What does Buddhism have to do with relationships? Actually a lot! In this episode we talk to priest Annalisa about what all of us can learn from Buddhism to have better, happier, and healthier relationships. We also cover the difference between learning to control your emotions and allowing someone to walk all over you.
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast we are speaking with Annalisa Castaldo. She is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest who studies with Jules Shuzen Harris at the Soji Zen Center which is in Pennsylvania. She's also an Associate Professor of English at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, and also has a masters of education in human sexuality and teaches a course on non-monogamies and has been polyamorous for 11 years now. Lots of different things going on there. On this episode, we specifically want to talk about Buddhist philosophies and some of the Buddhist teachings and how those relate to relationships, which is an interesting thing.
Dedeker: Just to let you know, there's a lot of wonderful, beautiful gems of wisdom in this episode if I do say so myself. Not to blow our own horn too much or blow this person's horn too much, but it was a fantastic interview.
Emily: We're blowing our horn, if anything.
Dedeker: We covered a lot of ground. We really hope that you enjoy. We are here with Annalisa. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Annalisa: Happy to be here, thrilled actually.
Dedeker: Do you have a title? I realize I should have asked this beforehand, do you have a fancy title?
Annalisa: I do not have a fancy title. I am a Soto Zen priest, but I'm a novice priest which means I don't get to call myself reverend yet; I have to become a full priest.
Dedeker: Can you call yourself novice Annalisa Castaldo?
Annalisa: I can.
Emily: Wait, there are reverends in Buddhism?
Annalisa: No, that's the title that gets used in America, so the translation from the Japanese.
Emily: What is it in Japanese, Dedeker, or either of you? Sorry, I'm asking the person who is fluent in Japanese.
Dedeker: I'm not fluent in Japanese Zen.
Emily: All right. Touche.
Dedeker: Just to explain to our audience a little bit of how we ended up here with a Zen priest on our show. I know we've talked a little on the show, I've had a meditation practice for a long time. I've labeled myself as Buddhish for several years. It's definitely something that I know I wrote about a little bit in my own book. It's something that the practice of has really helped me in the way that I approach relationships and the way that I've approached non-monogamy.
The three of us, myself, Jase and Emily, we recently got back from a silent meditation retreat that was also Buddhist. Obviously, Multiamory is not a religion podcast, we're not a Buddhism podcast, but, Annalisa, we would love your help in kind of priming our listeners specifically at looking at the things that are talked about in Zen Buddhism as practice as opposed to looking at them as religion. I know for some people it's hard to see the difference there.
Annalisa: Well, sure. One of the things that attracted me to Buddhism, because for a long time I identified as an atheist actually, is that it can be seen as a philosophy and not a religion. Shakyamuni, the man who became the awakened one which is what the Buddha means, it's a title that means awakened one, was a man. He was a human being. He lived, he died, he got a bad back, he got old and he was a teacher. His goal was to find out why people suffer and how to get beyond suffering.
He created a system that he said to his followers, "Test this and if it works for you go for it." Of course, he said that in Sanskrit. If it doesn't, you test it. It's been going for 2,600 years. It works for many people. The goal of Buddhism is to figure out how to let go of craving, to let go of clinging to the desire for things to be other than they are. Because if you are a Buddhist that's generally what you believe causes suffering. Discomfort, whether it's full on suffering or just a kind of grumpy lack of satisfaction with things, is because you want things to be different than they are. If you can let go of that and be fully present, then you can reach a state of awakened satisfaction with life. There's a little more to it than that.
The other two things I think are specially relevant to this particular discussion we're going to have is that, first of all, the Buddhist believe that there are two sides to reality: the absolute and the relative. If you want, you could think of those in terms of the relative Newtonian physics and the absolute is Einsteinian physics or quantum physics. They're both true at the same time, even though they contradict each other.
Dedeker: On this episode of multi-physics--
Annalisa: Then the other thing that I think is very important is the three marks of existence which are, that everything isn't permanent, everything, that there is suffering or Dukkha is the official word, and that there is no self. What I mean by that is that Buddhists believe that there is no such thing as a soul or a individual unchanging part of you that goes on forever. We are causes and conditions, we arise when conditions are right. Then when they're not right, we stop rising and go away. We go back into the general absolute realm.
Emily: Where does reincarnation fit into that then?
Annalisa: Buddhists actually don't believe in reincarnation, they believe in rebirth.
Annalisa: Which means that nothing is ever dies or is born, it's just changing form all the time and so your karma carries forward. Again, a scientific way to think about it, you can see the atheist in me, is to think about it in terms of genetics. A good portion of you is the result of your parents genetics and your parents parents genetics and so on, and that carries forward into you even though you're not them and they're not you; their genetics make up who you are.
Dedeker: It's so interesting that, like you just said about, "You can see the atheist in me coming out," is from my impression is there's actually a fair number of people who identify as "Buddhist Atheist" as well, but a number of people find these philosophies and these practices don't require me necessarily to have to put faith in some kind of deity or some kind of afterlife or something like that. Do you feel like your background as an atheist means that you have more of a tendency to lean on that side of things or do you think that that's changed for you?
Annalisa: Can I say both? For me, it is very important that this practice does not require an unquestioning faith in something I can never see or test, but also my relationship to faith has actually changed over the past 10 years or so. It's not so much faith in a thing out there as it is faith in myself and faith in being able to test thoroughly an idea that I have about what will work and what won't work. That's made my life a lot easier.
Dedeker: Yes, I think that's a good segue actually.
Jase: Yes. When we were talking before recording this, you had told us that you transitioned to polyamory some number of years ago and that you felt like your transition was maybe abnormally easy and you felt that part of that could be because of your Zen practice. I was curious if you could elaborate on that and tell us a little bit more about that.
Annalisa: Yes, absolutely. I'm not making this up, when Alex sat me down after over a decade of marriage and said, "I think we-- I have this thing I have to tell you, it's really important to me that I be able to connect to other people emotionally, sexually. I've been fighting against this. I love you so much, but this is really important to me." I thought about it for a little while, I was like, "Okay."
Emily: Everything's impermanent. Go for it.
Annalisa: Spending day after day meditating on the impermanence of things made it possible for me to just think, "Well, this is a change in our relationship. How does it actually affect me and my connection to Alex? It doesn't, let's go for it." For a while, I was going to stay monogamous because I didn't feel any real pull to be with anyone else. Then I met my boyfriend, Nathan, and I changed my mind. I was like, "Okay, things as they are. Now I'm in a different place."
I've had one jealous moment. All the time we've been-- I get jealous about other things but not about relationships. The one jealous moment was when Alex told me he was taking a girlfriend to see Shakespeare in the park and I was like, "Shakespeare is my life, I Shakespeare, I study Shakespeare, you never go with me to Shakespeare." He said, "Sorry." I was like, "Okay, well, go."
Emily: I was jealous when my friend took his best friend to see Hamilton, so I completely understand.
Dedeker: That theatre jealousy. Sure, I feel you.
Jase: We might get into this a little bit more later in the episode, but I'm imagining myself as a listener at home who doesn't meditate and doesn't identify as Buddhish or anything like that. They hear this and they're like, "Well, bully for you. You're so enlightened and so Zen that's a whatever but for me it sucks and it's hard, this isn't helpful for me." I was curious if you might have any thoughts about-- are there parts of this that someone could start applying to their life fairly easily right away rather than having to spend-- becoming ordained priest of Buddhism to have?
Annalisa: No, my secret plan is for everyone to become an ordained--
Dedeker: Join my multilevel marketing scheme of becoming a Zen priest.
Annalisa: You must come to our six-month retreat. I think that it's not instantaneous, it's not like you can listen to what I'm about to say and go, "Yes, that makes sense," and just have it work for you. I do think that you, listener, people who are not regularly meditating, can sit with the ideas I'm going to talk about for just a little bit of time, a couple of weeks maybe. From what I've seen from friends I've introduced these ideas to, can actually be enough. The first thing to start with a really positive side of things. Everyone is going to die, everything is going to change and all relationships end badly.
Emily: Meaning either through death or otherwise?
Annalisa: Yes, all relationships end badly, either one of you dies or you break up. If you do actually both die at the exact same moment, probably it's through some horrible accident and your last moments are filled with terror, accept the fact that your relationship is going to end badly and stop thinking about it. I think that a lot of fear and jealousy comes from people worrying about the end of the relationship and thinking if they put together the exact right sequence of events, magically it will never end.
Jase: If I say the right things or do the right things?
Annalisa: Right. Accepting impermanence and accepting that impermanence relates to everything, including your relationship and your own body, means that you can focus more on the moment, you can focus more on the middle of the relationship. Is it good right now? Is it making you happy right now? If not, what do I need to change right now as opposed to dwelling in the future and wrapping yourself up in anxiety?
Dedeker: That's such a thing. We've definitely talked about that on this show before of just our tendency to always project into the future when we're going to feel a sense of peace or contentment or happiness, particularly within a relationship and we do it with all arenas of life but particularly with relationships when it's-- or once we get married then it will feel better, or once we have a kid then it will feel better, or once they just finally get their act together then it will feel better, or once we open up, or once we close or whatever it is, then I'll feel better when it's not even paying attention to the actual present of the relationship.
Annalisa: I think that that works in reverse too. I've heard you talk about, as you just said, the desire to think it's going to get better. I think people also dwell on it getting worse like, "Okay, things are fine now but are they going to stay that way?" What I hear from people is all about opening up is or having kids or moving is, "Well, this might be a good thing but will it change stuff?" Of course, it's going to change stuff, but why worry about the changes until they're actually happening? Why not just enjoy what's going right now?
Emily: We talk about attachment just in our daily lives, and I know that that's a Buddhist concept as well because we've talked about impermanence and that's a big thing that we talked about at the retreat and that I've heard in reading the books and all of that, and a sense of emptiness as well. What can you say about attachment in relationships because I do think things such as entitlement in our relationships and being overly attached or overly fearful or overly hopeful, as we've just talked about, can you speak to that a little bit and just how letting go of that attachment to things can be helpful in any type of relationship?
Annalisa: Yes, absolutely. The first thing I want to make clear is that the Buddhist idea of attachment is not the psychological idea of attachment theory. Buddhism is not talking about detachment but about non-attachment. It's about--
Emily: What's the difference between those two?
Annalisa: Being detached means being cut off. Being not attached means accepting things as they are or people as they are, and not seeking to change them, hold on to them or push them away.
Emily: That's huge, wow.
Dedeker: Yes, that's amazing.
Annalisa: The beautiful thing-- I'm sure you've heard, because everyone's heard that if you love something let it go, if it comes back to you, it's yours. That's non-attachment. You can love someone more fully if you're not attached to them because then you don't cling to them, you don't feel a sense of fear that if this person goes away, I will lose something. Your brain isn't constantly scanning to see if they're changing or not the way they were or if they're upset or they're losing interest, you're just with the person in the moment. When you drain the fear out of it, you can have a much more authentic connection.
Emily: Do you think that that's part of what it is, attachment is just kind of fear, it's fear of the unknown, fear of getting something taken away from you?
Annalisa: Well, in Buddhism, we talk about clinging. That what causes suffering is clinging and it's not desire. That's a mistake that a lot of non-Buddhists make. They think Buddhism wants to get rid of desires and for people to be mindless, desireless robots. Desire is a really great thing. You can't awake without the desire to awaken, for example. It's just not needing things to function in a particular way.
It's like, say, you go out with your partner and you want to go to your favorite restaurant. You get there and it's closed for the owners went on vacation. If that ruins your entire evening, you are attached to eating at that restaurant. If you're like, "It sucks but, hey, pizza." Then you're not attached and you have a perfectly good evening even if it's not the one you originally planned.
Dedeker: You mentioned earlier on that these are some concepts that you've, for instance, introduced some of your friends to: these concepts around accept that your relationships aren't permanent, accept that maybe you need to be non-attached in order to actually be able to enjoy them in the moment. My question is, are those people still your friends? I've just found in my experience, in also trying to share similar concepts with friends or with clients, it's like it's a stuff that not a lot of people really want to hear. It's relationship advice that I think turns off a lot of people, maybe because it's so deeply challenging to the way that we're used to just functioning in the world. What's been your experience of that?
Annalisa: That's very interesting. I haven't had a lot of pushback. Maybe I've just chosen the people really carefully to share this with. Maybe it's because I am happy to overwhelm people with this philosophy until they just say, "Okay. Don't hurt me anymore." Though I really haven't had a lot of pushback, I can't say for sure people have taken the advice all the time. I think sometimes people listen to me and nod and think in the back of their heads, "Okay, she'll stop talking soon." Then they go on with their lives, but part of it might also be that Alex and I have an amazing relationship.
They can see that we've done this thing of opening up a long-standing monogamous relationship with great success and that my boyfriend, Nathan, and I have been together for 10 years now. 10 years in June. That's clearly worked. Maybe they're just like, "Well, she might be onto something."
Emily: That's amazing.
Dedeker: Because my experience definitely with clients is I find, when I'm working with clients, people tend to be very receptive to the very practical tools of like, "Okay, here's a meditation you can try. Here's maybe a little bit of a mental twist that you can take on a particular thought, or here's a way to maybe self soothe or be mindful when you're experiencing a moment of jealousy or things like that."
The bigger concept like those things like non attachment, or impermanence, I've definitely found it's like people have to end up in a context where they experience it themselves. It's like they can't quite just receive it, it's like they have to go through the trial by fire and come out the other side being like, "You're right." Then it's a lot easier.
Emily: Or go to a meditation retreat.
Dedeker: Or something like that.
Annalisa: I find the nonself is the one that really freaks people out. That doesn't come up as much in relationship talk, so maybe that's-- but when you try and tell people that there's nothing about them that's unique and long-lasting, they're like, "Okay, bye now."
Jase: Yes, that one is certainly challenging, especially to our Western idea of like a soul that is infinite and maybe always has been and always will be for sure.
Dedeker: I found also talking about the Buddhist concept of emptiness tends to be one that I think there's a lot of Western pushback on as well.
Emily: What is that specifically? I don't know,if we got into that, really breaking it down, what is specifically the concept of emptiness?
Annalisa: The Buddhist concept of emptiness is not nihilism, it's not that nothing exists, it's that nothing exists independent of everything else, everything.
Emily: I see, we are all one.
Annalisa: We're all one, we're all interconnected. My teacher says, "You and I are the same, but I'm not you and you're not me." Which is a way of talking, again, about the relative and the absolute side of things. It's a-- common way of explaining it is if you show someone a bike and you say, "What is it," they'll say, "It's a bike." If you disassemble the bike, and you lay it out and you pick up the handlebars, you say, "Is this the bike?" They'll say, "No," pick up a wheel, "Is this the bike?" "No." When you break something down, you can't find this single inherent aspect of it that makes it the thing it is. Everything is always dependent on everything else to be what it is. Everything is empty of a separate unique self.
Dedeker: That's probably the best most concise explanation of emptiness that I've ever run across. Very well done. You must be practiced in this.
Emily: That's a really good metaphor.
Jase: If I could bring it back then to what you were saying about the ideas that you will share with your friends that you have found, for the ones who have taken the time to think through it has been helpful. You started by talking about impermanence, the idea that your relationships going to end badly one way or another, but accepting that can help you let go a little bit. What are the other ones?
We talked about this emptiness and non-attachment versus detachment, how, for example, this concept of emptiness, like that no part of you is you, you are sort of the collection of all of you together, how does that one apply in relationships, specifically? How has that been helpful?
Annalisa: It's really helpful because people are very attached to specialness in relationships, and they often tie it to exclusivity. Like, "I know my partner loves me because I'm the only person he lives with or shares a bank account with or watches Game of Thrones with or calls Sweetie, or whatever." To recognize that these are empty gestures, and by empty I, again, don't mean without meaning, I mean, that they're literally empty.
Just because your partner watches Game of Thrones with someone else, or call someone else by a pet name, doesn't mean your connection to that person is changed or is lost. What it simply means is that they are connected to the rest of the world and maybe they're a huge Game of Thrones fan and they want to share it with everyone. That's okay. It's not a way of defining how much they care about you.
In fact, you can't define how much someone cares about you because love is not a noun, love is a verb; love is an action. Because everything is empty, you recreate the relationship moment by moment through your actions. What that means is, it doesn't matter what your partner does with anyone else. I mean, it does, obviously, if your partner runs away and leaves you without-- clears out the bank account that obviously matters, but it doesn't mean that at some point in the past if you'd done things differently, you would have a different result now your partner was a jackass and well rid of them.
Dedeker: Interesting. I can just anticipate just people hearing that and being like, "Well, then what is our relationship? How can it be special? What is it that's there?" I know that on the show before, specifically when we've done episodes about specialness and that idea of uniqueness, I know we've encouraged people to think about specialness in this very different way that it sounds like it's related to what you're saying that the specialness of your relationship is made up of what's already happening in your relationship in this unique configuration, these unique causes and influences and factors and conditions that are creating it in this moment, as opposed to it being about because of the fact that the two of you wear jewelry that you exchanged, or like the list of things that you were saying.
Annalisa: Yes. Side note, all of that stuff is great. I mean, I don't want to suggest people should let go of that; they should just let go of clinging to it. I go to a Buddhist temple where it's very heavy into the Japanese ritual and the bowing and the robes and the chanting in Japanese and all that, not because that makes the practice but just because it's a thing we like to do - most of us.
I'm going to get incredibly Buddhist here for just a second. I'll try to do it in a way that’s ok. A 12th-century teacher named Dogen who actually founded the Zen line that I'm part of said, "Nirvana and Samsara are the same thing." What that means is that enlightenment and-- Samsara means unenlightened, stumbling through life suffering, they're the exact same thing.
I think this is useful here because there's nowhere to get in Buddhism. You're already enlightened, everything is all just the way it should be because there's nowhere else to be. This is just it. It's the same with relationships. If your relationship sucks, if you're with someone who's abusive, or someone you constantly argue with, or you have this incredible incompatibility, that's what your relationship is. You can't change it and find your way to less suffering until you accept that that's what it is.
Jase: Can we just meditate on that for a moment?
Can you speak a little more on that? Because I think that's big and also a little bit hard to wrap one's mind around completely.
Annalisa: Yes, so it's trying to get at this paradox in Zen in Buddhism, that you're supposed to completely accept whatever is in the moment, but also be aware that it's going to change because everything is impermanent, and that you can change things. Buddhism isn't about passively accepting, "Look, a child is wandered into traffic. Well, things as they are. The child was doomed to die at this moment." No, you've got to get the child out of the traffic.
You operate from a position of accepting what is present because that is what actually gives you the most freedom. I don't know if this metaphor will work, but let me try. When you make a movement with your arm, you have to relax your muscles first before you can use them. You can't reach for something if your arm is tense. You have to sort of relax and then put the muscles into motion. In the same way, you can't get out of a bad situation until you accept that you're in it. I think one of the really dangerous things people do, not just in relationships but in general, is try to delude themselves about what's actually going on because they think that's what will make them happy.
Dedeker: I can 100% relate to this because I was in a physically abusive relationship for a number of months. And it's so strange, fortunately, it ended years ago, but it was the strangest thing that looking back on it there was this huge-- for me, this huge cognitive dissonance in the sense that when I was in it, I wasn't thinking about it as an abusive relationship. For me, I was like, "No, no, no, this is still a normal relationship. This is a solid relationship, some bad things have happened, but this is still a solid relationship and there's still something here that salvageable, and I can change it and I can get it back on course."
It's so exactly like what you said that it wasn't until that realization actually seeped through for me, that acceptance of like, "No, this is what this is." It wasn't until that happened that then I actually had the strength to be like, "Okay, then I guess I can leave." The same thing later on when it came to figuring out my own healing and going to therapy and tackling that, that it wasn't until there was that acceptance of, "No, this was really bad, it was, it wasn't like a good relationship where there were mistakes, no, this is what it was." It wasn't until that came through that I could find my own healing. At least that's what resonates with me hearing those metaphors and that application.
Annalisa: Yes, exactly. I think one of the things that's important to recognize about meditation, a lot of people think meditation is about relaxing and stress reduction and things like that, and letting go of that. It's actually just about-- It's not about not having thoughts, it's about being present for whatever comes up and letting go of it. The great thing about formal meditation is that when you sit down and if you're a Zen Buddhist you face a wall, you just stare at a wall for 30 minutes without moving; there's nowhere to hide.
If you are upset about something, if you spend 30 minutes not moving, it's going to come to you. If things are really good, that's going to-- All of the emotions are going to come up and there's this container of the meditation to explore them. That's why I think meditation is so great, it's not because it makes you feel relaxed, it can do that sometimes, but it can also-- like I've cried my way through meditation sessions more times than I can count.
Jase: I had a super intense experience last week of just like sobbing on the retreat on the last day of the retreat just because of some stuff that came up. It was great. I felt like 20 pounds lighter at the end of it, but man oh man, yes, it wasn't just like sitting there relaxing thinking about nothing for sure.
Annalisa: As you say, it's great because since you can't escape, you can't like whip out your Gameboy or your phone or-
Jase: Gameboy, I love that.
Annalisa: -stop the car or whatever, then you actually have to deal with the feelings and then they're gone, and you're facing reality.
Dedeker: Yes, and I guess that makes sense why I feel like a lot of people are resistant because I think, especially right now with mindfulness being just like the hot new thing and headspace is installed on everyone's phones, is that I think so many of us are in it for that sense of like what am I going to get out of it? It's going to be all good things. I'm going to relax. I'm going to be able to get out of work brain and get into Saturday night brain or whatever, or I'm going to get rid of the tension in my muscles.
I think a lot of the modern mindfulness movement doesn't really include the full pitch of like, "No, it's also going to suck to a certain extent, the stuff that's going to come up," because I like the way you put it that there's nowhere to hide. You can't hide from the stuff that sucks inside of you and that's not a bad thing, it's actually a good thing, but that's not going to sell an app at the same time.
Emily: They don't tell you about enhancers.
Annalisa: That would be awesome. This app will make you cry uncontrollably for 20 minutes.
Emily: Get ready.
Jase: Although people do sign up to go watch A Dog's Life or whatever that movie was, which is basically sobbing for an hour and a half.
Emily: Did you watch it? I did.
Jase: No, because I know that's what it's going to be and I don't really need that right now.
Emily: No, I can't do that, not with animals. No. I wanted to ask form a more practical application standpoint, if you're in a relationship and you feel moments where triggers-- and meaning just kind of benign triggers, but still triggers or buttons that keep getting pushed on a monthly basis or a weekly basis or something like that, are there practical ways that are included within Buddhism to help you move away from that or change the pattern at least on your own end?
Annalisa: The first step is recognizing that it's a trigger having the moment between the reaction or the feeling and then the reaction to the feeling. You sit with the reaction long enough to spread out that time so that you can not have the reaction. So I'm angry, I'm not going to throw things. Once you've gotten enough space between the feeling and your automatic reaction to see that it's automatic, then you let go. I just say to myself, "Let go, let go, and then let go of letting go." Just breathing. Okay, this doesn't matter, let go, just let go of it, things as they are," and I just say that to myself over and over again until I believe it, and then I can move on and have a more mindful reaction to whatever is upsetting me.
Emily: That's great.
Dedeker: I'm going to ask the counterpoint to Emily's question, which is that with my own background and doing a lot of meditation, I've been very guilty of doing a lot of spiritual bypassing, like there have been literally entire relationships that I have spiritually bypassed my way through where it was like something came up that bothered me, that angered me, and I was just like, "All right, I'm just going to sit through it. I'm just going to meditate and just try to Zen my way through this."
Then, unfortunately, either that would lead to-- it would finally get to a point where it was something that I really couldn't take and then it would be a blow-up or an explosion or something like that, or it led to me realizing, years later, like, "There's been a lot of stuff that I've let slide that I really shouldn't have," and I realize I've been walked all over now, I let myself, I didn't have any boundaries because I tried to meditate through everything. I'm wondering if you could also speak to that because I think that can be the tricky thing to balance here is like, on the one hand is all the reactivity and the attachment and then on the other hand is an unhealthy level of just trying to let go of all desires and all attachments to the point where you have no boundaries.
Annalisa: That one is harder for me personally to work with because although I am female-bodied, I was raised as and have always been a very assertive person, oftentimes very assertive. I had to work at it from the first side of things of backing away from pushing my agenda, but I think it's a really important point because especially for female-bodied people who grow up in a culture being trained to defer and deflect and take on themselves and I think in that case what you should be meditating on, if you know this about yourself and if you don't maybe looking at your relationships and seeing patterns, but if you know that about yourself what your meditation work be on is on your boundaries. It should be on letting go of the need to defer, the need to submit, the need to give in. Because letting go in Zen is a really radical letting go, it's letting go of everything including patterns that have protected you up to this point.
Emily: I like that.
Annalisa: We do things because they reward us in some way. Even if the reward doesn't seem to balance out the negative aspects, like for me it's food. I don't want to weigh as much as I do, but I really like eating because it soothes me, and I'm still struggling to deal with the emotions rather than default to eating the chocolate, because eating the chocolate is so much easier and it's instantly rewarding. Backing out of an argument and telling the other person, "Okay, that's fine, whatever you want." That's an instant hit of gratification. You feel like a good person, and you make the other person happy, so the argument goes away.
As you say, you're spiritually bypassing and so you need to let go of that pattern. I wish I could give you an easy way to get to the point where you recognize that you're spiritually bypassing, so you could then work on letting go, but that's really tricky.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. I know that's interesting that you point out it being this little hit of gratification because it seems counterintuitive to say that, but when I think back to the times that I would do this, it makes a lot of sense that it's like, well, it doesn't feel great necessarily to give in or to just give someone what they want or to try to be the bigger person in a situation.
It does mean that the rest of my night at home tonight is going to be peaceful, and so that feels good. It does mean that we're going to be able to go on a date tonight, and it's going to feel peaceful, and so that feels good. Even if the rest of the time it feels crappy, which I think is really interesting. What I've noticed in some of my past relationships that were not great, and also with some of the clients that I work with, I think the thing that I recommend, people cue themselves into is that if the only way that your relationship is functioning is-
This is ironic because this is what I actually say. It's that the only way that your relationship is functioning is for one of you to have to turn into a Buddhist nun or a monk and just be chill all the time. That's not a real relationship. I don't know maybe it's like if someone can notice that there's this constant pattern of I always have to defer or I always have to end up sitting my way through it or something like that. Sometimes by the time you've gotten to that point, things are pretty bad.
Annalisa: Yes. Again, I don't want to make it sound like the only way this works is if you have a meditation practice, meditate every day for years. If you sit for a period of time with this question of what makes my relationship work, perhaps what comes up will tell you what you're clinging to. It might be the relationship itself. It's entirely possible that this relationship should have ended and it just hasn't because you're in love with the idea of the relationship rather than the relationship as it is.
That's a possibility. As you say, if you are sitting there thinking, well, I always have to be the bigger person. I always have to give in. Luckily, I'm so spiritually advanced that I can do this. That's a sign that there's a problem.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely.
Jase: Yes. I want to go back for a second to I guess related to your answer to Emily's question about how to- I like to think of it like how to have that circuit breaker in there between when the power surge comes in from someone doing something that annoys you or that frustrates you or whatever. That little circuit breaker in between that and then me, electrocuting you. I made that metaphor work. I made it happen.
Emily: It worked. That was good.
Jase: I talk about that a lot on this show and I think about this a lot in my own life of how over time I've gotten better at finding that space, that very tiny little space that happens right between something happening and me responding to it, one. Or the thing that happens between me having a thought and then me saying something or doing something is that little tiny moment over the years has become bigger and I'm able to have more thoughts during that moment before my reactions.
That has been really helpful for me. Something I've struggled with is finding good ways to teach people or tell people how to find that moment. I just was curious if there might be anything in Zen Buddhism about that.
Annalisa: Yes, but the answer is dedicate yourself to zazen, to a meditation practice and do it regularly. That's not something you get around. There's no shortcut for that. It doesn't have to be a formal meditation practice, but it has to be something you work on regularly. I'm sure that you didn't just wake up one day and go, "Now I'm mature and I will no longer react."
Annalisa: Nobody gets to expand that little period- I like the idea of circuit breaker, without constantly engaging with that moment as it comes up over and over and over again over months and years. Sorry.
Emily: That's fine.
Jase: The one thing that has been told to me that I think has been helpful and that I think we've gotten better about doing actually just in the course of doing this show, is just slowing down the tiniest bit in speaking, is what I'm thinking of specifically. There's been a lot of stuff on this show where certain terms or turns of phrase that we use everything from saying, um, or like or, you know, to calling women girls or saying you guys instead of you all or something like that.
Little things like that's just so habitual, you don't even think about them and just trying to slow down that moment between thinking a thing and saying a thing. Just enough to be able to evaluate what you're saying as you do. I have found that to be helpful, but it is just yes, it's just practicing it. Just having enough of a desire to practice it that you do.
Annalisa: I think part of it also is forgiving yourself when you make the mistake. If your reaction to making the mistake or saying the thing you didn't want to say or having the instant reaction is shame, then you're actually shortening the time where you can think, not lengthening it. Forgiving yourself allows you to move forward with the practice. I think that's very important.
The other thing is in terms of Buddhist psychology, Buddhist psychology breaks down the thought process into excruciating detail that I will not go into here.
Annalisa: What it does do that I think is very useful is that it describes having an interaction as first you have a sense reaction, then you respond to that reaction and then you have a way you engage with the world. Say, someone yells at you. The first thing that happens in terms of Buddhist psychology is not that you get upset, it's just that there's noise and you have to actually label that as an upsetting thing in order to have a reaction to it.
You can think maybe about the moment between where the thing is unlabeled and it's simply a physical or if it's in your mind, a mental moment that has neither good nor bad. It just is. Then you can see that you're labeling of it is the problem or the thing that leads to the reaction. A loud noise can be upsetting or it can be firecrackers and you're like, "Yes, I love firecrackers." I actually hate firecrackers.
Annalisa: That's the example I came up with, we'll go with it. Your labeling of, "That noise is firecrackers and I like firecrackers because they're pretty so the loud noise doesn't bother me." That's the space you want to expand, the space between the thing just happening without a label, and you're labeling of it. Not so much the space between the labeling and the interaction.
Dedeker: Yes. I want to reiterate, though, because I think I don't want our listeners for their takeaway to be like, "Okay, if my partner yells at me, I'll just interpret it as noise and-
Jase: That's fireworks.
Dedeker: It's like fireworks and that's okay. You can have that space, you can have that circuit breaker as it were and if your conclusion still is, that's a boundary for me. That's not acceptable, I think that that's okay. It seems like we're more focusing on putting in more space between your partner yells at you and then the knee jerk reaction kicks in and you yell back, and then we keep escalating. Is it along those lines?
Annalisa: Yes, absolutely. First of all, there are times when an instinctive, automatic reaction is important. If a rattlesnake leaps up out of the path in front of you, you should not be like, "That could be dangerous."
Annalisa: "What reaction shall I have to this rattlesnake?" No. If you put your hand on a hot stove you don't have to think about pulling it off. It's instinctive, it's embodied, it's automatic. Sometimes emotional reactions have to be that instinctive and automatic to keep us safe. It's just that our world is so complex now that many of the things that our body says, this is a threat, are not actually a threat.
Or they're not the kind of threat that you need an automatic reaction to. First of all, there's things that you have to react to automatically. Secondly, once you've had the calm circuit breaker moment you might still feel that your appropriate response is to yell back. Maybe that is the appropriate response. I'm not saying that it never is.
Dedeker: Something that our listeners don't know, a little bit of trivia about our guest today, is that our guest is connected to another guest that we had on the show. Annalisa, you are married, correct? You're married to Dr. Alex Bove who we had on last year to talk about his research specifically about metamours and male metamours getting along with each other.
Since it seems you're in a household that deals with metamour troubles, have you found that your zen practice, in particular, has brought you any kind of insight into that?
Annalisa: I think that I have used my zen practice in a lot of ways to help with metamours and to make them feel comfortable and to smooth over any problems. I could go on at length but I know we're getting a little short on time so I will talk briefly instead about Metta practice which is actually not strictly speaking zen, but zen has sort of adopted it from the Theravadan school.
Metta practice, if you don't know you can look up the details online, but it's a practice where you first for yourself and then for widening circles of people, offer them wishes of happiness and health. You start with yourself, you go to someone you care about, you go to someone or a group of people that you're neutral about and then you go to someone you have problems with.
You sit there in meditation and you say- and there's different formulations, the one I use is, "May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace." It's usually four things and then you imagine the person in front of you and you say, "May you" whoever it is. This is going to sound kind of woo-woo but I swear to God it's true. If you do regular Metta practice for someone that you're having problems with, you will have fewer problems with them.
Emily: That's great.
Annalisa: I notice it. This is not a poly thing but I had a colleague that I was about ready to poison.
Annalisa: He was a horrible, entitled male jackass, thought he was smarter than everyone. He was also my chair. Out of desperation, I started doing Metta for him. It took a couple of months but he took me out to lunch to apologize.
Many voices: Wow.
Annalisa: Yes. I don't know if there was some movement in the universe because we're all connected or it's because sitting down every day and trying very hard to wish him well made my behavior towards him different, but it broke the lock jam of me thinking he was an entitled jackass and him acting like one. If you have a metamour that is just getting on your nerves, wish that they'd be happy and healthy and safe and at peace, every day for a couple of minutes. I swear to you it will help.
Dedeker: Wow, that's amazing.
Dedeker: I know I've heard of this often called loving-kindness meditation as well. For listeners who want to Google that or want to look more into that there's plenty of--
Emily: That's Metta?
Dedeker: Yes, Metta.
Dedeker: Yes. Metta for your metas is basically what it is.
Jase: I like that Metta for your metas. That's great.
Dedeker: It's definitely a kind of meditation I found in my experience that yes, it can be hard because it can feel woo and it's easy to feel resistant to the woo-woo and that's also something to examine as well. However, it's also a form of meditation that usually, as you'll find if you do Google it and research it, that there's this set formula, this set structure, this set things that you can say that it's a great form of meditation that's accessible for beginners in a sense.
It's like, "Okay, here. Follow these instructions" and then just repeat these until things soften or until you feel something or things like that.
Jase: There are some good, guided meditations. There's so many guided Metta meditations out there because it is such an essential thing and such an easy to understand thing. I think sometimes beginners, and myself included when I was more of a beginner, I was very resistant to guided meditations because I felt like that's not legit meditation, it's not real.
Emily: It's cheating. The nuns did it with us, no wonder it was great.
Jase: I think it can be a really helpful thing especially starting out to just give you like, "What am I even doing while I'm sitting here?" Can't really help.
Annalisa: Metta is also great for people to do for themselves. How often do you wish that you would be at peace and healthy and happy? It's a nice thing to do for yourself.
Emily: Very rarely.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely.
Emily: From a conceptual level just even sitting there and being like, "I hope that I'm happy. I hope that I'm doing well. I hope that I'm at peace." Yes, it's not something that I sit there and mindfully think about so I really like that idea of doing it with yourself as well.
Dedeker: That's not often the narrative running through people's heads for themselves by default. That's my impression.
Jase: That was my experience during this meditation retreat of just like ending up sobbing at the end of this 45-minute meditation session was giving that love and care to a part of myself that I hadn't been for 20 years or something. That was a pretty huge moment. That's usually not how my voice in my head is talking to myself. It's more like, "You fucked up again. You idiot, what are you doing? Come on, work harder" or "Focus better" or whatever.
It's such a change in the way I think most of our internal voices are.
Annalisa: Absolutely. We're never kind to ourselves. When we're kind to ourselves I think it's usually in a soothing, delusive way. We're not really kind. We're just sort of like, "Okay, give the baby a pacifier and shut them up."
Annalisa: Not really helping solve the problem. We're just covering it over with alcohol, with food, with distraction. We're not really honoring the feelings we have by letting them be and figuring out what's going on.
Dedeker: That's amazing. I feel like a lot of self-care can fall into that category, that it's more of a pacifier kind of self-care rather than what maybe we actually really deeply need. That's something to think about.
Emily: For sure. There were so many things to think about in this episode.
Jase: Yes, seriously. At the end here we wanted to ask where our listeners can find more about you and maybe even some more of these resources. I don't know if you have any of those on your own site or if you'd like to point them somewhere else. Where can people go for that?
Annalisa: I'm old and Shakesperean and a Zen student so I don't have a website. People can find me on Facebook. I'm in the Patreon group. I post there. People can certainly e-mail me if anyone has any questions. I'm happy to give out my e-mail address. If you want me to do that now it's firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't know actually of a really good single site for Buddhist philosophy. Yes, I should have planned to have it.
Emily: No, it's all good. If you come up with one we could put it in the show notes.
Dedeker: Yes. You can definitely let us know and we can put it in the show notes. Before going on this retreat the book that all three of us read to just kind of get this very base level primer was that book by-
Emily: It's right here.
Dedeker: Yes. By, Noah Rasheta, No-Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners. I think it's great. Steven Batchelor who is a very famous, self-proclaimed Buddhist-Atheist also wrote this book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, that again I think is also pretty accessible for people wanting to apply these principles and these practices without necessarily wanting to dive headlong and convert to Buddhism and go that whole route.
Annalisa: If people are looking for a short book on Buddhism, there's a book called What The Buddha Taught.
Emily: No one has talked about that.
Dedeker: Yes. It's a good one.
Annalisa: Yes, it's a great book and it's not at all trying to say, this is the way or you should convert. It's just like, here is basic teachings. It's a really great starter.
Dedeker: Nice, excellent. Well, so much for us to literally and figuratively meditate upon after this episode. Thank you so much for taking your time to come on and share your wisdom and your knowledge and your practical tools with us. We are really happy to have you.
Emily: Yes, thank you so much, Annalisa.
Annalisa: Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun. I really love the show. I'm thrilled to be on it.