S1E18 Spirituality

Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin discuss the difference between religion and spirituality, and how spirituality is often misconstrued, misunderstood, or judged. This episode focuses on the eastern practice of mindfulness and how this may blend with the western aim to seek meaning in life. Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin also discuss how they came to connect with their own experiences of spirituality, while encouraging listeners to become curious about what spirituality might mean to them.




Pete: Spirituality is something that some people are turned off on. And what I'm going to say is let's bring it on. What do you think Nikki?

Nikki: Hello, Pete. Yes. I'm very into bringing it on because actually, I was one of those people once upon a time.

Pete: You were afraid of it?

Nikki: I think I've said this on this podcast before, I had a negative judgment about the word. And I think part of that has to do with growing up in Los Angeles, where there's this sort of, I don't know, for like a misinterpretation of mindfulness and an Eastern practices.

Pete: What’s the misinterpretation is like a granola crunching type of thing?

Nikki: Yeah, it’s like that. And I think like, with anything, people can get rigid about anything that I sort of be experienced a, like a judgment of like, this is the right way to be. And that's, that's something that's like a pet peeve of mine that I always think like, there's no one right way to be everybody has a has a right to believe that they want to believe or think they want to think. And so I didn't understand what that word meant so I used to be really turned off to it. And once I of course, got into being a mindfulness practitioner, and a yoga practitioner, and I always kind of like to joke that, you know, the stuff gets in your practice it long enough, it's going to get in.

Pete: It sure does.

Nikki: I really realized, Oh, I'm a very spiritual person. I've always been a very spiritual person I just didn't understand what it meant.

Pete: Well, it's also something that we don't talk about at dinner. Right. And it's one of those avoidable conversations like politics, spirituality, religion. It's one of those things that can be the hot topic. Why do people get so charged by these things?

Nikki: Well, I think part of it is one kind of maybe experience similar to what I had where they misunderstood, or misunderstand what it means. Though, I actually think that, it's kind of funny, because you mentioned religion as well, there's a misunderstanding about the differences between spirituality and religion. And so, religion, again, no, right or wrong, there's many different religions, religions are more rules based sometimes, they're more organized. And spirituality is something that then doesn't kind of like gets swept along with that. Do you know what I'm saying? I think like, people think if you're religious, you must be spiritual and if you're spiritual, you must be religious. And it's like, well, those things don't actually have to go together.

Pete: Right. There's not a causation between the two, they could actually be very separate, which I think is something we do in western psychological science. And there is research that supports that spirituality, just to sort of overall, the way I look at it is that there's something bigger than us. So that's what I think even like the 12 steps, which we've referenced. I think the first step is about God. I don't know. Versus the second step?

Nikki: Yes, I know, my apologies. I'm not extremely knowledgeable about the 12 step program but yes, it is about like a higher power. So they say like giving yourself over to a higher power so, that could be the word God, right? Like that word. Some people these days, say the universe, I often say that.

Pete: But I also give people opportunity to say like pencil, whatever you want it to be.

Nikki: Sure. I love that, I would just adore and I mean, this in the least patronizing way, I would love if somebody was like, I referred to, you know, sphere of the universe pencil, I'd be like, that is amazing. That's awesome.

Pete: Because everything is a shame. And I think that's where my spirituality is coming from my Zen work is that everything's a thing and nothing is everything. You know, it's like, that's the sort of the mind games like, I sometimes feel like Zen is a mind game, because it's about unlearning and unknowing. And that's really hard for people and I think that's issue of spirituality. It's like the benefits of mindfulness. They're very intangible to say, like, parts of your brain are going to change or you might have improved interpersonal relationships. You can't grab these things, you can't grab spirituality.

Nikki: Right. And it's really important what you're saying, because I think what that highlights is this problem that human brains have where we over rely on language and problem solving, and we want evidence and data and look, anyway, patients are listening. They everyone knows I love data I love I'm always like, we love data for behaviorist now, you know, we love facts, we love data. And it's really hard to quantify something like spirituality though, interestingly enough, when I kind of get similar responses to you know, sort of what you're highlighting, I'll say look, yes, it is intangible right. And I'll be like, bear with me, it also something concrete that if you ask somebody to really think about where they feel something? But people will say like, you know what anxiety feels like, you know what joy feels like, you can actually identify that in your body when we're connecting with values, spirituality being one of them. You know, most people like that is something you can concretely identify, like, for me like if you're saying it's something bigger than ourselves, which I experienced that as well. For me, it's also about the connectedness of all things and all beings. And so when I think about that, I feel connection, like in my heart space, like I feel warm, I feel grounded, I feel like myself, does that resonate with you?

Pete: When I had the opportunity to speak with Deepak Chopra for the beautiful mind summit with rocker’s sponsored, we spoke about consciousness. And I think that that's also related to this, where it's exactly what you're saying, the interconnectedness thing that's bigger than us, it's both measurable and abstract

Nikki: And also, I just have to Jewish stage mothers jump in and say, it's pretty amazing Pete got to interview Deepak Chopra, they had a an amazing conversation. And I literally videoed it from my phone, like videoing the computer screen, because I was so proud and it was so special. And I think you guys had a really interesting conversation about that. Yeah, that idea of coffee getting we've kind of joked about that before, like, oh, man, we're going to start getting into consciousness like, we're going It's abstract and concrete. It's both things.

Pete: Because there are scientists that are studying consciousness and have been for ages. I mean, I don't think you and I are really that abreast to a lot of the research in terms of consciousness. And there are researchers out there all across the globe, that have been measuring and looking at consciousness for ages.

Nikki: Yeah. And it's a hard thing to study, right, it's a really hard thing to study so yeah, very similar if you ask somebody, what's it mean to be conscious? I mean, you'll say like, “Yeah, I know, my experience and I don't know how to quantify that.”

Pete: And what it means to be spiritual? Like you said, I think your experience is one that I think a lot of people will connect with. This sort of turned off-ness of am I scapegoating or am I not fully engaging with a group by saying I'm spiritual? I think a lot of people with really strong religious upbringing or backgrounds feel as though it is negating their own experience. But again, that's where this mindfulness comes in about acceptance and we're saying, we're accepting other people's perspectives on how they come to wherever they arrived. We're non-judgmental about how people arrive to where they are. And I'm sure you've seen this, spirituality makes me a better human being.

Nikki: Absolutely. Say how it makes you.

Pete: Well, morally. So, just by having a spiritual identity, I'm able to take perspective on other people's suffering. It's also part of my Zen training to say like, you know, what, we're all in this together.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: And there's moments where I'm like, shit, I wish I could get out of this a little bit better, right.

Nikki: You are a human Pete. I hate to break it to you.

Pete: Thank you. I get the green pass.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: And I give myself the green pass to do that. But I think morally, I find that way that spirituality helps me, I think that inner peace to really be able to accept, like failure to accept a disruption of in a relationship, right? Like all of us have struggled at some point with someone that we've had a close relationship with. What if we grew up with somebody and then we grow our separate ways? Spirituality helps me say, in a genuine way. Because I think as an adolescent, I said, like, “I hope you find happiness wherever you go.” And I'm sort of like crossing my fingers behind my back.

Nikki: Right.

Pete: But I think spirituality says like, no, I really do like, it's okay, that we have gone separate ways and I do hope that you find happiness and peace.

Nikki: So what's really showing up for me, as you're describing that is, there's this aspect of turning something over, right? That's actually what we're talking about, like the 12 step program talks about, like turning over to a higher power. And again, you might not like that phrase, or that phrase might not resonate with you. But this idea of letting go and acknowledging that, we all have our own paths, we all have our own truths. We all have our own experiences and can we come back and recognize and identify the interconnectedness of all of us that we all need?

Pete:  Let me ask you to go a little further with that. You also talked about your Jewish grandmother self with me.

Nikki: Don't age me here, Jewish mothers.

Pete: I'm sorry about that.

Nikki: I mean, come on.

Pete: Link that with your spiritual development, because I think for some people, it's really hard for them to understand how one could be say Jewish and spiritual.

Nikki: Or that identity of spirituality, because I would say a lot of people, not everyone. Don't want to use absolutes here. A lot of people that identify as religious would also identify as spiritual do, I think Sometimes people get confused. How can you be spiritual through another lens and my spirituality has come to me, really, for the most part, not through Judaism, but through more of a Buddhist lens. So I think that's probably what's confusing to people. So yes, sure, let me say something, and I've also said this before on the podcast, I'm not religious, I was raised Reconstructionist, which is kind of like a more liberal wing of reformed Judaism. I had a bath mitzvah, I did practice.

Pete: I wish I was there. I would, it was really,

Nikki: I mean, I have lots of friends that still talk about you, honestly it was a very fun time, as you might imagine. So I did all those things but in my family, it was really more about connecting with the cultural identity of being Jewish and I've often joked with people too in a very true way. I'm in a lot of ways more culturally, California in that I am Jewish, like I always say, I'm a California first a Jew second, right. So yeah, it's not my dominant identity, I guess.

Pete: Yeah.

Nikki: That being said, I would say the one place where I really felt a connection to spirituality through Judaism is when I went on birthright, which for those that aren't aware, is a trip that Jews around the world can take where were allowed to go to Israel, for like 10 days. But when I went there, and I had that experience of like, learning the history and learning different facets of Judaism, it wasn't like I felt more religious. I didn't come back I felt connected to this, like bigger than myself. And also in Israel, right. Like, there's there Palestinians, there are Muslims and Christians. It wasn't about like, what, what Judaism specifically was saying it was about this interconnection. And for me, mindfulness and Yoga has been the place where I've been able to really like crack that open, in a way where I feel more centered. I feel very connected to my values, I don't know. I hope I'm clarifying that.

Pete: Well you actually do and I'm also reminded of say Sharon Salzberg, Dan Harris, I think it was in his book 10% happier where he coined jubu.

Nikki: Oh yeah. That's a definitely a common phrase.

Pete:  A common phrase, but the jubu, which is I think

Nikki: The Jews who practice Buddhism, right?

Pete: Correct. So Jews have found whatever spirituality religiosity through Buddhism, or the connectedness of the two, and I think some of the top Western Buddhist scholars are culturally or religiously Jewish, you know, so Sharon Salzberg and Dan Harris. I think Jon Kabat-Zinn too. We should have known that.

Nikki: Yeah, I know.

Pete: Listeners, we need to do our research better. But that's how vulnerable and spontaneous we’re been.

Nikki: That's right. That's right. And Pete what about you, because you also weren't raised Buddhist right? So yeah, speak a little bit about your [inaudible 13:00]

Pete: I think, at times, people are still confused. And the reason I asked you to talk about that is I had brought my Zen teacher who is a Jesuit priest, I show him how I show him off a lot. In fact, he called me, I have to come back today. But in any event, I brought him to speak at my previous institution, which was a Catholic University, and two students, when they raise their hands, ask them questions. One of them who was a little bit more direct and provocative was like, how do you have two gods? And I was like, to that student, well, this is father Kennedy's remember who you're talking to [inaudible 13:36] respect.

Nikki: Right. Right. He does have some knowledge in this area.

Pete: But I think that's a common experience for a lot of folks, that this idea of how do you have two Gods or what is it like? So for me, there's no commitment ceremony, within any kind of studying, like you've talked about in terms of Buddhism. I mean, I was confirmed, I baptized, communion and confirmation, you know, all the way along. I was even a Eucharistic minister at one point during my high school time, even in college, yeah. So, I find that in any given chapter a moment in my life, religion and spirituality have provided great amount of empowerment, health, and honestly success in a way because I feel, this is one of the things we talked about. So if I talk about religion for a moment, like Catholic privilege, right, so if we think about power and privilege for an athlete to hit a home run or to hit a three point winner and do the sign of the cross after and kiss up to God is a non-issue. Everyone’s like accepting of that but what if they, you know, talk about a Quran or if they're wearing a yarmulke that is in less acceptable.

Nikki: Right. Well, I'm glad you're bringing that up because that speaks to this again human problem of getting very Attach to there's one right way to be, there's one right perspective, there's one right religion or culture or political belief, you know, we can go on and on and on. And spirituality for those of us that connect with a spiritual practice it helps us to come back to this notion that there is no one universal truth, which Pete and I talk a lot about in terms of the definition of a dialectic. Right?

Pete: Yeah, I love that.

Nikki: Yeah, it's one of the definitions. There's just no one right way to be a person.

Pete: Other than that, like one plus one equals two, right? I think that’s got to be somewhere out there.

Nikki:  Well, when I say, short, somebody is writing in.

Pete: There is a universal truth.

Nikki: So I guess I'd want to just, I mean, this is maybe probably a controversial thing to say. But I think there's a difference between facts and truth is sometimes, right that our, you know, facts are yes, facts are one plus one equals two. The sky is blue. Right. The sun rises in the east.

Pete: Those are universal facts.

Nikki: Yeah, that's universal facts. But through this vary from our experiences and our perspectives. And that's maybe it would resonate more people this notion again, [crosstalk 16:14]

Pete: well, no, I think it's important that we just made that distinction. So thank you for that. And yeah, that was really helpful, because I think that's the key to this, right. The key is that there is no one universal truth and there's no right spirituality.

Nikki: No, there isn't. Because it's something within us, you know. This spirituality is, in my opinion, and I'm curious to hear what you think about the Pete. I think it's very tied to our values so I've said on this podcast before, our values our insides right. Like, if you guys could see me, I'm like miming towards my gut, right, we actually feel them in our center and think of in any religious or spiritual tradition, there's often a discussion about your inner wisdom, your inner peace, your center right? To me, these things are inextricably tied, I don't know about you, I personally can't pull them apart that my values are spirituality, spirituality are my values.

Pete: That's right. Yes, everything's well, interconnected ness. And I think that is a Zen belief there in that and before I got to Zen, I studied some Tibetan stuff and they really focus in their writings about how everything in the universe is connected trees with the water with the clouds. And if you think about that whole cycle, and so that's the human experience, and that's spirituality. And let me just ask us this, are we just defining our own truth and our own spirituality or have we done a good enough job to think about other sort of perceptions and perspectives of what that might look like?

Nikki: Oh, that's a great question. You know I love to get curious about things. I think it's another dialectic. I think we're predominantly describing our own experiences with it, because that's what we have access to, right. And I think that we're doing an effective job as psychologists to open up and say, like, we can't define it for other people, right, that's constructed, there is no one universal truth. So that's the whole point. Like, I can't, I can't define it for you. You can't define it for me. We can't define it for our listeners. And I think what we're doing here is asking people to be curious and look within oneself and say like, what might that mean to you?

Pete: Yeah. And I think that's the beauty of spirituality. So hopefully our listeners today as you think about this, get curious and think about what spirituality means to you.

Pete: This has been When East meets West, I'm Dr. Peter Economou.

Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of Dr. Peter Economou, and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.