Standing at the Edge and Choosing Compassion: Roshi Joan Halifax on Your Messy Brilliance® Show
®I am beyond thrilled and honored to be bringing you this episode of Your Messy Brilliance® Show with one of my personal sheroes, Roshi Joan Halifax. I first saw Roshi speak at the Omega Women’s Leadership Conference in upstate New York a few years ago, and being in her presence made me realize exactly what authentic, wise, grounded spiritual insight looks like.
Roshi Joan is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and founder of Prajna Mountain Buddhist Order, her work and practice for more than four decades has focused on engaged Buddhism.
She received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology in 1973 and has lectured on the subject of death and dying at numerous academic institutions and medical centers around the world. From 1972 to 1975, she worked with psychiatrist Stanislav Grof at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center with dying cancer patients. She has continued to work with dying people and their families, and to teach healthcare professionals and family caregivers the psychosocial, ethical, and spiritual aspects of care of the dying. She is Director of the Project on Being with Dying, and Founder of the Upaya Prison Project, which develops programs on meditation for prisoners.
Roshi Joan is the author of numerous books, including her most recent one, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet, which is chockfull of incredible wisdom on what it means to be alive in today’s world.
In this conversation, Roshi Joan and I talked about what it means to respond to what’s right in front of us, in the moment—and how facing fear with curiosity helps us to be of service. Her basic perspective is that it’s crucial to see the entire landscape of our human experience (the so-called good and the so-called bad), and to have the courage and wisdom to take it all in. We also discussed why it’s important to be grateful for the challenging moments in our lives, and to consult with the body’s wisdom when we’re going through something big.
More than anything, Roshi Joan’s stance on compassion and how we can learn to cultivate it in our lives without burning ourselves out really touched me. She says, “A world without empathy is a world where we are dead to each other,” which I wholeheartedly believe. I hope you’ll be as inspired by this conversation as I was.
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3:45 The thread connecting all of Roshi Joan’s passions: not being afraid to take the next step
6:00 Why defeat and failure are our friends
7:44 What it means to stand at the edge of your life
9:42 Finding balance and wisdom by falling over the edge
13:16 The people in Roshi Joan’s life who became her teachers and helped her identify the “edge states”
17:12 Understanding compassion as a way to keep our hearts open and our feet on the ground
20:50 What it means to forgive—and to offer compassion to all who suffer
23:22 How the body holds information that we have the power to access through contemplation
26:30 Why a touch of moral outrage can initiate us into action but too much of it can be toxic
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