Inner Life at Work: Business, Meditation, and Technology
Tami Simon is the publisher and CEO of the multimedia publishing company Sounds True and hosts a weekly podcast series called Insights at the Edge.
May 30, 2013
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: You might call Tami Simon a “spiritual entrepreneur.” As a college dropout and a seeker in her early 20s, she started a company called Sounds True. Sounds True is now a $12 million multimedia publisher with a mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom. It publishes audio courses, books, music, and instructional DVDs by diverse teachers and thinkers like Pema Chödrön and Eckhart Tolle, Daniel Goleman and Brené Brown.
From this vantage point, Tami Simon has been following the evolution of spiritual curiosity and practice for three decades. She has fascinating advice on treating technology as a personal investigation tool, an aid to spiritual practice. And she is compelling on the hard but gratifying work of joining inner life with life in a workplace.
TAMI SIMON: We took it on as an experiment, and the experiment is there are all of these tremendous virtues, verities, that the world traditions point to that we can live in our individual lives. How do we live it collectively in our organizational lives?
MS. TIPPETT:I’m Krista Tippett. This is On Being from APM, American Public Media.Tami Simon is founder and CEO of Sounds True, which is based in Boulder, Colorado. She’s publisher of the company’s extensive catalog. She also hosts a weekly podcast called Insights at the Edge.
MS. TIPPETT: I wonder, was there a spiritual background to your childhood or a spiritual identity to your childhood?
MS. SIMON: I would say mostly loneliness, which is not exactly a spiritual identity, but maybe a lack of connection. And even though I was very well loved by my family and had a very good education and maybe from the outside looked like a fairly happy and well-adjusted person, on the inside, there was this huge sense of a crevasse between what I was really thinking about and caring about and being able to find people to talk to.
And sometimes I think that Sounds True was a response actually to the loneliness that I felt, because I wanted to talk about really deep spiritual questions I had. So it wasn’t that there were some great realizations as a young person, but it was more this aching sense of what is going on here?
MS. TIPPETT: Right [laugh].
MS. SIMON: What is actually happening? And will anybody talk to me about that? About those big questions that I feel when I get into bed at night?
MS. TIPPETT: Well, did you — you left college. Had you discovered meditation? I mean, was there any meditation? Were there any of these traditions in your life? Did you know about them before you went away?
MS. SIMON: Yeah. Well, when I went to college, to Swarthmore College, I was lucky that in my sophomore year, I met someone who was there on a Fulbright scholarship, a professor named Gunapala Dharmasiri. He was from Sri Lanka and he was teaching a course — he was just there for one year — on “Existentialism and Buddhism.”
So, of course, I signed up for that right away. And it was in that sophomore year and that course that he actually taught all of the students how to meditate. So that was my first introduction to meditation. And what happened to me in that sophomore year was that I started looking at everything else that was happening in academia through a lens of a critique of first-person experience, meditation experience, and things started looking stranger and stranger, hence my exit from college and my travels in Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal, where I deeply became engaged in the practice of meditation. There was something in me that had gotten lit on fire that I had to follow and that took me away from academic study and I ended up coming to Boulder, Colorado, because I wanted to look deeply at the question of the psychology of meditation. And the place that I could study that was at Naropa University, so that’s what brought me out to Colorado.
MS. TIPPETT: And somewhere in — I believe in this blog that you wrote a few years ago, you talked about you were working as a waitress. You were doing some radio and you talked about you were also praying and that this became kind of this leap for you and then kind of a life of leaping followed. And your work is not strictly associated with Buddhism, but personally associates you so much with that tradition in which prayer is not necessarily part of the core vocabulary.
MS. SIMON: Well, certainly in me, prayer is a really, really essential way that I relate to the world. You could say, for me it’s a cry of the heart and, in a sense, even, I think, as that lonely child, I was praying then too. And in that sense, something was happening inside my heart that was a reaching out and a reaching up saying here’s something inside that I can barely give words to.
But it’s a deep longing and it’s the most important thing to me and I want to bring it forward and lay it down right at the altar, if you will, right at the ground. Here’s what I need to lay down because it’s what matters most to me. So I think this prayer in my heart and being willing to declare that, that’s really been a critical way that each unfolding in my life has progressed.
MS. TIPPETT: And what you did with this is you started a business. You started a company. And I think that might look like an untraditional response to the spiritual experience you just described.
MS. SIMON: Well, I wasn’t necessarily looking to start a company. My prayer was, “God” — the use of that word may also surprise you, but it’s a living word inside my heart — “God, I’m willing to do your work. Please show me what it is.” And the wording of that was quite careful. The willing word was the most important word because I didn’t want whatever work that I did in the world to be willful. I didn’t want it to be something I was pushing. At the same time, I didn’t want to be will-less.
You know, it turned out to be a “business,” but it actually took me quite a while to even realize I was in business. In fact, after starting Sounds True, the local newspaper did a story on the company and they told me that it would be published. When I went to look in the newspaper to see where the story was, I looked in the Lively Arts section. And it took me a while to see that it was actually on the front page of the Business section. I think that I wasn’t particularly employable at the time, so the idea of working for myself seemed logical. But it wasn’t — it really had nothing to do with “in business.”
MS. TIPPETT: It’s so interesting to think about how this part of life in particular, I mean, so much has changed in these decades, but this part of life, this encounter with spirituality in this culture has evolved since that time. What were people looking for or reading? I mean, what were you meeting in yourself, but also in the culture that is different from now? What do we need to recall about how we got here?
MS. SIMON: Well, you know, 28 years ago, something like meditation was considered something that Hare Krishnas or people in cults were engaged in. It was certainly not part of our vocabulary, our mainstream vocabulary. The word mindfulness wasn’t part of our vocabulary. Yoga was just kind of beginning and it was before all of the yoga DVDs and the whole yoga movement exploded. And then after the explosion of peoples’ interest in yoga, now we see this interest in meditation and mindfulness and the introduction of the neuroscience to support these different spiritual practices.
MS. TIPPETT: Right, right.
MS. SIMON: So that was all off the map and instead it was, oh, people who are fresh back from India and are wearing weird robes and carrying beads are interested in this kind of thing.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this On Being. Today, Tami Simon. She founded and runs Sounds True, a multimedia company with the mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom.
MS. TIPPETT: One impulse that I find running through the interviews you do is a fascination with, you know, how and why different people apprehend these kinds of teachings. I mean, it really follows on what you were just saying, but not just in terms of the medium, but how we’re able to integrate wisdom into our lives or fail to integrate it or find it and then lose it [laugh]. And driving at, you know, what happens when real transformation becomes possible. What does that mean and what makes that possible?
MS. SIMON: You know, one of the things that has been so interesting to me is I had the opportunity to witness spiritual teachers at their best, when they’re teaching, when they’re open, when they’re communicating what they care the most about and, in a sense, when they’re in their biggest most expanded selves. But then I also had the opportunity to work with those same teachers during a contract negotiation or during a disappointment about a misprint on the back cover of a book or a missed publicity opportunity or all kinds of things that happen in the world of publishing.
And one of the things that I’ve really taken a lot of curiosity about is how complicated human beings are in terms of this same person can deliver some of the most beautiful teachings in one way and really be quite challenged in certain kinds of relationships, in certain kinds of communication dynamics, and how to understand all of that and how we can all get more real about that and get behind the curtain, if you will.
Because I think when we do that, we stop having this idealization about what the spiritual process of transformation is and about who spiritual teachers are. And when we drop some of that idealization, we can actually start embracing all of our selves more and it allows us to soften in the way that we look at ourselves and it equalizes the fact and lets us see that we’re all on a journey of evolution and development.
MS. TIPPETT: I think for many people — I mean, the ’80s was also the height, I believe, of New Age as that phrase entered American culture. And I think that, for many people rightly or wrongly, it was associated with, you know, there’s this phrase I remember hearing, a Christian theologian used once, which I resonate with a bit as spiritual promiscuity. You know, I’ll take a little bit of that, a little bit of this, kind of dabbling in spirituality and dabbling in many traditions.
And I — you know, what’s interesting about Sounds True and what you do is you have a great — obviously a great appreciation for great teachers of many traditions, but that at some point, you also, as you’ve continued it seems to me, to really push at what does transformation mean and not just in an abstract sense, but in your own life, that there’s also always been this move in you to dig deeper and deeper to the point that you now have a long-term teacher. Was that a turn for you at some point that was not there in you earlier on?
MS. SIMON: Well, I think in my own path, I followed each step of the way and continue to follow where the goods are, to just put it in colloquial language, where the energy is, where the intensity is, where I think I can really learn and grow.
And I met a teacher in the course of working at Sounds True who came in to record a series on Buddhist tantra. And in the process of spending about two weeks in the studio together, I realized that he could help me with my meditation practice in a way that I really needed. I felt a little lost at the time, and I felt that I hadn’t been deepening in a way that I sensed was possible and that I sensed through working closely with him and being trained that there would be something that could open up for me and I wanted to do that.
MS. TIPPETT: And this was Reggie Ray.
MS. SIMON: Yeah, and this was Reggie Ray who studied for many years with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a meditation teacher from Tibet and the founder of Naropa University. And yet I’ve continued to believe that there’s no one recipe and no one path that is the “way.” God forbid. Everybody has to find what’s true for them and I think the key is that we have to be willing to tell ourselves the truth.
We have to tell ourselves the truth when we know that we’re a little lost and that we could go deeper, when we know we need some discipline in our lives, when we know that what we need perhaps isn’t being offered by the tradition we’ve been practicing in or when we have relationship challenges and it seems like working with a therapist is really what’s going to be required to get to the kind of material that seems to be keeping our hearts from fully expressing in the relationships we care the most about. And maybe it’s not even being addressed in our spiritual practice and that we need something else.
And I actually think people are so much more intelligent than many spiritual traditions give credit to this individual knowing and that often we give credit to ourselves even. To me, it’s like we know what we want to eat. Do you know what I mean? It’s that close to us, you know. And I think that, when it comes to meaning and what we really need to feed our heart, we know that too.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: You’ve talked about having an allergy to ideas that are detached from experience. I mean, this is absolutely fundamental to my work too, to see what happens to these insights when they are attached, when they’re intertwined with humanity and human experience. Could you give me an example of a person, a conversation, a teaching that you’ve encountered lately or that’s on your mind that just — that illuminates that dynamic?
MS. SIMON: Well, here’s one of the things that I think is interesting, which is sometimes when we’re engaged in a conversation, we think the thing that we’re going to learn the most from is what somebody says, so we’re listening to their words and we can read a transcript of it. But recently, I gave a talk at a woman’s event and afterwards somebody came up to me and they said, “Can I tell you what the most important part of your talk was?” I was like, yeah, sure, whatever, you know, yeah, OK.
And she said, “It was when you paused. What was happening?” Then I paused again and I tried to remember. And Reggie, the teacher that I work with, one of the things that he said to me recently was how, in any situation, you can always ask the question, where’s the emptiness in this? Where’s the emptiness in this? And in any moment or situation where we find this gap, where we find this sense of everything’s not just one long sentence that isn’t even punctuated — and sometimes our days feel like that. You know, we wake up, we know we have so much to do and then we go to sleep at night.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, and whatever gaps there are we — are filled — they’re just filled for us, right?
MS. SIMON: Exactly. And yet, it’s in those moments where actually there’s a quietude. That’s when new life and fresh ideas can come through us and into the situation. I think that’s a lot actually where humor comes from too, some of the greatest humorists. Because how do they come up with this stuff on the spot? It’s not the rehearsed comedic monologue.
It’s something, you know, unusual that’s happening in that moment because there’s a Swiss cheese-like quality, if you will, to the way that they are in the moment. There’s this openness, these gaps, these holes. And I think that’s actually a way that we can be in situations and then we become actually this conduit for fresh ideas that are responsive — wholly responsive to the situation at hand.
MS. TIPPETT: Another thing that Sounds True, is a vehicle for, I think, is taking, you know, very ancient teachings and traditions in part out of — very much out of the containers they’ve been in traditionally. I mean, when you interviewed Reggie Ray, your teacher, and I kind of got the sense that you were circling around with him, that it’s not precisely that these things would have been secret before, but you are putting into technology teachings that have not been accessible in that way and maybe also really crossing the boundary of things that were held close and held private and secret. It’s interesting.
MS. SIMON: Mm-hmm. Well, I think one of the questions, of course, we have to ask ourselves is why were certain teachings held secret or private and was it for the benefit of the students or was it for the benefit of some other agenda of some kind. I also think we have to recognize that, in the time that we’re in, there is at least, it appears to me, a readiness in many people, because of the amount of teachings that have been widely available and the acceleration that has happened in our own learning and development.
And also, I would say, just to get a little woo-woo here, just a sense of overall accelerated growth and development that seems to be the case inside many, many people, that there’s a readiness to hear certain ideas. And I also — and this is a really important idea — I think a lot of teachings are “self-secret.”
So what I mean by that is, even as I’m sitting here and I’m talking about emptiness and what does it mean, where is the emptiness in the situation, I’m sure there could be somebody listening who’s like, “What the heck is she talking about? I have absolutely no idea. What is this? I just don’t get it.” So it’s not like there’s any harm in offering, in my view, teachings that people might not understand, because the vocabulary might not work, because they just won’t care actually [laugh]. They won’t be relevant to who they are.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: Listen again, download and share this conversation with Tami Simon through our website, onbeing.org. There you can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. We’re on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Follow our show @beingtweets. I’m there @kristatippett.Coming up, Tami Simon on treating your mobile device as a spiritual tool and on humanizing our workplaces, for example, with pets.
MS. SIMON: People stop and say, “Oh, my God.” You know, they immediately move into this place of petting an animal and suddenly an adorable animal is the one that’s interrupting this sense of “I have all these really important things to do and I don’t have time for that.”
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett. This program comes to you from APM, American Public Media.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this On Being. Today, with Tami Simon. She’s founder and CEO of Sounds True, a leading publisher of spoken-word spiritual teachings in the U.S. Sounds True originally specialized in audiotapes, often of spiritual teachings. Now it’s also a publisher with a wide range of subjects and authors, including works by the globally popular Eckhart Tolle and Fred Kofman’s emerging classic, Conscious Business.Tami Simon has worked intentionally across the years to create a business culture that is effective while inviting employees to bring their whole selves to work. She does this by welcoming dogs at work, having a full kitchen for cooking meals, and taking a minute of silence before business meetings.
MS. TIPPETT: Something else that I’d really like to get into with you is translating. This is one way I would describe, I think, one of the passions that drives you and that is there in the most authentic and exciting spiritual energy of our time, which is this drive to link the inner and the outer and how you make that link real also in a corporate culture. Because whether you meant to create a business or not when you were in your early 20s, you have created a very successful business now.
MS. SIMON: Yeah. Well, for me, if the inner and the outer are not in an embrace, then I’m not sure how to live my life in a way that’s meaningful and makes sense. So it’s not like I can be a loving person on the meditation cushion and then walk into work and exploit my employees and make business deals that are unfair to other people. I mean, the idea that there could be a separation is actually just completely unfathomable to me. It doesn’t make any sense.
MS. TIPPETT: It doesn’t, but as you know, it happens. You know, it happens all the time. I mean, that link is not in one spiritual tradition or another. I think in this culture, in fact, for a number of generations at least, we’ve kind of encouraged people to compartmentalize this part of their lives.
MS. SIMON: Yeah. I guess what I’m saying is, instead of saying how do I make the link, I would ask a different question, which is how do people separate these things?
MS. TIPPETT: Right, right [laugh] mm-hmm.
MS. SIMON: How do they do that? Because to me, it’s not about taking two separate things and linking them together. It’s about saying I’m a human being who wants to give and live in integrity and have enough money to support my life and to live a sustainable and beautiful and abundant life. How do I do all that? They were never separate to begin with, so I’m not linking them. I’m just wanting to live a good life and a life of service and a life of beauty. So that to me is actually the starting point.
And then when it comes to, well, how does that happen in a business, I think it’s having realistic goals for the business, not taking investment money into the company that has a different agenda than what I just described because then there would be a different set of drivers.
You know, right now there’s 85 employees at Sounds True. We’ve been in business for almost three decades, and we took it on as an experiment and it’s still an experiment. And the experiment is there are all of these tremendous virtues, verities, that the world traditions point to that we can live in our individual lives. How do we live it collectively in our organizational lives? How do we do that? How do we make sure that just really simple ideas of respect and honesty and caring for each other, caring for our customers, how do we do that? That’s our experiment. We want to do it, because then the process of our work will be consonant, coherent with the products of our work. So that’s been our experiment.
MS. TIPPETT: So what are some of the practicalities of that experiment, what you do?
MS. SIMON: You know, I’ve learned a lot from the Conscious Capitalist movement, and one of the ways that they’ve articulated something that we were naturally already doing at Sounds True that I quite like, which is making sure that all of the stakeholders of the business are considered when you make decisions in the running of the company.
So that means that, yes, the employees are important, but the customers and the vendors and even the earth seven generations beyond, and I would say in the business that we’re in that even the ideas themselves, the integrity of the ideas, that the ideas get to be a stakeholder. They get to be respected so that they’re not dumbed down or diluted or dissected in such a way that the teachings have become compromised in some way. So that’s where you have something like, you know, a 33-CD set. Well, that’s what it took …
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MS. SIMON: … in order to be able to communicate this quite sophisticated round of teachings. OK, let’s do it because the idea, this teaching itself, is a stakeholder in our business in a sense. So looking at things from that perspective, a business makes different kinds of decisions. So that’s a core idea honoring all of the stakeholders.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. SIMON: You know, I also think just something that’s hard for people in general and it’s been hard at Sounds True is how do we learn to work with each other in a relationship where everybody is really being heard and where we’re learning to collaborate, where we’re bringing emotional intelligence into the workplace? This is hard stuff, you know. It’s hard stuff for any two people in a relationship, you know, to figure it out, let alone for groups of people.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, that’s right. Right.
MS. SIMON: And, you know, it’s taken a lot of training. We’ve had to bring in outside trainers to help us, but I think it’s holding this value that we value the actual moment-to-moment process of our work and we’re going to keep working on it and it’s going to require us to grow as individuals because we’re going to be caught where we’re defensive or we’re going to be caught accusing somebody of something and we’re going to have to develop that skill of apologizing and listening to feedback and learning to say things different ways. So it’s an ongoing commitment.
MS. TIPPETT: This is more whimsical, but I think it’s certainly also part of this philosophy. You have to bring your dog to work policy, right? People can bring their …
MS. SIMON: No, no. You don’t have to bring your — you don’t have to, but you can …
MS. TIPPETT: You don’t have to [laugh]. What is it? You can?
MS. SIMON: You can be a dogless person and come to work at Sounds True. You can be a cat lover. You probably wouldn’t want to work at the company if you didn’t like animals, because there’s quite a lot of free-floating dog hair. But, yeah, you know, it’s just a sort of simple welcome invitation. You know, I often say that the dogs humanize the workplace and that is what it feels like, because people stop and say, “Oh, my God.” You know, they immediately move into this place of petting an animal and connecting and not being in such a rush. Once again, it’s a way to create that pause that we spoke about, that punctuation in our day. And suddenly an adorable animal is the one that’s interrupting this sense of “I have all these really important things to do and I don’t have time for that.”
Well, yeah, you do. You do have time to take your dog out and in fact I hope you will take your dog out and, in that process, you’ll get some fresh air and take a short walk and have many of the benefits of the cigarette break without a cigarette.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: That’s right. You’ve written about three things you found useful and you put it this way, creating a spaciousness at work and in life. And I want to ask you about these, because they’re unusual. The way you’ve phrased it is unusual and it’s intriguing. So it was attending to physical sensations, bringing attention to the back of the body, and beginning meetings with silence. So I would like to talk about each of those. Attending to physical sensations, what do you mean by that?
MS. SIMON: Yeah. Well, you know, I spend a lot of my workday in meetings, which is probably what a lot of people do who have office jobs. So meeting after meeting after meeting and, of course, I can get agitated depending on the topic at hand and who in the meeting is talking and how they’re addressing the topic. And so how can I open up a bit and relax, not cut the person off?
I used to be a terrible interrupter and now I’d say I’m just an averagely terribly interrupter, but not the, you know. So how can I create more space so that in the meeting everybody gets a chance to express themselves and people don’t feel rushed? Because actually, we’ll have better results if there isn’t a sense of people feeling pressured. I mean, actual conversation can come to a more intelligent point.
So paying attention to physical sensations, often what I do is I’ll pay attention to my hands, the way my fingers are clasped together, or the bottom of my feet in the way my feet feel touching the floor. And when I pay attention to the physical sensations, I can notice if I’m clenching. Normally, a very tense and interruptive comment comes from a tense and clenching body.
So if I can just breath deeply, paying attention to physical sensations and let them flow in the body and feel the sense of my feet on the ground quite grounded, calm, my hands aren’t clenched into a fist in any way, the physical sensations start to move and it’s actually quite pleasant. What I notice is that, when I do that, it creates a space for other people to come forward instead of me just being in my clenched-fist driver mode.
So that’s what I mean by paying attention to physical sensations and looking for tension, finding the places of tension in the body and then relaxing those places, breathing in to those places and creating actual somatic space within me to receive other people. Now this idea of going into the back of the body …
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, bringing attention to the back of the body. What’s that about?
MS. SIMON: That’s something I learned specifically from Reggie Ray in the meditation training, and it was so helpful to me in meditation practice and also in meetings and in every situation really, a long business dinner that’s going on for four hours. What I’ve noticed is that I come into the front of the body.
So that means when I say come into means like my energy, my attention is more forward and there’s even a sense of kind of leaning forward and it’s the sense of like pushing my agenda. And there is a somatic correlate to that energetic of pushing forward and I’ve got something to say and here’s how we should do it and I know the right way. All of that comes from being in the front half, if you will, of the body and pushing forward. It’s going to be this way.
I notice when I bring my attention back so it’s just sort of in front of the spine or even further back, back, back, there’s actually this creation of room once again to receive other people. And the ideas that are somatic architecture, meaning how we are in our body actually creates a state of being that communicates so much to other people.
So you might notice that, you know, with certain people, you just feel they can receive you in a certain way, “Oh, my God, I just — I want to tell you my whole life story …” And other people, there’s like no space. There’s no room. They don’t have any room inside. You don’t even want to tell them anything. This going into the back of the body is one of the things that I found really has helped me create room for other people.
And, then, uh …
MS. TIPPETT: It’s — before we go on to the next one, it — it’s almost — I don’t know if it’s the opposite of leaning in. Right, suddenly, this new catchword in the culture from Sheryl Sandberg, another woman — female business leader. And I actually wanted to ask you about this, but almost just physically, visually, when I think about bringing your attention to the back of the body, it’s a different posture [laugh], or is it? I mean, I’m curious about how you’re responding to that.
MS. SIMON: Well, of course, we need both. I mean, sometimes you need to lean into a situation and bring yourself forward and express yourself and that’s really important. I think what I found and maybe this is just being a kind of driving, basically dominating person, if you will. I needed to learn how to lean back, you know?
I mean, here I am in the meeting. I’m the publisher of the company, the founder of the company. Everything I say has more weight than what everybody else is going to say. And if on top of it, I’m leaning forward and doing most of the talking, then there’s no room for me to actually learn and hear the intelligence of everybody else in the room and there’s no room, as I was describing, for this quality of fresh emptiness, for the pause, for the gap to be there.
And I want to create the space for that gap, because I think it’s in the gap that the magic happens, that these completely unexpected, unknown, un-thought of, unprecedented things occur. So I am interested in doing everything I can to create gap space.
MS. TIPPETT: All right. And the third thing was beginning meetings with silence.
MS. SIMON: Yeah. That’s something that’s really caught on at Sounds True and we call it a good minute and we start our meetings with a minute of silence. You know, we present it in such a way that it’s not like you have to be doing anything in particular in that minute. So you don’t have to be meditating in some formal way. It’s a way to introduce a break so that the meeting has a clean start.
People aren’t bringing with them the five other conversations that they were having on the way from their last meeting and then in the bathroom and then in the kitchen and they’re bringing all of that in and there’s a lot of kind of chaos and flurry and then what are we really talking about? It’s more like, no, let’s all stop for one minute, one good minute, and let us leave everything that is behind that doesn’t need to be here.
Let us leave that all outside the door, center ourselves really, take a few beautiful breaths, appreciate this opportunity that we have which is to be with each other and to work together and listen to each other and we’ll start the meeting in a minute. And then there’s just silence. And I notice that it helps me feel quite a bit more grounded when the meeting begins, and it often helps us be quite a bit more efficient as well.
(Sound bite of music)
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett with On Being. Today, Tami Simon. She founded and runs Sounds True, a multimedia company with the mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom.
MS. TIPPETT: You spoke at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference or you may have spoken there a couple of times. I was reading some blogs that people wrote about hearing you, and something that really struck a few people was this statement you made that the most important connection with technology that we have is the one we have with ourselves, or the most important connection you have with technology is the one with yourself. And I want to know what you meant by that.
MS. SIMON: What I remember when I spoke at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference for the very first time is that I was really trying, and I’m still trying, to work with my mobile device as a spiritual practice tool, because I’m quite an addict, meaning I’m constantly on it. I’m on it at inappropriate times and it’s one of the clearest mirrors to me of the way that I have overly invested myself in accomplishing things and being connected with other people and making stuff happen. It’s this huge mirror. It’s like a billboard, it’s so obvious to me.
So I thought, OK, so now the universe has given me a new spiritual practice tool, which is to ask myself when I’m engaged in, you know, overly checking voice mails and emails when there’s really something else at hand like a person who I would like to be relating with who needs my attention, what am I doing and why am I doing this? What is actually going on inside me right now?
What I’ve seen is that I’m often feeling slightly agitated inside, meaning just slightly concerned about something or slightly paranoid about something or slightly worried about something or just slightly something that’s not peaceful.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah.
MS. SIMON: And by getting involved in, you know, I’m going to text this, do this, whatever, oh, OK, now I don’t feel quite so tense. So instead, I …
MS. TIPPETT: Until you push send and then you have to get tense again [laugh].
MS. SIMON: Yeah, and then wait for the next thing or whatever. So instead, it’s like just don’t do that. Put it down and work with what’s happening in your body in that moment and actually use this as a self-investigation opportunity.
MS. TIPPETT: And is that working? Is that a good discipline?
MS. SIMON: No. You kidding? I’m practicing all day long.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. I met you for the first time in person at a conference, and you were telling me about this new project, the Wake Up Festival. I think it is a new thing you’re doing, right? A new venture? I was very struck by the energy. I remember this vividly. I didn’t know. We had a very short conversation, but you talked about this discovery that had come through that festival or had been deepened through that festival, that joy and a kind of full-bodied pleasure are part of the spiritual life. So tell me about that.
MS. SIMON: Yeah. Well, I think in a lot of the meditation training I’ve done, there’s been an emphasis more on a type of boot camp approach. You know, that’s been tremendously useful in learning to sit in meditation for long periods of time, and it’s been so useful in terms of this tolerating of difficult physical experiences and being able to sit with it and eventually see that it will pass.
I had this question inside. How much real transformation can happen in an environment where people aren’t pushed up against an edge like that where you’re, you know, sitting from 6:30 in the morning till 9 p.m. at night?
But what I discovered in myself and I received letters and emails from people as well is that, for some of us, actually one of the thresholds we have and one of the ways that we hold ourselves back from the fullness of life is that we keep ourselves bound up and unavailable for unbridled pleasure and that really celebration is one of the ways that we can break out of often our standard way of being which can often be quite tight and quite held in and repressed, if you will. That having this opportunity to let that go and actually say, you know, it’s safe for me to be with other people and declare my love of life and my love of the open and expressed human heart, that that can actually push us into new places beyond our regular boundaries.
MS. TIPPETT: But I have to ask you, and I think you might be like me, an introvert, an introvert who loves people, and I wonder if even a few years ago you would have imagined that you could get excited about an experience like that.
MS. SIMON: Well, you’re right. I am an introvert. You know, some of what I’ve seen is that even as I say that to you, “I’m an introvert,” you know, I think that I put myself in that box and, at this point, I don’t even know anymore and I want to open it up a bit because I think sometimes we can label ourselves this or that, you know, whether it’s something about our enneagram type or this kind of woman or this kind of man. I’m interested in actually opening that and just exploring. And what I notice is that I actually really enjoy being with other people in deep spaces.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. You know, when we first started speaking and I asked you about the spiritual background of your childhood, you talked about a feeling of loneliness. And one thing with this content that I create and I know it’s true of your content as well, one thing people say to me that is so gratifying and humbling is I listen to this and I feel less alone.
And it touches on that, but it’s about living in this world with all its complexity and its beauty and its terror and its excitement. And then so many of us are looking for deep places, right? We are asking these big questions and we are reflecting, but it’s sometimes hard. It’s not always evident. It’s not always on the surface of our cultural life, that there are so many of us, right?
MS. SIMON: Yeah. Well, I think what you’re pointing to is this longing and I would even say need to connect. That’s what I think spiritual friendship can be about. I think that’s what deep listening to the lives of great teachers and mystics. There’s this quality where we, even across the centuries, we connect. Our hearts connect, and it’s like they’re still available. Their teachings and ideas are still available. And I know, for me, that’s what makes my heart feel connected in the world.
MS. TIPPETT:Tami Simon is publisher, CEO, and founder of Sounds True. Listen again, download, and share this program at onbeing.org. We’ve also posted my entire unedited conversation with Tami Simon, featuring her thoughts on the difficulties that arise when spiritual awakening meets modern marketing. And I warmly invite you to subscribe to our email newsletter. Each week, you’ll get priority access to our latest podcasts, invitations to live events, behind-the-scenes insights, and a list of our most popular blog posts. We only ask for your email address, nothing more. Click on the newsletter link at the top of any page on our website. Again, that’s onbeing.org.On Being on-air and online is produced by Chris Heagle. Stefni Bell is our coordinating producer. Our senior producer is Dave McGuire. Trent Gilliss is senior editor. And I’m Krista Tippett.
Next time, a physicist, the string theorist S. James Gates. He’s working to evolve the cosmic language of mathematics to tell the whole story of what we’re made of and where we came from. Please join us.