Bodies, Pain, and Trauma From Buddhist Perspectives: Uniting the Medical and the Spiritual In Conversation With Dr. Alejandro Chaoul


Interview of Kerry McElroy’s Interview Series “A Light in the Mineshaft: An Interview Series With Society’s Traumaworkers”


Alejandro Chaoul, PhD

Founding Director, Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute |

Adjunct Faculty, Integrative Medicine Program Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation & Integrative Medicine MD Anderson Cancer Center |

Adjunct Faculty, McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics McGovern Medical School, UT Health I

Instructor, Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, aster of Liberal Studies program I

Instructor, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Masters in Integrative Medicine

Dr. Chaoul is the Huffington Foundation Endowed Director of the Mind Body Spirit Institute at the Jung Center of Houston, bringing a new approach for helping healthcare professionals flourish by reducing stress and burnout, and improving health, resilience and nourish the human spirit.

He holds a PhD in Tibetan religions from Rice University, and has studied in the Tibetan tradition since 1989, and for almost 30 years with Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, completing the 7-year training at Ligmincha Institute in 2000, and also training in Triten Norbutse monastery in Nepal and Menri monastery in India.

Alejandro is a Senior Teacher of The 3 Doors, an international organization founded by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche with the goal of transforming lives through meditation, and since 1995, he has been teaching meditation classes and Tibetan Yoga (Tsa Lung & Trul Khor) workshops nationally and internationally under the auspices of Ligmincha International.

In 1999 he began teaching these techniques at the Integrative Medicine Program of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, where he holds an adjunct faculty position and for the last twenty years has conducted research on the effect of these practices in people with cancer and their caregivers. He is also an adjunct faculty member at The University of Texas’ McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, where he teaches medical students in the areas of spirituality, complementary and integrative medicine, and end-of-life care. In addition he is an Instructor at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies Master of Liberal Studies program and an at The University of Maryland, Baltimore, Masters in Integrative Medicine.

In addition, he is an advisor to The Rothko Chapel and past board member of The Boniuk Center for Religious Tolerance at Rice University, and founding member of Compassionate Houston. His research and publications focus on mind-body practices in integrative care, examining how these practices can reduce chronic stress, anxiety and sleep disorders and improve quality of life. He is the author of Chod Practice in the Bon Tradition (SnowLion, 2009), Tibetan Yoga for Health and Wellbeing (Hay House, 2018), and Tibetan Yoga: Magical Movements of Body, Breath & Mind (Wisdom Publications, 2021). He has published in the area of religion and medicine, medical anthropology and the interface of spirituality and healing. Dr. Chaoul has been recognized as a Fellow at the Mind & Life Institute.



Kerry McElroy is a Contributing Editor to Narrative Paths Journal. She is a feminist cultural historian and writer holding a doctorate in Humanities from Concordia University, Montréal. Her thesis entitled Class Acts: A Socio-Cultural History of Women, Labour, and Migration in Hollywood, focused on women in performance systems. She has published articles on cinema, women, history, culture, and politics in Irish AmericaThe Independent, and Montréal Serai, among other magazines. She holds master’s degrees from Columbia and Carnegie Mellon Universities.

KLM: First of all, if you wouldn’t mind introducing yourself and your title, your professional background a little bit? And then I’ll start with a few questions.

AC: Sure. My name is Alejandro Chaoul. My PhD is in Religious Studies, particularly Tibetan religions. However, my kind of winding road took me to exploring the Tibetan mind-body practices, how we can bring them into fields of healing. Particularly in my work with MD Anderson, which is a large cancer center here in Houston, within the Integrative Medicine program. Both in terms of clinic and research, and education.

And lately I’ve been working more with the area beyond people with cancer and their caregivers. More with faculty and staff and others. Not only in the health care environment, but in others. In the Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute that I founded, where I’m the director. And kind of bringing this approach in to different people and organizations to help, particularly with stress and well-being.

And I guess it collided right with COVID, and how that has exacerbated a lot of the stress and burnout. And so having this work move in different ways that I wasn’t expecting.

KLM: Really interesting. And so you mentioned that you founded the Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute. What’s your connection there? In interdisciplinarity, mind, body, spirit, Jung, Buddhism, medicine, humanities, ethics. We have a lot of pieces there, and I think they’re beautifully fit together. But how did you do it?

AC: So the Jung Center existed. The Jung Center exists for sixty years, and I’ve been teaching at the Jung Center for around twenty years. And the way that people teach at the Jung Center, it’s not that you have to be full faculty there. So I was at MD Anderson or I was at Rice and I would teach.

In fact, I started by helping my teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, to coordinate a couple of courses. And I coordinate some dialogues, too. And as I then became part of the curriculum committee of the Jung Center, and I noticed how mind-body was not just what I did, but that there was more and more interest– both in faculty wanting to provide it, as well as in the community wanting it.

And so I’d been thinking and… The executive director of the Jung Center, Sean Fitzpatrick, and I went to part of school together. So we knew each other for a long time. And we started actually meeting in a coffee shop every Friday, brainstorming about this possibility.

And so actually when I came, when we came with this idea, we started small. Luckily MD Anderson allowed me to slowly start reducing my time with them, and expanding it here. And it took really three years to actually move over here.

So yes, I founded the Mind Body Spirit Institute at the Jung Center. But in order to make it really part of it, we called it the Jung Center Mind Body Spirit.

KLM: I see. Got it. And so, when you were doing your own PhD in Religious Studies, did you have any inkling or any sense that you would move towards working so interdisciplinarily– with medicine and with people, things like stress, and in a kind of community context in this way?

AC: So when I started, no. I was really focusing on learning, and trying to… I was already a Buddhist practitioner. So I was really [most focused on] how the academic understanding could help my practice. Really that was why I came to academia. But I think interdisciplinary. And so I always was taking courses in different areas: anthropology, art history. Psychology, philosophy, of course. And, so I think in that way, and I like to do things with many organizations.

And then what happened was two important people in my life, one of my teachers named Namkhai NorbuRinpoche, as well as my father, both the same year were diagnosed with cancer. Different kinds of cancer. And that prompted me to say: well, I’ve been learning these practices. Maybe there’s something to be brought. And so I had some… one member of our sangha actually was a professor– still is– and a medical doctor at MD Anderson. And I asked her: hey, what do you think? I mean, and at that time, I have to admit, it was kind of a crazy idea, to bring meditation into those places. But she said: you know, they just started something called Place of Wellness. I can get you an interview. And that’s how it started.

And they asked me to be there. I was a volunteer and they said: why don’t you do this for six months and let’s try it out? And I stayed twenty years.

KLM: Wow. Amazing. That really resonates with me especially, because I’m an– I can only think interdisciplinarily, I feel. I did my PhD in Humanities, and I touched on all the fields you talked about: art history, psychology, anthropology, plus industrial relations, performance studies. I mean, when you have that kind of a mind, you can’t understand how everyone else doesn’t, right?

AC: Right. [laughter]

KLM: Because the world is so rich. And how can we not– I mean, making those connections, that’s what it’s all about, right?

AC: Exactly, exactly.

KLM: This is such a cool idea to me. So, along those lines. As you know, the series is about trauma, and people who choose to do traumatic work. I had this idea really interesting me, of– well, as you saw in the call for interviews. People who do things that other people don’t want to do, so that the rest of us can kind of have a smoothly functioning society. Right? So, who investigates animal abuse? Who investigates child abuse, pedophilia and trafficking? And why would someone who is a survivor of, or a descendant of, Holocaust survivors choose to study the Holocaust? Why does a Black Studies, African American Studies scholar in the US study chattel slavery? Why do feminists study rape and sexual assault?

My best friend and I, when we were doing our PhD, and we were going into these traumatic areas for us, where you kind of touch your own wound. We would always joke with each other: you know, you can do a PhD on medieval chamber music, you can do it on anime. Why do we do what we do? [laughter]

And so, that’s where this series developed– to speak to people who push on the pain. And push on their own pain to maybe bring some benefit to other people.

And I think there’s something– just based on my introductory-level study of Buddhism, which I’m committed to, but I’m a baby. I’m in my training wheels. But so I think there may be something very Buddhist about this? And that’s why I wanted your perspective. So I’ll get back to that idea and those ideas. But that’s the gist of where I’m going with this.

So, from that perspective, could you maybe tell a lay audience a bit about the Buddhist perspective on suffering? A lot of people might know a little bit about Buddhism and suffering. But especially more like trauma, like the more modern conception of trauma. How can you apply a Buddhist perspective or understanding to trauma?

AC: Yeah. Let me start actually a little different, if I may.

KLM: Of course.

AC: So one of the things that drew me to– and I didn’t know that it was to Buddhism at that time. It was to searching. It was what I used to call existential attacks. And for me, those would be that I would wake up in the evening. It was dark, in my room. And I would sit up and start sweating. And I was like: I’m going to die, and then what? And it would sometimes recur in places like movie theaters. Whatever the movie, it had nothing to do with the movie. And so it was really… I didn’t know what to do with that. And I grew up in in Argentina, which is very Catholic, in a Jewish family. But no one could… my parents didn’t know what to do with that.

And I don’t remember who gave me or how I got, but– I was around eight, nine years old. And someone… whatever way it got to me, the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

KLM: Yes.

AC: And I devoured it. I was like: wow, this is awesome. And particularly, it was the part that it was talking about the four kinds of suffering: birth, old age, sickness, and death. And I was like: oh wow. So let me look into it. And in fact, I read that book like eight times. And I was really interested. And, you know, I didn’t really know at the beginning that it was the life of the Buddha. And so, but then later… because at that time, I didn’t know that Siddhartha was Siddhartha Gautama. I had no idea.

KLM: Right.

AC: And so, as I got to know more, I was really interested in meditation. And meditation– through the uncle of a friend of mine that was doing TM, transcendental meditation– I was able to. It worked for me. It clicked in a way that I was like: there’s something here for me.

And so, later, then I continued that interest. Even though my professional interest at that time was more into advertising, actually. Communication and advertising. And when I was doing that, I was interested– they offered me the possibility of doing also philosophy. And through that I went into Oriental philosophy. And in that way, I went then to India, and connected more to the Tibetans, and so forth.

Now this work on meditation. It allows one to be in a place where you’re open and vulnerable. And allows you to feel that, without necessarily engaging with it. So part of what tends to happen is that our mind goes to that suffering, that trauma. And keeps on reviving it by the story that we tell ourselves. And the more we go into the story, the more we believe it is in that particular way.

Without taking anything out of the traumatic moment, without dismissing anything off the trauma, one of the things that meditation can help is to be able… can I see that more clearly, without me getting mixed up in the story? So can I really rest in a place where I can see that almost as an outsider, but not really?

Because what we do is, we’re still very much open-hearted and feeling it, being with it. And so, you know, the idea that in order to process suffering, it’s “get over it”. We don’t believe in “get over it”.

KLM: Right.

AC: It’s not about dismissing it. It’s not about “get over it”. It’s about being able to bring it into a space that you can [accept]. So, part of meditation is preparing that space. And being able to host that pain. And that pain– it’s really the trauma, in one way. And it’s not the only way of talking about it. But in one way, it’s part of our pain identity.

And so– that pain identity has an expression. So that would be a pain speech. There’s a pain mind. But there’s also a pain body, with it. And so partly through the different practices of body, breath, and mind, we can address those pains, those painful areas, and allow them to express and liberate.

Again, I’m not saying dismissal. I’m not saying “get over it”. I’m saying that as we connect to these and can be with them, can we start seeing our part in a different way? And that’s part of the process. And it’s less mentally engaged as [compared to] some of the psychological ways. But it’s very lived experience. And part of it is, learning what sometimes we would call “hosting”.

I love– a good friend of mine, and a great Zen teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax, would say: having a strong back and a soft front. So, you know, you need to be with your strong back. But then you don’t close the front. You actually open it so you can be vulnerable. So you can be open to your own trauma, to your own suffering, and be able to process it.

And this is where the qualities that we… what we call the foreign measurables in Buddhism: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity– can be part of the healing process. And that would be as we heal for ourselves. And then, of course, as we’re able to do that for ourselves, we can bring it in a similar manner to others.

KLM: So along those lines then: would you consider sometimes that the work that you do is helping traumatized people, or doing work with trauma? And then would we say maybe in a Buddhist conception that we have layers of trauma, right? The individual might be traumatized, then they traumatize their family, then the community is traumatized. Then the society has trauma, right? How do we approach that? Maybe from a Buddhist perspective?

AC: Yeah. And then of course, the word “trauma” is– it also has many layers, right? Because if I hit my hand on the table… in a way it’s a trauma of the body.

KLM: Yes. “Wound”. It comes from ancient Greek.

AC:  A wound, right. But then there’s kind of trauma when, it’s something that it’s a huge event that marked in your life, and that you– for whatever reasons, we get stuck.

And for those, usually… so for example, the way I did the work at MD Anderson. As you can imagine, usually most people that are diagnosed with cancer experience some sort of trauma. And so, as you know well, there’s many scales that we use. And so sometimes a simple scale of a Likert scale, 0 to 10 in, for example, anxiety. And spiritual suffering, and so forth.

If it is between 4 and 7, there are things that I can help. Many times. Or that someone in my role can help. When it’s 8 or more, what we usually do is, we make sure that psychology or psychiatry is involved. And so we always work as a team.

And so, sometimes we say: well, there’s also that pain aspect of the trauma. That maybe acupuncture can be helpful, massage can be helpful. So it’s really a team approach.

So when I see– in my work today, I actually get to see many, even now, patients. But they reach out to me more to help navigate what’s going on. And so I help them with my part of mind-body. But I also help them with: well, have you explored acupuncture? Have you explored…?

Because one of the things I’ve learned in my twenty years at MD Anderson, is this integrative medicine work in teams. This interdisciplinarity.

So that when we talk about a specific person– and their family, because they’re all part of that– we look at it more not just as, okay, what’s the breast cancer? No, that’s the disease. But we’re looking at the illness experience, as Arthur Kleinman would say.

So it’s like, okay. Maybe once we know more of this story, this person that comes from Mexico, and doesn’t speak any English, and doesn’t have insurance here in the United States. Okay. How do we all, together, help this person and their family?

And so, sometimes it’s also helping the caregiver. Sometimes it’s helping the patient. So really, it’s a multipronged approach and multidisciplinary approach.

KLM: Does Buddhism have a conception of people who, in this modern parlance, I would say are traumaworkers? People who are doing the work to help others, to help bring other people about– let’s say, a sexual assault counselor. Does Buddhism have a concept of people who do that sort of work as, I don’t want to overstate, but… bodhisattva-like? Or that there’s a layer of certain types of people who are doing kind of… in Christianity, you’d say “the Lord’s work”, right? Is there something about a certain type of work that is considered alleviating the suffering of others, as something kind of holy or special, in some ways?

AC: Yeah, there are. And different kinds. Remember, there are different kinds of Buddhisms, that are different in different places. So Buddhism in China is different than Buddhism in Tibet, and different than Buddhism in Japan. And partly they were influenced also by their previous religious traditions, right? So Tibet has been influenced by Bon. And in China you have Confucianism and Daoism, in Japan you have Shintoism, and so forth. But in many of these places, there’s the figure of the lama or the priest. But there’s also the figure– there’s medical doctors. And there’s also kind of what we would call in the west shamans.

And sometimes there are certain lamas that take that role. Sometimes there’s specific practitioners that take that role. And so, you start by rituals. Rituals of, for example, retrieving. What we call retrieving the soul. Retrieving the soul is a ritual. And actually, I’ll bring what you call a show-and-tell. It might be useful.

KLM: Wonderful!

AC: Let me get to the altar. See, this is one of the advantages of COVID working from home.

KLM: Indeed, yes. [laughter]

[AC returns with large ceremonial arrow]

AC: So, for example, one of the ways would be: this is a bamboo arrow with five silks of the five elements. And so there would be a way of bringing in back the soul. And what the soul here means– it’s not actually “soul” in the same way that we think in Abrahamic traditions. Soul here, it’s really kind of your life force, your– what brings you alive. And so the idea of bringing it back is because we are made of the five elements. Our flesh is made of earth in a way, and the bones. And the blood is made of liquid, of water. And the breath is made of air, and the heat is made of fire. And our consciousness is space. And so, in a way, you’re bringing in whatever you’ve lost, whatever part of it has been lost, to bring you back together. So that’s at kind of an external level.

But then there’s practices that you can do, with yourself, also. Whether it’s breathing, whether it’s– actually there are movements that are specifically similar to that bringing in. There are meditations.

And so, one way is to empower. Some people– and I think this happens east and west– some people are looking for someone to heal them, right? Or not just some people. At certain points of our trauma, any of us, we might be needing that external support. To empower us. So okay, now let me give you some tools, for you.

For example, I’m going through an injury that came thirty years ago from rugby, and it’s popping up again now. And so I had to go to the doctor, and then I went to the physical therapist. And the physical therapist does whatever he could do. But then, I have to come home and do the exercises every day, right?

And so there’s part of– in that work that we do in trauma, from a Buddhist perspective– there’s parts that, yes, someone can help you. But the other part is giving you tools so that you can help yourself. So partly it’s you become part of your own healing process.

KLM: Okay, I see.

And this goes off in a slightly different direction. But you can see how it kind of pulls all the branches together in a way, or the threads of what I’m– this culminating idea here. Because the project started out being called “Nightshift in the Graveyards”, right? Who goes to the places in society that people don’t want to think about? Like I said, to keep things sort of functioning. And who finds that courage in themselves to live in in the dark spaces and the painful spaces and the frightening spaces. And I sort of backwards came to… because in fact, I had done my own practice, I had done a Feeding Your Demons meditation. And I started to learn a lot about chöd.

[From KLM’s introduction to this series, “A Light in the Mineshaft: An Interview Series With Society’s Traumaworkers”; March 5, 2022.]

         So in this period, I came across a particular branch of Buddhism called chöd. It dates back to        10th century Tibet, and was (uniquely) founded by a woman mystic. Eventually, I would      come to include a great international teacher and practitioner of chöd as one of the        interview subjects in this series.

In Tibetan, chöd means “to cut off” or “to slay”. It amounts to a spiritual and lifestyle practice grounded in fearlessness, in which one both confronts and sacrifices oneself to demons in order to reach enlightenment. It’s often been considered a primeval, slightly mad branch of Buddhism, concerned with darkness, mystery, shamans, exorcisms, and corpses. In practice, one might think of hardcore practitioners of chöd as the goths of their time and place, challenging and inappropriate: known for performing religious rituals in charnel houses, cemeteries, even cutting off parts of their own flesh. Supervising the vultures that feed on corpses, making ritualistic pieces and musical instruments out of bones. Living on the fringes of society, dealing in burial grounds and haunted places. Becoming an acolyte of chöd has always been serious stuff.

In fact, external chöd is typically understood as wandering into fearful places where there are deities or demons. For me, encountering this practice and mindset while I did such heavy feminist work felt apropos.]

That might not be your exact area these days. But could you speak anything here to that branch of Tibetan Buddhism?

AC: Yeah, of course. My first book was on chöd! [holds up Chöd Practice in the Bon Tradition, 2009]

KLM: Okay, good! [laughter] I didn’t want to make you go in a direction that you didn’t necessarily resonate with anymore.

AC: No, that’s my area.

KLM: To me, it’s such a… there’s nothing like it really in the Western tradition, where it’s a branch of a religion that says: we face the fear, we go to the dark places, we do the things that other people don’t want to do. We sleep in the graveyard! Like, there’s something to me that’s so– not just metaphorical to me, in interviewing people who do difficult work. But literal as well. Like that they are practicing chöd, whether they know it or not, I think. That’s what I was going to ask you to speak to.

AC: Yeah. So actually, it was interesting. Because when I published this book, I think it was 2009. I was already working at MD Anderson. And so some people said: Are you doing chöd with patients? And I said: no, I’m not.

But, there are still ways of bringing that into a healing process. And there are parts of… I mean, at the end of the day, chöd is about cutting your ego. So if you’re able to liberate that ego, you’re liberating those pain bodies, those pain identities. That allows you to bring back to space, and to home.

Now, you probably– when you mentioned Feeding Your Demons [a course and practice called Feeding Your Demons, which especially teaches methods of chöd to improve mental health to survivors of traumatic experiences], so you probably know the work of Tsultrim Allione. And I don’t know if you know the work that Eve Ekman has done in   her research with that. Actually, we recently did a dialogue, the three of us. And it’s recorded, I think it’s part of a bigger conference. I think the conference just came out. []

So Tsultrim does, in the Feeding Your Demons [method], it’s one way of using chöd, in terms of dealing with trauma.

But, the idea even in the Buddhist world would be also, as I said earlier, that there’s an external part. So sometimes you would ask the, we call it the chödpa— the person who practises chöd— to do the ritual for you, whether you’re there or not. And in a way it is almost like an exorcism, right? Sometimes. But there’s also a part where, okay– now you do it.

Now chöd in particular is a little more of a… complex practice? But really, it is one that attracted me. Partly because also it has all this music. But also the way that you are connecting, and in a way, letting go the best, your spiritual aspect. That then cuts all your material aspect, that is where all the pain stays. And you offer it.

And so there’s a sense of how generosity– which is the first pāramita, giving– is a way of letting go all those sufferings, all your sufferings. And you offer, we call them all the four guests. The enlightened beings, the protectors. Anyone that you have any debt. Take, eat, drink my blood, eat my flesh, take it all out. And there’s a sense– I know for some people it might sound very gruesome. But there’s a sense of– I have nothing else. I have given everything.

And you mentioned the bodhisattvas. So there is a story of Buddha in a previous life, in The Jataka Tales. And how he allows himself… this tigress was full of maggots. And he takes them all out, and then he allows her to eat him.

So, there’s different ways of having that as part of it. But because of the kind of complex and gruesome nature, I never used it in that particular way. But I think Tsultrim’s method is very useful.

KLM:. I’m just curious, as a male scholar who wrote a book on this branch of Buddhism. Have you, or have other people pointed out, in feminist approaches, that this particular branch of chöd is said to have been founded by a woman?

Because there does seem to me something feminine in it. To say– it’s almost like the mother, right? Take my body. I have nothing else to give. Take the body and cut up my body. And it’s a self-sacrifice and it’s a bodily sacrifice. And so, have people ever discussed that? That it’s a sort of feminine practice?

AC: Yeah, there is [this concept]. And actually, Tsultrim, in her previous book, Women of Wisdom [1984], discussed a little bit of that. But yeah, actually, in the bon tradition, even though the chöd was not necessarily founded by Machig Labdrön, she also was Bonpo. It goes to the mother. It goes to the mother tantra. It’s this mother and it says it’s from the womb. So, yes, there is this kind of the origin, coming back to the origin, the mother.

KLM: Interesting. So then I think my last question, towards the threads of this interview series, is: if you were speaking to a traumatized person who is a doubly traumatized person, because they are working with the trauma of their community. Or, they’re traumatized by trying to do something good for others. Again, studying the Holocaust, studying slavery, studying rape, watching videos of animal abuse when you’re a committed animal activist, all day. And it begins to hurt you, but you feel like you need to press on.

Do you think that thinking in terms of chöd or thinking in terms of Buddhism, or any of these approaches, can bring a kind of peace? Is there– do you see an avenue where someone could use these methods to help them through the trauma of doing work that they feel they need to do, as much as it might still hurt them?

So it’s different than the trauma of a cancer patient. It’s someone doing something and going: why am I doing this? It hurts. But I feel compelled in a way.

AC: I think a lot has to do… one way of thinking about it, it’s the wounded healer, right?

KLM: True.

AC:  And so, again, I guess going back to Jung for a moment, and the idea of Chiron, and the wounded healer.

KLM: Yes, right.

AC: And so, I think we are attracted– I’m trying to use a better word, we’re drawn– to those places that we know it hurts. And, if we are able to heal it– with whatever methods we use. Then, when we see it in others, we’re compelled to help them. And now, maybe, what I’ve done to heal my wound, I might help to heal your wound. And so there is that part in it.

And so I would say that: it would be important for them not to bypass their wound, and just go and help others. But actually to revisit their wound, in the same way that they’re doing with others. And sometimes people are reallygood in doing it with others, and they don’t do it with themselves. So, kind of doing it with themselves so that once they become… from the wounded healer, they become healed. Then it’s easier to help. And it doesn’t have to be– when I mean “healed”, it doesn’t mean that it’s totally healed, including enlightened.

KLM: As in, perfect. Right.

AC: But at least that now you have the tools. So it actually empowers you to bring that to others in a different way.

KLM: Right. Beautiful. Amazing. You’re lucky that you have something else to do, or I would keep you for two hours. Because I’m interested in this from the perspective of my magazine series. But I designed the magazine series! So of course I have a million questions. [laughter]

I could just listen all day. I’m just fascinated on the personal level, the spiritual level, the political, the social. There’s so much. This is to me– we’re just scratching the surface, which is fine for introducing to an audience. But is there anything else that we didn’t– in these spheres, anything else we didn’t talk about that you’d want to give a final thought?

AC: Just, I really think that at the end… you know the almost overused metaphor of the mask in the airplane: put it on first– is so important. Because really, that is the best way we can help others. And I think that’s really important as we are caregivers…

Now I’m actually a caregiver for my wife who was diagnosed with cancer. Now I’m in that role. And I know how important it is also for me. So that’s what I would say.

And then find different ways. Don’t get stuck in just one way. So, like we were saying earlier, multidisciplinary. Like the meditation that I’m doing now. It’s for a hospital, but it’s in the area of art. It’s art and meditation. So how can we bring that in? Then I’m going to the Houston Botanic Garden, doing a meditation and herbs series. So what can we bring in there?

KLM: Wonderful. Thank you so much. It’s– what a beautiful final interview for me to get to do. I’m really happy about it because I think– this probably won’t go in the interview. Or maybe it will. Maybe I will decide to be very candid.

I think it’s a hard time for a lot of people right now in a lot of ways. Right? With lockdowns and personal relationships and illness. You know, we’re all really– there’s a struggle right now, a lot, I find. And I think just thinking in these terms is useful in developing a practice, at least it has been in my case. And, you know, just thinking about the nature of suffering in these particular years, when things seem tough. So I’m glad to end on this one for sure.

AC: And the practice can be simple, you know. Just simple breath. Now I know these days many people are liking the book by James Nestor [Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, 2020]. But even just simple breathing, what Herbert Benson discovered forty-five years ago about the relaxation response.

Of course, I do want to say that meditation is not just relaxation. It’s relaxation, and then awareness.

KLM: Right.

AC:  And the awareness that arises in that way. One of my favorite illustrations, it’s The Sun at Dawn. Illuminating, without bias.