Today’s Guest on The Zen Leader is Dr. Jeffry Rubin is the author of the critically esteemed book, The Art of Flourishing: A Guide to Mindfulness, Self-Care in a Chaotic World, and the creator of meditative psychotherapy, a practice that he developed through insights gained from decades of study, teaching, and helping thousands of people flourish. Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychotherapist in New York City and has taught at various universities, psychoanalytic institutes, and Buddhist and yoga centers. He also lectures around the country. His pioneering approach to Buddhism and psychotherapy has been featured in The New York Times Magazine.
Intro:Welcome to The Zen Leaderwith Lara Jaye. Whether you’re a leader at home or in the boardroom, Lara provides the tools to help you get unstuck in different areas of your life. Now here’s your host, Lara Jaye.
Lara Jaye:Welcome to The Zen Leader Show, helping you transform your life and find greater satisfaction and peace. I’m your host, Lara Jaye, international bestselling author and speaker, helping you find your happy. You know, that spot inside of you that feels calm and peace, even when chaos is swirling around you.
My guest today has figured out how to have that calm even in the storm. In this crazy, chaotic world, we desire lasting intimacy, a close, a deep-rooted relationship with someone who cherishes us, or indeed, with ourselves. But too often being in an intimate relationship means we have to compromise or lose vital aspects of our personalities. We’re going to talk today about avoiding this sacrificing our own self-care to get the love that we want and his pioneering, surprising, and deeply-revealing exploration of the self and how it manifests itself in relationships. Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, my guest today, brings the art of flourishing to life.
His idea is startling simple. Self-care is the foundation of intimacy. I love this. Intimacy is the culmination of self-care. Synthesizing the best practices from the traditions of Eastern meditation and Western psychotherapy, Dr. Rubin creates a new and accessible path for living authentically, as a singular self and as part of a couple, drawing from case studies and personal experiences. Dr. Rubin demonstrates how to discover our purpose, nurture empathy and mutual respect, and uncover barriers to intimacy, the hidden emotional weeds that kill passion.
Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, my guest today, is the author of the critically-esteemed book The Art of Flourishing: A Guide to Mindfulness, Self-Care in a Chaotic World,and he’s also the creator of Meditative Psychotherapy, a practice that he developed through insights gained from decades of study, teaching, and helping thousands of people flourish. Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychotherapist in New York City and has taught at various universities, psychoanalytic institutions, and Buddhist and yoga centers. He also lectures around the country. His pioneering approach to Buddhism and psychotherapy has been featured in The New York Times Magazine. Dr. Rubin, welcome.
Dr. Jeffrey Rubin:Lara, thank you so much for having me.
Lara:Great to have you on and I cannot wait to talk about this book, The Art of Flourishing: A Guide to Mindfulness, Self-Care, and Love in a Chaotic World. That’s where I want to start today. All of these things that you talk about don’t really seem to go together to a lot of the world, and what led you to write this book?
Dr. Rubin:I think I was in New York after 9/11 and I was troubled by tendencies that I saw, specifically people tended to either be what I called “relentlessly optimistic,” things will work out no matter what or paralyzingly pessimistic. I wanted to see if I could find a third way to help people that were suffering to deal with the cultural trauma of 9/11 in New York. The book started arising out of that, as well as a lot of life experiences when I felt like we needed a deeper and more expansive vision of what it meant to thrive.
I felt like happiness is a wonderful goal. I like happiness as much as the next person, but I felt like there were certain problems with the happiness movement, because I thought, in essence, it meant me feeling good now. I felt like the world needed that because many of us were really suffering, but I also felt, Lara, that we needed to stay connected to the world. The world needed us. We feel the tears of the world, in a way, so we needed to find a way to nurture ourselves, to bring out the best within ourselves, and also nourish the best in other people. The Art of Flourishingcame out of my own wish for all that and then my own life immersed in both Eastern and Western psychology and practices.
Lara:Nice. From there, you figured out that self-care actually is the foundation. It comes first.
Dr. Rubin:Exactly. Think about being on an airline. One of the key messages is put your own mask on first.
Dr. Rubin:Now what I learned over the years is that, because if my mask is on first and the plane goes down, God forbid, it’s easier to help the elderly person or the child nearby. But if I’m drowning, I can’t really be of much use to anybody else. It’s counterintuitive because we think it’s self-centered and it can be self-centered to focus on ourselves and care for ourselves, but it’s also possible to do it in a balanced way, and then we bring more to the rest of our relationships. We’re less resentful. We’re more nurtured. We’re more willing to extend ourselves. It’s easier to be generous and compassionate if we feel nurtured. I found that they really went together. They didn’t need to be split apart, self-care and intimacy.
Lara:I love that, and for me, in the past, I would play the card of, “Oh, I can’t do that for myself. That’s too selfish.” I wouldn’t take the time to exercise or to do just the basic self-care things because I felt so guilty. Why does our culture… [LAUGHTER] why do we do that to ourselves?
Dr. Rubin:I think that’s a great question, and I think you’re not alone. I think many of us struggle with that. Often women, but in recent years, increasing numbers of men I have seen also struggle with this. I think there’s a cultural message sometimes of put the other first. I think that leads to resentment. It leads to feeling like one’s a martyr. It leads to deprivation, and then it sabotages relationships. I think if we go in the other direction and really take care of ourselves, our connections with other people can be enriched.
Lara:Oh, I completely agree. I noticed I was over-volunteering at the church, and of course, they encourage that. [LAUGHTER] They wanted that, but I was driving myself just into a wall, just exhausting myself trying to please everyone else.
Dr. Rubin:Exactly. Look, I think religion plays into this because religions usually have an ethic, this sort of spiritual ethic of put the other first. You can see it in Christianity. You can see it in Tibetan Buddhism. As I’m saying, we need to balance it with… we don’t have to see self and other as split and as opposed. We can see both as necessary to a full and rich life.
Lara:That’s beautiful. I completely agree and have, of course, found that myself on my own journey throughout the years, but sometimes you have to get super sick and things have to happen for you to shake your world. It sounds like you, yourself, had things shake your world in order for this to come out, for this to flourish out.
Dr. Rubin:Well, I was raised by a mom that… the good news is that she fostered empathy in me by having me become the other person. The bad news was sometimes I would focus on the other person to the neglect of myself. I learned personally that I had to create more of a balance between the two, that either one too much, too much self-care, one can be self-centered, narcissistic […]living, too much generosity and too much focus on the other one can neglect one’s self. We really need both.
Lara:How do we balance that? I’m sure you’ve done studies, you’ve figured it out yourself and talked to many people. How do we balance the taking care of ourself and not being selfish?
Dr. Rubin:I look at morality as elements of the field by which I mean I have to take into account how you feel. You’re in the field and I’m in the field, and I try to always ask where are both people in the field and how do we take into account what each one needs? Instead of just you need or I need, what do we both need? What’s a win for both of us? It’s a shift in perspective, Lara. It’s taking into account all people that are involved in the decision.
For example, one is in a relationship and your partner’s aging mother or father might need to move in. Often, I think therapists would ask the person, “What’s authentic for you? What feels real and true for you?” I wouldn’t ask that question. I mean I’d be interested in that question, but I would also be interested in what would be the impact on your mother-in-law or your father-in-law if they didn’t move in, if they did move in? [00:10:05]In other words, they’re part of the field. They’re part of the elements of the decision.
So whenever I’m facing a situation, I try to look at who’s involved in the situation and what’s the impact on everyone. But, of course, everyone means me, too. For a lot of people, we live in a culture that Erich Fromm wrote an article. He’s a psychoanalyst and social critic, I think, in 1949. You could Google it. I think it’s called “The Taboo Against Selfishness,” something like that. We’re often raised not to ask the question of what I need, and then there are other people that are raised that they’re the center of the universe.
Dr. Rubin:I think we see this with a lot of politicians. Well, I hear people, “This drives me crazy. This drives me insane.” Well, the optics don’t look good. We guess the optics, what’s the right thing to do for the citizens. You know what I mean? But we often don’t ask that because we’re either thinking too much about ourselves or thinking too much about the other, and we just have to constantly say, “What’s a balance between both?”
One sign of this is your own body, actually. You can be with someone… I had this situation a few years ago. I was with a friend for dinner, and we had about a two-hour dinner and we got up about 8PM to get up from dinner to pay the check. He giggled and he said, “How have you been?” It was a very dissatisfying dinner, and I was completely left out. The whole dinner was me being nurturing and focused on him, his family, and his life situation, and he didn’t ask me a thing about myself.
So you can sometimes feel this in your body or you can start to feel in an interaction that you’re left out, that you’re irritated, that you’re itching to get out of there. We need to tune in more to this kind of thing and take it seriously.
Lara:I want to talk more about this when we get right back from break. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader, and we’ll be right back.
Lara:Welcome back. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leaderhere on WSRQRadio.com. You can also find me at larajaye.com, and Dr. Rubin is with me today. The Art of Flourishing. He wrote several books, but this is the most recent. Dr. Rubin, how can people find you? Obviously, you’re on Amazon with The Art of Flourishing. Any other ways that people can find you to read your book or work with you?
Dr. Rubin:Yeah, sure. DrJeffreyRubin.com. That’s the website. It’s under construction — I’m sort of updating it — but in there they can find a place where they can contact me, and then an email will be sent to me, and I would be glad to speak.
One thing I want the audience to feel free about is reaching out. Wherever I’ve gotten in my life was standing on the shoulders of teachers that I had, and I had no power or standing in the world and often money wasn’t even involved, and they generously gave to me. I feel like a way to pay it forward is to try to support the journey of other people. Please feel free to reach out if you want to discuss a point that we talk about today in greater depth, or you disagree with something, or you want to let me know your views. Please feel free to reach out because I love to have dialogue and it’s what makes life worth living, I think.
Lara:It really does. Thank you, Dr. Rubin, for that. I appreciate that and I know our listeners will appreciate that offer. Right before break, you were just saying something that really spoke to me, and that was you had a two-hour dinner with someone and they didn’t even ask you about you. I know that that happens a lot to me, and I’m sure it happens to a lot of other really empathetic people. You can go days and just hear about everyone else. What do you recommend for people like that?
Dr. Rubin:The first thing… and believe me people out there if you feel ashamed or embarrassed or sad or angry about that, I empathize because I have gone through it, and it feels like hundreds of times. The first thing I recommend is really working on really being honest with yourself. Ruthless, but compassionate and patient, and really being honest about whether you feel entitled. That’s the first order of business, to really feel entitled. It doesn’t mean you’re above anyone else.
Whether one is agnostic, atheist, or theistic, we could look upon that we’re all God’s children, and from that perspective, you matter, too. It’s not just other people. One of the messages spiritual and religious traditions can give is put the other first, compassion for the other. That’s wonderful and that’s a great counterbalance to what tends to be a self-absorbed, secular, Western culture. But we can’t forget, also, making sure we nurture ourselves.
The first thing is feeling entitled, and then the second thing is trying to tune into your body with interactions with people, to notice if things feel fair and if things feel balanced, and to take seriously your feelings of deprivation instead of overriding them and thinking… a lot of people I’ve found these days dismiss their feelings.
Dr. Rubin:We have to take seriously our feelings because feelings are feedback. Several years ago, I asked myself the question, “What are feelings for?” At first, I was confused and I didn’t have an answer. Then I realized that, for me, they’re at least for three different things. #1: They signal danger. An emotion like fear signals something is dangerous. #2: They signal caring and love and passion. They signal what we’re drawn to, so we need to take those seriously, also. You can watch this. Someone starts to talk to you. Their life is not going well, and then there’s a moment when they say, “I used to do yoga or I used to play the piano. Or I used to cook or I used to garden, or I used to sew, or I used to do martial arts, or I used to meditate.” You can notice, if you watch their face and their chest and their shoulders, that their breath changes and they start to get excited, and their posture changes.
We need to pay attention to this kind of thing in ourselves because this signals when we’re left out of something or when we’re excited about something. I said feelings are for three things: 1) danger, 2) what we appreciate, care about, and love, and 3) the third thing is feelings are empathic bridges to other people. I lost both of my folks in the fall, and you know what? I’m more sensitive right now to grief and the grief of other people because of what I went through. Whatever we go through can be used to connect with other people, to empathize more with other people, to have understanding of what they’re going through.
We need to take our feelings seriously. We live in a culture right now that tends to dismiss feelings. “Oh, that’s meant to be. That’s for the best.” You tell someone you’re afraid that you may have a bad medical diagnosis. You have to have a biopsy. They immediately often rush to, “Don’t worry. It’ll work out. It’s meant to be. It’s for the best.” Meanwhile, you’re sad and scared and the person is not meeting you there. A lot of us have learned to do the same thing for ourselves. The second order of business after feeling entitled is take your feelings seriously. It doesn’t mean your feelings are always right. It doesn’t mean things are not sometimes more complex, but it means at least listen to your feelings and try to see what they’re trying to say to you.
Lara:Acknowledge them. Acknowledge them.
Dr. Rubin:Acknowledge them, yes. Exactly. Another thing we can use is our dreams. A great dream person, Monte Ullman, who died some years ago that I studied with, he had his own method of lay group dream practice. He said there are two parts of humans that don’t lie: the body and dreams.
Our mind can shift things. Our words can distort things sometimes. We can tell ourselves… we can feel sad and then meditate, and then feel the sadness is more distant. We can tell ourselves everything is fine, but our bodies will keep score and our dreams will tell us what’s really going on. Pay attention to your body. Pay attention to your dreams because they can sometimes signal some sort of sadness or deprivation, or questions about a relationship that your mind might not yet face.
Lara:That’s so important, Dr. Rubin. Along those lines with our bodies, a lot of us just tend to numb ourselves, whether it be TV, work, prescription drugs, alcohol, food, on and on. With the world, it’s pretty easy nowadays to numb ourselves because we don’t want to feel. We’re so afraid of feeling.
Dr. Rubin:Exactly, and the interesting thing is that when we open to our feelings and when we open to the feelings of other people, when we’re kind of compassionate witness to other people and ourselves, things can go deeper and can evolve. We can live through it even if it feels we can’t, and then we truly grow resilience. We truly grow adaptability. [00:20:00]My first yoga teacher, the great teacher and mentor, Joel Kramer on the West Coast, he used to talk about response ability, the ability to respond. We grow that. It’s not a finite capacity. It’s something we can grow by doing it. Then the first stage is just let… there’s a famous Rinzai who we think was the founder of one of the two main Zen schools. As you know, Rinzai Zen said supposedly, “Eat when hungry. Sleep when tired.” In other words, live in a simple, natural way. You’re hungry. Eat. You’re tired. Sleep.
I wrote a Facebook post some weeks ago. Eat when hungry. Sleep when tired and let yourself feel whatever it is you feel. It’s not a bad practice just to simply let ourselves have our feelings, not immediately judge them, not immediately dismiss, not immediately explain them away, just let them be. They’re kind of our natural way of taking our emotional temperature, and also, as I said, connecting with other people.
Lara:Absolutely. I love all this information. I totally agree and tell me, though. So many people are afraid to let those feelings come up, even though we can say, “Don’t be afraid.” What would you say to that person who’s like, “If I feel it, it’s going to hurt?”
Dr. Rubin:Well, #1, I would say, “Yes, you’re right. It very well may hurt.”
Dr. Rubin:I would also say, “Be patient and compassionate because it probably means your family, your folks, weren’t able to hear and hold your feelings. We have to be patient and compassionate with them because their folks, our grandparents, probably didn’t. In other words, I think intergenerationally this mistrust and fear of feelings is passed on and on and on. Probably few of us had a family where feelings were encouraged and allowed, and given space for. It’s a practice we just have to start as beginners, start wherever you are, actually, and we can slowly grow the capacity.
But the other thing I want to say is often it’s not the feel… I talk about this in the emotions chapter in flourishing. The emotions chapter is chapter five. “Emotional Flourishing: Cultivating Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Wise Action.” I talk there about something that I came up with some years ago that I call “emotional allergies.” In physical allergies, as best as I understand it and I’m not an M.D., but my understanding of it as a layperson is that our system, our self-protective system panics and treats non-enemy as enemy. If my eyes itch or my eyes tear from something, that thing is not the enemy, but my system thinks it is and then overreacts to protect me.
I think we do the same thing emotionally. I don’t think jealousy, fear, sadness, and anxiety are the real problem. I think it’s the kind of panic reaction or the judgmental reaction about them that’s the problem. I think we can learn to soften in the face of the feeling, and then we just have the feeling. Anxiety is not going to kill us. Fear is not… it’s literally… and I’ve said that to people and I’ve thought that at times when I’ve had dark nights of the soul. “This is not going to kill me. It just feels like it’s too much. It feels awful, but I can sit with it. I can sit with it.”
Now here’s a meditative tip. The method with these emotions, if you want to approach them meditatively, to me, is two-fold. It’s real simple. It’s two-fold. One, we can go into them and investigate them, and sit with them and be with them. And two, we can work away from them. So, let’s get down and dirty. You have a slowly developing headache. You can actually sit there and do the counterintuitive thing, which is sit still, bring your awareness to your breath, your mind wanders. When you notice it, gently and without judgment, come back to the breath. You can do some breaths like that. You can even do a yoga breath of closing your mouth, breathing through the nose, pulling the air to the back of the throat. You may notice a gentle hissing sound. You then may notice on the inhale your chest will expand and keep your shoulders relaxed. Your chest may expand, and as the air goes down to the abdomen, your abdomen will expand. When you’re ready for the exhale, which will be different for each person, gently and without any strain, press your abdomen towards your spine.
It’s a breath from the yogi tradition pranayama, and [INAUDIBLE 00:25:02], it’s called. It’s a calming breath. You can do 12 breaths like that, mouth-closed, breathing through the nose and out through the nose, gently and slowly and a light, easeful breath. You could do 12 breaths like that, and then you could sit and maybe do some Buddhist meditation where you pay attention to your breathing at either the nostrils or the abdomen. Then if you feel that your mind is settling a little bit, you have a little more what Buddhists call “equanimity,” then you could turn to the feeling and you may notice that you’re judging the feeling or you think it shouldn’t be there or you want to get rid of it.
See if you can notice that without any judgment. “Oh, okay, judging, judging, judging. Pushing away, pushing away, pushing away.” That can soften the pushing away or the judging, and now we’re left just with the feeling. The feeling is feedback. It’s a message. See if we can read the message. See if we can see what it’s trying to tell us. Then feeling slowly over time and patience and with practice, they become more tolerable. Does that make sense?
Lara:It does. Amazing. I’m all relaxed now. We’re going to take a break and we’ll be right back with Dr. Rubin.
Lara:Welcome back. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader. You can find me here at WSRQRadio.com. Dr. Rubin, wow! Just before break, that was a great meditation. I need to come back into my body now. [LAUGHTER] That was awesome.
Lara:[LAUGHTER] I love it. Check out, feel, feel our body and the breathing. I love that. I do that myself, pushing out the abdomen. It just really helps to be able to feel and calm yourself wherever spot you are. I know meditation is one of probably your #1 self-care things that you do. What are some of the other self-care things that you do for yourself?
Dr. Rubin:Oh, that’s a great question. Meditation is one. Buddhist meditation. Yoga is another. Both asanas, the physical poses. I don’t drink coffee and I never have. I just never got used to it or addicted. When I wake up, go to the bathroom or maybe wash my face, I walk around a little bit, and then I go do yoga. Then I meditate after that. The yoga I jokingly say is my coffee. It wakes me up. I can feel a change in my awakeness, in my energy level. Then, I have gotten very interested the last two years in a Russian system of self-care, self-healing, self-exploration and combat called Systema. S-Y-S-T-E-M-A. Like system with an A. I find it quite revolutionary and visionary. It involves a lot of breathing.
Actually, what I do is before I get out of bed, for about 20 minutes, is some breathing and relaxation exercises from Systema. Let me see if I can describe in detail. Do you want me to go into detail?
Lara:Yes, please do.
Dr. Rubin:The first thing is I do the 12 yogic breaths that we just did before break. So breathing in through the nose, out through the nose on the inhale and the exhale, expanding the abdomen and the chest on the inhale, and gently pressing the abdomen towards the spine on the exhale. I do 12 breaths like that. That’s from yoga.
Then what I do is I visualize starting at the top of my head and breathing through my body, all the way through my feet and toes. I do that on the inhale through the nose and out through the mouth. Then I reverse that and I breathe from the toes, up through my head, into the nose, out through the mouth. That’s a breath from Systema. It’s a different breath than yoga a little bit.
Then what I do is I tighten, systematically tighten each part of my body. I start with lower extremities, tightening my feet, my calves, my hamstrings, my quads, my abdomen, my chest, and my arms on the inhale, breathing through the nose. [00:30:00]Then on the exhale, breathing out through the mouth, I let go of all of them.
I do that three times on the inhale. Then I shift to the exhale and do it three times on the exhale. On the exhale, I tighten and on the inhale, I release. Then I tighten certain parts of the body like my right arm and my left leg, just to sort of expand my brain and be able to do… sort of juggle different sort of reactions. I’ll hold my left arm and my right leg, and squeeze and then release. Then I’ll tighten my whole body and release. I think it gets the blood flowing, and it also begins to give you more control over formal and sort of involuntary parts of you that you don’t think about.
Then I might tighten my right side of my hip and my right leg and my right arm, but keep my left side relaxed. You’re learning to have more and more control over your physical system. Then what I do is self-massage. I’ll start with my feet and massage my feet and turn my ankles and then massage my calves. I work all the way up to my head and neck. Then I go do yoga. Then I get out of bed and then I get out of the bedroom after the massage and all that. Then I do yoga, and then I do Buddhist meditation.
Those are some of the core practices, and I go to the gym and friendship, music, all sorts of things, being with young relatives. All sorts of things nurture me, and I try to stay alert to what nurtures me and create time for it. Let me go off on a tangent for a second, but I think it relates to your question.
One of the key insights of the first half of The Art of Flourishing…and this is for members of the audience, especially. Figure out what helps you flourish and then build it into your life. What I found some years ago, I was studying Tai Chi in my late 20s and I was also part of a weekly basketball game with my best friend three times a week. The basketball probably took an hour and a half to two hours, and I did it during the workweek, some of it. Like Monday, Wednesday, I’d leave work at about 11 and come back at 1. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was something like that because I had to get time to get there, time to shower and change and to work out.
The basketball happened religiously. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, we’d play basketball. The Tai Chi, which took me about 12 minutes a day because I was such a beginner, I could do the form many, many times. But the amount of the form I had learned was pretty small, so it took me about 12 minutes. I noticed something troubling, which was the basketball always happened and the Tai Chi happened irregularly. I started meditating and reflecting on why is it, and what I saw was #1: I liked basketball more than Tai Chi and I liked being with my friend more than Tai Chi, but #2: the basketball was built in and the Tai Chi was fit in.
Anything that’s built in for our lives is unquestioned. The toiletry, the stuff we do in the bathroom in the morning. It’s built in. Most people listening probably do it 363 or 364 days a year, which is to say one time your alarm doesn’t go off or something happens or you lose power and you have to rush out, so you quickly comb your hair, or you don’t shave and you rush. But every other day it happens. It happens because it’s unquestioned. It’s not open to, “I don’t feel like it today.”
People in the audience could do the following experiment. Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left-hand side, write what you’re doing in your life that you feel good about. You meet girlfriends once a week. You meet guy friends once a week. You cook several times a week. You garden. Whatever it is that you’re doing that you’re liking.
Now on the other side of the page, the right side of the page, write down what you’re disappointed about, what you’d like to be doing more of in your life, what you’d like to be doing more of in your life. I think what you will see is that the left-hand side of the column are all things that are built in. The right-hand side of the column are all things fitted in. I want to declutter, meaning you do, but you haven’t quite done it. I want to stay more connected to my college roommate, but you sort of haven’t fully done it.
The way to shift what’s in the right column to the left column… and to me, this is a real big part of self-care. There are two real parts to self-care: figuring out what helps you thrive and flourish and then building it into your life. If you do those two things, it will revolutionize your life, but the trick is build it in, make it unquestioned. It doesn’t matter how you feel. When I go to the gym, I’m a gym rat. I have been a gym rat since I was a kid, but I’m very, very… I’m there more than most people, but I’m very, very gentle. I see how I feel. I have an idea in my mind about what I’m going to do, but I’m open in the moment to change it. I don’t torture myself, so I never need to rebel against it. But when I go to the gym and I come home, I put my clothes in the laundry, and then I immediately take out clothes for the next time — which is probably the next day — and I know when that is and it’s built in.
Lara:It’s built in.
Dr. Rubin:Anything in my life that… I’d like to declutter more. Do I build declutter in? Not exactly yet, so decluttering happens and it doesn’t happen. My desk is pretty neat right now, but I have some files to the side. I’m working on a new book about how to cope right now with what’s going on. It’s not so political. It’s more emotional. Do I organize those files fully? Not yet. I work on them, but I’ve got to do it more fully, but I got to build it in. Whatever you’re not doing, build it in.
Lara:Build it in. Yeah, we need to take a break right now, and we will be right back with Dr. Rubin.
Lara:Welcome back. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leaderand with me here is Dr. Jeffrey Rubin from New York City. Dr. Rubin, an amazing segment on self-care and what you do. I love the concept of it has to be built in our lives. That is so true and your book, The Art of Flourishing, I know people can find it on Amazon. Tell me your website again.
Lara:I was reading your book and you talk about a concept in there called “spiritual anorexia.” It just jumped out at me. Can you explain a little bit to our listeners about what this is?
Dr. Rubin:Yeah, I think that we often neglect what we really need. It’s apropos with everything we’re saying. I think we often don’t nurture ourselves the way we need to, and I think sometimes we deprive ourselves of sort of vital nutrients. One of the things that was a revelation for me in the book was some years ago… it’s a chapter on spirituality in the book. It’s called “Bringing Spirituality Down to Earth.” It’s chapter four. Some years ago, I started asking people whenever I heard them mention the word “spirituality,” what do you mean by this?
What I found was fascinating. There were about six or seven different definitions. I think we have to think of spirituality in a wider way. For some, it’s a belief in a deity. For others, it’s their higher self. For others, it’s that sense… Freud called it the “oceanic experience,” that feeling of merging with something larger. For other people, it’s a path. For other people, it’s a life of greater meaning and purpose. For other people, it’s living life in a kind of balanced, compassionate way. There are probably other meanings depending on your different people in the audience. But we have to ask ourselves, “Are we nurturing these deeper parts of ourselves? Are we giving ourselves what helps us thrive?” If we don’t, then we can feel hungry. We can be deprived. We can feel we’re missing meaning and purpose.
Lara:Amazing. You have a quote in your book. “There are many moments each day when, although we are awake, we are not present. We are asleep to ourselves and to other people.” [00:40:00]“We’re eating a meal, but we’re not tasting the food. We’re listening to the music, but not hearing it.” Then you talk about how yoga, actually, helped you feel again. It helped you bring moments and be present in the now. Would you still say that’s true?
Dr. Rubin:Yes, I would say a lot of things do. I think, as I said… well, I didn’t say. I have done yoga and Buddhist meditation for decades, and I found in this Russian system of self-exploration, Systema, I’ve actually become more aware. I’m a Zen teacher, and I still study with my Zen teacher, and we speak every Wednesday. He says that he thinks Systema — because I talk about it every week with him — to him, it’s embodied Zen and it takes Zen where Zen doesn’t often go, off the mat and into one’s life or off the cushion into one’s life.
In other words, we have a lot of wonderful, spiritual ideals about being present and being more compassionate. Where the rubber hits the road is it’s not always easy to embody those. Sometimes we forget, and life is so complex and so speedy now. We’re so bombarded and we tend to live a frenzied life that it’s real easy to not embody this stuff. I’m finding that this study of this Russian system is helping me embody it, feel it, live it more, and also take it to areas where my yoga practice and Buddhism often didn’t touch, like fear, like conflict, that kind of thing. Because you’re often working with a partner, part of life brings up things that another part of life might not bring up. I think we all have to find what speaks to us and what’ll help us grow, and then be open to that.
Lara:Lovely. Once we get the self-care down, we have this intimate relationship. Talk to me about some of your key points about how to make [LAUGHTER] this intimate relationship work.
Dr. Rubin:Sure. #1: We often pick badly.
Lara:[LAUGHTER] Right? Why is that? [LAUGHTER]
Dr. Rubin:I can give examples and I’m not meaning to… I don’t like gender generalizations, but I have seen trends, but sometimes men pick for appearance and they don’t study the totality of the person. They get pulled in by looks and appearance, and so they fall into a relationship. Let’s say the physical side of it clicks, and then they wake up to who the person is, but maybe the person has really different values. Or maybe the person doesn’t treat the waiter in a kindly way or impatient, or this or that.
Women, too, have their own version of this. Some women, again, I hate [LAUGHTER] that I have to say all this, but I think it’s sometimes true. Women sometimes, I think, look for men to complete them for powerbrokers. I can’t tell you how many men that I’ve seen in therapy, and they’re good guys and they would be really good partners, but they’re not narcissistic. They’re not self-aggrandizing, so they may not sound so powerful and impressive, but they would be good for the long haul. But I wonder if some women sort of look right past them because they don’t have power and they don’t sound powerful, but they have an inner strength. Anyway, even if you’re in the audience and you’re very mad at me right now [LAUGHTER].
Dr. Rubin:Ask yourself, “How do you pick? What are you looking for? Are you really looking for all of you?” I’ll give you a very honest story about this.
A friend of mine from graduate school kept having relationships that he described as “very exciting, very good, very alive and passionate and hopeless,” and so on. Then about the third time, I noticed that these relationships all lasted about six months. Then I started looking for the pattern and noticing the pattern.
I finally said to him, “Tell me exactly what you put in the ad that put.” I don’t remember where he did it. I said, “Tell me exactly what’s in the ad.” The ad was someone who’s sexy and a good dancer, and this and that. I said, “Great, if that’s what you want. But did you ask for someone who’s warm and compassionate?” We have to look really ruthlessly, but with compassion at what is it we want, who is it we push away? In other words, what I’m really saying, which is a little bit radical, is often we’re raised to not pick in our best interest, I think.
Lara:Yeah, I agree.
Dr. Rubin:What that leads to right away is a mismatch in vision, values, and perspective or it can lead to that. That’s #1. Try to pick for what you really need, not how you’re conditioned. Try to pick in a way for what you really need, not just what you observed at home. Maybe one person had all the power at home, so then you pick to repeat that. Maybe that’s not good. Maybe it needs to be a much more equal relationship where the father doesn’t dominate or the mother doesn’t do X, Y, or Z. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is I think we often don’t know how to handle conflict. As soon as conflict arises, we withdraw or we attack or we give up. We have to learn how to process conflict. Crucial to processing conflict is to be empathic to the other person’s point of view. What are they trying to say? What am I missing here? What do I need to hear? What is it you need me to see? What am I missing about my side of this? You have to try to make it an open dialogue. What I used to say was that, in decades of couples work, the key problem was not sex, money, or in-laws. The key problem was a model of trying to win. Because when you try to win, it’s a zero-sum game, as they say. To have a winner, you have to have a loser. When you have a loser, you have a partner who’s unhappy and deprived. When you have a partner who’s unhappy and deprived, you have a partner who’s going to withdraw sexually, say something slightly nasty at a dinner party when other people are around and is in a space. You don’t have a cooperative partner. You don’t want that.
I jokingly say when you have a winner, you have two losers. What you want is a different model where no one wins and no one loses, but each person tries to understand how to be more empathic, how to be patient, how to be respectful. If the model shifts from winning to understanding, that can radically change the relationship and improve it.
Lara:Amazing. Dr. Rubin, thank you so much for joining me today.
Dr. Rubin:Thank you so much for having me.
Lara:Listeners, thanks for joining us on The Zen Leader Show. I invite you to listen in every Saturday at 10AM here on WSRQ, online, or on our iTunes podcast for even more amazing conversations with visionaries and myself who are here to share their wisdom to support you. Have a great weekend.
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