20 Questions — Soul-Style, with Susan Piver

Today’s 20 Questions — Soul-Style interview is with none other than Susan Piver, speaker, teacher, author and thinker. Susan is the creator of the Open Heart Project, which is a great resource for anyone who is trying to find the time or find that comfort zone when it comes to quieting the mind and practicing meditation. Her newsletter includes 2 (free!) 10-minute guided meditations per week! So as you’ll see in her answers to my questions, Susan is the real deal. The wisdom flows out of her like water from the tap. Read on.

20 Questions — Soul-Style

1. Who are you?

I’m a mystic.

2. What do you do? 

I’m a writer and a teacher.

3. Why do you do it?

I don’t think I have a choice. It seems the only thing I am capable of doing. And, whatever situation I get in I end up writing about it or teaching within it, so it just seems to be how I’m wired.

4. How did you find your way to it?

Someone asked me something similar the other day. It was complete serendipity. It was a communication with the environment, I would say, more than a plan that I made up in my room and then set out to execute. It was more about venturing into a dialogue with the events of my life, good, bad and ugly.

5. How do you feel when you do it?

I feel everything when I do what I do. I feel exhilarated, I feel scared, I feel powerful, I feel hopeful. I feel confused.

6. What is the joy that keeps you up at night?

Studying the dharma. I have to say that I have tremendous joy in studying, contemplating, trying to make sense of the Buddha dharma. Tremendous joy.

7. What is one thing you still have to practice every day?

Oh gosh, only one? Not being afraid of who I am.

8. What are you always searching for?

Understanding.

9. What have you found after searching?

That whenever I think I’ve understood one corner of one piece of truth, it gives way to let me know that whatever it is I thought was true about life, reality, love, it’s deeper than that. “Deeper than that” could be my motto — there is no end to the vastness.

10. How do you stay connected to your inner core of peace?

The most important thing, and the only way to stay connected, in my opinion, is to be open to the times when there is no inner peace and allow that to be true, too. And that creates a ground of peace, whether you feel peaceful or enraged or loved or bored. When you don’t try to reject some things and latch onto others, that creates a ground of peace that can include any feeling state.

11. What makes you feel led or guided?

I love these questions! In Buddhism it’s called “auspicious coincidence,” and there are 3 things that make me feel led or guided. One is my teacher. I feel a constant sense of communication with my own Buddhist teacher, my own guru. And the second thing is, I feel guided when I sense that there is congruence between my inner life and my outer circumstances. When I feel like there’s a dialogue taking place. It can be as simple as I think about someone and then I see them. An idea occurs to me, and then I get a phone call with an invitation to do something related to that idea. That’s what I mean by feeling led by those actual circumstances. And then the third thing, which is going to sound very strange, is that I feel guided by numbers. I have a strange connection to numbers, and that sounds nutty, but often when I’m at a stress point or a learning point certain particular numbers seem to arise. It’s been happening since I was a child, and I’ve given up trying to figure out what it means. Numerology I have no interest in. I see numbers. Remember the movie The Sixth Sense? “I see dead people”? I see numbers.

12. What do you do when you can’t hear God (or the Universe, or Source, or your intuition) speaking to you?

Well, first I cry because I just feel so alone. And then I try to do the thing that is most counterintuitive and actually difficult, I think, which is to relax. Instead of trying to recover that sense of communion, or find the Divine, or whatever you’re going to call it, I try to relax with my sense of being disconnected and trust that the connection will re-arise if I stay relaxed. But if I start trying to muck about, then I just delay the reconnecting because my mind is just not as big as The Big Mind.

13. What is the difference between resistance and fear?

There’s no way to know — you only know in retrospect. So either one is fine. You’ll learn something either way, and in retrospect you’ll see a pattern, but not before.

14. Where does the idea come from that we are broken, unworthy or undeserving?

That is a great question. That is the most important question, I think, facing planet Earth. I know it sounds like a very bold statement, but I’m really not exaggerating. In the Shambhala Buddhist lineage that I practice in, there’s an answer to that question and the answer is, doubt in basic goodness. And basic goodness doesn’t mean that everyone is good, because obviously some people aren’t. It means that our nature is goodness. Because we’re born expecting an embrace — nobody was born thinking, I wonder if anyone likes me? We’re born thinking, I will be loved. That’s one way of defining what is meant by basic goodness. And when you start to doubt that, that, in this particular school of thought, is the seed of self doubt, judgement, criticism, aggression and so on.

15. How do you move past that to connect with others on a soul level?

There is a very specific technique and way to move past it, and in the Buddhist tradition it’s called meditation. It’s about relaxing with your mind as it is, with the notion that, if you lean in, not in the Sheryl Sandberg sense, but if you lean toward what you are experiencing, it will right itself. But inasmuch as you lean away, or pull away, it will come toward you more strongly. Meditation is the practice of sitting with, leaning toward, your experience with an open heart and gentleness. And then, things right themselves. I’ve seen it a million times.

16. How do you move from a place of lack or scarcity to a place of abundance and generosity?

Such a great question. I struggle with that so much myself. I’m a perpetual student kind of person, so I’m not saying this is for everyone, but when I turn toward the dharma and reconnect with its vastness — and by dharma I mean truth, in my case the Buddha dharma, but I’m not saying that’s where everyone should turn — I’m confronted by, I’m clobbered by richness. There’s so much richness, and, similarly, when I take time to recall and reconnect with my own basic goodness, which doesn’t mean in my own sense “I’m a really good person” but my own longing for love and humanness and vulnerability, that is a source of “rich” for me. Being human is just such an extraordinarily rich experience. And the Buddhist view of generosity is, you give not when you have enough and can afford to but you give because you recognize the limitless qualities that you possess. So you give from a sense of richness. There’s so much richness present that it’s so easy to give. I cannot say that I have reached that state by any means, but it is a model for me.

17. When do you feel most alive?

It’s interesting to me: When I’m teaching. I love to teach, and I feel very alert and alive and present.

18. What is the path to a softer heart?

It’s very easy to answer, but I don’t want it to sound prosaic: It is the sitting practice of meditation. Anybody who knows anything about Buddhism, for example, can think, Oh, it’s connected to compassion, so you should be compassionate. And the main practice of Buddhism is meditation. So they must be connected, but how can sitting on the ground doing nothing soften my heart? I don’t know, but it does. As you experience this kind of gentleness toward your own experience by allowing it, gentleness toward others naturally flowers because that is how human beings are built.

19. How do you love those who are most difficult to love?

Why would you try? Maybe they’re in your family, but I would say first it’s really good to let yourself off the hook with the sense that you don’t have to love everyone. You can even hate people. And I’m not saying that’s good, and I’m not saying you won’t suffer for that at some point — we’re human — and people you don’t like and don’t agree with and you don’t think they’re doing things the right way and you wish they would be different, I say do it. Go for it. You can feel whatever you want. There is just one thing you can’t do, and that is think that one person is any different than you. Or you any different than them. Once that comes in, it becomes a very dicey situation. Instead of trying to feel approval or affection or kindness even, you feel that this is a fellow human being who is not different than you. It’s a good place to stand. You can still not like what they do, but you can’t put them in a different category than yourself.

20. How does a busy mom like me balance, work, family and what is actually necessary to create a peaceful foundation upon which to build all of that, such as yoga, meditation and that connection to your soul and being true to yourself? How do you find that balance?

If I knew the answer to that question, I would be king of the world! That’s a hard one! Everybody’s really busy and has tremendous responsibility and is trying so hard. But at periodic moments, even if you can only do it for 5 minutes every other day or 5 minutes every day or 5 minutes here and there of just resting your mind through the practice of meditation…you see, we try to balance things usually by doing more things, like rearranging things or changing things or working on things. I mean, we all should be really intelligent about the way we order our lives, but everything has a limit. Your mind, like your body, gets exhausted, and you can’t balance something that’s exhausted. So if you can just find 5 minutes to rest your mind, whether it’s through meditation or walking outside with no electronics, taking a 10-minute walk, that restores a sense of balance without having to change the externals, which you can’t change. I’m not saying it makes you balanced 24/7, but just like your body your mind needs a rest, and then it can get back in the game with more vitality.

Wow! What a lady. Did I ever tell you guys that “Compassion” is my word for the year? It seems so eloquently woven in and out of Susan’s speech, the kindness and gentleness we must practice toward ourselves that then flows out to others, I just find such relief and such deep grace in her message.

As always, if you enjoyed these 20 Questions, click here to visit the home page of the series for all of the interviews to date, and stick around next week for Jen Louden (subscribe below if you haven’t already)!

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