Susan Piver: Buddhist Wisdom to Meet the Challenge of the Pandemic


Susan Piver—a writer on meditation and Buddhist teachings and founder of the Open Heart Project—talks to Rob about how Buddhist ideas of being grounded in the present can help us get through the uncertain times of this pandemic.

Transcript

Rob Johnson:

I’m here today with my friend and longtime acquaintance, Susan Piver. We worked together years ago in the music industry. And she became an author. She’s evolved in many, many directions, and is now a Buddhist teacher. She runs the Open Heart Project, is developing what may be the largest online mindfulness community in the world. Spends her time between Boston and Austin. And how would I say, I think what inspired me, Susan, to invite you to join me on this podcast is that the most meaningful book I’ve read in relation to how to address the challenge of this pandemic is Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart, and you’re the person who gave me that book many years ago. So, thanks for joining me and I look forward to exploring with you in these very troubled times.

How does a Buddhist practitioner see and teach people who are in great disorientation and despair at a time like this pandemic that we’re all going through?

Susan Piver:

Yeah. Well, thank you for inviting me to into the conversation, Rob. You know that I always love talking with you. I always get so much out of it. It’s an interesting time for teachers of all kinds, for Buddhist teachers, certainly. There is so much suffering, there is so much uncertainty and so much need for compassion and friendship and simply being with, which is the ultimate healing balm, is just being with each other rather than trying to solve each other’s problems.

However, there’s another thing that is interesting to explore at this moment, and actually, we have no choice but to explore it, which is the Buddhist view of the great good fortune that comes with uncertainty, that comes with not knowing what the F is going on. In a spiritual tradition, that is considered a lucky occurrence. Not an occurrence that feels good, not something that makes us all happy and chill, but a moment of absolute freshness because when we have no more game, our strategies don’t work, our hearts are broken. What we thought was going to happen is no longer happening. No more game. A space opens up and we must find a way to exist with uncertainty, which requires a continual return to the present moment, because we can’t make a plan, we can’t reflect on what happened in the past as a way of predicting what will happen in the future necessarily. And we can’t make plans for what we’re going to do because we don’t know what’s next.

So the present moment is particularly alive right now. And the present moment was, which can sound trite, it’s overused, at least, is not necessarily a place of ease and relaxation. It’s a place of vital awake, vital alive. I know that’s bad English, but it’s a place where all you can do is be awake. And there’s no place to hide. That’s a weird Buddhist view of good luck.

Rob Johnson:

I’m speaking now as an economist, 40 years of a secular religion, where people were taught to believe that technical wizards, the Silicon Valley world, would transform our society and deliver us from evil. They were magicians. We’ve been told that the market solves all the problems. We’ve been told that individuals should focus and depend on what you might call their own freedom to do whatever they want as something to cherish. And while there are elements of truth in these things, the incoherence of this society that was thought to be what you might call trusted and trusting of elites, trusting of financiers, trusting of tech wizards to bring us to that Promised Land, that place, that’s in tatters now.

And so when you talk about the value of uncertainty, I think maybe that accepting that uncertainty is of the essence in addressing the challenge. But we’re in a place now where the emperor has no clothes and a whole lot of things have broken down. Before celebrating uncertainty, I think we got to understand a little bit about the fear, what you might call losing, it’s like being at sea and losing all your navigational charts and knowing their reefs all around you that you could run aground. How do we, not stabilize on false certainty, how do we embrace the uncertainty so the things that we pursue and the things that we aspire to are more coherent, more satisfying, more reassuring?

Susan Piver:

Yeah, that’s the question. Those are the questions. The first thing in finding a way to stabilize within instability, because the first impulse when things become unstable is to find a way to go back where you came from, and restabilize things in a recognizable way. That’s not possible right now. The answer, weirdly, is one word, which I’m happy to elaborate on, and that word is curiosity, because we may think, oh, well, okay, now some Buddhist lady said I need to find a way to become stable with an instability and enjoy uncertainty. Okay. If that is a Gambit, if we try to do that as a ploy to return to familiar shores, the ground will collapse underneath us. There’s a genuine need of really not knowing what’s going on and without an agenda for appreciating that unknowing, if that makes sense.

So, we have an agenda for every word we speak, every gesture we make, every action we take. That’s how we’re raised. It’s very hard to imagine not doing those things. However, those things, attributing meaning, trying to accomplish a purpose, comes from conventional wisdom, and unconventional wisdom is called for right now. So the first thing that is interesting to experiment with is putting down conventional wisdom, and then seeing what happens. And the first thing that will happen, if you’re like me or 99.9% of everyone, is become afraid. That fear is not a problem. Giving meaning to the fear, concocting a story around the fear, trying to dispel the fear, those things are problems. But fear itself, if you look just underneath the surface, and the surface is always the story, I’m afraid because this, I’m afraid if I do that, it will go away.

If we let all that go and instead tune into the sensation of fear, the feeling of fear, which is no one’s idea of a good time, by the way, nonetheless, just under the story is awakeness, wakefulness, because fear and sleepiness don’t go together. You can’t be afraid and sleepy. It’s a weird kind of wakeful quality, that if we can tap into its essence, something valuable can come of it. But if we keep trying to hide from it, explain it away, defeat it, first it’s not going to work, it’s just going to get stronger. And second and more important, we will miss the opportunity for greater wisdom than what has been conventional. And that’s what we need right now.

So there is no innovation, I know these are, I’m making very dramatic statements here but these are my observations. There is no possibility of innovation without uncertainty. There is no possibility of true lasting insight without cultivating some sense of receptivity. And we live in a world that does not dig receptivity. We dig action and accomplishing and so forth, and nothing wrong with those things. But the things we really value and the things that are most needed right now, innovation, insight, wisdom, compassion, those are not things we can go out and get no matter how smart we are. Those are things that arise if we make space for them. They arise.

And so, it’s a very unwestern, I would say, way of problem solving, which is to let go of solutions. Make a space which aka, the practice of meditation, although you can do it whatever way you want. And then develop some curiosity about the experience that arises within that space, not as a conqueror, but as a shepherd. Those are really different things. Does that make sense?

Rob Johnson:

Yes. Number of things come to mind again in relation to economics. It is quite clear that the financial economics, financial theory and economics built a framework based on false certainty, meaning markets are anchored to “value” 30 years from now, and then what mathematicians called backward induction, we know what the price today is that puts you on the trajectory to get there.

The deeper thinkers in economics, and I would place Frank Knight from University of Chicago and John Maynard Keynes at the head of the list, and Friedrich von Hayek a little bit also in that realm, had a notion of something called radical uncertainty. There are unknown unknowns. There is no way to know not only what the probabilities are of outcomes, but to even envision the outcomes and in some way, the things that will be churned up are based on subjective psychological expectations that will arise somewhere along the trail and will change the trail.

So these advocates, Keynes wrote his first book before his famous books, was called the Treatise on Probability. Frank Knight wrote Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. And what I guess I’m pointing at is they were talking about embracing not knowing and seeing that as a structural feature of society. And what the so called rocket scientists did after 2000s, they pretended everything was a stable statistical distribution. This terminal condition in 30 years was known unknowable, and that they could show the boss, meaning the CEO at a major financial firm measures of their risk every night. So the boss could go to bed, sleep, be confident, everything was under control. And then we blew the financial system to smithereens in 2008 because it was a completely false notion.

I’m always attracted to a book, it’s called The Party, it’s about the Chinese Communist Party by Richard McGregor, who was a Financial Times correspondent. He wrote in the opening, I think it was a preface to the book. At around 2008 or 2009, the US Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson and others went to meet the Chinese leaders and they said, well, emulating you guys and your Western finance, you blew us up in the early 90s in the Asia crisis, now you blew yourself up. We just got to find something different to do. I guess what I’m pointing toward is this embracing uncertainty is much more amenable to Eastern philosophy and consciousness than it is to Cartesian enlightenment consciousness.

And now, in a world, I’ll call it a G-20 world and more not a G-7 world of the white Protestant North Atlantic, we’re in a place where the basic premises on what to do and what’s right to do are really what you might call, not confused, but in the stir of different philosophical systems. And what you’re raising with the Buddhist perspective and Taoism and other things, I made a podcast two nights ago with Andrew Sheng, who’s a delightful financial regulator economists thinker based in Malaysia, has worked in Hong Kong and China. And he sounded just like you. He sounded exactly like you, I’ll send you some of his work. You’re basically raising what you might call a challenge to the creation of false certainty, which, as I mentioned in the case of finance in many contexts, by clinging to it can do an awful lot of harm.

Susan Piver:

What you just said, and I imagine what Andrew said too, which I look forward to hearing, is a very pithy perfect outline of the entire Buddhist path, which has nothing to do with religion, by the way, or beliefs or gods because Buddhism is non-theistic, so put that aside. And in the Buddhist view, as well, beliefs, interestingly, are considered obstacles, which always makes me laugh. But the entire Buddhist path is based on something called the Four Noble Truths, you probably know this.

And just extremely briefly, the first noble truth is life is suffering, which sounds like, ew. But I’m pretty sure the Buddha didn’t mean life sucks. It’s the more accurate translation of the word Duhkha is unsatisfying. It’s unsatisfying because there is no chance of creating anything permanent. Every hair on your head, every word you say, every piece of furniture you own, every dollar you have is going to go away. It’s going to come into existence, it’s going to exist for a while, and then it’s going to disappear. There’s nothing that’s exempt from the truth of impermanence. That’s the first noble truth. So now, what are you going to do with your economics? Well, that’s a question for others, but I find it fascinating.

And then the second noble truth is called the cause of suffering, which is basically pretending the first noble truth isn’t true. Its grasping is the cause of suffering. Trying to create permanent structures causes suffering. It’s interesting because the Buddhist view doesn’t say poverty causes suffering, although, of course it does. It’s not about heartbreak and loss and grief. Those things are inevitable, we can’t avoid the suffering of being human. But the real suffering is from grasping, is from exactly what you just said, trying to create false structures that actually come and collapse on us all.

And then the third noble truth is called the cessation of suffering, which means now you know the cause, you also know the cure, just stop doing that. And then the fourth noble truth is called the Eightfold Path, which you could study, right view, right intention, right speech, and so on. How do you do it is the fourth noble truth. Those things that you just said, that is the Buddhist path. You can’t create anything permanent. Now what? Now what? It’s a very interesting question. And the things that you and I were talking about earlier, the things that our culture values the most, and they are truly valuable things, excellent commerce, profound ideas and skillful leadership. Those as far as I can tell, sitting from my vantage point of my meditation cushion, those are the things that are valued by our society. And they are valuable things.

But when we think that any of them is going to prevent the suffering of being human, that’s where we run into problems. If I have the right idea, if I can lead my team here, if I can have X view of how the economic picture is going to unfold, I mean, great. Please share those things with others. But they’re not going to change the truth that everything is going to dissolve. So, why is spiritual practice in the Buddhist view, at least as I’ve been trained also called a path of warriorship? Well, this is why, because it takes unbelievable courage. On good days, I can do it for 10 seconds. But it takes so much courage and so much discipline, meaning presence of mind to remain with the truth of uncertainty and still give everything you have, still find joy, still give gifts, still experience the delights of being a person. That’s our job. It’s a tall order and it takes training.

And last thing I’ll say and I’ll stop my little rant is what has heretofore been called soft skills, which always makes me really pissed off, listening, caring, working together, making space for very divergent viewpoints. Well, those are the hard things to do. And those are the things that are required right now. So I’m happy and excited for the great thinkers in our world who have been uncompromising in promoting those values, that now there’s a chance that they will be heard. That makes me very happy.

Rob Johnson:

Well, you mentioned commerce, leadership and profound ideas, as what you might call rituals of reassurance, or there’s like a place that you can follow and calm your nerves because you know the best and the brightest or whoever are leading you there. David Halberstam’s book, the title is somewhat satirical in that the best and the brightest created a mess in Vietnam, or the notion that the financial wizards were all fine until they blew up the world in 2007 and 2008.

I often say that there are four, you have four noble truths, I have four tragic flaws in economics.

Susan Piver:

I can’t wait.

Rob Johnson:

I envision it, I’ll say this in a context. I envision expertise as valuable, but currently expertise, trust in it and integrity is in tatters in many realms and in economics. And so, the four, how would I say, dangerous or flaws that contribute to the demise of faith in expertise. Our first, what I will call, how would I say, commission. Instead of providing a public good as an expert, you’re marketing to get paid. It’s a commodification that distorts your view because you’re pleasing those who pay you not telling the truth to a broader social audience, and with very highly concentrated wealth, this is much more dangerous phenomena because the experts are more dependent on sources of funding or a narrow group of people and views.

The second, I’ll call that the error of comission. You commit an act to this misleading for selfish purpose. The error of omission is one of avoiding confrontation with issues and with power that could reverberate and affect your career, your success, your appointments, your chairs. In an elite structure, it is dangerous and smart people are often conscious of what not to say. There’s a woman who’s absolutely brilliant, a PhD in cultural anthropology from Cambridge, England. She’s been the US editor of the Financial Times and she’s on my board, named Gillian Tett. And when I started INET, I sought her advice, we had lunch one day. And she said, “Rob, it’s very simple. Study the silences because when you see what’s not said that should be under investigation, you’ll know the map of where power is and what you have to challenge.” So I would say that’s the, I will call the error of comission and the error of omission.

And then the third I would call, and we refereed to a little bit earlier, kind of the technical rituals of hiding in the monastery, pretending that acumen with mathematics and statistics is a substitute for choosing the right problems and examining and things that are important to society. And it’s a sort of a cousin to the errors of omission. If you can’t take on things without controversy but you want to demonstrate your license or your right to be viewed as an expert, these rituals of how would I say, dexterity with the tools of the trade, are a way of creating an identity. But it’s a bit of a sidebar relative to the needs of mankind.

And then the fourth gets back, the fourth, what I’ll call tragic approach to economics, gets back to what you were talking about. And I would call at some level demagoguery. But what I find fascinating, going back to your notion of ideas, leaders and commerce is that here, if you get up as an expert into a forum when people are uncertain and you say I don’t know, people find that unsatisfying. There is a demand, there is a yearning for an expert who can know.

And so, we are all complicit in this ritual society and the people who aspire to be leaders, which you might call contributing to the urge for false resolution of uncertainty. And I think that that is something that a true expert, someone with high integrity and with trust has to develop the confidence and the conviction to say, it’s a dimension of humility in the way I see it. I think that the economics profession is really going to be struggling now because I don’t want to say it misspecified but it just didn’t address many things that are now just right there, and very, very powerfully important to the quality of life all over the planet.

Do you remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Toto the dog, Dorothy the scarecrow are all watching, they’re watching the wizard smoke and everything. And Toto rolls over and he pulls the curtain, and you see the man behind working all the levers. And Dorothy walks over and he’s been unmasked, he’s not the wizard, he’s just a man. You’re not a wizard. To me, that is the parable. I showed that at my second conference as the parable of the challenge economics is facing because it’s a pretend wizard right now. And there are a lot of smart well meaning people and doing good evidence-based work. What I’ll call dogmatic tendency has really done a lot of harm to the society and to the reputation of economics.

Susan Piver:

I don’t know anything about economics but I agree with everything you just said nonetheless. In some way goes back to this fear and need for, a fear of uncertainty and need for certainty. And he or she or they who can ride uncertainty, that’s going to be survival of the fittest right there. Going back to the Wizard of Oz metaphor, one of the details that struck me that I hadn’t thought about till just now is that the way The Wizard was unmasked was by a playful accident. Toto wasn’t like I’m going to get you wizard, I’m going to show everyone who you are.

Rob Johnson:

That’s right.

Susan Piver:

It wasn’t an act of aggression, which would have only created aggression on the part of the wizard presumably, like, yes, I am a wizard, how dare you blah, blah, blah. But this was just sort of a playful accident where no one could deny the truth. But if it had been-

Rob Johnson:

I would use your word. You had a word you used earlier. I would have called Toto’s exploration innocent curiosity.

Susan Piver:

I’m digging it, innocent curiosity. And if it had been anything else, it would have been a moment of potential warfare. But because it was just something that happened, and right now, I’m not saying we’re in a moment of playful curiosity or uncertainty, but we are in such a moment that no one anticipated was prepared for is a better way of saying it. And now what? We all see it. It’s exciting moment with a lot of potential and a lot of danger.

Rob Johnson:

Let me talk or ask you because we’ve discussed this before, I have been trained in transcendental meditation and watched many of these, how would I say, disciplines or paths. And you’ve written about the many different paths. But the thing that you’ve raised with me in conversation before was I might call the cheapening or commodification of spiritual disciplines. There is something that’s very powerful and very deep and very helpful in making what you might call the cotton candy version that can be sold on scale and make a lot of money for an entrepreneur feels dangerous to me. It feels like it’s one of those siren songs of temptation that could take spiritual discipline off course at a time when I would say it needs to be understood by and practiced by many, many more people that have had access to it in recent years, or within my lifetime.

Susan Piver:

Yeah. That’s one of my favorite questions to ponder. We can look at yoga as an example. Yoga’s great, no argument there. Yoga was developed as a spiritual practice and it’s still practiced as such by some but largely not. So okay, it’s still benefiting lots and lots of people, there’s no arguing there. It’s unlikely that that’s going to happen with the Buddha Dharma, I believe, that’s my opinion. [inaudible 00:31:10] live long enough to see if I’m right or wrong. I guess it’ll be some time.

But one of the interesting things about Buddhism as a non-theistic tradition, is when it arrives on new shores, it blends with the dominant culture. And it not only changes the dominant culture to some small or big degree, but it itself is changed by the dominant culture, which is very interesting. So, when the Buddhism went to Japan, it mixed with the Shinto indigenous tradition and became Zen. And when it went to Tibet, it mixed with the Bon tradition and became what we know Tibetan Buddhism as.

And now it’s here. So, what is it going to mix with? Our dominant cultural values are not Judeo-Christian, I don’t think, they’re consumerist. Our culture is governed by consumerist values. So now, Buddhism, this is my view, I just want to be sure to say that again, is mixing with the consumerist culture. And if it happens as has happened in history so far, it will change the dominant culture. Not like make it into a lala land, but it will introduce some different values, let’s say at the very least. And it will be changed by the dominant culture, which is where it becomes very interesting to me. It doesn’t mean it’s going to become a cheesy New Age religion because that is not possible in my view. But there’s a meeting.

In my world, the Buddhist world, there are people on one end of the spectrum who are saying let’s make a buck. Okay, good luck you people. I say. And then people on the other end of the spectrum are saying, this is precious and elite, and you’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops and demonstrate a lot of particular forms of intelligence before I’m going to let you have it. That’s also BS. Buddhism is sometimes called the middle way, and I truly believe there is a middle way between those two ends of the spectrum. The middle way, by the way, is not the middle, but it’s some other indefinable point. That is the noble challenge for me of my life is can I find that middle way because I have to live and pay my rent, my mortgage, and all those things, blah, blah, blah. But I know that this is not, can’t be kept on a mountaintop. It’s needed and it’s important and so forth and so on. I just think it’s really interesting to see how “mindfulness” is mixing with consumer culture.

And the last thing I’ll say is, on the Buddhist path in the Tibetan traditions, which is the only place I’ve ever practiced, I’ve been Buddhist for 25 years and only in this one part of Buddhism, but you start out as you would on any spiritual path with certain practices. Practice of meditation and contemplation, and so on, and anyone can do those things. And, in my mind, almost everyone should. And then if you want to get “serious on this path,” there are other practices that are not publicly available, that you have to train first for, just like if you want to be a doctor and you take biology in high school, someone doesn’t just give you a scalpel and say go start operating on people. You have to do certain additional training and then, okay, there’s mantra practices and guru yogas and visualizations.

All of these really fascinating and intense and beautiful spiritual practices that you pass through, that you pass through, that you experience. Maybe you could do them for the rest of your life if you want. And then at the end of the path, all the teachings once again, the highest teachings become completely available to everyone. Not hidden, anybody can read about them. And those teachings are called self-secret. They keep themselves a secret because unless you have a certain kind of preparation or mindset or karma or whatever you might want to call it, those teachings will not make sense to you, it will sound like gibberish.

That’s a long-winded way of saying, mindfulness awareness meditation, spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition and I’m sure other traditions too, can’t be ruined. They are self-secret. They can be misused, they can be bypassed, they can go unnoticed. But the likelihood that they’re going to be changed and lost is slim. Not saying we don’t have to try, but certainly anything is possible.

But, the truth about meditation is that at some point, it becomes very difficult and also kind of boring. And anyone who says otherwise, I don’t know what they’re doing, I’d like to like to hear a little bit more about it. At that point, that’s the turning point for 90% of people. Well it’s not working for me or this is not a good practice for me or I don’t like it or my meditation is running or I’ll do something else. That’s fine. Nobody knows but you. But that moment is a critical turning point, and if you want to go further, it requires some teaching and some effort, anyway, blah, blah.

Am I talking to your point or am I just talking?

Rob Johnson:

Yes. I think you’re, how would I say, inside the dilemmas of how people organize themselves is maybe the word. In other words, how they cope, how they explore their anxiousness, how they explore what is authentic guidance and how they define meaning.

Susan Piver:

One key point that you and I spoke about earlier but we haven’t spoken about right now is, I think, how did you describe it as we were talking before the recording started, the fancy white-ification of spiritual practice is not just an ethical dilemma, why should this just be for white people? Why does it happen that if you go to a Buddhist meditation place, almost everybody’s white, why? And how do we change that? Those are very, very, very important questions to me. But it’s not just an important question from an ethical standpoint, it’s an important question from a cultural healing standpoint because the healing of the nation, which by the way is I think what Ross just calls smoking pot, but that’s another story, will only happen, healing of the nation needs to include all of us. That’s a tall order.

Rob Johnson:

You could call it white-ification or Yelp-ification, I don’t know what kind of adjective to assign it. If any of you who are in the audience have read some of David Brooks studies that sort of mocked the aspiring, what I’ll call upper, lower middle, excuse me, upper class or aspiring administrative class. He talks all about the false rituals of what restaurants you eat at, what diet, what kind of yoga you do as testaments, they’re like purification rituals that are very superficial. And I sense, what you might call the status badges, it’s like a Cub Scout getting their accomplishment, or Boy Scout or Girl Scout getting their accomplishment badges, that they add all of these things to an identity that turns out to be quite superficial. And in many ways, people can be seen as not practicing what they preach.

I sense that in the African American community, and for that matter, in the Caribbean and Africa itself, that there is in many instances, including health crises, a much more acute sense of despair and danger. And perhaps these spiritual disciplines could be of even greater value given the adversity that these people face. But it’s a very different kind of what you might call magnetic attraction than that yelp-ification, white-ification analogy that you and I’ve talked about.

I won’t pretend to know how to connect, my instinct I think we talked about this is that I look at gospel music and I look at what goes on in the black church and the nature of community there, the kind of fortification, togetherness, togetherness under conditions of adversity. And I’ve wondered if what you might call the seeds of a fruitful spiritual community or a meditation practice together with others in the community, how would I say it, might have the potential to really take hold and really be beneficial. But I don’t know enough to, I haven’t lived it, I’ve observed it growing up in Detroit, which by the way, I believe perhaps until very recently, Detroit was the place that had the most places of worship per capita and per square mile of any place in the world.

Susan Piver:

No kidding.

Rob Johnson:

We may attribute that to Henry Ford who invested a lot in all the different denominations and Christian and Muslim and Judaism as a means of social stabilization at the time he was what you might call the architect of the auto industry based in Detroit. But there were churches and synagogues and temples on every corner. It’s really quite stunning even today just to see those structures. I’m very attracted, I’m doing some work right now vis-a-vis Detroit and I’d like to explore with people about whether Detroit could be what you might call a test platform. I’m working on chess in schools and other things there.

I remember in 1990, I think it was either CNN or ABC News said that Detroit is the cloud that hangs over belief in the American dream. Meaning until that rapid and violent decline, decline of what used to be a centerpiece of our economy, was put to bed and this society was regenerated in a healthy way as part of America that we would all suffer. I think there are some very devoted people to bringing that city back together, but I would like to explore with you how to, infuse into Detroit some of the spiritual practices that have benefited many people you work with.

Susan Piver:

I really appreciate how with all the places your life has taken, you remain firmly team Detroit. I really appreciate your devotion and loyalty and care for your city of origin. That’s really-

Rob Johnson:

Well, I’m sitting here on an audio podcasts but I can make a confession, I’m wearing a hoodie that came from Chrysler Corporation, and it says imported from Detroit. Remember the famous M&M commercial that was used in the Superbowl. That’s on my back right now.

Susan Piver:

I rest my case.

Rob Johnson:

Other than my audible confession, the evidence would have been hidden. But I think, Susan, it’s fascinating to me. I Started out reaching out to this young woman who I was told after being at a seminar on how to run an independent record label that I should engage with her because she had developed the accounting system for labels, master rights, mechanical, publishing, other publishing, and how to put that system software together as I was trying to move out of the, what you might call wild and wooly world of hedge funds and into running the record business. And if you don’t embrace your perspective and the perspective on uncertainty, the idea that when I walked up to the counter and asked that woman to teach me, she came to work with me, would end up on this podcast today as the Buddhist teacher I’m talking to, how would I say, you’ve got real illusions because I did not imagine that at that time.

And I’ve watched you grow, I’ve watched you build your practice. I’ve watched you work online, I’ve watched you work in writing various books. The latest one I think is called the Four Noble Truths of Love. It’s just, how would I say that, effervescent curiosity that started our friendship came from a very different place than what we’re talking about now.

Susan Piver:

I am so moved by what you’re saying. I’m so touched by that. And that our friendship has moved along with all those changes in both our lives is a testimony to this very wonderful meeting of the minds/friendship that we have, which is a great treasure to me. And I also would, who knew, who knew?

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. Well, all I can say to our audience is it’s quite clear to me that you practice what you preach. And that humanism and that human spirit and the way in which you have evolved yourself suggests to me that you do embrace that which you teach to others. Where is the Open Heart Project available to people who are curious? What is your website, location and so forth? How could I click on it or type it in and get there?

Susan Piver:

Just openheartproject.com. There’s a sign up for the newsletter right there, and I send a meditation instructional video every week, it’s 10 minute clip to anyone who signs up for that. And each meditation is preceded by a short talk. By short, I mean less than 10 minutes, on some way of applying Buddhist practice in everyday life. So the most recent one, they come out every Monday, yesterday I guess it was, was on mindful speech, which could there be anything more important right now than that? It’s my great delight to make those off of those teachings. I’d be very happy to practice together with anyone who’s listening right now.

Rob Johnson:

Excellent. Very good. Well, how would I say, we sit astride the pandemic, who knows where we’ll be? The guidance that you give by example and in your teaching of how to embrace the uncertainty and how to evolve in a constructive direction is sorely needed. Thanks for being here today and thanks for sharing with us all.

Susan Piver:

It’s been a joy.

Rob Johnson:

For me too. Bye, bye.

About the Host

ROB JOHNSON serves as President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Johnson is an international investor and consultant to investment funds on issues of portfolio strategy. He recently served on the United Nations Commission of Experts on International Monetary Reform under the Chairmanship of Joseph Stiglitz.

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About the Guest

SUSAN PIVER is a meditation teacher, speaker, and writer. She is the New York Times bestselling author of nine books, including The Hard Questions, the award-winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, and Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. Her newest book is The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships.

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