Susan Piver is a meditation expert, teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is the founder of the Open Heart Project, the world’s largest virtual mindfulness community, offering meditation, courses and support.
Susan has taught thousands of students in workshops, events, and retreats around the globe. She has written 9 books and her latest book is Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation.
She is a frequent guest on network television, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today and CNN. She also also been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and others.
Earlier this year, Susan and I participated together in Seth Godin’s altMBA Program and we have stayed in touch after the course ended. I have a lot of respect for the amazing mindfulness community she has created with her Open Heart Project. Recently I’ve had a great pleasure to record this Extramilest Podcast with Susan. We talked about a variety of topics around meditation and mindfulness to improve your performance in training, racing and life.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Susan Piver!
- Listen to it on iTunes or Libsyn
- Stream by clicking here
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
Win Meditation Books!
Another weekly giveaway! Congrats to Steve Spears for winning last week’s contest, a running shirt from Aevok Apparel. This week you can win 2 amazing books on the topics of Meditation: Start Here Now by Susan Piver and Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post below. Winner will be announced on November 18th on the Contest Page and per email.
- Susan tells us how she first started with meditation, after reading the book The Heart of the Buddha.
- What meditation really is and how can people benefit from meditation?
- That’s the biggest misconception about meditation practice is that in order to do it you have to stop thinking.
- The basic meditation technique could not be more simple. It’s you, sitting around this earth, breathing. That’s it.
- The objective of meditation is to notice how and who you are right now from moment to moment. To stop pushing and just be with yourself as you are. When thoughts arise, notice them and let them go.
- What a beginner meditation practice would look like?
- For the practice of running and meditation, consistency is key.
- How you can experiencing mindfulness, when mind and body are synchronized in the same place?
- The many benefits of meditation, such as lowering stress hormone cortisol, increase immunity, improve sleep, and awakening your mind, which results in strength, endurance, creativity and much more!
- The benefits of meditation arise most quickly when you abandon your agenda entirely.
- Susan tells us about obstacles people run into when starting out with meditation and how to overcome these obstacles.
- Being busy is a form of laziness. The importance of taking the time to prioritize where to put your time and effort into?
- The connection between body and mind and how to use this as a benefit in endurance events?
- How Susan’s teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, used visualization, mindfulness and relaxation to finish strong at the Boston Marathon.
- How you can run more mindful by focusing deeply how it feels when your feet hit the ground, the wind and sun hitting your skin, listening to all the sounds around you, focusing on your breath, etc.
- How The Open Heart Project grew to the largest virtual mindfulness community with online meditation classes, courses and support.
- The many benefits of joining the Open Heart Project with the free and paid programs.
- How to get started with meditation the right way.
- Connect with Susan Piver: website, newsletter, Facebook, Instagram
- Open Heart Project
- Seth Godin
- Alt MBA
- Book – The Heart of the Buddha by Chogyam Trungpa
- Book – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- Book – Fit Body, Fit Soul by Mark Allen
- Book – Running with the mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
- Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
- Article – Being Busy is a Form of Laziness by Tim Ferriss
- Extramilest Podcast with Mark Allen
- Boston Marathon
See Full Transcript Below
Flo: … That background here, I’ve been out in the mountains today.
Susan Piver: Exactly [laughs].
Flo: How about you, where are you hanging out right now? This is at your home?
Susan: Yes, this is my office. My office it’s like a studio apartment next door model.
Flo: Right on. You’re currently located on the East Coast correct?
Susan: Yes, in Boston.
Flo: Okay perfect. I love Boston. Boston is an amazing city. There’s a lot of runners in our running community that have a very special bond with Boston as well. Obviously because of the Boston marathon and it is one of the main goals for many of the runners to actually qualify for it because it really needs a fast qualifying time.
Susan: Yes, it is a runner’s town. Really is and Adidas is here and Converse, and Reebok. Just a lot of running activity.
Flo: Yes, right, definitely. I was out there two years ago for the Boston marathon and it was an amazing experience just to see all the people. I think there were like a million people on the side of the road just cheering on and everything.
Susan: It’s so exciting, it’s so touching. I’ve been one of those people on the side of the road just having cups of water and cheering.
Flo: It really helps, it gives you that energy when you see all the people so enthusiastic. That’s definitely good.
Flo: I wanted to jump into two different topics in particular. For me personally I take a very holistic approach to running. It’s not only focusing on let’s train and train more. You train the body but I think there’s also a very important part of making sure that you train the mind as well. I would love to talk more about that and how meditation can play a role into that. Then later on I want to talk a bit more about mindfulness in general as well. Also some of the daily habits that you can get into and through some of the projects that you have started like the open heart project that is very exciting.
Susan: Yes, perfect.
Flo: Good. First I want to start off, we thank you very much for coming on this podcast. I really respect all of the work that you have produced and I’m very happy to have you. Thank you.
Susan: You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me. I am really happy that we know each other.
Flo: Yes absolutely. We got to know each other through sets of MBA program. Seth Godin, he put together a very intense four week alter MBA program where we both learned a lot about creativity, about business and how to ship projects. I had the pleasure of being in some of the same work group. That was very exciting really.
Susan: It was really great.
Flo: Yes, absolutely. Can we maybe start off for a little bit more about some of your background and how you first started out with meditation? What got you into it?
Susan: Sure. Well, I’ve been a meditator for a long time. For over 20 years. I was reading a book, a particular book called The Heart of the Buddha. I just read widely about various things but at that time I didn’t really know there was a difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. Really didn’t know what I was reading about. But I liked the title The Heart of the Buddha.
As I was reading it with every page I was thinking this is the first thing I ever read that made sense. This makes sense, I must be a Buddhist [chuckles] didn’t notice I was called. Page after page the importance of a meditation practice was emphasized. I thought well then I have to start meditate and I did it very shortly thereafter and immediately realized it was important for me. And that changed my mind since that time.
Flo: That’s good. That was 20 years ago already.
Susan: Yes, one of the 20 actually 24.
Flo: I think it would be very helpful for some of the people listening to this is let’s start at the beginning for a little bit. Some of the basic fundamental. There’s quite a bit of misconception about what meditation is and what it isn’t. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What really is meditation and how can people benefit from it?
Susan: Sure. Yes, you’re right. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s actually something very, very simple. All that is substituting for your discursive mind another object of attention. What I mean by that is your discursive mind and a part of you and me and everyone that is always commenting, judging, and ticking, and wondering and thinking about the past or wondering about the future. It’s incessant.
It’s an endless cascade of thought. That’s normally where our attention goes which is very normal. What else are you going to think about but thoughts? However, meditation asks you to take your primary attention off of your thoughts and place it on another object instead. That’s all it is. In some practices that object is an image, something you look at or visualize in your mind’s eye, and some practices that something is a sound, like a mantra or you chant om or something like that. In the most common practices and practice I teach, that object is your breath. It’s very convenient. You’re already doing it anyway.
Flo: It’s automatic happening, yes.
Susan: It’s right where you are, and you don’t have to crank anything up. You’re not going to introduce anything new to your ecosystem. It’s now already, so you simply take your mind off your intention, off of your thoughts, and place it on your breath. Then of course, your attention will stray back into thought because, hey, you can’t stop thinking. That’s the biggest misconception about meditation practice is that in order to do it you have to stop thinking. Like you say, please look after your eyeballs, but try not to see anything.
Susan: It’s very not useful. Your attention strays to thoughts blah blah blah, whatever is going on, and then you notice that. That’s a wonderful moment. It’s a moment of wakefulness. You let go gently and you bring your attention back to the breath. That’s it. That’s it. You take a certain posture, and you work with obstacles in particular ways. The basic technique could not be more simple. It’s you, Floris, sitting around this earth, breathing. That’s it.
Flo: Basically, it is slowing down whatever you’re doing, right? Because we’re so caught up in the day to day, especially, now with being 24/7 connected. It’s disconnecting for a little bit, and taking that time for yourself.
Susan: It seems to slow you down at some point, but it is not necessary slow down to meditate, and it is not the objective of meditation to slow down. Rather, the objective is to notice how and who you are right now from moment to moment. That is called relaxing. Normally, we are pushing ourselves to accomplish more, speed up. Sometimes we reverse that and start pushing ourselves to slow down and accomplish less, but we’re still pushing.
The practice says stop pushing, and just be with yourself as you are. When beautiful, lovely, perky, happy thoughts arise, notice that and let them go. When anxious, urgent, stressful thoughts arise, cool. Notice that and let them go. Violent, angry thoughts, no problem. Boring and silly thoughts, it’s all included.
Flo: Yes, and how long would a normal like for someone starting out with meditation, a practice even five or ten minutes a day consistently for five days a week or something like that would already be a good start, is that correct?
Susan: Beyond a good start. They’ll be a fabulous start. Five to ten minutes a day, Monday to Friday, is great. Is better than an hour every once in a while. People think, well, by meditating for longer I’m better at it. BS? No. The important with meditation like with any habit, you’re a runner you know this, is consistency.
Susan: Not duration. If you run a mile everyday for five days, you would get somewhere, but if you were trying to run five miles in one day, you would just hurt yourself.
Flo: We see that quite often as well. I think even with runners who are very busy during the week, they try to stack in all their miles in the weekends and they basically do 10, 20, 25 miles in the weekends whereas during the week not much. The consistency is so much more important. That’s what I also say in running. If you have, let’s say, four days a week to train, I think it’s better to just spread it out more evenly, let’s say a Tuesday, Thursday, a Saturday, and a Sunday, and do it shorter instead of longer at once.
Susan: Same with meditation.
Flo: Yes, absolutely. The one part that I’ve been so amazed by, and some of the benefits of meditation. I started about two years ago. For me, initially, I read a book by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. That really got me initially to start out with this. I became more aware of what it was to be very present, and to be more aware of some of the thoughts. One of the key things that I have noticed is that in certain times of the day, I would have an intense moment of being present.
I don’t recall that very often, but sometimes for just five seconds, I would be in the middle of a meeting and I would become very present. Initially, that started a few times. Later, it became more and more frequent as I started meditating more. I did notice that it helped with some of my stress relief. I felt that I calmed down a little bit more with certain situations. There’s a lot more benefits, correct? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Susan: Yes, there are endless benefits. It’s very interesting that you started to notice moments of being present. I’m just curious, if you don’t mind, what did you notice and I’m happy to answer your question.
Flo: What I noticed is I would be in a conversation with someone for example, and it would be a meeting with 10 or 15 people, and there would always be a lot of things going on and my thoughts would be all over the place. Whereas now, sometimes if I would be more aware of what was happening in the room, as if I was more actively present. I even notice that with my children sometimes. I would be playing with my kids, and all of a sudden I could truly look my daughter in the eye and be really there, instead of being half checked out, or being half with your mind at work still. Truly, being present, and I did start noticing that a few weeks or months after I started meditating a bit more frequently.
Susan: That is one of the primary benefits. It is called mindfulness. You notice that your mind is on what your body is doing. Playing with the kids, or running, or riding bike. Suddenly you notice, “Oh my mind and body are synchronized.” That’s what mindfulness is, when mind and body are synchronized in the same place. You’re actually attending to what you are doing without being like you say, half checked out.
Flo: It was an intense happiness feeling though. I’m not like it rises almost as if you become very aware. At the beginning, it was only once or twice a day. As I got more into it, it’s almost out of 10 or 15 times a day. It was only five or 10 seconds, a short bit, but still.
Susan: It made you happy? One could imagine that that is because meditation is a spiritual practice. It is not a self-help technique. Even though there are countless neuroscience studies that tell you how it will help you, and it will help you. It will lower the stress hormone cortisol. It will increase your immunity, it would make you feel less stressed out. It will help you get a better night sleep, or help you to manage chronic pain.
It will help you recover from shocks to the nervous system. It has endless application from a neurobiological perspective, and that is fantastic. However, that’s been happening for over 2,500 years. It’s not like, “Oh, just discovered that these things are good, that meditation is good.” Yes, all those benefits, awesome, fantastic. The real benefits I would say are what thought are called the three qualities of the awakened mind, which are the following; The awakened mind is compassionate, it is wise, and it is powerful. Powerful meaning present because a certain power comes with that not aggression.
Like strength and endurance, and resilience, and curiosity, and creativity. Everything comes with that moment that you’re describing, a presence. Those are the real benefits, go way beyond. It is not a life hack. Interestingly, the benefits arise most quickly when you abandon your agenda entirely. You will come to the practice with an agenda, and everyone’s like, “Oh, that was perfect, I think I’ll start meditating.” We’re all like, “I want to better this or that.” That’s fine, that’s great.
While you’re practicing, it’s very important to let go of those things, and not to look only towards those things within the measure of your practice. But to look for these more inner experiences because they’re bound to happen.
Flo: I’m so guilty of that myself as well. The whole wanting to measure progress and I run a lot with a heart rate monitor trying to measure your monthly progress and any of these things. But this indeed indeed, there’s not one person is better at meditating than the other, right? It is purely the practice of sitting. You’re not going to get an award for any of it. It’s purely you for yourself.
Susan: Exactly, I totally get what you’re saying and yes sure it’s great that you measure, it’s great that you attend to your progress. That’s awesome, that’s beautiful. Everybody that I’ve ever spoken to wants to know that they’re doing meditation right. That they’re good at it. Just as you’re suggesting, it does not matter if you’re good at it. If you were awarded gold medal for following the breath, like you are number one [chuckles] on planet earth, you’re the world’s best breath follower, it wouldn’t be that awesome.
If you were the world’s best florist, the kindest person to their children, the most creative at work, the most happy at being alive. Those would be good things to accomplish. That’s what happens from you practice. Whether you’re good at it or not good.
Flo: Can you talk a little bit about some of the obstacles that people run into initially starting out with meditation to get going and what you can do to overcome some of these obstacles?
Susan: Yes. Actually classical Buddhists define certain obstacles, these obstacles were defined thousands of years ago but they are surprisingly relevant. I’ll mention them in a second. The primary obstacle is mismanaged expectations from one’s practice. Like I’m going to sit down and I’m going to put on yoga pants and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to look really happy and all my problems are going to melt away and I’m going to become peaceful.
Actually you do become peaceful but not by converting everything that happens in your world to even tone. I think for the most people say they want to be more peaceful what they really mean is, I don’t want painful things to hurt. I want them not to hurt. But actually meditation widens, broadens your emotional spectrum. You actually feel more so that’s interesting.
One of the obstacles is becoming confused about what progress in meditation looks like. The antidote is to start your practice with right expectations. Do a little bit of preparation, a little bit of study and talk to someone who knows what meditation is about. Whether you talk to them in person or read their book. It’s very important. The obstacle in classical Buddhism is called laziness.
There are three kinds of laziness. We can all relate to this. The first one is ordinary laziness is, “No thanks, I’ll just go out and look out to watch TV, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to pull it off.” The antidote is effort. No one is going to put on your running shoes for you and get you out and start running your legs and no one is going to put your butt down and put cushion on your chair you just have to have to do it. There’s no special Buddhist trick for overcoming that form of laziness well not to deal with it.
The second form of laziness is called becoming disheartened. Which means losing confidence in yourself, losing confidence in the practice whether it’s running or meditation is considered a form of laziness interestingly because you actually know within yourself that this is important and this is powerful and yet you are making progress. Even though on some days it really doesn’t feel like it. Laziness is forgetting. The third form of laziness and final part is very interesting for us Westerners I think. It’s called being too busy. [chuckles]
Flo: We all know that.
Susan: We all know that. It’s considered a form of laziness which is counterintuitive because we think all busy people are busy because they’re not lazy, they have a lot of responsibilities that are important and lot of things to do. This view says, if you’re too busy to do the things that are really important you have become lazy. The important things are taking care of your body and your heart and people you love and discovering who you are and expressing your creativity and exploring your inner world. These are the real priorities and of course it’s easy for everyday. It’s just like those things slipped to the bottom of the list and that’s called laziness.
Flo: That is very interesting you saying that because even when I was listening to Tim Ferriss he had some point set as well that busyness is a form of laziness, and that goes right hand and hand what you just explained. The importance of actually taking the time to prioritize and see where you want to put that time and effort into.
Susan: And do things carefully.
Susan: That’s really interesting when you said that. I concur.
Flo: Yes, absolutely. I had an interesting conversation on one of the other Extramilest podcast shows, and that was with Mark Allen. He is a six-time world champion Iron Man. An Iron Man is actually a double triathlon in distance. It’s a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run. It takes many hours and it really is one of the hardest endurance one-day single events out there.
He actually wrote a very interesting book. It is call Fit Body, Fit Soul. That was all about the connection as well of you need to have your mind in the right place in order to be able to push your body. We had some interesting conversations about that, because even in a race, once you get to a tough spot. Let’s say a marathon is 26 miles, 42 kilometers, once you get to that 20-mile point, that 32-kilometer point, that is where the race really starts.
That’s why I feel it is more a mind over matter. It really is how you are able to talk to yourself, how you are able to push yourself through some of these harder moments. Can you talk a little bit more about your experiences between the connection of body and mind and how this could potentially benefit even in some of the endurance force? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Susan: I have a few thoughts, but my main thoughts come from my own teacher. I’m a Buddhist in a very traditional way. I practice and it’s about lineage. My teacher, his name is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. He’s a marathoner.
Flo: Wow, I didn’t know that.
Susan: Yes, he’s a marathoner. He started running, I think he’s like 52 or 53, he started running when he’s about 40. He competed in the Boston Marathon twice.
Susan: Within a few years of beginning a running practice.
Flo: That is very good.
Susan: He’s also an accomplished at dressage, horseback riding, and an excellent golfer. He picked all of these things up in his 40’s. Except horseback riding he did it since a child. Anyway, he wrote a book that I really like to recommend called Running with the Mind of Meditation.
Flo: Wow, yes, absolutely.
Susan: That is the book that can answer this question. It’s amazing. It’s really good. I talked to him after he completed his first marathon, because I live in Boston. He said at about the 20-mile mark, just as you say, he realized that he was visualizing in his mind what was happening to the joints and he was feeling the pain of various things as anyone would feel who has ever run that long, but just with the pain.
He immediately began working with his mind, and place his mind on what to him were images that he used to meditation. He completed his first marathon in a really good time, competitive time. Whether the pain is physical or emotional, the ability to remain with your experience seems to be of the greatest importance. When we just start fighting with it, like, “Oh, I’m not in pain.” Or, “I’m in pain, but let me ignore that. Let me just think about something else.”
Well, it just comes back to hit you again. There’s two ways to relax with things that are uncomfortable. One is to get away with them. That’s not very practical especially when you’re at mile 20 of a 26 mile race.
Flo: You still got six miles to go, yes.
Susan: Exactly. The other way to relax is to relax with, not get away, but relax with what is happening. You can relax with what you are feeling in your joints, you can relax with what you’re feeling in your heart, if the pain is emotional, and you can just allow it. You’re at the party too, yes, we’re doing this together knee pain and lungs and all my muscles, but here we go. We’re doing it. I’m a yoga practitioner. I have been up for a couple of decades at this point.
I know that for my whole life, there are poses that are easy for me, poses that are hard for me. But when I get into a pose that is difficult, the best thing for me to do is not to try to push further, because I will hurt myself, but to relax with the pain. Relax with the tension. Once I do that, it gives a little bit. And then I relax with that. And then it gives a little bit more on good days. There’s some quality of turning toward your experience head on that you learn from meditation practice that it has incalculable positive benefits physical.
Flo: It is so interesting you are saying that because I have experienced it myself even running in some of these harder marathons where I was trying to go for a faster time. And towards the end, I noticed my body started tensing up. My shoulders would get tense. My fist would get clenched. I would really get to work. At some point when you tell yourself, “All right. It’s all going to be okay. Just relax.”
Although you still putting in the hard work, you actually release. It seems as if the effort becomes more comfortable again. The funniest thing in Boston I’ve experienced at some point, I was going for a personal record there. I noticed the expressions in my face became more grumpy and everything. Once I told myself, “All right. Just relax. Try to smile or slap a high five to a stranger.” And all of a sudden you get this boost of energy again. It is really that connection of being more aware of your body.
Susan: Exactly. Being able to work with your attention because when you described that so well. First you notice this grumpy face or whatever it was. That’s the key is to notice it.
Flo: Yes. Being aware.
Susan: Because otherwise it just reads in your inner experience as some kind of discomfort. When you can point it, “Oh, it’s my face or it’s my shoulders,” then you have a choice. You don’t have any choice pre-awareness, no choice. This is riding you, you’re not riding it. Once you take it in with your awareness, you have options. It doesn’t help to push it away first. First you have to feel. Always, I feel like I have tense shoulders. Well, I feel like I have a grumpy face. And then let go. And then shift your attention around from your body to the people around you to what’s going on behind you. Don’t do that. You might fall down, you know what I mean?
Susan: To feel shift your attention where you would like it to go. That is my bonus.
Flo: Yes. What are some other ways to become more mindful while running? I prefer not to really run with music that much. That is one of the ways that I can focus on my breath. Just like what you’re talking about in meditation. You actually put your mind on your breath and that is what you focus on. Is there any other ways or are there any other ways to become more mindful while running?
Susan: Yes. Again, Running with the Mind of Meditation is like a 150 page answer to that question.
Susan: It’s a great book. I’ve read it several times. I can tell you and also from my own experience as a very slow, bad runner for many years. I can run two miles or something.
Flo: That’s really good.
Susan: Yes. I just run around the reservoir and go do some yoga. That’s good for me. In mediation as we discussed, your attention is on the breathe. Strays, bring it back. In running, you make your body running the object of your meditation. You push your attention on your body. What it feels like when your feet hit the ground? What it feels like when the air is on your skin? Just some aspect of what you’re doing.
I totally agree with you not listening to music. Well, sometimes it’s like, “I got to do it because I just want to get this done. And it’ll make it easier.” But when you take the running itself as your mediation, it creates a more interesting, I would say, a sustained connection to the practice of running. Whereas, if you have to distract yourself from what you’re doing while you’re doing it, that’s kind of stressful. If you can make your experience running your meditation, then it becomes kind of joyful. And it has more than physical benefits. It has spiritual benefits.
Flo: Yes. Absolutely. Well, that’s the most awesome part. Sometimes even a 20-minute or 30-minute run, when you go out after a long day work and you end up going for a 20 or 30-minute run. You notice your cortisol stress hormones already lowering and your happiness levels just increase significantly. That’s that whole connection between body and mind once again. Absolutely.
Susan: Absolutely. As you said in the beginning of our conversation, we already have a lot of complexities in our life. A lot of busyness, a lot of speed, we’re always trying to push ourselves to do better, or to do two things at once like, “I’ll listen to this audiobook about how to make more money while I’m running.” Okay, that’s cool, my friends got too much to do and you want to try to put things in. Every once in awhile, you could just do what you’re doing.
You know the first actually produces anxiety, it’s like if you take this and like, “Let me put this down,” the first impulse is not, “Oh, what a relief.” The first impulse is, “Uh-oh.” If you stay away from this for a little while then you gradually start to relax so it’s the same one thing meditation with running. If you just keep it very very simple just do that thing, it starts to become a source of ease.
Flo: It is crazy how you just mentioned that part, because I’ve started experimenting with it a little bit more here and there of taking let’s say on a Saturday or Sunday a block of four or six hours. I just turn off the phone, put it away, don’t even look at it then go grocery shopping without a phone. Go play with the kids without a phone, I notice it I’m so trained by default to, “Okay, we go to the playground,” and something fun is happening, “Oh, where’s my phone to take a picture?” Or that there’s this happening like I’m standing in line for five minutes, like let’s grab my phone and instead of just being present and being there.
Susan: It’s funny isn’t it, instead of being like, “Oh, what a relief,” you feel anxious and that’s not a problem that’s natural because we’re accustomed to having constant entertainments, constant occupations. When you’re used to something and then it stops it’s disconcerting but then it gradually becomes like, “Oh yes, I remember what it’s like to not get attached to a machine. It’s pretty great.”
Flo: Absolutely, yes. Especially, with the amount of information doubling every year. I think we’re only going to see more and more but the good thing is I do feel mindfulness and meditation is getting more and more awareness. E ven if I look in the last few years, more and more people have started meditating even around me which is very good to see.
Susan: It’s a very helpful thing.
Flo: Absolutely, with that being said you also have an online virtual community of mindfulness. People all around the world called the Open Heart Project, correct?
Susan: I do, yes.
Flo: Even that has grown a lot over time, can you talk a little bit more about that and how people can also benefit from this?
Susan: Yes, sure. Thank you for bringing it up. Yes, I started the Open Heart Project about four years ago maybe five at this point and it was because when I would go and teach retreats, at the end I would say, “If you want to keep meditating, it’s good to find a meditation instructor.” Because the practice is very — it’s like one eyeball trying to look at the other eyeball could just start to feel weird or you’re like, “I don’t know what it means it’s not working, I don’t know.” It’s good to have someone to talk to, just very simple.
Not like a guru or anything like that just someone, meditation instructor. I’m a meditation instructor in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and you can find one in various places. Most people would say I live in Alaska we don’t have meditation teachers or I just moved to Bolivia I don’t have a meditation teacher I’m in the Ukraine. People could not find with someone to talk to about their meditation practice.
I started sending out a video once a week with the free video, it’s still free. 10-minute guided practice preceded by a short three to seven-minute talk on something related to meditation or Buddism. To my surprise it seemed to be filling a gap not just for people who didn’t live near meditation center but for people who went to a meditation center and didn’t like it or lived next door to meditation center but have seven children and can’t get out of the house. It just seems to be fitting this need. Now, there are close to 20,000 people all over the world to meditate with me, I guess you could say.
Flo: 20,000 people that is an amazing community that you’ve built up in four years there.
Susan: It’s incredible. It’s an endless source of delight. A couple years ago I’m like, “Okay, this is my full time job now. I had to figure out a way to monetize it.” I offer online classes and there are various things that people do or I can interact with them more and help them go deeper in their practice.
Flo: I’ve seen many of the different videos that you’ve put out there on the newsletters, I’m one of your subscribers there.
Susan: Thank you.
Flo: Yes [laughs]. It’s always nice to see the different videos coming through. On top of that you also have several different retreats coming up, right? Like writing and meditation retreats and I do think you also have a paid program for the meditation for more of a daily meditation guided, correct?
Susan: Yes, that’s $27 a month. There’s a daily guided meditation and also we have this amazing thing in the Open Heart Project. I have to figure out a way to get people to be more aware of this. It’s called the Daily Dharma Gathering. Every day at 8:00 PM east coast time. But then it’s recorded, you can watch the recording for 24 hours. It’s a different teacher, not me.
Guiding a 30-minute practice, guiding a 10-minute talk, 10-minute practice, 10-minute conversation. There are Tibetan teachers, and Zen teachers, and Vipassana teachers, and old teachers, and young teachers, and black teachers, and white teachers, and skinny teachers, and fat teachers. It’s a wonderful array of really, really, really good teachers. That’s it.
Flo: Yes. I was very impressed. Incredible lineup of people from all around the world. It was very well put together.
Susan: I am so proud of it. I am so proud of it and it’s a great thing. The Open Heart Project is really a meditation center that was in the Cloud. It has what meditation centers would have. It has introductory free things, it has ways to go deeper, it has guest teachers and it has retreats. We do retreats online. It has classes, it has what a meditation center would have only it’s virtual.
Flo: Virtual. People can find this at openheartproject.com?
Susan: Yes, or just my name, susanpiver.com.
Flo: Absolutely. I will put that in the show outro as well.
Susan: Thank you.
Flo: That’s good. I wanted to take a look at this book as well because this is one of your latest books that you have written, right? Start Here Now. It basically goes through the basic fundamentals of meditation and also how to get people started. It is a very easy read. I went through it in probably an end of an afternoon. It has a lot of good information in there so I can highly recommend this.
Susan: Thank you.
Flo: What I will do as well, I’ll give away a copy of this book and a copy of the other book that you had just mentioned about the Running in Meditation as well.
Susan: Please do it.
Flo: I’ll pick one of the people who leave a comments on the website and then from there I’ll make him win a copy of both books.
Susan: That’s awesome. That’s great. Thank you.
Flo: I wanted to close things up over here, if people really are excited and want to get started. Just putting their toe in the water, what would be some high level advice that you can give right now just to get people started today?
Susan: The first thing is to learn meditation from someone that has been trained to teach it. It’s a sacred trust to teach someone meditation because you are saying, “Please invite me into your mind and let me tell you how. Let me give you some tips what happens in there.” It’s very personal.
Susan: It can be very weird so you want someone who really knows how to teach it. I also feel very strongly that you should learn meditation that is connected to a lineage that is more than 2500 years old.[laughter]
Susan: That’s why I lie in the sand. Again it’s because it’s a very profound practice, extremely simple as you know, but incredibly profound. Those moments of presence that you described, those are profound moments.
Susan: You want to learn of technique that has been tested over millennia. It has been honed and perfected and you can trust it. Whenever you’re doing anything spiritual or anything related to your mind or your heart, you must know that you could trust it. Lineage is the key to finding something trustworthy. Then I would say you can read a book, you can watch a video.
The best thing is to go to someone teaching in person but not everyone can do that, I understand. Find a video, find a book from someone who you like. The important thing with meditation instruction is that to find a person or a tradition where you feel a heart connection. This is what we’re looking for. I may like this person, you may not like that person, that’s fine, doesn’t matter.
You want to find someone that when they teach, when you hear them you think, “That makes sense. That makes sense. I like that. I like them. I would like more of that.” Then, that’s a good place to start.
Flo: Yes. Because there are a lot of different types of meditation, right? It really is about finding what works best for you. Part of that is also that doing some of your research and testing and trying out a few different options, good to test things, until you eventually find what works best.
Susan: We want to avoid new age nonsense, it’s very important.
Flo: What do you mean with new age nonsense?
Susan: Something that someone made up in their house six months ago or six years ago that comes with a promise of perfecting your life so that you can get everything you want.
Flo: Yes. Good. This is very eye-opening once again, absolutely. I appreciate your time and your thoughts, I know you have a lot going on and there’s a lot of exciting projects in your world. What is the best place for people to find out more about you, Susan?
Susan: My website susanpiver.com, that is the best and thank you for your time I know because we did all the MBA together but you have lots of projects going on too.
Flo: Yes, that’s good though. This is where meditation comes into place as well. Okay, great. Thank you very much Susan.
Susan: Thank you.
Flo: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Susan Piver. Meditation has made a huge difference in my life in the past few years and I hope you have learned a few things from this conversation.
I’m curious to hear, what was your favorite lesson from this conversation. Please let me know in the comments below.
I’m going to give away a copy of the books I mentioned earlier, Start Here Now by Susan Piver, and Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham.
Every week I’m giving away different books, running gear and other gadgets on my site. Winners will be announced at extramilest.com/contest
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