also, it can be used as a transitive verb, but then “Mu,” the same “Mu,” and then “Ju zo,” somebody who’s a native speaker could let me know. I couldn’t find this when I googled it. Maybe “Mu ju,” “Ju” is like maybe the “Juubun,” “Enough,” like, but “Mu” is the same “Mu ju.” “Zo” is like “Treasury, treasure.” I’m pretty sure, although “Sanbo Zen” also has the “Bo,” like the three treasures.
Henry Shukman: It does. That’s right. That’s right.
Tim Ferriss: But I’m taking us down a rabbit hole.
Henry Shukman: I’m afraid it might be a typo, actually. I’m thinking now, it may be —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, there we go.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, maybe it should be “Mujo zo.”
Tim Ferriss: Oh, “Mujo zo.”
Henry Shukman: Inexhaustible.
Tim Ferriss: Ah, okay. Yeah. Yeah. That’ll make it a lot easier. Okay.
Henry Shukman: Sorry. My bad.
Tim Ferriss: No, no, no, no. No, you’re good.
Henry Shukman: Not only my bad Japanese and my bad typing.
Tim Ferriss: No problem. Yeah. Okay. That would make more sense. I was like, “Ah, I wonder how to actually translate that.” I was trying to figure that out.
Henry Shukman: Damn, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: No, no, no. You’re good. You’re good.
Henry Shukman: “Mujo zo.”
Tim Ferriss: “Mujo zo.” Yeah. Like impermanence. “Mujo.” “Jo” is like everyday conversation would be like “Nichijo,” like ordinary, “Nichijo kaiwa” would be like “Everyday conversation.” Pretty sure it’s the same “Jo.” Yeah. “Mujo.” Okay. Got it. So yes.
Henry Shukman: Does that work? Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Roger that, I think I got it.
Henry Shukman: Okay. Cool.
Tim Ferriss: I was interrupting to sort of white knuckle this Kanji translation.
Henry Shukman: I think you were rescuing me from going over yet another precipice of nonsense.
Tim Ferriss: That would also be a good title for the podcast. “Over the precipice of nonsense.” Actually I kind of, I mean, I don’t know. That sounds like maybe a great description of koans, actually.
Henry Shukman: As long as we know that you’re going to this vast liberation, boundless one. That’s the thing is that they’re pointing at us. That’s the thing that’s so hard to get. When you think of one hand — sound of one hand, what the hell is that talking about? The only answer is found in us. Sometimes I’ve explained it like this, I don’t know whether you’ve heard this, but there’s a sort of notion in fiction writing and storytelling that if you want to know who the main character of a story is, it’s the one who changes. Or is the one who has an opportunity to change and either takes it or doesn’t take it. That’s the main character. So I’ve sometimes tried to explain koans this way: a koan is a story.
It doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t sound like it, but it is in fact, a story, and the main character in the story is you. So koan is inviting you to change in a radical way that you don’t even know it’s asking you to do. And even if you did, you wouldn’t know how to do that change because it’s asking us. You see, the sound of one hand only becomes clear when our self, our sense of self, drops away. And then suddenly we find it. And I can’t explain how or why, but I know that it works. And I can sort of tell you that when it does, it’s magic, it’s marvelous. You understand why this phrase is put that way. You see it. And you see that it’s been telling you something about your very life that you hadn’t been able to see before. And that’s why I was so thrilled when I found koans because at last it was actually a system that knew about what I’d been through on that beach. And could lead me through beyond it.
Tim Ferriss: So I think our round two will include a condensed add on, I think masterclass might be too ambitious, but a detailed discussion of the system, the systematization of using koans, right? Getting into checking questions.
Henry Shukman: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Whether partial realization is possible or not, meaning — and so on, and so forth. So I think we’ll do a very deep double click on that when we speak again. I’d like to ask you, when you reflect on your experience or remember your experiences of let’s call it awakening using koans, and this is going to be another one of my notoriously convoluted compound questions, but how similar or dissimilar are those experiences from, say, your experience on ayahuasca? Because it is possible with a tool like ayahuasca to arrive at places where you feel liberated from the constraints, the tight shoes of the rational mind. You absolutely can arrive in those places, including feeling, at times, the sort of beauty and infinite potential of the emptiness that you can access. The two questions are: how similar or dissimilar, how would you describe the similarities or differences? And then why did you decide to consume ayahuasca? You can tackle those in either direction.
Henry Shukman: Maybe I’ll take the second first. Consistent with this philosophy of the two ruts, there’s that even though we may have had awakening, even if we’ve become even perhaps somewhat consistently access that awakening world, we can do it. Nevertheless, we’re still a fallible, vulnerable, ailing, aging, mortal, suffering human being. What awakening shows us is that the suffering human being is themselves part of the infinite wonder, but nevertheless, you’ve still got the suffering being that needs tending. So I was, this was long ago, actually I was, I guess I was in my mid-30s. I was in my Zen training. I was very unhappy; I’d been working on a book, a novel, actually, funny enough, set in Peru that I was revisiting my early trip when I was 19 and I had written, I thought, a really promising start to it. And then I got totally stuck. And I just couldn’t figure out how to keep going.
It was a real, severe writer’s block. And I was quite depressed. I was teaching down at a college in the south of New Mexico, and was really not, not happy and for various reasons. And I was going out to breakfast with a couple of friends one morning, and I just ordered huevos rancheros. And this friend of mine called me, who lived in Santa Fe, and basically said, “Henry, you’ve got to come and do this thing this evening. I did this trip with this Peruvian shaman, like a couple of days ago, ayahuasca. I became a panther. it’s the most amazing thing. You’ve got to come and do it, but you’ve got to fast and he’s doing another one tonight.” And I was literally sort of, my huevos arrived and I was cutting the first bite out, hearing his voice on the phone.
And this feeling came on. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it like, “Oh, fuck, I’ve got to do this. I know I’ve got to do this. I want to eat these eggs, but I actually, I want to do this thing more. It’s more important, even though I don’t really want to do it.”
Tim Ferriss: That night? That evening?
Henry Shukman: That night. So I did not eat my eggs. I left my eggs.
Tim Ferriss: What could go wrong?
Henry Shukman: And I went up in a state of, the depressive dragging himself up and I went to the studio where it was held and it was a Peruvian shaman and drink the vile tea, the weirdness comes on, and I had a hellish time, basically. Hell punctuated by moments of extraordinary peace. I shot up into the upper atmosphere and realized I was an asteroid. I had weird shit happen. And I vomited a ton, and it was scary, and it was overwhelming. And when it was kind of over, I thought, “Well, thank God that’s over. I’m never doing that again.” But actually, the next day I felt like I was sort of a teenager again. It felt like a whole layer of swaddling of something, some kind had been taken away from me, and I was alive in a younger, fresher way. It was marvelous, and the book I’d been working on, just kind of in my mind, it was like looking at a map that opened out in front of me that sort of unfolded in front of me.
The whole map of the book was right there, and I carried on working on it and it actually ended up happening and doing rather well, that book. And that was my first taste of ayahuasca. Later, after years of Zen training and really being in a very different place, I just had this friend who was trained in the Peruvian style. And I was just curious to try it again. And I did three ayahuasca ceremonies, like on once a month for three months. And it was totally different. I didn’t have a very powerful time, but it was kind of nice, but I really just, basically, I didn’t need it to the same extent I had done before. I didn’t have a lot to purge, I was quite mellow, I actually helped. Because I was in a different, totally different state.
Tim Ferriss: How did you help? Rinsing out buckets? Holding people’s ponytails? What was — in what fashion?
Henry Shukman: A little bit of that, but actually also I sort of at a certain point, in that tradition, they talked about grandmother, the plant is grandmother, and you’ve got to let grandmother come in and do the work she needs to do. So I was doing that in all those three times. I was just totally surrendered and grandmother didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do. And this wish came up. I said to grandmother, “If anybody else needs to purge, let them purge through me.” And I mean, it’s just some crazy idea that came up in the midst of the trip. But I had a feeling that there was one person there who did sort of — I don’t know why I’m even bringing this up. I’m just trying to say I was in a totally different space when I did it. And so, okay. So now, but going to the more important matter you’re bringing up is that —
Tim Ferriss: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not going to let that go so easily. So you did end up purging them, in this case?
Henry Shukman: Actually, I think I did once for what I felt was somebody else.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For what it’s worth, that experience, and to be clear, I’m not claiming that this can be proven, I’m not claiming that mechanism is understood if it is real. I’m not saying it isn’t just a fabrication of the mind, but the subjective experience of purging for someone else or having someone else purge for you is quite common.
Henry Shukman: Is that right?
Tim Ferriss: So it’s, yes.
Henry Shukman: Really?
Tim Ferriss: So it’s not surprising to me to hear that.
Henry Shukman: Oh, wow. That’s nice to have that affirmed, actually.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. For what that’s worth, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Henry Shukman: But look, now to the matter of deep kinds of experiences.
Tim Ferriss: Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Henry Shukman: Like awakening on ayahuasca, normal programming. Right. Yeah. So here’s my take on it, which of course is based on my experience. I have known, I mean, a number of Zen students I’ve known, who have used plant medicine and found it profoundly helpful. Here and there, they’ve reported to me an experience within a plant ceremony that sounds like a Zen awakening, what I was saying, seeing the original nature. I don’t think that that’s commonly what people experience in the way Zen defines it all the way through a psychedelic experience. I really don’t believe that. But I think there are moments within a psychedelic experience for some people that sometimes are like that. Now but here’s the thing though, is how — I’m just now thinking one student had this really strong experience of it’s called the Japanese is “Kensho” for seeing original nature, had a really, quite a strong one, actually using another form of DMT.
But there’s something about having it with a completely clear, ordinary mind, versus having it when you know there’s a powerful psychotropic compound in your bloodstream that will wear off. There’s something about it that is just — I’ve seen that the impact is different. I’m not saying I know that it always would be, but that when somebody is stone-cold sober and this happens, it’s so undeniable that you’ve really seen something real and it’s not induced by anything. I’m convinced that this moment right now has sort of different levels to it. Different levels of experience right here and now. And in these moments of awakening, that’s what we’re dropping into. And they can go all the way down to nothing, and the love that’s there.
It’s right here now. But if you’re — I mean, I’d like to hear your take on this. I think you’ve probably had a lot more psychedelic experiences than I have, I’m sure. And I’m really thrilled that psychedelic research is in full swing again. I think it’s absolutely, I mean, I see it, from my perspective, I see it mostly as just an incredible mental health tool, and I’m sure that’s an insufficient way to look at it, but at least from that side, I can see, my God, this is going be fantastic in coming years and decades. Helping people with depression, anxiety, fear of death, love of death — how amazing to be able to have love of death. That’s what awakening can do. Deep love of life, deep love of death.
I mean, that doesn’t mean longing for death, you know. It means you’re just somehow really happy that it’s part of the whole picture. I can’t explain why, but we can be.
Tim Ferriss: There’s so much we could explore here. I think that psychedelics properly administered, properly and respectfully used with certain guide rails and guidelines, can be really helpful for certain conditions in certain people. And I think they’re useful for exploring facets of the mind itself, and reality. We could put that in quotation marks since I think that reality as we experience it is largely a constructed hallucination to begin with which there are many ways to explore this. There’s a book called Biocentrism that does a decent job of introducing thought exercises. Although I disagree with some of the things in the book, it’s an interesting read. What I would love to see, and maybe it already exists, but would be to see for instance, and this is — it would be very hard to do this noninvasively, but if it were possible to compare the neurochemical activity of someone, again, like who’s going to pay for this research and how on earth would you even structure a study is kind of a fool’s errand probably.
But let’s just say hypothetically, that you could compare someone having the experience of Kensho or an awakening with someone 90 minutes after drinking ayahuasca who would subjectively report the phenomenology of the experience would include something akin to Kensho or awakening. It’d be so fascinating to compare those two, because whether in let’s just say catalyzed by a cup of tea or catalyzed by diligent training, as Dennis McKenna would say, who’s an ethnopharmacologist, our experience of reality is mediated through neurotransmitters.
Henry Shukman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: By and large, right? So you can change your experience of consciousness, let’s just say, using holotropic breathwork as one example. Ultimately that would catalyze and induce certain electrochemical changes that would then help confer a certain experience. And I’d love to see — it would be fascinating. I’d love to see. I think it’s too optimistic, but it’d be so endlessly fascinating to see how the presentation of these experiences differ along those parameters. And I also think that the container and the cultural context and the assistance with constructing meaning out of unusual experiences is so important that it is difficult to, I would imagine, get to a point where you experience in your practice Kensho without a lot of deliberate practice, at least as something that is repeatable.
But you could find a rent-a-shaman on Craigslist and show up as number 17 in someone’s basement and have some lady who’s watched too many Lord of the Rings movies smack you on the head with a feather and give you a Super Big Gulp of ayahuasca and you’re going to have a very intense, unusual experience. But then what to do with it? And I think it can be very, I know it can be extremely destabilizing for people. And to that extent, I think the downside risk seems to be much lower when you are practicing within the tradition of, in this case, Zen Buddhism.
And there’s a lot to be said for that capping of downside on some level.
Henry Shukman: Well, yeah, you’ve got a whole lot of support. You’ve got a profound level of support. But I’m wary of equating the whole of psychedelic experience with Kensho. I really am.
Tim Ferriss: No, no. I think they’re very different. I’m not trying to equate the two, I think that if I’m just saying, if someone were to, I’ve never experienced Kensho in the Zen Buddhist sense. There’s no way for me to know, there’s no way for me to confirm that. And you know, a lot of very strange things happen in psychedelic experiences that probably have nothing to do with what you would conceptualize or think of as Kensho. I certainly think they’re very different things. But they may be edging at aspects of similar spaces, I think.
Henry Shukman: Yes. I agree with that. I agree with that. And man, what a healing space it is, right?
Tim Ferriss: It can be, yeah. I mean, it can be, I think it can be, with insufficient support and with the wrong preparation, at least in the case of psychedelics, it can be incredibly destabilizing.
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: And people do end up in very bad circumstances if they have, ayahuasca in particular, I think is a dicey proposition for a lot of people. You just don’t know when you’re going to pull the joker card.
Henry Shukman: Oh, God, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s always in the deck. Whereas, with the practices that you’re describing, perhaps it’s a little, it’s less likely.
Henry Shukman: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Although I would have to imagine, I mean, it certainly it happens at Vipassana retreats and other places where there are people who have a really difficult breakdown experiences. Have you seen that happen in the Zen Buddhist practices also?
Henry Shukman: I’ve only seen it once and actually, it wasn’t a big deal. We just helped the guy.
Tim Ferriss: Put him in a cage, kept him fed. He was fine a few weeks later.
Henry Shukman: He was fine 48 hours later, he was fine. And took him off the cushion, actually. But I want to say one other thing, which is that it’s to do with this ordinariness that somehow in Zen, we actually, it’s not even, it’s not quite right to sit because I want to have a Kensho experience. There’s something about sitting itself and just being more and more embedded in this moment so that it becomes more and more fulfilling and okay, just as it is. That is perhaps the greatest reward that we are learning to come home to ourselves, to come to terms with ourselves, to just be ourselves, not needing anything, not even Kensho. That’s part of the training as well, that this practice isn’t just for me to get something I want namely a marvelous experience, there’s something else going on as well.
And also likewise that, a master like Yamada Roshi, and we’re all aspiring to that, all of us who are in training. To be able to live — well, what can we call it? A fully awakened life. The heart is fully open, there’s great freedom, there’s great flexibility of sort of register. I can see through this moment. I can see it’s transparent. I can see that it’s concrete as well. I can see that I’m getting a little tired. I can see that there’s infinite joy. I can see that there’s infinite love. All this, it can be present in an ordinary moment and of utter sobriety. There’s something about it’s impact on our ordinary life, that somehow is just such a treasure. And so it’s not just about special experience, it’s — am I making any sense here?
Tim Ferriss: You’re making sense. So Kensho or Bust is not the title of your forthcoming how-to book?
Henry Shukman: No. In fact my new book is called Original Love. I mean, for real I —
Tim Ferriss: That’s nice. Nice, that was good. That was good, so now is it a book? Is it a program? Is it both? It seems to be both. Why do either or when you can do both?
Henry Shukman: Well, right. It’s a manuscript at this point, which I think, I hope, is getting nearly finished. It’s been a marvelous journey writing it, but it’s a program and a course as well. And I’m actually just so excited about it. It’s thrilling to be able to teach this full spectrum of what meditation can be because I think there’s confusion. What’s awakening? What’s mindfulness? How do they — if I’m awakened or if I’ve had an awakening experience, am I awakened? Why am I still so miserable? Why do I get anxious still? Actually, we’re multidimensional and have got this way of addressing these different zones and being clear about it so it’s kind of a map, it’s — all parts are suffused with love. That’s my main point. That in any level of any zone of practice, love is usually the thing, somehow or other, that triggers the transformation that opens up things. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Where can people learn more about Original Love or find the program?
Henry Shukman: Yeah. Well, at mountaincloud.org, at henryshukman.com, both of those. And I mean, anybody who read my existing book would learn a lot actually about many of the things we’ve been discussing —
Tim Ferriss: One Blade of Grass. One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir which I have on my bookshelf in Austin, courtesy of our mutual friend, Kevin Rose, and I recommend, I definitely recommend people check it out. Your stories are insane. I mean, you have, and I mean that in a sort of a Yankee compliment kind of way, keeping in mind, it’s the same person who thought “old-fashioned tramp” was something much more sensual. But One Blade of Grass, I definitely recommend people check out One Blade of Grass and also the program and your website, just to go to the website, go to mountaincloud.org, go to henryshukman.com, and you will see an assortment of different resources. And that’s I suppose, a good repository kind of a home base for a lot of things that we’re discussing. Henry, I think we should do a round two at some point, if you’re still open to it. You can sleep on it and decide if you’re willing to put up with this type of stochastic, Memento, non-linear conversation a second time. But —
Henry Shukman: Well, if you can put up with me again, I’d be thrilled to. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Wonderful. Well, I mean, we’ve covered a good amount of ground. The great news is I don’t have to do really any prep for the second conversation because I have 70 percent of my notes still remaining in front of me untouched. And is there anything else that you’d like to share, like to add as closing comments, requests you’d like to make of people listening, suggestions, anything at all that you’d like to add before we wrap up for round one?
Henry Shukman: I’d like to just acknowledge my deep gratitude to my teachers and to say it can be tricky having a spiritual teacher, a spiritual guide, is fraught with difficulty. I was very distrustful for a long time, myself. Found it very hard to accept a teacher until I finally found somebody I could accept. But it is wonderful if you find people who are really committed to helping others in their practice, but have no power trip of their own, they just want to share the teaching they’ve received, for those who want to partake of it. There are people like that. It’s shark-infested waters, for sure, spirituality. So be careful. But you can find safe, deep teachers. I’m not putting myself forward, by the way, I’m a shallow, I think I’m reasonably — oh, God, I think I’m safe, but I’m not deep enough. I’m working on it.
But you can find people who are, and it’s a great gift if you do. So that’s one thing I just want to say. And actually, I want to say huge thanks to you, Tim, you took a chance on having this crazy British Zen whatever fool, and it’s very nice of you.
Tim Ferriss: My pleasure. I mean, Kevin was putting his nuts on the table, so I took it very seriously. I was like, “Well, look, it’s very…” it’s on record as Kevin’s recommendation in our last recording of The Random Show and I have great faith in Kevin, and he’s a huge fan of yours and has learned an incredible amount from you and has taken a lot from the practice over the last year. And I’ve had front row seats to seeing it. So for people who wonder what the experience might transmit to one’s waking reality outside of your personal experience that you’ve shared, I’ve seen it in Kevin and it’s been very noticeable from the outside looking in and he’s certainly been very excited for us to have a conversation. And vis-a-vis his excitement, I’ve been eager to have this conversation. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you a bit and this will be part one of, at least two.
And so we’ll figure out the scheduling at some point soon. I also need to get to New Mexico. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in New Mexico to visit. There are a number of different places I’d love to explore.
Henry Shukman: Oh, God, I’d love to show you around to whatever extent you want to be, you know?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like you’ve got Zen Buddhism, you’ve got Meow Wolf, you’ve got —
Henry Shukman: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Skiing, you have of all sorts of things —
Henry Shukman: Yes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: — in New Mexico —
Henry Shukman: Can I just — while we’re on the subject of Kevin, I just want to say what a marvelous man he is, incredibly generous, incredibly curious, and so supportive in so many ways, just a treasure of a guy, I’m very, very, very happy that I’ve got to know him.
Tim Ferriss: He’s a good guy.
Henry Shukman: And he’s very serious, and he’s so serious about his Zen, he really gets it. It’s got great possibilities, and you’ve got to do it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Actually it’s a great point because, and some native Japanese speaker can correct this, but there’s an expression, I think it’s [Japanese 1:53:14] which means “It or he heats up quickly and cools off quickly.” And what that means is that Kevin’s life is a vast collection of two-week passions and he is expert in a number of areas, but he gets very, very, very excited about something, and then two weeks later I’m like, “Oh, how’s X going?” He’s like, “Yeah, I am over that. I’m not doing that anymore.” So it is all the more remarkable that he has stuck with the Zen practice under your guidance for as long as he has with the diligence with which he’s treated it. It’s a very clear, I mean, Kevin, don’t kill me, but it seems to me to be a very potent anomaly.
And that just, that really speaks volumes. So I’m really happy that he’s engaged in the practice also. So Henry, thank you for taking the time once again. This has been great and I’m actually really happy that we covered what we covered and that there’s so much left to cover because why do I do these conversations other than to explore? I get a lot out of them, myself. People can find you at Henry Shukman that’s S-H-U-K-M-A-N henryshukman.com, mountaincloud.org. I’m sure they can find the social and so on, on those websites. Your memoir is One Blade of Grass, I highly recommend people check it out and they can also find the Original Love program and more info on the websites that I mentioned. We’ll link to everything in the show notes at [inaudible 02:09:54] blog/podcasts. If you just search Zen on that page, this episode will pop right up. And what fun. Thank you again for taking the time.
Henry Shukman: Oh, man, most gratitude to you and yeah, I feel the kind of connection I was hoping. I sort of feel it, it’s very nice.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You’re serious about taking yourself too seriously, which is nice. And I really enjoy this new terrain. I’ve been interested in Zen for a very long time. I’ve had very close mentors and friends in Japan who were dedicateds and practitioners, but it’s really something I have very, very little familiarity with. So I’m looking forward to digging deeper, really getting into the nitty-gritty details of Koan use and also the hierarchy and progression within the Zen practice and Zen communities, and many, many more questions, but we’ll get to that in round two. So thank you, Henry, and many thanks to everybody listening. So until next time, thanks for tuning in.
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