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You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Adreanna Limbach. Adreanna is a personal development coach and a meditation instructor, who specializes in helping women access their inherent clarity and confidence so that they can expand their freedom in business and life. She is a lead teacher at the MNDFL meditation studios in New York City. And she’s the author of a new book with Sounds True called Tea and Cake with Demons: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy. What impressed me so much about listening to Adreanna Limbach is that here she is, a millennial who discovered the core teachings of Buddhism as a gateway to working with the most challenging and difficult of emotions, including her own panic attacks early in life. And through meditation and the core Buddhist teachings, found a way to welcome absolutely every experience, even really challenging ones. Here’s my conversation with Adreanna Limbach.
Adreanna, let’s start by talking about the title of your new book, Tea and Cake with Demons. Talk to me about the demons.
Adreanna Limbach: So the demons in Tea and Cake with Demons—the demons can be a number of different things. The demons primarily that I’m talking about in this book are really anything that we find to be incredibly challenging emotionally or any unintegrated aspects of our personality or anything that really comes to the forefront when we’re feeling under-resourced or overwhelmed. I know that for myself, that’s oftentimes when the harder or the gnarly aspects of who I am, my personality, really tend to come to the forefront and show themselves. So that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about the demons. And, yes, so the title for the book really came from a story that I continue to hear passed around different meditation circles and different Buddhist circles, which is a story about the Buddha, a little anecdote about the time that his sort of, I guess, archnemesis, Mara, who is the personification of self-doubt and ignorance, came into town. And all of his monks came running to alert him to say, “Hey, Mara’s in town, Mara’s in town, what are we going to do about it?”
And the way that the story is oftentimes told is that they launch into these different strategies for how they’re going to deal with the fact that the personification of self-doubt or ignorance or kind of like the big bad demon has come to town. And this is the part of the story that I’ve always related to the most because in hearing the story told I’m like, “Oh, yes, that is me.” That is absolutely the way that I have strategized dealing with all of the hardest aspects of my personality—the things that I feel a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame around—which is to either run for the hills, aka entirely repress what’s going on here, just kind of avoid it, get out of town, or to go on the attack, to go on the offensive, to deal with this demon or this personification of the hardest part by really going on the offensive and taking that path, or to just hide, kind of like freeze or just go underground. Again, repression, not really dealing with it.
And in this parable in the story, the Buddha says, “Well, why don’t we try a different route? Why don’t we invite Mara to tea? How about we just lay out the finest China that we have, invite him into the door and welcome him here as my esteemed guest, not as an enemy, not as a problem that I have to solve, but as my guest.” And doing the research for the book, I kept trying to figure out the source of this story because it doesn’t come from any of the sutras that I read. And there’s really no source for the story. Some people say that it originated from Jack Kornfield, some people say it originated from Thich Nhat Hạnh. So it is one of these stories that’s traded and passed around.
I’m not exactly sure what its origins are, but I think it does such a wonderful job of illustrating the way that we tend to, or just speaking from my own experience, the way that I tend to deal with the more difficult emotions and giving a completely different way, giving a completely different opportunity to work with these emotions, to work with these more difficult aspects of ourselves: by inviting them in and just befriending them.
TS: OK, so let’s talk a little bit about this idea of welcoming these difficult experiences. It’s one thing to say I’m willing to tolerate the extremes of, maybe in my case, it might be something like sadness or vulnerability that is a really difficult emotion for me to be with. I’ll tolerate it, but actually welcoming it that’s a further step. So talk some about making that further step.
AL: Yes, so again, I think it goes back to taking the sting out of it a little bit of really looking at what it is that we don’t necessarily want to be dealing with. And instead, flipping the script a little bit and asking ourselves what if, what if we not just tolerated or abided the presence of this thing that we don’t like? Because I feel like in some sense, that’s sort of passive, it’s passive aggression. It’s like, “OK, I’ve seen you and I don’t want you here. And so I’m going to just kind of tolerate you to some extent.” But instead, flipping the script and saying, “What if we extended a sense of kindness, a sense of friendship to what it is that we don’t sort of impulsively want.” Not just a sense of tolerating, but a sense of accommodation. Like, “OK, come on in.”
So it’s something that I’ve always found particularly in the core teaching, but this stems from … the book is wrapped around the Four Noble Truths. And also just in my own direct experience that there is oftentimes some wisdom in whatever it is that I find that I’m avoiding. And I think that the welcoming, the inviting in, and not just the kind of abiding or tolerating, really gives us an opportunity to A) treat these demons, treat what is unwanted, or sort of un-dealt-with, unprocessed, as though there is some wisdom here, as though there’s some value, some benefit, some basic dignity to these demons. But then also it gives us an opportunity to learn from them.
TS: There is a very profound idea that there’s wisdom in what we’ve been avoiding. Can you give me an example of that from your own experience, something you were avoiding, you welcomed to tea and cake, and the wisdom that came?
AL: Oh, yes, absolutely. So I think for me, something that I am really quick to, particularly in the moments when I’m feeling the most vulnerable and I’m feeling the most overwhelmed, the most under-resourced, is anger. I know that for some people, maybe conflict and anger are not in their wheelhouse. But for me, it’s often then right there, and it’s one of what I would consider to be one of my most easily reachable demons because it doesn’t necessarily feel good, it feels really powerful in the short term. But I think the wisdom that I’ve found and the anger that I feel when I’m at my most under-resourced, my most stressed out, my most vulnerable, my most conflicted is that it really is some wisdom, some aspect of me that’s trying to reclaim some power over my feeling of vulnerability. There is a sense of wisdom there, but it’s coming out in sort of a neurotic way. So I think there is some sense of that anger being for my benefit, but it’s just, it’s coming out in a really strange wonky way.
TS: Now, Adreanna, you write in the new book that your demons came out in a strong way in the book-writing process itself, and that anybody who’s going to write a book called Tea and Cake with Demons, get ready. Tell us about that and how you worked with it, specifically to move through really the encounter with a lot of inner obstacles.
AL: Yes, honestly, to me, that is not something that I really anticipated would happen, which, as you say that out loud, of course! If you’re going to write a book called Tea and Cake with Demons, watch out, get ready for it because the entire process really was me facing up to my own demons or essentially the things that scared my feeling of being worthy of writing this book. So all of my self-doubt, all of my hesitation, all of my embarrassment, all my shame really just came to the surface in the form of complete resistance. Each time that I would sit down to write, I would have to … It almost felt like I was kind of like inviting one by one the chorus of voices, the chorus of demons that would come to the forefront and question my ability to translate what I wanted to say in a way that felt both sincere and cohesive, question my right to be writing this book in the first place, question my ability to actually finish the thing and feel good about it.
So it really was just an entire process of, one by one, saying, “OK, hello. I see you. Thank you for the information. OK, come on in. All right, let’s take a moment with this. OK, so thank you for being here again. I know that we just had tea yesterday, but this one is fresh today. Tell me why today I don’t deserve to be writing this book.” And really, sharing those parts of myself out, hearing those insecurities out and allowing them to have a voice and allowing them to have a seat at the table without necessarily handing them the wheel. And it really did feel like the entire process of the book from beginning to end there was no point in which I felt like I wasn’t also including the chorus of voices, the chorus of demons that would come into the writing process.
And that just became essentially the practice. Writing the book was the practice of inviting in every hesitation, every ounce of self-doubt, every fear of who else might be implicated in this book, and the reasons why they might be angry at me. And really just everything came to the surface. And it felt like a very sort of boots-on-the-ground practice of inviting my demons and allowing them to have space and allowing them to have a voice and writing the book anyway.
TS: I wonder if we can get even more granular. So something comes up for you like “Who am I to be writing a book on The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path?” Whatever that voice of Judgment is. Do I really all blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever it is. In that moment you’re saying, “OK, I’m writing a book on this very topic of how to work with this.” What do you do? What do you actually do?
AL: Yes, so, Tami, I wrote so much, so much that didn’t actually make its way into the book, where I allowed each of these hesitations some time to come through in the writing process. Like, “OK, I thought that I was going to sit down and write about this chapter today, but what I’m actually going to sit down and write about is why I feel like I am a terrible writer, and why this book was a really bad idea, and how I’m never going to get it finished, and how everyone is going to think that I’m a total fraud, and how I already feel like a complete failure, and then that would be my writing process.”
That would be what I was writing about until that argument felt exhausted, until I was able to just let that voice and let that demon run around enough in my writing process that it would exhaust itself. And once it exhausted itself, I would keep writing. And what came out next was the book. But it really did work its way entirely into my writing process. And then once it was able to settle into feeling like it had had a say and it had had a voice and it was expressed and it was heard, then I wrote the book.
TS: Adreanna, what do you think was the wisdom that has come and that came to you from welcoming the demons of self-doubt about the writing process itself?
AL: Yes, I think that the wisdom of the self-doubt was essentially just wisdom of staying safe. I think there was a certain recognition that the moment that I wrote a book and the moment that I became a little bit more visible and writing a book and sort of had the audacity to publicly say, “Hey, I have this book coming out, it’s called Tea and Cake with Demons,” that there would be a criticism, there would be people who just didn’t like me or like didn’t pay attention to me, which is maybe one and the same.
And so I think that the wisdom of the self-doubt in the writing process itself was really just a safety mechanism like, “You’re good in this little space here, don’t take up too much space, don’t get any bigger than this, don’t get any more vocal than this.” I think there’s also an element of, yes, there’s an element of just the work that went into it and really doubting my own capacity of whether or not I would actually be able to write a book from start to finish. And, yes, I think all of the demons that came through in that writing process specifically were really just trying to keep me safe.
TS: The subtitle of the book is A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy. And one of the things I’m curious about is that if you can more directly connect this idea of our feelings of worthiness—I mean, in your case it had to do with writing a book, but for people, in general, our feelings of worthiness—and how that relates to our willingness to welcome in difficult experiences, difficult emotions, things we find challenging.
AL: Yes, yes, and this directly goes back to my process in writing the book and that I think the moment that you make a really audacious statement like: you are worthy. You are worthy just the way that you are without any extra bells and whistles and accoutrements, just by virtue of being human, you have inherent dignity and inherent worth. Every shred of evidence to the contrary by necessity comes to the forefront. Just in writing that statement, you are worthy in just the way that you are. I think it invites self-doubt to the forefront because it’s like, “Yes, I like that idea a lot conceptually, but what about this? Like what about this aspect of myself? What about the fact that like I am a terrible person because of X, Y, Z, or what about the fact that I can’t follow through on the things that I say that I’m going to, or what about all of these ways in which I feel like a complete fraud and a complete failure?”
I love the idea conceptually that I’m worthy just the way that I am. And yet, I think we also can’t divorce this statement from the fact that we live in a culture where we’re receiving messages all day long that we’re close, were pretty close to being OK, or being good in the world. If only we get X, Y, and Z, there’s always a sense of: you’re almost there, but what you could use is this. And so I think at the moment that, again, going back to your question, the moment that we sort of make this audacious claim that just by virtue of being human, you are absolutely worthy of taking up space and being here and occupying your space in this world with inherent dignity. All of the demons come to the forefront every single thing that obscures our trust and our beliefs and our confidence in our own words right there immediately.
TS: You have a quote in the book, “Perhaps our worth, our value is an inborn state that we all possess, not contingent on external factors.” And I think most people reading that and listening to the comment you just made would say it’s true. Our value is an inborn state, every human being. We all know this. And at the same time, when something happens, we get bad news about one of our projects or investments or something that we did turns out to be a mistake of some kind, something like that, we can’t connect to our intrinsic worth. It seems like it’s fragile when we’re sitting there reading a book, we read a sentence like that, we get it, but then it’s not a stable kind of knowing. Tell us more about your experience. I know you coach a lot of different people, the journey from knowing that intellectually to really knowing it in a more unshakable way.
AL: Yes, so a big part of what inspired this book is the fact that as you mentioned, I’ve been coaching for 10 years at this point. And I coach with one of the largest nutrition training schools in the world. And as a part of coaching with this school, I’m in contact with women predominantly, though there are some men in the program who come from all different backgrounds. They’re spread across the world, different ages, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different beliefs, different value systems, different interests, different, I mean, really it couldn’t be a wider cross-section.
And something that I noticed in doing these group coaching programs over a number of years is that regardless of where they were coming from and what their background was like, almost everybody at some point during the program, voiced the concern that they weren’t quite “blank” enough. They were like not quite smart enough, or not quite savvy enough, or they didn’t quite know enough, or they didn’t really have a wide enough reach in terms of their social circle, or there was always just this kind of like not-enoughness that felt very internalized, it meant something about them, and it meant something about who they are in the world.
And there were enough of these conversations over and over again over a number of years that it really started to turn my attention. It was like, “Wait, this is rampant. This isn’t just like every now and then case where it isn’t sort of confined to a particular type of person. It has such a broad reach. What is this? What is the sense of not-enoughness?” And I think just in terms of my own meditation practice and my own path and doing my own work, it’s something that I had really turned toward as a living inquiry in my own life and in my own practice—of just those moments when I felt completely debased, going back to your point, by my circumstances, where depending on whether my circumstances were operating in my favor or I got turned down by something or someone that I really, really wanted to be in relationship to. Whether or not I was having a good or a bad day or I felt good or bad about myself, was really dependent on that.
And so I started to notice the connection just in terms of the fact that I felt like I was continually on this escalator of like, “Ooh, I feel really confident, and I feel really good about myself.” And I’m like, “The way that I’m participating in the world feels really, really solid.” And then the moment that I would fail at something, where I would receive some really harsh criticism or some feedback. It would completely debase my sense of self.
And so I think those two experiences combined of just noticing that within myself and then noticing that within others, the fact that I wasn’t alone in this, the fact that it was this big conversation that we’re not really having a lot of, made me want to study it. It made me want to have conversations about it. It made me want to think about it more. And I think that was a big inspiration for writing the book because … I wonder, Tami, if you can relate to the book writing process. It’s really about spending a number of months, a number of years, sort of like diving into one question. And I think in terms of this book, it was a question of worth. What is that? What is that thing? What is that thing that has the power to completely debase us? And why is it that we are all feeling or many of us are feeling like not quite enough? What is that? So, yes, I think that was really the impetus for the book.
TS: In my own experience, developing a meditation practice and a way of discovering a sense of value in being has been the only thing that’s really helped me develop that sense of knowing my own worth, my own value from the inside regardless of external circumstances. You describe it in the book as training ourselves to hold our seat. And I wonder if you can connect what you learned from your meditation practice from being on the cushion and this question of unconditional worth.
AL: Yes, similarly, I feel like the moment that I really committed to my meditation practice is the moment that I began to develop a real sense of unshakable okayness, where there is a certain sense I think in meditation practice where we are making ourselves a bit more sensitive. We’re sensitizing ourselves both to our own internal world and to the world around us, and we are inviting in whatever it is that arises, whether it be emotions or impulses or thoughts or sounds of the environment, the room that we’re in. And we’re staying incredibly watchful of whatever is sincerely there, without necessarily jumping in to participate. There is a certain amount of just to staying watchful and observant, while also staying accommodating.
And I think it’s in this practice that there’s a certain amount of steadiness I know for me at least that really took root, a sense of feeling like whatever was there on a day-to-day basis, and of course, it always changes—that I could be with it, that I could be with whatever rolls and invite it in and stay alert and present and watchful without necessarily allowing it to hijack me completely. And so, yes, I think there’s a certain amount of that that translates off the cushion, where I would find myself in circumstances that in the world off the cushion, where I could stay open and accommodating to what was there without necessarily allowing it to just completely take the wheel.
TS: Do you have a kind of go-to practice that you imagine you would do? Like let’s just say, for example, I’m not trying to torture you here publicly, but the book gets a terrible review from someone who you wished really gave it a positive review, something that, whatever, something like that, terrible review. You read the review, what would be your go-to move in that moment?
AL: Yes, oh my gosh. And I’ve had a number of things like this happen, where I’m doing something very public and there’s someone who’s just like posting poop emojis all over it. Things like this absolutely do happen all the time. And that I think something that I always found to be so incredibly helpful is just coming back to my body and really feeling whatever I’m sincerely feeling in that moment without needing to stick my fingers in it and rearrange it and try to make it a different feeling, or a better feeling, or even like immediately trying to reframe it without feeling it first, which—I talk about strategies—is one of my favorite strategies. It’s like if I can figure it out, then I don’t have to feel it. I can analyze it to a pulp and then it makes it really workable and I can just let it go.
So I think rather than jumping or launching into any strategy to make it feel different than what it is, something that I find to be so helpful is just landing back in the body and taking a little bit of time to feel what I’m feeling as just the raw material, noticing the narrative that’s wrapped around it and maybe the impulse to crank out that narrative and make the emotion stronger or figure it out. And instead, just loosen the narrative coming back to the raw material in the body. Like, “Oh, what does this feel in my body right now?” Something that I work with pretty frequently is anxiety, definitely not exempt from that. And it is so helpful just to really land in my chest. Yes, OK. Now, this is the space in my chest where I feel it. And at this moment, it feels like flapping wings. It’s fast, there’s something very fast, it’s moving, it has a lot of velocity. And then I might find myself going back up into my head and thinking like, “Why am I feeling anxious.” And just dropping that back into the body.
It feels very weightless or something very weightless that this feeling in my chest and there’s also a tightness and a heat that’s in my belly, simultaneously be a little bit of tingling in my arms and my fingertips. And then I find myself drifting back up into my head and I’m thinking like, “OK, well, this is what I can do about it.” I’m like, “OK.” Back into the body, OK. Just feeling that flapping moving around in my chest, the tightness in my belly, the tingling in my arms and my feet, and then maybe drifting back up into the head. I think it really is that continual process of moving back into the body and just staying curious of what does this feel like right now? Does it have a particular space in the body that it occupies? Does that space feel expansive? Does it feel contracted? Is there a sense of heat or coolness? Is there a sense of weight or weightlessness related to it?
So I think in these moments as sort of an on-the-spot practice. It’s so helpful just to notice that tendency, that impulse to want to figure it out and get really lost in the narrative around it, that that can feel very gratifying, but rather than perpetuating the feeling, just allowing ourselves to actually experience the feeling and getting curious about the physical qualities that are manifesting. And I’ve always found that just spending two minutes, three minutes really feeling into my body has a way of highlighting how ephemeral that feeling actually is when it isn’t being wound up by the story around it.
TS:One of the pointers you gave in Tea and Cake with Demons is that when we feel, and this is my language, a demon eruption of some kind, we can actually turn to practice right in that moment. And that in and of itself is a huge, huge movement to say, “Oh, this is my moment to practice.” I thought that was really helpful.
AL: Yes, and of course, easier said than done. I think that one needs to know a thing to be able to call that thing into being on demand. And this is why I find having a regular meditation practice to be so exceedingly helpful. Because if I didn’t have that time on the cushion on a daily basis, I think it would be nearly impossible to sort of like on command or on demand be like, “Ooh, we’re so angry, we know we can’t write.” OK, OK, I’m going to practice. Like it hasn’t been baked into the bones yet, practice. So I think it’s a little more difficult to call on something that we haven’t been calling on all along, if that makes sense.
TS: It does make sense. And I think you’re making a really important point. OK, let’s talk about the part of us that judges ourselves and how you work with that because it’s one thing to say, “I’m going to now practice,” because I’m feeling it’s another thing to find oneself, which I think a lot of us do really judging ourselves. Like, “Here it is again. I was so quickly and easily thrown off my seat by just this stupid email I got. Jesus, it was nothing. But look at me, look, I’m in the ditch. No, I don’t want to practice. It’s the last thing because I don’t like practicing. I’m a bad practitioner.” On and on, the list could go on and on. So what are some of your good tips for working with that voice of Judgment?
AL: Honestly, I think just running it through some old-fashioned Socratic questioning of, in that moment, when we catch ourselves judging ourselves or rating our “performance or participation in life,” really just taking a moment and turning and looking at it and saying, “Wait, is that true? Is that true? Am I actually a terrible practitioner? Is it true? Maybe, maybe it could be. It could be. And if it is true, how do I know that it’s true? What are the experiences that I’ve had in my life that have proven to me that I am actually terrible at this? OK, great. So I’ve had these experiences, is it possible that it could be another way? Well, maybe, maybe it be another way, maybe not.”
And I think really just taking ourselves through a line of old-fashioned Socratic questioning to sort of like poke holes in its validity, at the very least, allows us to move from a really subjective place of judging to a slightly more objective place of noticing that we’re judging ourselves and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing that’s happening right now. So I think anything that we can do to catch ourselves in the act and really turn and look at it direct … and I think in a lot of ways that’s going by the analogy of tea and cake with demons is that rather than reaching for the things that I know for myself are so readily available and so convenient and so easy to just grab onto and start scrolling, for instance, or start streaming or whatever it is that we like to move toward in terms of distracting ourselves, to say like, “OK, wait.” Instead of that, I’m just going to take a moment to turn and look at this. What’s here? What’s actually here?
TS: Now, it’s interesting that you mentioned starting scrolling as one possible response to feeling slightly off because one of the other things you write about in Tea and Cake with Demons is holding our worthiness when we’re engaged in social media. And you described that this is actually an advanced practice—that it’s really hard because comparison can breed self-aggression. And I think we all can see this. So here we’re already not feeling so great about something that’s happened. We go to our social media feed and we’re not in a place where we can perform this advanced practice. So what would it be like as an advanced practice to not compare ourselves, really not compare. I mean, maybe it would just be you wouldn’t even have any desire to go on social media anyway. I don’t know. I’m curious what your thoughts are about that.
AL: Yes, that’s funny. I don’t even remember describing it as an advanced practice. But as you’re talking about it, I’m like, “Oh, yes, that is actually really advanced.” Yes, I think that entering into a space where we have endless opportunities to compare ourselves, and to judge ourselves, and to criticize ourselves, and to place ourselves on the hierarchy of worth, of like, “Wait, how do I measure up here?” Whether it be social media or it be anywhere else, it’s really advanced because in some sense, we’re not even giving ourselves a fighting chance. Like we’re walking into an environment that was built for that specific purpose or that has a really fancy algorithms that perpetuates that process.
So, yes, again, I think going back to having to know something first in a really contained space. And I think this is why I’m such a big proponent of butt-on-the-cushion meditation practice. Like nothing, nothing replaces that. Nothing replaces actually putting your butt on the meditation cushion and doing the practice because it’s a really neutral, safe space where we’re not inviting the rest of the world in to push our buttons, where we can see our own stuff, we can see the way that our mind works, we can see our habits, we can see our tendencies, we can see the kind of ditches that we fall into, use your words. So that we’re so much more aware of them when we actually do go out into the world or go out into these spaces that are just like ripe with button pushing and have a fighting chance, have a sense of like, “Oh, wait. Now, OK, I know what’s happening here because I’ve seen it 100 times before on the meditation cushion.”
TS: Now, Adreanna, the second part of Tea and Cake with Demons is a deep dive into the Four Noble Truths. And I thought this was really interesting. In the book, you described the four noble truths as the path of getting our act together and learning to love ourselves more along the way. And I thought to myself, “That’s definitely a next generation description of the four noble truths.” I’ve never heard it that way, described that way before. So tell me how you see the Four Noble Truths as the path of getting our act together and learning to love ourselves more along the way.
AL: Yes, so the path of getting our act together, I think, and correct me if I’m wrong on this, but the Four Noble Truths coming from the Hinayana practice of really learning how to work with our own minds and our own selves and our own tendencies. First, it really is the primary practice. Like, “OK, before we decide that we’re going to go out and we’re going to change the world, we’re going to save the world, it can be really helpful to first learn ourselves, to study ourselves.” And again, that’s where the butt-on-the-cushion meditation practice comes in.
AL: So the path of getting our act together, I think the vulnerable truth is such a brilliant framework. And I know that I mentioned this in the book, which is that it isn’t something that the Buddha, the historical Buddha necessarily made up. It isn’t something that he created. It’s something that he was able to receive enough deep insight into, into the nature of being a human being, the nature of reality, as it were, and develop a system around it or codify it in a way that gives us an opportunity to work with it.
TS: Summarize the Four Noble Truths in Adreanna language for our listeners who are unfamiliar.
AL: Oh, yes, definitely, definitely. So the First Noble Truth, classically defined as the truth of suffering, the truth of dukkha, which in Adreanna language, I guess, would be, “It’s really hard to be a human being.” It’s really hard to be a human being and none of us are exempt from that. And there are a number of different flavors of difficulty or dissatisfaction in being a human being. The very first is pain, what we would consider to be like really obvious pain, “Ouch, I stubbed my toe, that hurt.” Or like, “Ooh, I broke my arm, that hurt.” So there’s sort of the suffering and suffering or dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction.
And then there’s the more subtle form of it, which is the fact that even the good stuff has dissatisfaction built into it. Because even the yummiest of things, like even the ice cream, at some point is going to run out, or we’re going to eat so much of it that we get sick, that even the good stuff … I think about this in terms of marriage. I just got married last summer. Like very-best-case scenario with my husband is that we have a lifelong partnership and a really happy marriage where we love each other and we support each other and we challenge each other and we grow together, and then one of us dies. Like even the good stuff has dissatisfaction built right into it because of impermanence. It’s not going to last forever.
And then the third form of this dissatisfaction in the First Noble Truth, being all-pervasive dissatisfaction, which I think for myself and many of us might recognize is kind of that feeling of like, “OK, I just want something.” Like this is fine, nothing is really happening here that I need to be struggling against. I just want something. Like I want a snack, or like I’m a little bit bored, or maybe I want to check my phone, or like there’s this kind of a built-in, all-pervasive dissatisfaction of, “This is OK, but it could be a little bit better.”
So in the Second Noble Truth, this brilliant system goes on to say that if we’re experiencing dissatisfaction and all of these different forms of dissatisfaction that make it really hard to be a human being, there’s a really good reason for it. It isn’t just dropping from the sky. There is a really good reason why we feel dissatisfied, and laid out in colorful terms is the root poisons, which is oftentimes translated as being desire or fixation or attachment, this sense of wanting to hold on to what it is that we really like, or wanting to follow the good stuff down the rabbit hole—aggression or aversion, which is what tends to happen when our desires aren’t met, is that we struggle against that. And then ignorance, which is that this is happening all day long. We’re always caught in the crosshairs between the experience that we want to be having and the experience that we simultaneously want to be avoiding without even recognizing that this crosshair is playing out in our daily life all the time. It’s always happening.
So I oftentimes think about in terms of making this feel really relevant and making it feel really accessible, I oftentimes think of modern advertising in particular, where the languaging around marketing is oftentimes catering to sort of this intersection, where have this thing—lose 20 pounds without having to give up the things that you love, have this experience that you want to be having without having to have this experience that you don’t want to be having. So this sort of crosshairs that’s happening all the time—and it’s the continual rearranging of our experience to try to have the exact flavor of experience that we want to be having while being increasingly intolerant of the experience that we don’t want it to be having, that essentially perpetuates the difficulty of being a human being.
So the Third Noble Truth, which I think is the good news, is essentially that there’s a way off. There’s a way off this cycle, or there’s a way out of this binary, of classifying everything as either good, bad, delicious, disgusting, yes, no, this is for me, this is against me, that there’s a way to find a bit of cessation from this continual aversion or attachment. And the Fourth Noble Truth is the Eightfold Path, which is essentially: this is how we do it. This how we take this view or this framework out into the world and start working with ourselves, our own mind, and our own actions in a way that not only identifies the ways in which we perpetuate our own difficulty, but really gets us a plan of action, which I think is really brilliant.
TS: The path of getting our act together and learning to love ourselves more along the way. Tell me about the learning to love ourselves part of that as you just described the Four Noble Truths. How does that come in?
AL: Yes, in part, I’ve always seen the Eightfold Path as being a path of self-respect. So much of the path is really just shaping responsibilities for ourselves and choosing to essentially be the grown-up, be the adult that we need ourselves to be by taking ownership and taking agency of our lives and of our actions. And I think there’s something about that type of care of saying, “I value myself enough, I value my life enough to really choose to consider how I’m participating in it.” That cultivates a sense of love toward ourselves or at the very least, a sense of trust, a sense of confidence, a sense of like, “I can rely on myself to be there.”
TS: Adreanna, you’re helping me fall in love with Buddhism all over again—all fresh and new. Amazing.
AL: Oh, Pasha, Pasha.
TS: True. Now, I am curious about you. One more time here, that it’s kind of like, does this stuff really work, really? You had a history of panic attacks, and you mentioned that anxiety is something you can feel, you can get anxious in certain situations. What’s it like now? Like now, it doesn’t turn into a panic attack because you’ve learned this way of meeting your own experience, becoming embodied and working with it, or tell me how that goes for you now compared to in your history.
AL: Yes, I think historically when I look back, and it’s so painful to think about it is that I didn’t know that there were other options. I just thought like, “OK, I’m anxious and panicked. Oh my gosh, I’m going to have a panic attack. OK, this is it.” And I didn’t really have any tools for working with that. Something that I think is really important to highlight is that it’s not as though this passive practice, it’s not as though meditation has somehow vaunted me into a position of not being anxious, or not feeling panicked, or not wanting to have some sort of control over the world. But it gives me a really reflective lens to see what I’m doing and to notice it as it’s happening and to catch it in the act and say, “Oh, OK, great. I see this. OK, I see this.”
And I think something about this practice, and again, it’s the insight through repetition of doing a thing enough times that it becomes a little bit more of a Freudian slip. It becomes a little bit more of a natural inclination or natural habit, is that it creates a sense of choice of having a new experience, having the experience of being able to choose whether or not I’m going to follow that anxiety right down the rabbit hole, or whether I’m going to take a moment to just stop and feel it in my body and spend some time with it and welcome it in and say, “OK, hi, I see you. This is what’s happening right now.” So let’s let this be the experience. How does this actually feel? And I think that, again, it hasn’t made me someone who doesn’t have the experience of anxiety or someone who doesn’t have the experience of panic. It’s just given me a lot more space to respond to what’s happening. And many more tools to choose how I want to work with it, rather than it just going from zero to 60 without any space or tools to respond.
TS: Probably my favorite quote from the book is “Get close to the earth in case of turbulence.” I loved that.
AL: Thank you, thank you. Yes, yes, it’s always held true for me. It’s just the instinct to like drop to my knees, like get really lower my sense of gravity as far as I possibly can. Yes.
TS: I want to end our conversation, Adreanna. If you could just have us all together with you in this act of self-respect, I really like talking about the Eightfold Path as a path of self-respect. If we could just sit together really being in our bodies and in our experience and if you could guide us through maybe a five-minute experience of just being with whatever this conversation might have stirred up for people.
AL: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So if you’re listening to this conversation, you need to take a moment to find a seat that feels really sturdy, sustainable—could be on a chair, couch floor, finding a place where your body feels supported, somewhat sturdy, effortless, and then you’re just letting the eyes gently shut, or it’s within your practice to keep eyes open. Just letting the gaze be soft, hazy, unfocused. And we’ll take just a few moments to really land, arrive fully by opening up our senses. I mean, our vantage point here in space. So beginning by shifting our attention over to sound, taking a few moments just to receive the sound of the space that you’re in. Total quality, any noises that are present. Staying open to sound, shifting the attention to touch. Taking a few moments just to feel the body here in the space, the shape of the body, not like pressure of making contact, texture of clothing, temperature of air.
Very little effort needed here, just opening up to what already is, our direct experience, audience space. Bringing the attention to the belly, chest, maybe even placing one hand on the belly and one hand on the heart if that feels honest. Taking just a few moments to feel into this space of the body at your chest and oftentimes the storehouse of a lot of emotion. Just getting a sense of what this space is like today. Then perhaps just allowing our eyes to gently shut and if they haven’t already. Giving ourselves a bit more of a formal temperature check. Just leading in with the inquiry, what does it feel like to be me? What does it feel like to be me right here, right now, no filter? Then the spirit of non-judgment, seeing if we can just notice what honestly arises in response to that question without making it mean anything about us one way or another.
Getting an honest read, what does it feel like to be me? Whatever is sincerely there in response, and perhaps taking a moment just to notice if and where that presents in the body, the physical presentation of this mood or emotion. Taking just a bit of time to work with it directly, spend some time with it. Perhaps noticing if this mood or emotion has a particular sense of space. Maybe there’s an area of the body where it’s felt most directly. And again, what does it feel like to be me?
Perhaps noticing if this mood or emotion has a particular density. Maybe it feels thick in the body. Maybe it’s a bit more flimsy, ephemeral. Sense of weight or weightlessness in the body. Taking a moment just to turn and look at the mind and getting a sense of what the thoughts are doing here. Perhaps this interplay between thinking and feeling. Noticing if you can loosen the narrative just a little bit and come back to the direct experience of the feeling in the body. What does it feel like to be me? Whatever happens to be there for us, taking a moment to thank it for coming or for being expressed. Bringing our attention back to the process in the body. Giving ourselves a few deep inhales, deep exhales. And allowing our formal practice to drop. Great. OK, thank you for that.
TS: Thank you, Adreanna. You’re such a loving and creative meditation teacher. And really, I think you’re, as the next-gen teacher, I just feel so proud that Sounds True is publishing your work, Tea and Cake with Demons: A Buddhist Guide to Feeling Worthy by Adreanna Limbach. And congratulations on working through all your demons that came up in the writing process and completing the book is really beautiful and helpful. Thank you.
Adreanna L.: Thank you. Thank you for everything, Tami. Thank you. It’s really great to meet you.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at soundstrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app. And also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.