Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge, produced by Sounds True. My name’s Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundstruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Jennie Lee. Jennie Lee is a recognized expert in the fields of yoga therapy and spiritual living. She has taught classical yoga and meditation for more than 20 years and coaches private clients in practices that integrate life spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. With Sounds True, Jennie Lee has written a new book: it’s called Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution, a book where she guides the reader through 108 question prompts that are designed to deepen your awareness of your innermost needs and also initiate powerful shifts in your life. Through these 108 provocative questions, Jennie guides people really in what I would call the lost art of introspection—and I’m calling it a lost art because I think so many of us no longer know how to really engage with deep questionings of our inner life, of our shadow, of what motivates us, of what our true values and purpose are. Here Jennie Lee offers some of the most meaningful questions that will move forward that lost art of introspection in your own life. Here’s my conversation with Jennie Lee:
Jennie, in the beginning of your new book, Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution, you quote Albert Einstein. And here’s the quote. You say that Albert Einstein proposed, “If we have an hour to solve a problem and our lives depended on the solution, we should spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, because once we know that, we can usually solve the problem in less than five minutes.” So first of all, very powerful quote and it made intuitive sense to me in terms of something like a scientific experiment; let’s make sure that we’re asking the right question as we engage in our scientific inquiry. But how does that apply to our inner life, to our spiritual life?
Jennie Lee: Well, I believe that the universe is always talking to us, and if we’re listening, it is asking us questions all the time. There are important things that we are supposed to be learning as we move through this life, and so this dialogue that we have with our inner wisdom—or you can also call that the soul or God or spirit or the universe—is essential, and questions how we access deeper and deeper wisdom. So that sense of, “Are you listening to the question that life is asking of you in this moment?” is something that is always present for me. And the sense of curiosity and wonder is, I believe, such an important quality to maintain throughout our lives so that we’re constantly engaging at the best level that we can be with our journey.
TS: Now, you have another quote towards the beginning of the book: “Quality questions lead to quality answers.” What are quality questions versus low-quality questions? And hopefully this question is a quality question.
JL: You are the ultimate question-asker, Tami, and I’ve enjoyed so many of the questions that I’ve heard you ask people on your podcast over the years. So quality questions, for one thing, are questions that can’t be answered yes or no. There are more open-ended questions. They are questions that look beyond kind of the superficial answers. I mean, I would go so far as to categorize the question, “How are you?” that gets thrown around oftentimes between people as not such a quality question. I think if we’re truly concerned about the well-being of another individual, we could come up with a more creative question than “How are you?” Something such as, “What have you been struggling with lately?” or “What’s been inspiring you lately?” or “Tell me about your life in this moment.” So that it opens up a door for a greater dialogue to happen. So to me, quality questions are something that just speak to not only the asker’s intention of truly connecting with the person that they’re talking with, but also questions that give the person answering the question an opportunity to be reflective and to be expansive in their answer.
TS: Now Jennie, in your book Spark Change, you put together 108—I think they’re quality questions, you did a great job. What brought you to wanting to write a book that would be based on introspection and giving people tools to work with questions?
JL: I think I’ve, like you, always been fascinated by questions. And when I meet someone who asks me a question that really stops me in my tracks and makes me go, “Hmm,” and I don’t immediately have the answer, I love that process of being reflective and thinking beyond what maybe my current awareness has the answer to. So I love engaging with questions for myself internally, and what brought me to writing this book is the process that I have used with my yoga therapy clients because so much of that interchange is based on me asking depthful questions. So people might come into a yoga therapy session with a presenting concern or issue, but often there’s a lot more behind it. So whether that presenting concern or issue is something that they’re struggling with physically or emotionally, there’s usually a lot more to the story, so for me to ask depthful, inquiring questions is what gets us to the truth and helps that person ultimately get to their inner truth.
TS: Now, Spark Change follows an arc of questioning. Can you share what that arc is?
JL: Absolutely. So in 12 themes with 9 questions per theme, I’m following the arc of what I believe is the process of change. So we have to begin by defining what we feel needs changing. Then we have to look—I’m taking a section, bringing you through a little section that I kind of summarized in the conclusion of the book, but in looking back, I’m kind of thinking this should have been in the introduction because it really does synopsize that arc of change. So we define what needs changing; we identify the values on which you want to base that change—so knowing what our core values are is very, very important to know where we’re going; bringing to light any limiting beliefs that might stand in the way of that change; and then checking in with our willingness to do the work the change requires; and then recognizing the lessons the change ultimately brings; and practicing accountability for our choices; accepting what is in order to liberate space for new inspiration to arise; and then resting in this inner stillness where we’re listening intuitively for inspiration that ultimately becomes inner knowing; and then aligning with highest truth, deepest love, and watching our sense of purpose become really clear. And that is that arc of change that I am often working with people individually to move through, and that’s—I’ve in that summary have identified the 12 themes that are within the book that takes someone working with these questions through, on their own.
TS: And as part of our conversation, Jennie, I’m going to bring forward and I’m going to ask you to bring forward some of your favorite questions that you ask in Spark Change. But right now, I want to confess for a moment that when I went to read the book, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get. I thought, “Well, I know I’m going to get 108 questions,” but I didn’t quite know what the experience would be like, reading the book. And what I found was that I was dropped into a very introspective space where I was actually starting to look at what I would call are a lot of shadow issues, things that were on the edge of consciousness but not quite in my consciousness that maybe I didn’t quite want to look at.
And I thought, “Gosh, another way to actually refer to this body of work that Jennie’s put together is something like the lost art of deep introspection.” And I just wonder what you think about that and what happened that introspection is not something we are taught or know how to do. It’s not part of our educational system. We don’t necessarily know how to do it.
JL: That’s so true, Tami. And it’s really unfortunate, but I want to just speak to the subtitle of the book, which is these questions—108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution. And so in my background of study in yoga philosophy, the practice of introspection is an absolutely essential practice for our spiritual evolution. And someone might not totally understand what spiritual evolution is, so it might be worth just commenting on that too as we talk about why introspection is so important and why it’s kind of lost.
So we’re so outer focused in our daily lives—we’re very connected to other people, the world events, all of the outer experience of being human, but we’re not just human. We’re also divine beings, we’re souls within these human bodies. And so part of our experience here in human life is to spiritually evolve towards the remembrance of our soul nature.
And so these questions are—I’m so glad that you had that experience and thank you for sharing that, because it was my intention to drop people into a very introspective space in which they could begin to remember their soul nature. And this is the process of spiritual evolution that I believe we’re all meant to be going through during our lives, and it takes time and it takes effort, and it is a practice, and it’s not something that the world necessarily supports in day-to-day living. But it is something that is so rich and makes our lives so much more joyful and filled with purpose when we take that journey.
TS: Now, someone who’s listening, who’s trying to understand what you mean by “spiritual evolution,” how do we know if we’re evolving or not evolving at the spiritual level?
JL: Well, I would say one of the number one ways to know that is, are you feeling deep peace? Because as we know, human life is filled with the dualities of being happy one moment and unhappy the next and things going well, and then things not going well, and so we ride this roller coaster of duality. And the spiritual practices when we’re evolving spiritually, we’re becoming more and more even minded, more equanimous in the face of the vagaries of life and that rollercoaster that our outer life takes us on. And we will forever have that experience in our human lives, but as a spiritually evolving individual, we can maintain a sense of peacefulness and even a sense of joy as we go through those experiences—even difficult experiences, loss and challenge, and there can still be this part of our awareness that is resting in a peacefulness that’s beyond those current-time experiences.
TS: More spiritual evolution to go! That’s my little personal comment there. It’s interesting, Jennie, that you brought up working with challenges because to me that was one of the most interesting sections of Spark Change, a chapter that you have on lessons. And one of the things you write about is that instead of us asking why—”Why has this challenge come to me? Why, why, why?”—that we could ask a better question, something like “What now?” or “What is the best response I can offer now?” So I wonder if you can talk a little bit, because you really do address how we can work with questions when we feel really on the ground, really, really going through something, through a lot of turmoil.
JL: Well, I’m going to share a very personal and very challenging story from my own life. And this I think is, was one of the most pivotal moments for me understanding this particular spiritual teaching to which you’re referring, Tami. And it was about 20 years ago. I was pregnant with my second child, and I’m sorry if my voice cracks because even 20 years later there’s still emotion involved with recounting the story. But we were near the end of the pregnancy and had gone in for an ultrasound and we were told that the baby had passed away. And so I had to go through the birthing process with a stillborn child. And it was—I’m sharing this story because in the moment after the birth of my daughter, when the doctor asked if I wanted to hold her body, I said, “No, because she is not in that body.”
And it was as though an absolute knowing came through me that she was as alive—as much alive that she had been a week before inside of my womb, she was as alive in the realm of spirit. And that that body was not who she truly was. And so that moment of challenge, that incredible pain, that incredible loss that any mother could experience to not be able to hold their child and have the life and the experience of mothering that child, was replaced. And not to say that I didn’t grieve, I did grieve and I do still grieve that loss, but it was replaced by this incredible spiritual awareness that we are so much more than these bodies and that the love that I felt with her and our connection transcended the physical experience.
And so that’s something that I’ve been really following in my own inner pursuit and practice of introspection is how do I become more and more conscious of the aspects of who we are that are beyond the human experience, the physical experience?
TS: That’s a very powerful story, and just to say, I’m sorry for your loss and that you had to go through it. It sounds like you went through it just with so much grace. You have a quote in this section of the book where you’re talking about lessons and the questions we can ask, and you write that “Our strongest position is to see everything that arises coming specifically to benefit our spiritual growth.” So what I’d like to know is let’s say someone’s listening and they’re having a tough time. Maybe it’s a tough time because they’re having an argument with another person about something. Maybe it’s something else that’s happening in their life right now, could be through a relationship or it could be financially—anything. And they’re having difficulty seeing how this event is coming specifically to benefit their spiritual growth. They can’t quite see that at this moment. What kind of questions could they ask that you think would be meaningful questions?
JL: Well, I think first we have to practice the acceptance of that things are here for our benefit and for our evolutionary process. Just moving into the acceptance of that is going to be the first step towards finding the right questions and ultimately the right answers. But if they’re having difficulty kind of wrapping their heads around, “Well, what could this difficult situation possibly teach me?” I mean, just simply asking the question, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” that puts us into a place of humility because often we want to cast the blame outwardly towards another person or just the greater world situation, and we feel victimized by it. But if we hold the accountability that we really are part of the experience and that as we learn, as we progress through our own learning, then we will find the ways in which we can engage with that experience with greater peace and with less sense of being victimized.
TS: Yes, that’s great. One of the questions that you have in the book is, “What is life asking me to learn right now?” And then you have another related question, “What could I learn from the most challenging person in my life?” I thought these were both great questions to work on, to write on. Which brings up, yes, a question for me, which is, how do we work with questions in a way that we’re not just on the surface of our mind, we’re actually dropping into some deeper place of receiving answers that really matter? How do we do that, in your view?
JL: I think that is a very important thing to share with listeners because some of these questions maybe they’ve heard before, and it is easy to kind of stop with that first answer that the mind throws out there, or maybe the mind just says, “Well, I don’t know,” and move on to the next question. But there is this process, and we’re—I believe we’re going to be offering a guided meditation as part of the release of Spark Change that I have recorded, and it’s just an example of how someone might prepare themselves for the practice of introspection. And it is important that we do this by taking time where we shut off distractions and we give ourselves some space, maybe we have a journal handy.
But more than anything, we get quiet and we move out of the thinking realm and into the listening realm where we’re not so much analyzing the question and searching for the answer from our own current thought patterns, but we’re listening to that intuitive guidance, what I also call soul wisdom, that is available to all of us when we step into that listening space. So it is very important for people if they’re wanting to engage with these questions at the deepest level to create both that outer quiet and inner quiet through a practice such as stillness or meditation in order to hear clearly.
TS: Do you have a sense, Jennie, when a question’s being answered from what you’re calling soul guidance or soul wisdom—do you have a sense, like it feels differently than when the surface part of your mind is just throwing something at you?
JL: Absolutely. And I’ll just go back to the quality of peace, because when I hear an intuitive answer that I know is right, even if it’s something difficult—like, I had to write a difficult email to someone that I really cared about this week, setting a personal boundary. And I knew that I had to—I thought about not writing it at all, but then I checked in and I asked myself “What is the response that needs to happen, if any?” And the intuitive guidance was, “You need to write back and you need to explain calmly and clearly your position with as much kindness as you can, without any blame.” And I knew that wasn’t going to be easy and I knew there was a chance it would not be received as intended. But the sense of peacefulness that I felt within with that answer was how I knew it was right.
So if I, on the other hand, hear something internally as an answer, so to speak, that’s not necessarily soul guidance. It might be a little static-y. It might be this one moment, but then something else, almost a little bit different the next moment. And there’s still that kind of back and forth—it’s not consistent, it’s not peaceful. So that’s how I discern the difference between a soul-guided answer, even if it’s challenging to implement, and one that’s not really soul wisdom.
TS: Well, it’s interesting you gave that example of needing to hold up a boundary. I think sometimes when people feel the need to have a boundary, it can come with anger; it can come with a—there can be something on it, like, “You’re crossing a line here and I need to protect what I need to protect.” So how would you help someone question that so that they could get to a place of drawing a boundary and yes, feeling this deep peace that you’re describing?
JL: Well, I think it’s important first to acknowledge the emotional experience. So if anger is what’s arising, if truly a boundary has been crossed, it’s natural to feel angry, and it, I would say almost beneficial to feel angry because anger is a transformative emotion, it’s one that takes us into change. And so it’s important to feel that and acknowledge it. However, it’s never good to act in anger. So we want to sit with the emotion and I would say again, the same practice of moving into stillness, being with what’s present internally, acknowledging it and sitting with it long enough until it transforms towards greater wisdom. Because anger is meant to take us to new information and maybe new action, but it won’t be effective if we’re acting within the emotional experience of it. Is that helpful?
TS: It is. Thank you. At the end of the book in the acknowledgements, you thank Paramahansa Yogananda as your teacher, and I think many Insights at the Edge listeners will have read Autobiography of a Yogi and be familiar with Paramahansa Yogananda. And you specifically thank him for helping you understand the necessity of introspection for spiritual growth and for “the loving lessons in accountability along the way.” And that’s what I wanted to ask you about, the loving lessons in accountability that you received from Parramatta Yogananda.
JL: So yes, Paramahansa Yogananda is my greatest spiritual teacher, and I’ve not only read Autobiography of a Yogi, but I think almost every other published work of his through Self-Realization Fellowship, and his work has been so incredibly transformative in my life and in my understanding of what spirituality means and what it is to come into a true awareness of our spiritual nature. And he is for sure the one who made it very clear in some of his writings that introspection is an essential spiritual practice, one that we can’t choose not to engage upon if we’re serious about our spiritual journey. And the loving lessons in accountability—[Laughs] well, it’s funny that you keyed into that because there’s something about getting really serious about our spiritual evolution that the universe loves to test us. [Laughs]
So whenever the opportunity to stand in one’s ego versus one’s soul arises—we’re very ego-based beings, and so I’ve just learned to laugh at myself and my ego because of his teachings, because he makes it very clear when you’re in your ego and when you’re in soul wisdom. And the ego just is hilarious. I mean, it really is so convicted in its righteousness and so dodgy in how it tries to get its way. And it has all manner of working on our lives, it really wants to stay in charge. And once we start to see it for what it is, it becomes really humorous. And I was listening this morning to a recording of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s book, The Book of Joy, and they were talking about how the word “humor” and the word “humility” come from the same root word of humus, and I thought that was so interesting because really we can’t not be humble when we start to see the humor in our ego and all of the dance that it does every day.
TS: As you know, I’ve experimented with a lot of different approaches to spiritual growth, but one approach I somehow found a way to successfully avoid was anything that had to do with extreme cold immersion. That is until I met Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, someone I’ve interviewed on Insights at the Edge, and learned how controlled no-shock cold showers are part of a practice that can help us release stress, support immune response, and deepen our awareness of the spiritual dimension or our being. Wim Hof is a bold revolutionary who believes that cold is an intelligent and righteous force. You can learn more about Wim Hof and his method at findyourcold.com.
TS: In the section of Spark Change where you write about accountability, you talk about how karma could actually be considered another word for accountability. And I thought that was really interesting and you write, “Karma is not just created by action, but also by thought.” And I wanted to hear more about that. I mean, all kinds of thoughts come into our mind. I’m responsible for those thoughts?
JL: Yes. [Laughs] Yes, we are all responsible for our thoughts. Of course, things come in, but we’re responsible for what sticks around and what we dwell upon and what we act upon. And so thought is, in fact, the causal realm, it’s what initiates action. Of course, we have instinctual actions too, but thought precedes action, even if it’s subconscious thought. So we are absolutely responsible for our thoughts. And I do believe thought is a part of how we create karma—karma being just simply the consequences for our actions or our thoughts. And so it’s not a judgment per se, it’s simply a cause-and-effect law, spiritual law.
And if we recognize that as such, then we want to start to choose and hold on to thoughts which are loving and compassionate and unifying, and not ones that are angry and acrimonious and judgmental. For one thing, the first set makes us feel peaceful and happy, and the second set makes us feel crappy. So just even for our own well-being, but also for the energy that we’re exchanging with the world and how our thoughts are a part of that energy exchange, which in fact is the karmic exchange.
TS: What do you do, Jennie, when thoughts come into your mind that are thoughts that you don’t want to have necessarily dwell there, maybe because they come with a certain kind of toxicity or whatever it might be?
JL: Sure. Yes, so it might be a thought of limitation or a frustration. It might be a thought of judgment, self-doubt—there are all manner of things that come in for all of us. But I’ve become very practiced at watching my thoughts—this part of the meditation practice that I do is simply watching what arises. So when we become more and more experienced at that, then we’re more able to quickly catch a thought that we know is going to be toxic for ourselves and probably others and switch it. So it’s like, really like changing the channel on the television—we just immediately choose another thought. And for me, I often just go to a prayer or a thought of love. “God, please transform this thought into a thought of greater understanding or compassion for myself or whomever I’m thinking of.” So it’s a quick catch-and-replace exercise that happens continuously.
TS: When you sit down to do an introspective practice, how do you know at that point what the most fruitful questions are [that] you could be asking, that are what your soul needs to ask in that moment?
JL: So one of the things I love to do in my time of meditation or introspection is after I’ve quieted the mind with maybe some breath practice or visualization, is simply drop in the question, “What is it that you would like me to know right now, Spirit?” And often that begins the introspective practice of that moment, because it might not be something related to what’s happening outwardly in my life, but it might be something coming that I need to be aware of. It might need to be a situation that I need to look deeper at. It might need to be a self-check on how I’ve acted in relationship to someone else. And there’s just that sense of openness and willingness to hear what it is—like I mentioned at the beginning, what it is that the universe is really asking of me in this moment and what it is that I need to be asking myself. So that’s always a great starting place.
TS: Towards the end of the book, you have a section on questions that we can ask ourselves to help us know our purpose in life. And you draw on yoga philosophy and teachings in yoga philosophy that are about finding our dharma, our unique way of giving our gifts. Talk to the listener who wants to ask some good questions to further animate their purpose in life.
JL: So I truly believe that if we are here, we are here for a purpose and that Spirit is using each one of us for a very unique reason, and that it’s our job to listen and to be available to Spirit and the unique reason that it has created us and wants to manifest something through us. So questions like, “What would you have me do today?” I mean, that’s kind of open-ended. “What is it that you, Spirit—” I’m talking to Spirit—”What is it that you want to create through me?” Also questions like, “How am I blocking your flow through me?” So that’s something that I look at often, and this goes into yoga philosophy from the standpoint that all of yogic practices are really about removing the obstacles to the awareness of our true nature. So the obstacles being potentially those limiting thoughts that we were just speaking about, or egoic desires, or certain agendas, personal agendas that we might be holding very strongly to.
And so we’re responsible for looking at where we’re blocking Spirit, because if we show up to everyday as kind of this open channel for what Spirit wants to move through us, then we will absolutely be living our dharma. We will be living a very purposeful life. Now that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be out creating a huge movement in the world; it may just mean that we’re interacting with a handful of people in our immediate environment, but we’re doing so in a very loving way. And that’s our dharma that day is—that’s the purpose of our being is to just bring more connection into the people that we have contact with.
So it can be very small scale, very large scale, but really we just have to be available and open to hearing and then acting upon it, courageously acting upon what Spirit encourages us to do because the ego can also come into play in the standpoint of fear. So we might hear a message about our dharma path, but it can feel really scary or we might not feel prepared or capable. And that’s just the flip side of the ego. We sort of often think of the ego as being very self-inflated and overestimating of itself, but it can also be underestimating of itself. And when we are truly available to Spirit’s guidance, we’re given what we need to accomplish what we’re here to do.
TS: Listening to you reminded me of one of the questions I wrote down that I really loved from the book. The question, “How do I need to be more courageous?” I thought that was a wonderful question. If I were to ask you right now, is there any part in your life where you could be more courageous—curious, how does that land for you?
JL: This has been a growing edge for me in terms of technology lately, and putting myself out there visually in videos and this and that. And I have needed to step into greater courage and authenticity in being that spokesperson for the values and the messages that I feel strongly Spirit is moving through me at this moment in time. And I can get very self-critical in terms of how I might look or what—if I have the right qualifications, or all the self-doubts that might arise. And so the courage comes in, in moving beyond those limiting thoughts and saying, “OK, this is what you’re calling me to do. This is what I’m going to do today. And I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and I’m going to do it with love in my heart.”
TS: Thanks for sharing that, Jennie. I’ll meet you here in a different way, not about courage, but one of the questions in this section on living our purpose was that we can ask ourselves a question during the day, “Is this activity really what I need to be doing?” And it made me think of a couple of activities that I engage in, they’re clearly not what I need to be doing. There are definitely not—I mean, something like scrolling on my Facebook feed or something like that, I clearly don’t need to be doing that. What would be your response when working in an introspective way with a question like that? I mean, “Is this activity really what I need to be doing?”
JL: Well, certainly there’s a time and a place for just some mindless brain relaxation; I think that no one’s going to be critical of a little bit of scrolling. But we can be aware if we’re escaping or we’re avoiding something that is the greater calling, and I think this question also points to the person who maybe has too much busyness that isn’t really directed towards the things that they value most. So there’s also a chapter on values, and once we establish what our values are, those become like directional signs throughout our lives, and they really do bring us closer to our sense of purpose, because we are constantly navigating through our activities, whether these activities are supporting those highest values and therefore the purpose that we’re working towards or not. So they’re like the stones that people stack up on a hiking trail, like little cairns along the way. And so yes, it’s a balance.
TS: OK, good. I feel better. Now in the same section, this question really surprised me in a way, because it’s one thing to kind of know my dharma, like my purpose is to help distribute spiritual teachings and that’s what I’m doing here in the world and I feel clear about that. But one of the questions that you have people reflect on is what’s the purpose of life—not just my life, but life as a whole? And I’m curious how you respond to that question prompt. What’s the purpose of life?
JL: Well, I believe the purpose of life is to know ourselves as the spiritual beings that we are, part and parcel of God. And so if we’re feeling at all separate from that, we’re going to be in a fair amount of suffering. But the more that we come to know ourselves as part and parcel of God, the happier, more joyful, more peaceful we’re going to become.
So to me, that’s the purpose of life. But I would say that whether someone accepts my definition or yours or anyone else’s, it’s important to ask that question and to define it for yourself because it really is that sort of highest purpose that keeps us moving every step along the way.
TS: OK. Another question you asked that I found quite intriguing. “What meaning do I want to give this particular circumstance in my life?” And I’m curious, you shared the very moving story of the loss of a baby you were carrying, and I’m sure that the meaning of that situation changed over time, “What meaning do we want to give this circumstance in my life?” And I’d love to know more how you’ve worked with that question over time with different situations—like maybe in the beginning you attributed a certain meaning and years later it changed.
JL: So I think the attribution of meaning, especially to challenging situations, is one of the most important ways that we can move through grief. You often hear about stories where someone’s child has been killed and the person ends up forgiving the killer or creating a foundation, which helps in some way to foster the cause of say drunk driving or whatever. And so there’s really this power inherent in giving a situation meaning through our own intention. And in the case of the loss of my daughter, what I really learned, the meaning that I took from that experience was the learning around unconditional love.
So we had learned early on in the pregnancy that she might be born with some handicaps and we had made a choice to continue on with that pregnancy rather than end it because we were really leaning into an unconditional love. And then in the loss of that child, there was an even greater opportunity if I chose it, and I did choose it, to learn unconditional love. So my love went on beyond the experience of parenting in the human realm to loving this soul and kind of continuing an awareness of her beyond the relationship of being her mother, mother/child. So that’s what’s given that meaning for me is to deepen my understanding and practice of unconditional love.
But I think any time that we’re faced with a challenging situation, we can choose to give it meaning. And it takes the introspective practice of looking at what we’re supposed to learn through it, how we might be blocking that learning, how we’re accountable to the experience, and then what meaning we want to give to it. And then that really does begin to transform it.
TS: You used this word, “how we’re accountable to it.” What did you mean in this context when you’re talking about going through a challenging situation? Because I’m really imagining someone listening and they’re in a challenge right now, and they’re taking this question, “What meaning do I want to give this challenge?” And they’re like, “Huh, I don’t know. I thought this was here to torture me. OK. I can tell I’m supposed to go deeper. I thought this was here to, I don’t know, make me grow in some way.” But what do you mean by being accountable, even?
JL: Well, the teachings on karma within yoga philosophy are pretty clear that there is more than one lifetime, that a soul moves through many different lifetimes and carries with it the consequences and experiences of each lifetime. So as we can see in the world there is incredible discrepancy in the experiences that people are having in this moment. Some people are very blessed and have every opportunity from birth. Others are incredibly disadvantaged and have almost no opportunity from birth. And so just speaking from the teachings around karma, this is due to that soul’s evolutionary process; and it’s not a judgment on that soul, it’s simply where they are on the path.
So the accountability that you’ve asked about several times is this willingness to say, “OK, I’m an eternal soul. I’m on a journey, here’s where I am today. This is the deck of cards that’s been given to me this lifetime. It may be full of advantage. It may be full of disadvantage.”
We get to choose what we do with that. So that’s the accountability. Let’s say you’re filled with advantage. Well, you can just selfishly lounge around in your advantage and not do anything to help others. Or you can compassionately see the suffering of others, and you can use your resources and your advantage to help alleviate the suffering of others.
On the flip side, you might be one who at this point in your evolutionary journey is really facing a lot of disadvantage and difficulty. Well, you can sit in a place of blame and victimization and say, “I can’t do anything with my life. I have all this disadvantage.” Or you can say, “All right, this is the deck of cards that I’ve been given. How can I accountably utilize this to move forward, to deepen my understanding, to rise above my current circumstances, to improve myself and connect with others who have done the same, who have gone before me in similar ways?”
And so we’re each responsible. Accountability to me is another word for responsibility. We’re each responsible for our spiritual evolutionary journey.
TS: All right, thank you. Now, I’m going to share with you what one of my favorite questions was from the book. “What is the inner need that my worst habit fulfills?” And the reason I really liked this question is that I think sometimes people just try to change their habits without understanding what the inner need is that they’re fulfilling with that habit. And then it just pops back up. Some other behavior just pops back up somewhere else because they’ve never addressed it. What’s the inner need that my worst habit fulfills? So I’m curious, just to hear a little bit more why you felt this question was worthy to be included in the 108 that made it into the book.
JL: Yes. You know, it’s always how willing we are to look at our own stuff. And this was definitely a personal one that I’ve looked at a lot self-admittedly. I love a glass of wine in the evenings, and there are some purists in the yoga world who would probably gasp at that fact and say, “How can you be drinking alcohol?” And I’ve really looked at that habit—is it, is something that I want to give up? Can I give it up right now? But really it’s not the glass of wine, it’s, what does that symbolize?
So for me, it’s symbolizes the transition between the workday and relaxation. And sometimes it’s hard for me to turn off my mind, so I have used that. And it’s not the only way to do that. It’s probably not the best way to do that. But in looking at why I do it, so being introspective about what that habit really is pointing to, it’s pointing to my need to be better at setting boundaries between my work life and my personal life, because as my husband would tell you, my work is kind of always present. I’m always thinking about what I’m writing or want to write or the introspective process. And so it’s part of so many of our conversations, and I think there is a time to transition out of work mode and into relaxation mode.
So I had to really look at that, what is that deeper need? And the deeper need is to find better ways to do that. And I know the best way for me to do that would be to sit down and do a meditation at the end of my workday. Do I do that every day? No. Do I do it some days? Yes. So I’m getting better.
TS: And you shared with us your worst habit. Doesn’t sound so bad if you ask me. Now you had another one of my favorite questions: “How could I be more thoughtful of those around me?” I thought that was a really beautiful question and one that I could really put on a Post-it note and contemplate quite a lot. Tell me how that made the list for you.
JL: I see so much self-serving, self-interest behavior in the world. It’s very common, it seems, for people to be fairly disregarding to those around them and to kind of plow forward with just whatever it is that they need or want. Silly example, but I’ve really noticed a pattern of walking into stores and people just sort of letting the door drop in my face and not holding the door for a stranger, like it used to be the custom. I mean, it used to be holding the door for a lady, right, but it’s holding the door for whoever’s coming behind you, it’s just kind of common courtesy. But it seems like that’s going away, and there’s just so much self-interest that seems to be the way of the world right now.
And so this question was important to me because I do think it’s something that we all need to be thinking of each day is just, how can I be thoughtful of those around me? If it’s holding a door, or just asking someone how you can help them, paying attention to those unspoken needs that you can perceive in those around you. Whether it’s the people that you live with or work with, there’s always ways that we can be more considerate. And this makes such a sweeter experience of life for everyone. If we’re thoughtful of one another, then everyone’s needs are getting met, and it’s just such a sweeter experience of being together.
TS: OK, one last lobbying at you of one of my favorite questions from the book. “What do my possessions say about my prevailing values?”
JL: Do you want me to answer the question personally, [Laughs] or did you have a question about the question?
TS: I think my interest is that I think a lot of times people don’t think about their possessions as necessarily mirroring a value system, as much as they think it’s just stuff I liked, stuff I bought, stuff that appealed to me. They’re not necessarily realizing that their possessions are a reflection of their prevailing values. So I guess I’m interested in you commenting on that.
JL: Yes. So, well, that’s exactly it. Our possessions do have a lot to say about our prevailing values, but people don’t necessarily think about that. So these questions are meant to make you go, “Hmm. What does that car in the driveway or sculpture in the hallway or whatever say about my values?” And it is a really great point of introspection. Kind of like the question, if there was a fire and you could only take three things out of your house, what would you take? And so it makes it really clear really fast what you value most, and yet all of our possessions say something about our values. So yes, it’s just, I think, something for people to give a little more consideration to, and we’re certainly such a consumeristic society, that it would be valuable to consider at a deeper level what it is that we’re inviting into our homes and lives.
TS: Now towards the end of Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution, you write, “Introspection is a humbling practice, a never-ending process of ego management. As long as we’re asking questions, we’re growing and evolving, questions are the art of progress for our souls.” And I’d love if you could just speak a little bit about the humbling nature of working with questions like the ones that you write about in Spark Change.
JL: Well, I think the first humbling aspect to questions is just that often we’ll run across a question and we won’t know the answer. And so that sense of not knowing. Humans don’t really like not knowing very much, and there’s a chapter that talks about knowing in here and what it means to know and how we can truly know our deepest answers.
But the first part of humbling is that sense of not having all the answers. And I think it’s very important to just accept that we don’t have all the answers now. We probably won’t have them tomorrow, and that’s OK. We’re not necessarily meant to have all the answers, but we are meant to continue questioning. And so that’s the more important thing. It’s not important to check off all the boxes of these 108 questions and say, “Yup, did it, got all the answers and now I’m all good.” It’s more, “How can I continue to be curious and recognize that there is just an infinite amount of not only information, but also understanding that we’re meant to move towards?” And so this sense of curiosity and wonder keeps us young and it keeps us fresh and it keeps us humble for sure.
TS: And finally, Jennie, what question or questions are most alive for you right now, right here in this moment?
JL: You know, I’m going to go back to the question that I mentioned that I often use in meditation because it is kind of a daily practice for me. Which is, “What is the most important question I need to answer right now?” So it’s like, what am I supposed to be aware of right now? Or what is it that I’m supposed to be pondering right now? Because this keeps me very much in the moment. I would say second to that, the question, “What soul quality do I need to awaken more?” Because I am always looking to move closer to the embodiment of my human experience from a soul standpoint, rather than an ego standpoint. So the development of soul qualities, such as love and compassion and wisdom, are really important. And I’m always assessing where I am in that process.
And then if it’s OK, I would love to ask you a question, Tami.
JL: What has been the most important question that you’ve needed to answer for yourself in your life?
TS: My whole life. “Do I know the deathless? Do I know what’s beyond death? Can I feel confident in a soul level experience beyond death?”
JL: And if I can follow that up, what is the questionis there a question that you’re actively pondering right now? Maybe it’s the same one?
TS: No; I think in the course of our conversation together, I notice things come up in me that aren’t in a place of deep peace. And so I think the questions I’m asking are about that: “Hmm, how do I feel about deep peace? Is that my litmus test for my wisdom engagement or not?” I’m rolling that around a bit inside myself.
JL: Thank you. It’s fun to hear the answers from an ultimate questioner such as yourself.
TS: I do believe in questions, and if you want to read and contemplate with 108 provocative questions for spiritual evolution, you can pick up a copy of Jennie Lee’s new book it’s called Spark Change, and it will definitely take you places as you work with these questions. Jennie, thank you so much. Thank you so much for writing Spark Change and for being a guest on Insights at the Edge.
JL: Thank you so much Tami. Thank you for making it possible for it to be in the world and thank you for your amazing questions.
TS: Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at soundstrue.com/podcast. And if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.