Katherine Bennett Transcription

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Hi everyone and welcome to the 'In the shoes of' podcast where I make it my goal to see life as much as possible from someone else's point of view. Just like we all have a unique heartbeat, every single one of us sees life only from our own perspectives. Think about it. Can you see and process life exactly as Elon Musk sees and processes life? The answer is you can't. And it applies to every living, conscious being here on this pale blue dot.

 

[Music plays]

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Hey everybody thank you so much for joining me today for another episode of 'In the shoes of. In this episode I discuss quite a few different things with Katherine Bennett, a yoga teacher in Thailand. We discuss some things that I had never thought of before such as parallels between the U.S. military and Buddhist monks, reality, zombies, living in accordance with your true authentic self, and seriously so much more. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I enjoyed having the conversation at, I believe six in the morning, it was it was pretty early! But anyway, it was super cool, and once again for any friends or family that you have that are deaf or hard of hearing, please direct them over to intheshoesof.org where if I don't have it quite yet, please bear with me, but I will have transcriptions of the episodes themselves.

 

[Music plays]

 

JEREMY:

 

All right in line with my M.O. I have to start off the podcast and ask Cathy what shoes she is wearing right now.

 

KATHERINE:

 

To be honest I haven't worn shoes in one year in one year.

 

JEREMY:

 

In one year? No sandals either? No? Nothing?

 

KATHERINE:

 

No.

 

JEREMY:

 

That is so awesome! [Laughs] Well you know what, your shoes are your feet then!

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah! [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

That's the first time anyone has said that to me and I love it. OK. First legitimate question. If you had to define yourself in the third person, let's say somebody is asking, "Who is this Katherine Bennett person?" and you were being sly and didn't want to let them know that you were that person. What would you tell them?

 

KATHERINE:

 

That's a very interesting question. I suppose it depends on who I was talking to, because I suppose we all have the desire to be interesting or appeal to the person we're speaking to. So I would try to find a way to connect with the person I was speaking to and tell them something about myself which would establish a way for us to be connected. So it would have to be something which would either pique their interest or some shared -- something in common? So that it's a good foundation for an introduction with the other person.

 

JEREMY:

 

That's totally awesome. And that to me tells me a bit about yourself, that you definitely care about making those connections and that you have a good amount of empathy in your system. Is that accurate?

 

KATHERINE:

 

I try! [Laughs] Empathy is one of those creepy things you know? Because if you're imagining it then, is it really empathy you know? [Laughs] So if we're imagining it, trying to be empathetic with the other person, imagining to put yourself in their shoes, like the name of your podcast. If we're just using imagination then, in a way, is it really empathy? Because we're still ultimately perceiving the other from our own point of view. And it's difficult to step into their shoes and perceive the world from their point of view.

 

JEREMY:

 

I totally agree, and that's a really fair point. And that's why I'm trying as much as I possibly can because there's no such thing as 100 percent empathy. Unless they develop some sort of biotechnology where they're able to meld or coalesce two minds into one or something? Anyway, where are you right now?

 

KATHERINE:

 

I am on Ko Pha Ngan, it's an island in Southeast Thailand. Well known for the full moon party, but it also has a very nice yoga, detox, kind of new age spiritual community on the other side of the island.

 

JEREMY:

 

Cool. So which part of the island do you partake in?

 

KATHERINE:

 

I'm in the jungle [laughs] which is very nice because I can go to either place in around the same amount of time on my motorbike. So I teach yoga in the, kind of, at a detox center, so I would say I'm more involved in that side of the island. But yeah, I like to live in-between it all, it seems more like the middle way right?

 

JEREMY:

 

I like that. So that's what you're doing right now, you're teaching yoga?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah, yoga classes in traditional Tantra yoga. Yeah.

 

JEREMY:

 

That is cool. How did you decide to get into that?

 

KATHERINE:

 

I've got a yoga teacher now since, like 2013, and it's proved a kind of beneficial traveling occupation because I've been traveling since 2012. And it's something I can take anywhere with me, I don't even have to bring my own yoga mat. So it's a very nice, either occupation to make money while I travel, or just a gift to give if I'm -- sometimes I volunteer on permaculture projects, or various farms, and to give my yoga classes as a gift or some kind of exchange has also been really beneficial during my travels.

 

JEREMY:

 

That's really rad. And I want to come back to that and get your thoughts on how you've done certain things so if others are interested in, I don't know, breaking free from the corporate world or whatever it is that they're not content with. But first can you give me a bit of history about you? Can you just give me a bit of history about where and how you grew up?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah I really enjoy this question, because I've noticed that the story I tell about myself to other people changes depending on who asks or how I feel about myself and how I relate to my experiences in my life. So my memories are kind of reinvented over time [laughs] based on what I focus on in the memory. What lesson I learned, how I grew from the experience. So something that may have been, for example, a traumatic or painful experience in my life. As I get older and maybe learn from it and grow from it then I have this gratitude or this appreciation that forms. And so then when I retell the story there's no more pain or trauma anymore, it's just this beautiful experience that I can share which I've grown from. So the story changes, of course, depending on my state of mind and where I am in my life. So you caught me in a particularly beautiful moment in my life where I've been working a lot on gratitude and I'm very thankful for everything that has brought me to this point in my life. 

 

JEREMY:

 

That's beautiful.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So it's a positive story. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Good, good.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So I'm from the U.S. I was born in Wyoming, in a very small rural town with my mother and father and two brothers and a sister. My upbringing was very simple, very peaceful, very in nature, with the animals. We had horses and all these cats and dogs outside, and a very small community maybe 1000 to 1500 people. And we were out in the middle of nowhere. So I really kind of grew up mostly with my family and our pets [laughs] and nature as kind of my playground. And I'm very grateful for this experience because I've seen that as an adult somehow I've maintained a lot of innocence and kind of fascination with life and this awe of nature and how everything works. This curiosity of a child has kind of stayed with me into my adulthood and I attribute that primarily to the fact that I grew up with nature and played more with cats than people and [laughs] observed insects and things like this in the natural world which really fascinated me and were ultimately my teachers. So now I can relate a lot more to the Zen, [laughs] the Zen teachings which I study because they're using nature as a guide. Why we should be more like nature and I can relate to these examples because I was able to observe it all of my childhood. I feel a really deep connection with nature and not separate from it, so I'm very grateful for this experience also. It's shaped who I am and how I express myself as an adult. Growing up was, I would say quite average for an American female, in a small town which is all the same conditioning that everybody else has. Fortunately, without the influence too much of -- there's not a lot of crime for example or racism in my upbringing. There was a lot of trust in my community. Everybody knew everybody so I kind of grew up very -- yeah I trust people. And I ultimately believe that people are good because that's what I saw growing up. I feel very grateful for this experience, that I was not jaded about humanity from a young age. And I think that changed, of course, growing into an adult and seeing a bit bigger perspective of the world for good grades. I had a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wyoming and I was not really happy about going there [laughs] because I'm not very good with winter. I don't like cold very much and Wyoming is like these Rocky Mountain States, very long, cold snowy, winters.

 

JEREMY:

 

Oh yeah!

 

KATHERINE:

 

... And I think I was deeply affected by this as a teenager, even falling into a, kind of, depression. I didn't really enjoy all of the outdoor activities, despite growing up with skiing and snowboarding. I was never really happy about it and didn't enjoy being cold. [Laughs] So when I was an adult and had the choice I chose to stay indoors instead of go play in the snow. And I had this seasonal affective disorder experience where I was a bit restless indoors for six months out of the year. So it was a bit difficult to adjust to university when I had dreams of going to Hawaii or somewhere much more tropical. Seeing the world a little bit more outside of Wyoming. I didn't know what to study. It was very difficult for me because, academically I've always excelled due to pressure from my parents, but also my own curiosity with life has led me to be very good at test taking and studying for example. Also living out in the middle of nowhere made distractions very minimal. So doing my homework was never really a problem.

 

JEREMY:

 

Sure.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And so I had this full ride scholarship and I didn't really know what to study because I had such a curiosity in so many things and it felt very strange for me, at the age of 18, to have to decide what career I want or what I want to do with the rest of my life. Which seemed to be what everyone was telling me college was all about. So I also had a bit of pressure from my parents to choose something in the 'real world'. Like some kind of career or degree program which would help me get money because ultimately they wanted my happiness. And in the materialistic society we live in money secures happiness for a lot of people. And I think they, yeah they wanted what was best for me. Unfortunately most of my interests were in the arts or humanities. So I had very big interests in English, philosophy, music, and yet not such a deep interest that I wanted to become an opera singer or a sculptor.

 

JEREMY:

 

Sure.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So I wanted to dabble in everything and take all the classes but I couldn't commit to choosing one of the majors. And my father, the more logical reasonable [laughs] side of the parenting group, was pressuring a bit more towards the materialistic, towards money, and was saying, "OK, you should study business or something. You know you can't make money in the arts". Basically. And I felt very strange that my merit, my worth, all my hard work studying and my good grades which had afforded me this academic full ride scholarship, but then it wasn't my choice to choose what I wanted to study and that felt really strange for me. [Laughs] Somehow I felt like I didn't really understand the system anymore. If the system was to learn and to study what interested you and then eventually go into a career and provide a role in society which interests you, with something you're passionate about which you studied because you were passionate about made sense, but then I felt a lot of external influences telling me, "OK, but not that, and but not that. It's nice that you like that and it's nice that you studied it when you were in high school but in college it's different. It's more serious. [Laughs] You have to focus and choose something, one thing, anything but the arts". [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Right. Well I guess I screwed up there too.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah?

 

JEREMY:

 

I know, yeah. [Laughs] 

 

KATHERINE:

 

I think a lot of us did in our generation because we're trying to break out of this -- for me I feel like the example that I saw in my parents’ generation is that they had this American dream, this white picket fence ideal of how life should be and how it should play out for -- which they inherited from their parents. It seems like it's from the 50s actually, this model of, you know; you go to school, and then you get the job, and then you get married, then you have the kids, then you buy the house, and have the cars, and then you retire and you live happily ever after. So, [laughs] this American Dream I think our generation saw, well actually it doesn't work. I mean most people's parents are divorced or unhappy or were unhappy in their marriage and in their career. And so yeah we were afforded the luxury of being able to be educated because of the money that our parents earned or by our own merits. Because we can all work hard to make money but -- yeah, I think I saw that it felt strange and it didn't seem to work so I struggled with university. I would attend the fall semester and by the middle of the winter I would be very confused going through an existential crisis, borderline depression, and decide, "OK I can't do this", and I would move somewhere in the spring, whether it be Phoenix, Arizona once, or South Korea at one point to visit my father because I told him I was very lost and very confused. And I did this for three years. Attending classes the fall semester, dropping out the spring semester, attending both semesters, dropping out this semester. And finally I think it got to a point where I was really depressed and having this kind of deep -- Yeah, I feel like it was an existential crisis. Like what is the meaning of life then? Because for me this is not rewarding, this is not bringing me like a sense of fulfilment or happiness. This pressure to choose one thing instead of just studying whatever interested me in life. And so I was, yeah really depressed actually. And I think seeing that it was a serious thing. My father said, "OK", while he was working in South Korea he said, "Come and stay with me for a few months and just, you know, figure your life out". [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

This is where Katherine goes through a metamorphosis. Stay tuned because it gets pretty damn intriguing.

 

KATHERINE:

 

It was a funny place to go. Other than Europe in high school and some two week or three week vacation where you tour all the countries, I'd not really left the U.S. and so South Korea was a very interesting culture shock. And it was my first exposure to Buddhism. I was raised as a Catholic by my mother's side of the family and at a very young age I had a lot of disagreements with the priest, and the church, and the ideas of the church, and so I think from a young age I started studying different religions. But going to South Korea was the first time that I witnessed a culture which was a Buddhist culture, and to see how the people behaved and how they -- even within their judicial system, how they treat people who are sentenced to -- you know, if someone murders someone they don't go to life in prison, they maybe do 10 years and then when they're let out they have a whole tradition of giving them a piece of tofu which represents a blank slate, like a fresh beginning, because they have this belief in karma. That once you've paid for that, kind of, bad deed or that sin in a way, then you've done your time and now is a fresh start, and within the society this makes a huge difference. I saw small things like this. Very big differences in how people treated each other and it was very inspiring for me to witness this Buddhist influence. So I started studying Buddhism a bit more in South Korea, and spending a lot of time at a Buddhist temple. And it was there that I first had conversations with monks and nuns and felt a really deep calling to study this religion, even maybe practice this religion. I felt -- I asked a Buddhist nun once why she shaved her hair, and she said to get rid of vanity, because for women the ultimate accessory is her hair. It is the social depiction of her femininity. And so to renounce even that, and to say I'm beyond even my femininity, even my gender, was a really deep and profound statement for me. This image of letting go of anything you're attached to, even your own sense of self, and your own value which your society gives you based on your gender. So I shaved my hair. [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

I love it. That's great! [Laughs] 

 

KATHERINE:

 

It was a big change! I mean, I used to go clubbing with the high heels and the girls, you know with the breasts pushed up in a push up bra, and then to just shave off my hair was a very beautiful -- it was so liberating for me. I felt like finally I was washing away society's expectations of me and really marking a path for myself. 

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

I think this bears repeating. Quote: "It was so liberating for me. I feel like I was finally washing away society's expectations of me and really marking a path for myself". Unquote.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I was 19 at the time. I decided I wanted to become a Korean Buddhist nun.

 

[Music plays]

 

JEREMY:

 

That is so cool.

 

KATHERINE:

 

In Korea, because of course, now looking back it's really funny because the desire was that I was unhappy within my own society and I didn't understand how to fit myself into that society without conforming, and losing my individual expression, my freedom in a way. And so here I stepped into this completely different culture. The first other culture I was exposed to and was like, "Yeah, OK, I'm going to take this one". [Laughs] So now it's really funny but at the time I was very serious about becoming a nun for the rest of my life, you know? [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah.

 

KATHERINE:

 

My father was shocked and was like, "You know Buddha didn't create the world right?" Knowing nothing about Buddhism and having a Christian perspective he was shocked and very displeased...

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Can I just stop right here and say that, the way Katherine speaks is just so awesome! Am I not completely right?

 

KATHERINE:

 

I think, disappointed in himself for exposing me to that culture which gave me such ideas and shaving my hair. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

I love it! [Laughs] 

 

KATHERINE:

 

But he saw me happy, so I think he supported my decision. And he said, OK well if you don't want to go back to school -- He had been in the Army for a couple of years in which he learned welding and then worked his way up on the corporate ladder in ExxonMobil as a welder and now he's some very high corporate guy. So he said, "OK well if you don't know what to do with yourself, but you want your education paid for and you don't want University of Wyoming, then maybe you should consider the military as an option". And for me this was shocking because I had no positive experiences with a military member. I mean I knew Marines at the bar who were trying to have sex with me by impressing me that they were in the Marines. So this was my exposure to military people!

 

JEREMY:

 

Right.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I perceived them to be under educated, egotistical, and not very interesting. And they were fighting a war that I didn't support. So, military did not seem like an option for me, and my father gave me advice: "If you want to change something, change your system, then the best way is not from the outside telling them to change, but to make the changes from within". And this was a really powerful statement for me, especially coming from him, because it kind of said that he is a part of the system with a desire to change the system. I never knew that about him as a person. I had a lot of respect for him after that, and I decided, "You know what, I'm not going to rule it out as an option". Just because I have an idea of the military and I don't support this, and I don't support that, and I'm anti this, because I'm a bit of a hippie. [Laughs] I actually wasn't very informed about anything. So none of my opinions were real. And, at this age was the first time that I considered that maybe I don't know what I'm talking about! Maybe I should give something a chance to understand it thoroughly before I judge it. So it was a big period of change. I started researching how to study the Korean language so that I could, of course, go back to Korea and become a Buddhist nun. [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Of course.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And it turns out, the best language school in the country. The most short term and immersive language program IS in the military. The 'Defense Language Institute' is in Monterey, California. And you basically go to university eight hours a day with native Korean speakers, whatever language, they have all the languages there, and in a year and a half you're almost a fluent speaker of that language. So I thought, "OK actually, this might be one way to do it". And so I joined the Air Force to become airborne Korean linguist, with the intention to study Korean so that I could then move to Korea and become a Buddhist nun. [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

I have never heard of that happening ever in my entire life. That is so cool. Wow! And so you did it? You went over to Monterey, California and you took the course. And was it a major difference -- I mean coming from South Korea, you were there, I mean you shaved your head, you were totally immersed in that. Then you were probably immersed in, you know, you're coming back to America and to our varied culture, and then even more so going into a military culture. How was that? Was that another bit of a culture shock coming back?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah but the funny thing is, I was so prepared for it because of my meditation, because of my spiritual practices. The Buddhist discipline and meditation techniques that I'd been using to prepare for the Buddhist tradition, prepared me for military. It prepared me for boot camp. It was crazy I had a shaved head. They thought I was G.I. Jane and that I was hard-core. I was very focused, I wasn't -- you know in boot camp they're yelling at you and telling you that if you cry you have to give push-ups. Especially the women. They really hit them, not hit them literally, but figuratively they break them down. Because you can't cry to get what you want in the military. So here I am, I was 21 at the time. It took me a little bit of time before I decided to do this. So I was 21 when I joined and I was with 17 / 18 year old women who went from their parents’ house to the military as an alternative option to college. And a man is yelling at them and they're crying because their daddy never yelled at them. And it was a huge shock for them and I felt like actually, I was very mature compared to my peers. And immediately they put me in charge of people. Immediately my drill sergeant had me running errands for her, which she's not allowed to do, but basically she confided in me and asked me like, "Why did you shave your head?" And I said, "Because I want to be a nun". And she said, "Oh, OK, I see it!" Because whenever they yelled at me I could totally disassociate my emotions. And I don't know if this is healthy, I may have been just repressing an emotional expression but I kind of went into a meditative state. I wasn't affected emotionally, I didn't have any reactions. And I think they had a lot of respect for me. They didn't really mess with me so much because they saw that, "OK, we don't have to break her ego so much because she's playing the game". And I really felt like I was playing a game. You learn the rules, and you learn that, "OK, you have to fold your T-shirt this way, or wear your uniform this way. And if you don't do it exactly right then we yell at you for it. And even if you do it exactly right we're going to mess it up and yell at you anyway". [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Right.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Which now that I look at it, look back at it. This training is very similar to the experience I probably would have had if I had become a Buddhist nun.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Did you all just catch that? Katherine is talking about the similarities between being trained in the U.S. military to that of being trained to become a Buddhist monk. How -- I don't know. It's just a new thought to me, but it actually makes a ton of sense. Anyway back to Kathy.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I saw so many similarities. Now, looking back, there's a uniform, you have to wear something which is not an expression of your individual personality, you're part of a collective now. And the collective has a purpose which goes beyond -- You can have an individual purpose, especially with Buddhism, you may be on the path towards enlightenment, or working towards some spiritual goals, but ultimately you are doing it together, and you're not doing it necessarily for yourself. Because in Korea it's Mahayana Buddhism. It’s one of the three major branches of Buddhism and they focus more in that tradition on helping everybody reach enlightenment. Like we're going together. It's a community. It's a sangha of people who come together with a common interest, a common goal and they support each other. And so you're part of the bigger picture and you can't really take your individual ego with you until you are kind of very humble, and a student, and with an open mind. And now that I see it, actually the military is doing the same thing. The intention is a little bit different, they don't have enlightenment as their goal at the end. [Laughs] They want you to be a part of a machine without asking questions and to know what to do when you're told what to do, and to do it without asking questions. But ultimately I see the similarities in that, there's no room for individual personality when you are working towards a collective bigger picture and so boot camp for me in the military was kind of a Buddhist training for me. Now I can really laugh about the whole experience. To understand that something is a game and to agree to play the game, but to not forget that you're playing a game so you don't get lost in it. And I think that's one of the most beautiful lessons I've had in my whole life. [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

No, it is beautiful actually. And you know it's really amazing -- just the parallel! I never even thought to put those two together.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah! It's really interesting and I feel like in a way I accomplished -- Because after I served in the Air Force for six years as a Korean linguist, flying in planes, so an Airborne Korean Linguist, I was stateside the whole time. So fortunately I never went to Iraq, or Afghanistan, or fought in this 'war-on-terror', or the war in Iraq. I was very fortunate to be on the outside of this because my job was with Korean and focusing on North Korea. Who we were not at war with so my role was kind of a passive one. But after six years I actually no longer felt the need to become a nun. I felt like I kind of checked the box of that experience in some way. So, yeah, it's a very strange parallel.

 

JEREMY:

 

Wow. Yeah, you were an army nun, I guess.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah! [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY: That was your 'nun-life', if that's a word! [Laughs]

 

KATHERINE:

 

[Laughs] It's so funny because I was in Peru before I came to Ko Pha Gnan and I was doing some kind of shamanic work and they called me G-I Buddha. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

[Laughs] Yes! I love it! Do you still shave your head by the way? 

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah! I do!

 

JEREMY:

 

That is so cool! I mean, I shave my head too but only because, you know, lack of hair.

 

KATHERINE:

 

 [Laughs] For whatever reason, it's a very easy hairstyle!

 

JEREMY:

 

Isn't it the best! Seriously, I love it. [Laughs]

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah! It's funny because when I was in the military, despite the movie G.I. Jane, where people assume you have to cut your hair. There were certain regulations, during the time that I was serving, that women had to have hair at least one inch in length minimum. And so they forced me to grow my hair out because it did not fit regulations. So, that's kind of interesting. So for six years that I was serving I had to grow my hair long, essentially. I could have kept it any other style but shaved basically! I think that was because it was before the 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell' repeal, and because you were not allowed to be homosexual in the military they associated a woman with very short hair to be a lesbian. And so they encouraged women in the military to be feminine and not look like lesbians [laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Oh, interesting. 

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah, really funny.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah, I had never heard of that. OK. Wow.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah. While I was in the military I finished a couple associate's degrees and I finished my bachelor's degree. I focused on non-profit administration. But I have like a couple of associates degrees, one is in the Korean language because like I said it's essentially a two year university to study the language. They do give you an accredited degree for it. And then I have another degree because I was in military intelligence, so there's so much training for -- I mean I was in three years, just in training, before I did my job for three years.  I never really ended up doing the job because North Korea was not really the focus at the time. It was more the Middle East. So my role was very passive, like I said. The other one is in like, military intelligence and technology, or something. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Oh wow!

 

KATHERINE:

 

So I have Korean, military intelligence, and non-profit administration! [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah, definitely G.I. Buddha. That's definitely it.

 

KATHERINE:

 

G.I. Buddha! [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah, I think so.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So I finished the military in 2012, like I said I did six years, and I immediately shaved my head, my hair, and donated it to 'Locks for Love'. 

 

JEREMY:

 

Nice.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Which is funny, you know, to shave it after the military and go back to G.I. Buddha!

 

JEREMY:

 

Exactly!

 

KATHERINE:

 

And I started traveling, and yeah, the first thing I did was Nepal. I was volunteering to teach English to young Buddhist monks in a monastery in Nepal, like young boys, like aged 5 to 15 or something, and teaching them English, which was a really beautiful experience. But I also learned from that experience that I had an idealistic view of N.G.O.s or non-profit administrations, especially in other countries. I really thought, "Oh yeah, I'm going to help change the world, or make a difference". You know? These kind of charity organizations, like maybe this is where I want to devote my time and my energy. And then I realized, especially in Nepal, its trickle-down economics. So you pay to volunteer, and you pay a good amount of money because it's trendy and people will book it online and think it's a cool idea so they'll pay a thousand dollars to volunteer for a month or two. And then that money, very little of it -- You know these young monks, there are about 20 of them, what they got out of the deal was an English teacher and some blankets.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I don't know where my thousand dollars went except into people's pockets all the way down the chain, the hierarchical chain. But I got to learn some Nepali and I got to hang out with some Buddhist monks and see what their life is about. So it was still a beautiful experience, but I learned that, "Hmm, N.G.O.'s maybe are not what I think they are, and maybe this is not how I want to invest my time and my energy. I can volunteer without paying someone. If I wanted to give money I would have just given it to the monks themselves and not lined people's pockets on the way up.

 

JEREMY:

 

Right. Yeah. I mean human corruption and greed kind of, it's everywhere, despite whatever, I guess facade, or whatever face is put on it. Whether it's an N.G.O. or a corporation or what have you. Yeah, OK. So yeah, keep going. This is so wonderful too by the way. I love hearing the story. You're kind of influencing my paradigm a bit which is always really appreciated. So thank you, and continue on. This is great.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah, so that was Nepal, and after Nepal I went to India and did my first yoga teacher training course. It seemed like a good profession and I had been teaching yoga when I was in the military and practicing yoga for about 10 years. So yeah, it seemed like, "OK you go to India. That's what you should do in India" or that's where you should study yoga if you're going to become a yoga teacher. So I did a yoga teacher training course studying Hatha yoga, traditional Hatha yoga in Kerala in the south western part of India. And after that I travelled around India and Sri Lanka, and then went back to the US which was a culture shock because I think anyone who has been to India is changed forever. [Laughs] Because it's a very challenging place and very different from -- The comforts that we're used to and maybe take for granted are not available anymore in India. So coming back to the comfort was shocking. I remember I was in a Whole Foods the first time I went grocery shopping. I went to Whole Foods and I was so overwhelmed. I nearly had a panic attack because I was looking at aisles of food in boxes, and even at Whole Foods where it's the healthier version or the organic version, I really like -- my heart started beating so much. It was difficult to breathe. I thought it was going to pass out. It was a crazy experience where I was like, "Why are we eating food in boxes. [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Right! "It makes no sense!"

 

KATHERINE:

 

 [Laughs] Like nothing seemed real!

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And not that India is more real, but -- I don't know, it felt so disconnected from reality for me to buy something organic and to be healthy but to have no connection with where the food comes from except that it's in a package that says organic. That also totally rocked my perception of reality because here I've been building up this spiritual ego you know? Now I'm a yoga teacher, I've been to India, I was in Nepal and taught English to some Buddhist monks you know? My resume was starting to look very impressive! [Laughs] And then I realized I have no idea what I'm doing with my life again!

 

JEREMY:

 

 [Laughs] Yeah, that happens, I know.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And I think the more times it happens the better because I learned so much from these experiences. When I think -- just when I think I have it all figured out and I really like who I am and where I am. When something comes and shakes the very foundation that I've built, you know its like -- you spend all this time building a sandcastle and then a wave comes and just wipes it out. And it's like, "But no, that was my sand castle! [Laughs] Do you know how much time I spent on that sand castle?" And then even if I tried to rebuild it, you know, farther up on the beach, and it's more elaborate, and I'm better at building it...

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Brace yourselves because Kathy is about to get real up in here!

 

KATHERINE:

 

Still I realize that I'm creating my own illusion. I'm creating my own perception of reality which does not make it more real. It's still -- I take a little of this and a little of that and I ignore this which is unpleasant. And when I face that I'm creating an illusion for myself, the way I perceive reality, if I'm creating my own illusion, every time I can see that and it shakes it and destroys it or shifts it, I'm really thankful for these moments, because I grow so much. It's actually so liberating to let go of these ideas of what is real or of who I am. Every time I get the chance to really be shaken and explore what I believe and who I really think I am. I've grown so much from this. And even if I'm just making a new sand castle which will then later be destroyed in a different way, I'm still like learning a lot in the process so, yeah these have been beautiful experiences for me.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah. No that's good. And you kind of illustrate just the transience of things and also just the illusions that we believe about ourselves and what we, you know, the way we build up ourselves and all that, just ego I guess is what I'm really trying to say here. It's hard to see -- when our ego is shaken up, when our sandcastles as you put it, are -- And you're right, everything that we do it is, you're right it's a sandcastle that will be swept away and it's still a beautiful thing. Maybe it was a beautiful sandcastle, or maybe it wasn't even that great of a sand castle but, you know, it's all part of this larger thing called life.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah. And for me I realize this has been my journey my whole life. Really questioning these really deep things like why are we here, what are we doing here, and who are we essentially? Are we connected are, are we disconnected? What's real and what's not real? These questions I've been trying to answer by studying most spiritual disciplines because I assumed that for sure the religious people or the spiritual people know what's going on. [Laughs] Turns out that's not necessarily true! [Laughs] Another illusion de-bunked for myself!

 

JEREMY:

 

Right, just because -- I mean people can say things with an absolute confidence like, "This is an absolute statement", but I can I can say that, "Well, you know what", let's say you're at a table and say, "You know what this table does not exist. I say that with absolute... It's true... It doesn't..." You know?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah!

 

JEREMY:

 

Just because someone says something with absolute confidence does not make it true whatsoever which is a trap we fall into so often, because someone is confident saying something. Whether it's religious, or political, or whatever.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah and truly our beliefs shape our reality. If we choose to perceive something a certain way, that's what we're choosing to see, so we're adding filters in our perception. And you know they've done so many studies on this that if something appears before your eyes which does not fit any of the preconceived notions you have about understanding the world, then you disregard it completely. You don't even register it because it doesn't mean anything to you. That image has no associated meaning.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

This is amazing. She's basically describing Westworld. I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't seen the show. I mean I almost asked her if she had seen this show but I would that good money that she hasn't. Being a yoga teacher in Thailand who hasn't worn shoes for over a year and really probably has better things to do. But how awesome is this? And moreover how true. If you haven't seen Westworld then you should definitely go see it and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But... wow! How often do we all go, "This means nothing to me". I mean seriously.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So it doesn't get stored in the brain, it just gets washed away and then you go to the next thing, and this is how people get stuck in patterns. You know, they end up in the same cycle of relationships and then they complain, why this boyfriend was the same as the last boyfriend. Its like, "Well you're attracting the same type of men in your life", you know? [Laughs] 

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah

 

KATHERINE:

 

So this idea of breaking out of these patterns, for me, has been very interesting for a long time because I really am, at a deep level, searching for like, "What is freedom?" You know? If I don't feel - if I feel like I'm in a game or this is not, like this is some kind of dream and everyone's kind of sleepwalking. Sometimes I look around and I really feel like, "Wow we're all zombies!" And me too! But sometimes I just get a glimpse of - I stop for a moment and I look at all the zombies around me and I realize that up until that very second I was also walking around like a zombie with - in my own world, in my mind, in my own thoughts and just judging everything, or not paying attention to anything in my surroundings. Not really seeing things as they are. And when I get glimpses of this I realize, actually there is something more going on. There is a way to see more clearly. There are little techniques and there are certain beliefs which can reshape the reality to have a more inclusive perspective. And for me this has been very interesting which I think is what kind of got me started on the Yogic, and spiritual path of studying world religions or different spiritual practices. It's a very interesting hobby of mine. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Can you elaborate on that then? What are your techniques that you've found to help bring about those moments of clarity? I believe it's even called - is it Satori?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah. In Zen Buddhism, yeah, and it seems like all the different religions have similar words for the same things. Even though Zen is kind of Mahayana or the Korean and Japanese version of Buddhism, all the branches have their own words and a lot of them come from whatever the root language is. So Sartori, I think, is a Japanese word. And so it's more like Japanese Zen Buddhism. But the concept is similar to Samadhi which is a Sanskrit word and you see this word in Hinduism and Buddhism with the Sanskrit background. And, yeah they all have the same idea of getting to a certain state of realisation where you remove all these veils of illusion and you get to a state where you feel very awake and very connected, and then you really understand what's actually going on. [Laughs] And the idea is to get to this state as often as possible, and then try to maintain it in your daily life so that you can be in the world but see through all these veils and then you're not a zombie anymore. You're actually awake and you're walking around and you're seeing reality as it is. And so people get there with different techniques, different meditation techniques. And I think any insight practice is trying to get you to the same place, and many yoga practices are also trying to get you in the same place. At least from a traditional point of view. Because I also started studying Tantra. I guess after that first series of travels, I didn't really stop travelling, I only went home to visit. So I've been travelling for about five years now and mostly in India, Thailand, also Peru for six months doing work with the Sacred Plant Medicines, and it seems like they all have their own practices which are trying to get you to that same state. So practices which I saw in the Andes or the Amazon of Peru where they're working with Ayahuasca, San Pedro, and Coca, the other sacred plants. They're saying the same thing as the yogis in India as the Tibetans and I find it - for me my hobby has been to study the essence - so any of these techniques, there are so many, and I would say people should do whatever they're called to do as long as they know that the end goal of that technique is to help them get to that state. Because I think a lot of techniques now, which I see in the West, is that we're exposed to a lot of things and we don't really know why we're doing them.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

We're exposed to a lot of things and we don't really know why we're doing them. That's a good one.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So it's very trendy, and it's cool to meditate, and it's cool to do yoga and it's cool to be into crystals and do Reiki or have some healer balance your chakras. But maybe we're not really sure what's actually going on, or what the original intention is behind these kinds of practices. So for me, the techniques that I use are techniques which I've done - because I'm very in the mind and I like to understand things. My curiosity makes me want to understand things. So I can over intellectualize a bit. But I like to understand the origin of something. So if I'm exposed to, for example a concentration technique, where someone has you stare at a yantra, or a mandala, or a candle flame, or a black dot on the wall. If they tell you to concentrate and focus your attention on that one thing, I'm the annoying student who's raising my hand saying, "OK but why are we doing this? I'm ok with doing it and I can do it and I have done it, but what is the intention behind doing it?" And if the person who is guiding the meditation doesn't know why, they just learned it from someone else or read it in a book, and all they can say is, "It helps focus your concentration". Then for me, it's OK to start with that and to try it and have my own experiences, but what I've noticed about most of these disciplines is, you want to be with a teacher who can get you there. So if the person teaching can't get you there, they can only get you so far, eventually you are going to have to go to a teacher above them. Their teacher, or another teacher, who can really get you to the essence of where it is that you're trying to go. And in the West I see this 'spiritual-bypassing' a lot. This 'pretending to be spiritual' and, it's trendy to be spiritual. And for me this person who wants to understand, and ask a lot of questions and now I'm studying a bit more the texts. I see there's a lot missing. There's a big gap in people being informed, or not being informed about why they're doing what they're doing. Because these practices can be so deep and so profound. And yes, you do start with concentration. Because if you cannot quiet your mind then it makes it hard to get to these high states, these high meditative experiences where you feel very connected to everything, to your true nature, to everything around you, to energy, to vibration. And, you know, if you drink coffee right before you meditate then you've probably experienced that the mind cannot be very quiet and you can't sit still. And if you're not flexible it's even painful to say it! So maybe you'll have to start with yoga in order to open the hips, to even be able to sit in meditation! [Laughs] Maybe you'll have to change your diet and stop eating meat or stop drinking coffee in order to bring some kind of balance to your digestive system so that the energy can go towards these meditative states and in the first place.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

I then ask Kathy to give me some links or some solid recommendations for some sources that she would recommend, especially for those listening - if you're curious about what and what makes Kathy tick and where is she getting all this stuff? She gave me some that I'll definitely include in the blog and she talks a little bit here too.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah I have a lot that I would recommend. One person I follow primarily, he's in Berkeley California, his name is Christopher Wallace. I really like his blogs because he's speaking to the average person but he has several degrees including a Ph.D. in Shaiva Tantra which is the form of Tantra which worships Shiva, and he's one of the gods in the Hindu kind of religion. But at a tantric level this is more metaphysical and not literal. So it's not even a religion, it's an esoteric kind of study of something, which for me is like the Ph.D. level of spirituality. These people are able to discuss reality with quantum physics and see the correlation. I really like him because he is a Sanskrit scholar and I think he studied Sanskrit at Oxford. He's quite - academically he's got a lot of credentials which, you know, in the West people value credentials a lot. And so when he speaks he's really studying these ancient texts and talking about the chakras and yoga and why it is the way it is, but also how to navigate it in the western world in order to understand more deeply what it was and what it could mean and how far it can take you. So he's giving really beautiful examples of how the modern interpretation is of the chakras - like the seven chakra system within yoga. It's quite common for people to talk about chakras and yet very few people can cite their sources, even for where they learned this and then they state it as like a blanket fact that this is true. Like, about the heart chakra or the Sacral chakra is to do with this psychological thing and there's a crystal associated with it. But he's saying that actually this came from a woman who wrote a book in the 60s and she only had one text from India that she used and the rest she made up because she was a western occultist and not a yogi. And so when you read a text like this it can shatter your whole reality of - especially in the yoga world because people are very quick to throw around these kind of catchy terms. But most people don't know where it came from originally. And yoga in India is very old. I mean the Rig Veda - there's four books called the Vedas. They're the oldest books in the world. The Rig Veda they think was written in nine thousand B.C.E.

 

JEREMY:

 

Wow, that's incredibly old!

 

KATHERINE:

 

And this is like what the first - it's crazy! I mean, I have no idea what was going on in the world in 9000 B.C.E. All I knew was like, "OK are we - were we cave men at this point? What age...? Had we invented the wheel yet? And these people wrote a book about - basically an equation in Sanskrit metered like so they could memorize it and sing it, like a song, like chant it. It was an oral tradition where children memorized it their whole life to pass it on. And then some guy finally put it all together and wrote a book, and there's four of them. And really, no one understands this book, and it's so old, and it's so complicated, that nobody can translate it.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

We then talked a little bit more about modern day spirituality and how in the West, usually a very fragmented picture is painted, rather a cobbled together picture. 

 

KATHERINE:

 

There's so much depth of wisdom to this and these paths were really about something profound. I mean these people had supernatural powers you know? Because of their yoga practice, because of their meditative practice. And now we're like, "Oh, open your third eye and...Visualize this and... Visualize that". [Laughs] So it can be nice, and it can be a good feeling, and it can be a step in the right direction, but ultimately we're like kindergartners. And we can if we want, study and get to the Ph.D. level towards our freedom and towards our self-realization and self-actualization - our understanding and kind of removing these veils of illusion. And for me this is super interesting. If I could devote my life to anything its like, "OK, well why not this?" [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Right.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And I think a lot of people would agree. They're are also on this path. They just don't know how to navigate it with the stuff that we have in the West.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

The next question I asked Kathy was what her ultimate purpose is and whether or not it's to help others remove their veils? The veils which blind them from reality.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I ultimately feel like we all have our own kind of purpose, but I think to really be ourselves in the world, to be the best version of ourselves and really truly meet our potential as human beings, then a lot of work has to be done towards understanding who we really are. And I think understanding who we really are will naturally - those things that we're not will fall away. I mean, we can spend time studying psychology and understanding our childhood and, "OK, our parents raised us like this... My dad told me this, so I believe that" or "This happened to me when I was 13 so then I formed my own opinions about it, and then..." You know, some people go to therapists to kind of undo these things that are not true or are not real for them, don't need to limit them. I wouldn't say it's everyone's purpose but I would say for some people, if they feel a really strong determination to understand the true nature of reality, like what's really going on here, you know they want out of 'The Matrix'?

 

JEREMY:

 

Right! [Laughs]

 

KATHERINE:

 

Then there are ways, and there were schools and people were doing it for thousands of years, like thousands of years! Centuries you know? Not just decades, centuries people were perfecting this science. And they wrote books. And so if you want to read those books, or if you want to find a teacher who can get you there or at least get you part of the way there, then they're out there in the world. Unfortunately we have everything at our fingertips with the Internet these days and the fact that we have money to hop on a plane and travel somewhere is a luxury also. So, I wouldn't say it's everyone's purpose but for me I feel a very strong calling for this. And my limitation is that I feel like I intellectualize, and I tend to study, and I want to understand with my mind. And most of these disciplines are saying, "At some point you have to go beyond the mind". Because our thoughts, and our emotions, and what we believe, these perceptions we have of reality, our paradigm. The way - it has to be let go of at some point. Even the sense of self as we know it has to be, it has to be dropped. It has to be examined and dropped. And if it shatters, if you drop something and it shatters and breaks, and falls to pieces then in a way it's not real and the willingness to let go of something and not hold onto it, especially beliefs, the way we perceive the world, and how we perceive ourselves, the personality we shaped and created. It's very hard to let go of sometimes. And all these spiritual practices, at least with Buddhism they're saying that this attachment is really the root of our suffering. And for me I'm very curious to explore as far as I can go, and actually I just got accepted to a grad school program. I'm going to be returning to the U.S. in the summer. I'm going to be going to Naropa University. It's a private Buddhist University in Boulder Colorado. I'm going to be studying comparative religions, or they call it contemplative religions, and studying the Sanskrit and Tibetan languages. I guess I'm going into the Scholastic. So for me I don't feel like it's my purpose in life. To be honest, I think we can do anything, but it's the intention behind our actions. The way we do it - You know, a chef who knows the recipe to make food taste food is not going to be as high quality of a chef as a person who's passionate about it and really puts their full energy and intention into the food. You know, it tastes better with love. You know, it taste better with passion. And so there's - I think it doesn't really matter what we do, you know our purpose. Everyone has a different purpose and a different role and for me, as long as you reach your potential and remove all these things which limit you from really reaching that. Like really being the best at something you can be. Then the path is to remove all those limitations. That sense of limitation. To really reach your potential. And then if you're a chef or, you know a scholar, or a teacher, it doesn't really matter because you are yourself in the world. And I think that for me if I really know who I am and how I express myself in the world - affects everyone in my life. It affects the whole world. Somehow, it's like a ripple effect. So I don't know. I guess I believe in the evolution of human consciousness, and if you're spiritual and you believe in a soul, the evolution of the soul also that maybe it won't happen in one lifetime. Maybe it's something more than we can understand. A bigger picture than we can understand. And whatever people's beliefs are, most of them are saying the same thing. That there is certain things you can do to get closer to that, closer to your connection with God, closer to your connection to the universe, or the cosmos, the divine. And I think ultimately understand how we're related, how we're connected. And when we establish that connection, how we express ourselves in the world changes completely. And I've experienced that for myself. This unlocking of the things that I believe when I examine them and I drop them if they shatter and I let them go completely, I feel so much more myself. I feel so much more liberated. And it doesn't have to do with ideas anymore, it's just expression. It's this idea of just being who you are instead of thinking about who you should be, or trying to have people perceive you how you want them to perceive you. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Exactly. It's very tiring when you get on that route. Right?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah. And that's why it's funny when you ask someone to tell their story because, ultimately the story I tell you about myself paints a picture, and even that picture is not a reality of who I am. Because I'm so much more than that. I'm so much more than my story. And we're all so much more than our stories. And I really feel that even the story itself can be limiting because the story is only focusing on certain aspects of the bigger picture, and I don't have the bigger picture. I was not there to design the plan of my life, unless I was - a part of myself, maybe was very aware of these things but my conscious mind was not aware that I chose this, so that this would happen you know? [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah. And you're totally right too. Each one of us is a little microcosm. Seriously, a universe unto ourselves. So you're right, there's no way to completely capture everything, that's most definitely true. And I like that you put that out there. Going back to what you were talking about, you know, with all of us trying to reach - I don't know, maybe the next evolution of consciousness, just getting to that next version of ourselves. Do you think that, I don't know, all the things that kind of ail this planet. Do you think that they can be remedied by more of us focusing on trying to get to that level? I guess what I'm trying to ask is, what kind of hope do you see for the planet, for humanity?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Wow, that's a really good question. You know, to answer the question I would have to look - the way my mind works now, because I study a bit more historical things. I look at the rise and fall of civilizations throughout time, and how it seems that there are periods where we forget and then there are periods where we remember. There are periods where we're very disconnected from ourselves, from nature, and then there are periods of reconnection, and it seems like this is a natural rhythm, a natural cycle. And so I think in modern times, if we focus that the world is in a really - like if it seems very negative, that like the planet's in trouble and something's going wrong with the world now that we need to change or somehow fix. I think even this perspective can be a bit limiting. In order to see that something is wrong with the world and that we need to fix it or change it. For me I see that, I think it's only natural that we evolve and I don't know if everyone will evolve. I mean for sure some people are taking steps backward and there's a lot of ignorance in the world now, especially what we see in the West. To be honest, this idea of like walking around and seeing that people are zombies is a reality. We're very programmed and conditioned to be subservient in our society now. I think that's just the way the system has created itself and whether you believe in these kind of conspiracy theories or not. For me I do see that the way people are educated to not question too much the lifestyle that they have. This idea of like; "OK you go to school, and then you get the job, and then you get married, and then you have the kids, and then you buy the house, and then you have to pay off the mortgage for 30 years, and then you can retire and finally relax. But by the time you retire you probably have cancer, so you have to have chemotherapy and so you have to have good health insurance. And you know, by then its like, how is the relationship with your family? They probably send you to a retirement center because we don't have these tight family units or tribal community support systems anymore. So in a way this could be perceived as really negative, but for me I think that I see so many young people who are really - have the desire, the intense desire to wake up, because they grew up in that society. So for me the things that are the way they are even, if it seems bad, so much good is coming from it. And I don't really like to use this 'good and bad' too much because, for sure there's a complexity beyond the duality of like, "this is good, and this is bad". Because sometimes the worst things that happened to me were the best learning experiences. The most difficult times were the most traumatic experiences. I grew so much from them. So now I really appreciate them and so I could not say that something was bad just because it was not the idea of good that I was taught to believe in.

 

JEREMY:

 

Right.

 

KATHERINE:

 

So I see a lot of hope because I see that people, when they're living in a certain world where they're disconnected, they feel a sense of separation from nature, from other people, from themselves. That detachment, the sense of separation, instils in them a deep desire to be more connected. And, you know, a lot of funny things happen when people want to be connected. You know, we have the social media stuff and there's kind of personas and personalities created which maybe are not authentic because we interact in a different way than in person, or than we used to in the past. But I see that people underneath it all have a deep desire to be connected. I mean I hear people all the time. They go on vacation because they're dissatisfied with their job. They get divorced because they're dissatisfied with their marriage and they say I just want to 'find myself'. I just want to heal myself. Or they're up in the mountains. I meet them up in the mountains in Wyoming if I go home in the summer and I'm backpacking. They say I just want to reconnect with nature. So even though they experience this loneliness and this sense of separation which causes them a lot of suffering and a lot of unhappiness. Underneath it that gives fuel to the fire inside of them which - they desire to feel connected, to understand who they are, to find themselves and find their connection with nature and other people. So for me I don't see that we're in such horrible times. I see that there's a lot of fuel for the fire and if that fire - the more fuel you put on a fire the brighter it's going to be, the larger it will grow. And for me the more difficult times are going to really feed people's deep desire to find happiness, to find connection. To understand what their real purpose in life is because they will see all around them that this isn't it. And for me that's how change naturally happens throughout time. I think this dissatisfaction and this fuel for the fire is usually the beginning of a time where everything changes and society restructures itself, and the world changes. And, you know, in 100 years the people who are running the show will be dead. [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

Right.

 

KATHERINE:

 

I mean most likely unless we have these huge advances in the medical world where people can start to live longer. But I think the younger generation - and for them to see the world, and see that people are unhappy, and see that materialism or capitalism is not the way towards happiness, but it can be a tool. You know, money can be a tool. Then I think they're going to shift the paradigm themselves and I see it already happening in our generation. And to be honest I went home the first time was teaching yoga and my mom was my yoga student, and my elementary school teachers were my yoga students. And it changed their lives. They started doing yoga and now they do yoga, you know? So even the older generation, it's not too late for people.  They also desire this connection. So even if they're very conditioned by their society to perceive reality in a certain way within boxes, and judgments. Still, if they're unhappy they will desire to be happy. And for me I think people will start to understand what makes them happy, and that's the natural progression.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah. Yeah. And I think you're right. At whatever age, we all have the chance to wake up, to experience that clarity. There's no age limit where you're, "Nope, I'm past this age, I can't experience that now". [Laughs]

 

KATHERINE:

 

[Laughs] "I'm retired, I can't focus on happiness anymore"! [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

So, what are the best things about life here on Earth? Ultimately, what are you most thankful for?

 

KATHERINE:

 

Wow, so many things. Honestly, just the experience of life. Like, to be human and to see through human eyes and hear through human ears. I mean the whole spectrum of light and color that we can perceive. My reality is very different from the reality of a bat, for example. But we live in the same world! But how about perceives, and sees, and hears, is very different from mine so it might seem like two separate realities. I feel very thankful to be a human and to have this kind of consciousness, and to have this freedom to - I don't have to focus on my daily survival needs, I don't need to worry about how I'm going to get food today and where I'm going to sleep tonight and if I feel safe, or if I have people to support me. I feel it's such a beautiful luxury to even think about enlightenment or self-actualization. You know Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I remember studying it in psychology, and at the bottom is like, you know, basic food, clothing, shelter, and then it goes up to social needs within your family and your relationships. And then there's more and more personal needs and at the very top of the pyramid is self-actualization. And I feel like it's such a luxury to even touch that top of the pyramid that I have all my basic needs met for me because of all the luxuries we have in this life, and for whatever reason, that is beyond my understanding, that I can even spend the time to think. I mean I've been in Thailand for a year, I lived in the jungle, I don't wear shoes, I teach yoga and yoga philosophy but otherwise I survive on very little money. I eat very good quality food like fruits. You its warm, I don't have to wear a lot of clothes. I can watch the sun setting into the ocean every night and I realized like this life is so amazing. And it's not just because I'm here, It's not just because I'm in Thailand and my life is like a vacation. It's that I even have the chance to experience this and to enjoy it at all. And I'm so thankful for the awareness that I have to even appreciate it. Because there were times in my life where I was so in my mind with work and school or whatever that I was not even able to stop and appreciate the beauty of life. And this is where it kind of goes back to the childhood, but I feel super thankful that at least I could appreciate the small things in nature. Like, I could look at an insect, or watch an animal, or see a child playing, and just feel that joy again, that awe of life. And, "wow this is really actually very amazing, that we're even here experiencing this". And, yeah, I'm so grateful for that. And for me that's important to remember because I really have this feeling that, if I can fill my life with that feeling, what I do in life, like I said it won't really matter because I'm spreading that energy of having this joy. You know, a child laughs and they have such a pure laugh. Everyone in the room feels that. Everyone in the room feels this purity, this innocence this, joy for life. And the kid will be giggling because a puppy is licking him or something, it's not even like, this profound thing. And I'm so grateful to still feel that and to not have lost it. There was a period of time where I lost it, so in a way I'm just glad that I've regained it. This awe, and this fascination, and this appreciation, and to just be happy to be here and take it all in no matter what happens you know? I think I will die very happy if that can be my last feeling in this life.

 

JEREMY:

 

One major thing I gathered from this conversation is that, as much as we can get to that state every day, to where we are truly just understanding of, and appreciative of what it is we actually have and can attain, with regard to consciousness. I mean, that to me is just a pinnacle. That's just something we should always strive for and we need to try and get it to become more and more of a daily thing. You know, as much as we can possibly experience that clarity in understanding it the better for all of us I think.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah, and I think this is where those techniques and those practices come in handy. You know, whether you meditate, or when you eat your food, are you really with your food or are you with your phone? You know? Are you tasting, are you are you looking around you or are you in your own internal world in your mind? And these daily practices that we do to cultivate mindfulness, I think they make it a lot easier to maintain that state. To maintain that state of appreciation and to really see with open eyes and here with open ears and you know, listen to someone who is talking with an open mind. Without judging everything they say or waiting for our chance to speak. This openness and this appreciation can be cultivated through practices. And for me that's why these techniques these little tricks and things we're exposed to - even if we don't understand the depth of what they could potentially lead us towards, they're still like baby steps in the right direction, towards helping us not drown in depression or drown in our own - you know, whatever we're consumed with in our minds. But to really take moments and to try to lengthen those moments that we can feel that. That awe, and that appreciation, and that profound, deep sense of peace, and bliss, that joy for living. And I think that's why a lot of these traditions have these practices. And for me it's funny, I was in Peru and I was working with the shaman for a while at this amazing place called 'Paititi Institute' where they're doing sacred plant medicine, they have a permaculture project. So we're really like growing our own food, and building our own houses, and working with the sacred plants. And the guy, Roman, who kind of runs it, he's like one of the shamans there. It's a couple who run the Institute. He said, he believes that, "We forget in order to remember, so we can forget to remember". And so I think it's a natural - I really like that he said that it's a natural process that every time you forget you appreciate more the moments that you remember,  and you feel more connected, and more fascinated by life. So the forgetting is also part of the process, part of the evolutionary process. So then it's not really something to be seen as negative. Like, OK there was a period of time that I was really stressed, or very anxious, or very emotional, and you know I lost that connection. When you lose it, and then when you regain it, it's more powerful every time you regain it because you have so much more appreciation for it. So I think it's really beautiful, no matter what.

 

JEREMY:

 

Yeah, that's actually a very good point, and I think that I've seen that to be true in life. Definitely. Wow, that's beautiful. Well, I just have one last question for you, and really it's just kind of to surmise, kind of everything that we've talked about so far. So if you feel that you need to repeat yourself a little bit that's totally fine, but it's kind of an 'end-all' question that I like to ask. But first I have to ask you to imagine something. Imagine that one day you're walking through a lush green park, let's say it's Hyde Park in London. It's a beautiful spring day. You know, just kind of perfect weather. When suddenly a spacecraft appears, yes you get to meet an alien. And out steps an alien who looks just like that British actor Benedict Cumberbatch and speaks like him to. I don't know how he got that British accent! Probably just watched a lot of TV on his way over. But after exchanging pleasantries, the alien asks that you give him the most accurate description of how you see and understand life on this planet.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And how much time do I have to show him? [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

You would have... I know because it's kind of a loaded question right?

 

KATHERINE:

 

[Laughs] He's probably a busy alien I imagine.

 

JEREMY:

 

He's a very busy alien! Yeah, his goal is a little bit overly optimistic to get through a billion people at least, and you just happened to be the first one, so he’s given you about five minutes to answer.

 

KATHERINE:

 

 [Laughs] OK.

 

JEREMY:

 

But you can totally go, if you need to go five, ten, twenty even, that's totally fine.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Wow. I love this question, it's so interesting! I love these kind of imaginations because, yeah how will you present it to an alien? It's very, very beautiful. Alien who took the form of a funny British man. I like it. It's cool that we're in Hyde Park because then we can walk around and it's a bit more connected with nature. So for me this is really good symbolism of how I perceive life to be. I feel like if he's a very evolved being he would be very patient and very - he would listen - is my imagination, because if he really wants to know then he would listen to the answer. And I think I would show him a lot of things without using words, because language - I know because I like to study language - a lot can be lost in translation with words. Because with words there's an associated meaning, and so we paint a picture in our mind when we could just look at the thing and see it as it is, however we perceive it, without associating some meaning towards it. So I would probably walk around the park with him and show him some different aspects of life.  Different things living. Not just from the human perspective of life, but from an insect perspective of life, or maybe a plant's perspective of life. I would probably walk him to some water, and we would sit for a moment and look at the pond. Look at the fish in the pond, all the insects flying above, the plants growing in the sunlight, hopefully. You know, if it's a sunny day in London. More likely it's raining, but if it was a sunny day - I would hope for the sun! [Laughs] Because you can see a lot when the sun is opening the flowers and opening the plants, and you can see them absorbing all this light, and how sunlight brings life into the world and how we need it. I might sit with him and maybe show him when the water is still, and then throw a rock into the pond. And we would watch as the ripples form on the surface and flow out from where the rock hits the water, and watch as the rock goes down into the water and all the fish swim away, and then when the rock hits the bottom of the pond how it stirs up all the mud at the bottom. And then where it was once a clear pond where you could see everything, suddenly it's quite murky and all you see is brown silt and dirt floating around until everything slowly calms down again. All the dirt settles back down to the bottom. And again, it's clear, and again the fish relax and start swimming around or going back to doing exactly what they were doing. Forgetting that they had fear of something in the first place. And, for me this would be a very beautiful symbol of how something can be perceived from so many different points of view, and how clarity can allow you to see more. And yet how when you throw a rock into something and it clouds everything, it can create a lot of confusion for everyone, you know, we can't see the bottom, the fish can't see what's going on, they're afraid, they're swimming around like crazy. Maybe even the insects fly away. And then all the calm resettles and the clarity comes back. And then everything goes back to normal. So this period of like, chaos and then clarity. This period of fear, and then relaxation. Of calm, and tranquillity. And I think this would be a really nice way to start, and then kind of from there, continuing walking around the park. And if we want to have conversations about it, or if - I would assume this alien, if it has a spacecraft, is quite evolved. I would hope not just technologically but also in evolution of consciousness. And I would hope that he would see the symbolism that I was trying to point out. And so I would probably show him flowers, and I would show him something dead as well. You know it's like some insect has been stepped on, like someone stepped on a snail on the path. We would see a live snail, and we would watch it like, nibbling on something or creating a slime trail on something. And then we would look at the dead one for a while, and just stare at it. You know this crushed shell with this soft squishy body of something, and see the flies land on it and the ants start slowly nibbling pieces of it, and see that death is also a part of life, and the death is not the end because everything else feeds off of this. And this decomposes and becomes organic matter again. And to see that death is also a cycle of life and part of life. And to perceive it in silence for me is very powerful because then it's not putting any associated meanings like, "Isn't it sad that someone stepped on this snail. Isn't it sad that the ants are eating it?" You know? Or, "How wonderful it is that the flies now have something which will rot that they can lay their eggs in and then the maggots crawl out you know?" [Laughs] Like to not put good and bad on it, but just see it as it is, and then whatever the alien perceives, from his own point of view, I would hope is something profound for him. And so to just walk around the park and have these moments where we look at flowers and maybe we pick a flower. We watched them all fresh, and alive, and maybe pick one. And as we're walking around the park notice how that flower that we picked slowly starts to wilt. And so the thing that was once beautiful in its life and its vibrancy, and how maybe we wanted to keep that moment. That something we like - how we had this attachment to it, like, "OK I take it with me because it's such a beautiful flower". How slowly that flower changes and in one way could even like lose its beauty because it's starting to wilt and die. And then eventually that flower which is wilted and not beautiful anymore gets tossed aside. And then again becomes organic matter that decomposes into the soil. So I think this cycle and this bigger picture would be a really beautiful picture that I would like to paint for this alien. To see the interconnectedness of everything and to see how there's a whole system. It's not just the human's point of view but it's that everything works together in this cycle. In this system which is very complex and very intricate and beyond my understanding. Beyond my ability to explain to him the intricacy. And I would assume that his perception is different than mine and I would hope that he is more advanced and more evolved and that he can see more things than I could explain to him.

 

JEREMY:

 

That is marvellous. Seriously. I've never had anyone take the alien on a walk through the park. So this is a first. And I really have nothing to add to it and I'm so glad you've taken time out for the interview and to answer that question in such a beautiful way. As discussed earlier there really is no way for us to get the whole picture or the complete perspective from someone else. And I don't even think a decade it is enough time, let alone an hour like right now. Is there anything else you want to share with those listening that would give us an even better understanding of the way in which you perceive life? 

 

KATHERINE:

 

Yeah I mean there is something else I would like to say, and I don't know how many listeners you have or how many people are connected with this podcast because I also don't really know 100% how to listen to the other interviews but I think that, I would imagine this kind of project and your vision might attract a specific type of person who is willing to listen to a long recording of someone else talking about themselves. [Laughs] So I would assume that your audience is people who are very curious to understand how other people perceive the world and are hopefully good listeners because otherwise they wouldn't make the time for something like this. And I think these specific type of people who are open, and are curious, and are looking to perceive the world from someone else's point of view, or at least imagine too. That this type of person is probably looking for a better understanding of the whole picture themselves. And I think for this type of person I would really like to say to them to keep taking pieces of the puzzle wherever they can get it in order to put the puzzle pieces together and get the bigger picture. And to keep going, you know? Not to be disappointed with something. Don't lose their curiosity for life and for understanding because I also have this, and when I lost it and when I felt like society was telling me that I need to put myself in a box and set aside my dreams, or set aside my curiosity, that there wasn't a place for it in the world. I lost my connection in that moment. And if your audience relates to that, then I would really encourage them to find their place in the world. Paint the picture of the world in their own unique way, and then be who they want to be in the world because I think too many times we're told we should do this and shouldn't do this and it limits us. It limits us from really being who we can be. So I have this free education kind of it's like in the post-9 11 G.I. bill so military members get free education benefits for a while. And so it's paying for my master's degree program that I was in the military. And I'm in the same situation that I was in when I was 19 years old or 18 years old in which my education is paid for, but now I feel like I'm living life on my own terms and I decide what I want to study. I'm not letting society tell me what I should do in order to make money, because money won't make me happy, or that I should offer something beneficial to society, and that art was somehow not perceived as something honorable to offer society.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Yikes. I don't know about you but this is really hitting home for me.

 

KATHERINE:

 

And it's funny because I realized, looking at all these schools and all these degree programs, I realized that it doesn't really matter what I study because if I'm interested in it, if I'm passionate about it, if I think it will bring benefit to myself and to the world that I know more about that thing that I can share that with other people, and to inform myself, then that's all that matters. So I would say go for your passions, you know? Keep cultivating that curiosity, that sense of wonder, that sense of awe about life, and don't ever let someone put out that fire in you. And, I don't know. Whatever it takes to get there, whatever it takes to feed that fire, that curiosity, that desire to move forward, to evolve, to know more, and to understand more, to connect more deeply, to be more authentic. I would say just do it, you know? Keep going. And whatever technique - even if in the West we have these kind of, new post-New-Age watered down versions of ancient things. You can follow the bread crumbs. You can take some simple technique, see if it works for you, see if it resonates with you, see if you feel good. See if it helps you let go of the sense of limitation, let go of the stories you tell yourself about, well, one, yourself! [Laughs] It's really good to keep evolving our self and not hold ourselves back with who we were, or who we think we are, or should be, but to continue allowing ourselves to become who we would like to be and take steps towards not becoming, but like almost unveiling our true nature. Removing those veils of the things that we're not in order to see who we truly are and really let that light of our consciousness shine through us. And for me this has been the most powerful thing for me, is that people along the way told me, "You know what, don't surrender, don't give up, don't ever stop trying to reach the goal that you have for yourself". And when you get that goal like maybe you have a certain salary you want to have or you want a certain car, even if it's a materialistic goal. When you get it, if it's not satisfying you're going to learn so much about yourself. And when you do get your goal and it is satisfying, you will also learn so much about yourself. So I would say, keep discovering yourself, keep exploring who you are and what is real, and what is the truth, and be open to learning new things. This beginner's mind that they talk about in Zen Buddhism is so powerful for me because as soon as we think we have the world figured out and that we're right then it's tricky because we start to believe other people are wrong. And I would say the number one thing I've noticed between people, why they have conflicts, why they can't connect, why they disagree, is because one person values their life experiences, everything they've learned, all the growth that they have, and all the opinions they have, all the beliefs they have, they believe to be right. And when they see that someone else doesn't value the same things that they value, they think the other person should, and then they think that person is wrong. And, this doesn't help the connection and it actually closes us off and limits us more. So I think any practice you can do to cultivate that open mind that you can learn from everyone. Everyone can be your teacher. Even if you don't agree with them, even if their life experience is totally different than yours. Maybe you have the same experience and you got two different lessons out of it. Still be open to the fact that you can move so much faster in your evolution if you learn from other people. Because otherwise, if you have to experience everything first-hand in order to learn from it, it's going to be a very slow process. Unless you have a lot of crazy experiences in your life. It can be very slow, but if you take every person as a teacher and learn from every one of their experiences by truly listening to them. Like this podcast, listening to someone's point of view. You can take all the lessons that they learned in their life and apply them to your own life. And you can grow so much faster if you're even just open to not judge and to not see the other person as wrong and yourself as right. And for me this perspective shifted everything and I would really recommend people try it because it takes huge steps. I don't know, I just appreciate people more, and I don't judge them so much, and I don't judge myself so much. I just see that I'm just another person and that is actually very humbling and it really helps with this ego struggle you know? Where we prop up our sense of self and we project how we want people to perceive us. This illusion of who we want people to see. I don't know. Letting that go has really helped me and I think all the spiritual disciplines are saying to be humble is - and to have a beginner's mind or that, one of the most important things to get you there, all the way there. Because you can't go there with the sense of self that you're carrying around like this big burden, you know? And to really see that everyone's interesting and everyone has a story to tell and that you can learn from that story if you really listen to it and don't judge them. That's been very profound in my life and I hope to continue to grow more and learn more from other people. So I would say keep doing that. And I want to say something to you also, in that I think that this is an amazing idea for a project because you're using technology and you're connecting people. And in the modern world you're changing people's lives. I mean I don't know the impact has happened yet, but just the fact that you're doing this and that you had the idea for this is incredible to me and I really respect you for that, and I really hope that if this is your dream that you really feel fulfilled by it and that you're learning a lot yourself and that you're able to share what you learn with others and that they can all grow from it. So I think it's beautiful that you're doing this. Thank you.

 

JEREMY:

 

Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. You've reaffirmed in the last few minutes why I'm doing all of this. I think it's necessary in this day and age. We just need to open our minds up and learn from one another, and be open to one another. Just from this conversation I've learned quite a bit and I'm really appreciative of that. One thing that I want to reiterate from what you spoke about is that it's vital that we be our true authentic selves. That to me is something truly worth fighting for, and it's paramount. I just wanted to say I appreciate you touching on that. 

 

KATHERINE:

 

I totally agree with you. Authenticity for me has been the number one thing that I can focus on that I know will help me grow in the right direction. To be honest, to be authentic, even to say like, the things that are difficult to say about myself. To admit them. I think just bringing the awareness to it, and then the willingness to be open and be honest and expose ourselves to this,  maybe fear of being vulnerable to others, is very deeply healing in a lot of ways and I think it takes huge steps in our progress. We don't need to do therapy for years and talk to our psychiatrist about something. Or we don't have to stay in these same patterns. We can allow ourselves to change as long as we're authentic for where we are now and who we are now. That is going to form the deepest connections with other people and it's going to be the most beautiful expression of ourselves in the world when we're authentic. People relate to authenticity, they connect to authenticity. And it's inspiring. You know, if you can admit something about yourself that's difficult like, "OK I don't know", or, "I did make that mistake" or, whatever it might be. People relate to that. It's a human experience and we're all working on this change, and this evolution, and to just be true to ourselves, to be authentic and express ourselves from authenticity and honesty is profound and it's such a basic stage. You can start with that, you know? You can start with that and so much will happen. You don't have to meditate for an hour a day, like you can just start by being authentic [laughs] as best as you can! [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

That is great. Well I'll let you go now Katherine, but thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time out for this. And when you do come back to the states, and if I happen to be up in the Boulder area, let's grab some coffee or something. I would love to continue this conversation.

 

KATHERINE:

 

Next time I get to interview you! [Laughs]

 

JEREMY:

 

OK perfect! I'll bring my shaved head as long as you bring your shaved head.

 

KATHERINE:

 

[Laughs] I want to know what you told the alien who arrived in the park! [Laughs] I'm so excited to see your project continue and I would love to help support you in any way because I really think this is an amazing, incredible idea that you're doing.

 

JEREMY:

 

Thank you so much Katherine. I really do appreciate that. Thank you. It's been awesome talking with you.

 

JEREMY: [narration]

 

Hey. Thank you so much for checking out this episode of 'In the shoes of'. If you like, or don't like the podcast, feel free to leave a review or reach out to me. My email is jnickel@intheshoesof.org. I'm Jeremy Nickel, the host and producer of the show, until the next time, see you later.