Interview for the Cultural Observer

(This is the original (unedited) English version. For the actual interview in Romanian, please click here)

 

In your book, you underline the fact that, every moment, no matter how small or ordinary, is precious. Only few of us have managed to be fully aware of this reality, while most of us mainly focus on the waiting or projecting the future: waiting for the next season to arrive, waiting for the ideal partner, waiting for the salary day, and so on and so forth. What does it take to stop waiting and start appreciating what is already here?

It takes value; and what happens is that, most of the time, we simply don’t have enough value for this moment right now.

Instead, what is that we value? For most people, most of the time, we value the next moment, what is coming, what is going to happen. And one reason (there are other reasons too) why we do this is because we don’t understand that this moment IS our life. What does this mean? If I ask a person, any person, about his/her life, that person will immediately go to her mind and will start telling me about her past (where the person was born, about her parents, about her suffering and challenges, about her accomplishments, etc) and then, will start telling me about his/her plans about the future (his idea of a new house, or a planned trip to this exotic place or his chances of getting this new job, etc.) And this ‘mental image’ will be his/her definition of ‘my life’.

But notice that ‘my life’ are images, mental constructions, thoughts appearing in the mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them, except that they cannot be called ‘my life’.

‘My life’ IS our experience, and our experience happen only in this moment right now.

We can to learn to call ‘my life’ only this present moment experience…because after all, it is really the only thing we ever have and, sooner or later, it will be the thing we will miss the most.

To understand better what I mean, I would like to give an example. There is a wonderful play by Shakespeare called Richard III. Very briefly, it is about the rise to power and subsequent short reign of King Richard III of England, a very dishonest and unscrupulous character. At the very end of the play, after many crimes and lies and hypocrisies to obtain the crown, and while fighting the last battle, his horse is killed and he is about to lose his life when he utters this vary infamous words: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

At that moment, he was willing to exchange his kingdom – the one thing for which he had fought so hard all his life, what he always thought was truly important – for a horse, for a few more moments of life, for a few more moments of experience. Which experience? This experience right now: I am, I exist, I am alive, and I love to exist, I love to be alive.

This is because our life, at its very essence, is nothing but the experience of this moment.

…Just for a few seconds, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, and notice this moment. Do not think about it, imagine it or remember it, but just experience now. This now IS our life. This now is neither a big moment nor a small moment; it is just the experience of our life. It is our life.

We need not to wait until our last moments to realize the fundamental value that this moment has for us.

The past and the future are very important parts of our lives that need to be taking care of and value, but they are not its essence. We can recognize what is the very substance of our lives – this moment right now – and bring value to it.

If we don’t, sooner or later we will be crying together with Richard: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

 

What urged you to write this book, based on your personal spiritual journey and practices? What exactly set the whole process of writing in motion? 

The whole book started as a note for my blog.

I teach a yoga class in which at the beginning of each class, as a way to introduce the real meaning of the classes, I bring different subjects of discussion. At a certain point I started recording those introductions and after a while started to transform those intros into notes, which sometime later became my blog.

Also many questions from my students made their way into the notes.

After some time, a few people started to ask me why did I not put those notes together into a book. I started to add several more notes and 7 years later, ‘About Presence – A Journey into Ourselves’ was born.

 

One important aspect that you emphasize in your book is the importance of being in touch with oneself. Apparently, it is a solitary project, but since we are all interconnected, don’t you think that this type of journey needs some form of common learning, some shared context or experience, in order to fully embrace the inter-connected being that we are? 

If you want to know what gold is, and you ask a person about it, and that person shows you a golden ring, then you may start to think that gold has the form of a ring. In order to know what gold really is, you will have to separate gold from all the ornaments. Once you know what gold is, then you will not confuse it with a ring or a bracelet or a coin.

In the same way, what we try to realize by paying attention to presence is that happiness / well-being / peace / fulfillment, are not things that are outside of myself but that they are inside myself.

But what do we usually think? We truly believe that the peace and happiness and fulfillment we all want are outside of ourselves, that they are in the next relationship, or the next job, or the next trip, or the next house.

But this is the great mistake, ‘the original sin’. It is not. And the only way to realize this forgotten truth is by returning to myself and discover that the peace and satisfaction and fulfillment that we are searching is not outside in things, but in myself, right here and now. It is not an easy discovery to make but, in the long term, it is easier than the frustration, bitterness and disappointment that often entails looking for it in the wrong place.

And not only that. The recognition is not of MY peace or My satisfaction or MY fulfillment, but it is the recognition that the peace and satisfaction and fulfillment IS the sense of interconnectedness with all that is.

But again, that interconnectedness cannot be found outside, but only in myself.

Why is that? Because if I look outside, all I see is separation, and that separation – me and the world – creates the craving of getting those things that I don’t have but I believe that if I have them, then, and only then, I can be at peace.

But the great discovery is the realization that what I am lacking are not the external objects, but the internal recognition that at the very essence of myself, I am not separated from the rest. And it is this recognition, and not anything I can get, that will produce the true peace and satisfaction we all look, but cannot find.

 

In times of uncertainty, people begin to search for belief systems that could give them a sense of cohesion, that could provide both an explanation for the suffering and some form of solace (comfort). What is your spiritual advice for this period of isolation, uncertainty and even pain, for many of us?

To me, the solution is not in belief systems, but in the recognition of our own inner peace and satisfaction, independent of what may or may not happen outside of ourselves.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings having a human experience”, says an old and famous quote. We need to rediscover the truth about ourselves, and not be so dependant on the uncertain-outside-world to make us happy.

 

How do you see crises, in general? How can we best navigate the amount of change and even anxiety that they may bring without losing our trust and our inner compass? 

It think it would be very important for us to review what are the things we trust and where is our inner compass pointing to because it could be that the things we trust may not be as trustworthy as we hope them to be.

For example, one thing we all want is security, and we trust that if we save some money, buy some property and get married we are going to be more or less secure. But are we?

It is very important to discover that security is not secure, that there is no security in life. Why not? Because everything is changing all the time, nothing ever remains the same. But if we trust on changing things to not to change – to make us feel secure – then, sooner or later, we are going to suffer. For me, a good example is Steve Jobs. It will be hard to find someone as secure as him, but even so, it is clear now that his security was not so secure.

Another example is comfort and pleasure. We all want it, and we trust that by fulfilling our desires we are going to feel good. And it is true…but only for a very short while.

In modern psychology there is a term: Hedonic adaptation. It can be understood in different ways, and one of them is simply the understanding that the more I want, the more I will need. Why? Because it is the novelty what makes the satisfaction of any desire so pleasant. But after a while, whatever I got, will start to lose its appeal, and a new thing will be needed…and again, and again, and again.

There are studies on, for example, lottery winners. Winning a lottery typically allows a person to live the life of their dreams. But it turns out that after a period a lottery winner end up as happy as they were before they won the lottery. They start taking their new sport cars and great houses for granted, not different than they were taking their simpler car or two-rooms apartment before they won the lottery.

But it is the same with simpler things. We feel very happy because we bought the last version iPhone or an expensive pair of shoes, but very soon, we will be longing for a new version of the phone or a more extravagant pair of shoes.

And it is also the same with relationships. We meet the man or woman of our dreams and after a successful affair we end up marrying that person. We start very happy, even blissful, but before long, usually after two years, we start finding flaws and imperfections in our spouse and not long after that, we may start thinking about starting a relationship with someone else. Or for more conservative people, criticism, recriminations and   quarreling become the norm.

There is no certainty in life, and it is exactly the desire for certainty what creates the most anxiety.

And so, what is the solution?

The most immediate one lies in embracing what is. In valuing what we have and stop relying on what is coming. In learning to want the things we already have. 

Now, many people, when they hear something like this, become very afraid of never improving, evolving or growing. But this is not a valid fear. Nothing needs to change in the way we act, except for our expectations – our inner compass. We believe that what we want is more money or a new relationship or a new car or a bigger house. But in reality it is not those things that we want, but the happiness that we believe those things can give us. It is the happiness that we want, not the things themselves. And our error is in the believe that the things are the ones that contain the happiness. But the fact that security is not secure and that the hedonic adaptation is always working are some of the proves that shows us that happiness is not in things.

Improve all you need, evolve, grow, change, advance, move forward, do all you need, but understand that the happiness you are looking is not there, at the end of your work, but it is right here, in this moment right now.

Another question that may arise is: but if my happiness is not there, then, why will I want to move at all? The answer is that you don’t move to find happiness, but because the movement is necessary, because life moves, and we move with life. When this is clearly understood, one does what needs to be done, from happiness, and not as a way to get happiness.

 

How do you think one can overcome fear, especially these days, during the pandemic, when all emotions tend to intensify in an instant? 

There is a quote I like very much from Marcus Aurelius:

‘Everything that befalls us, even illness and death, should seem as familiar to you as the sight of roses in spring or fruits in autumn.’

Marcus Aurelius was one of the greatest emperors Rome ever had and he was also a philosopher, a wise person. He lived trough a pandemic, and very probably died of it. Even at the very end of his life, as he was dying and his friends were mourning him he scold them and ask them to be at peace with the natural course of life.

As I said before, it is the desire for things to be different from the way they actually are what creates the anxiety, the fear and the stress, not the things themselves.

Of course we all have things that we like and prefer and have things that don’t like and rather avoid.

But we can learn to want and desire only the things that are under our control and to allow what is not under our control to be as it is.

What is under our control? Only our interpretation of a particular event, and the immediate action based on that interpretation. For example, let’s say you get sick. What is up to you, if there is enough presence in you, is the way you react to your sickness: to be upset, irritated and frightful or to be calm and accepting of the situation. The situation itself you cannot change, but the way you react to it is up to you. And so, because you understand that there is nothing you can do about what is not up to you, you take it as an experience that life is bringing you at this moment and you act/do what needs to be done. In this case, going to a doctor, start a diet, taking a pill, etc.

The pandemic is not up to us. But the way we react to it, if we have enough presence, is. The fear, the anxiety and the stress are the result of the resistance to the pandemic, and not the pandemic itself. Of course the pandemic is something that nobody will chose or want, but it is the same with any sickness. Who will want a sickness? But sickness is a part of life, and one either resist it or allows it.

It is the same with the pandemic. Either man made or natural, they have always appeared, and they will always keep appearing The fact of their coming or the fact of their going is not up to me, but the way I react to it, is.

And so, returning to your question, the way to overcome fear is to put all my energy and attention into responding and acting with wisdom to what is under my control, and to let and allow everything that is not under my control to be as it is. Or as Marcus say, to let everything that is not under my control be ‘…as familiar to you as the sight of roses in spring or fruits in autumn.’

 

What do you think is the best benefit that yoga can bring to all of us?

To me, yoga is mostly about creating a quiet, open, receptive mind, a mind that is able to see life as it is, independent of my fear and desires for life to be they way I would like it to be.

Life has its laws, and going against this laws will sooner or later create pain and suffering in myself and in the world at large. And the reason why anybody will go against life’s laws is exactly because instead of being open and receptive to learn and appreciate life’s laws, it tries by force and power to bend life’s laws to his/her own caprices and whimsies.

To me, Yoga is mostly about opening our eyes to the larger vision of life as a whole: to take care, love and appreciate ourselves, other people, and the world at large, all within our own capacities and possibilities.

This quiet mind is also the necessary preparation, if the need appears in our heart, to discover the true nature of ourselves.

 

Interviu realizat de Alina PURCARU

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