CLEARER THINKING

with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 167: Glimpses of enlightenment through nondual meditation (with Michael Taft and Jeremy Stevenson)

July 20, 2023

How does nondual meditation differ from other forms of meditation? Is nonduality the sort of thing a person can just "get" immediately? What value is provided by the more effortful, less "sudden" forms of meditation? Is there such a thing as full or complete enlightenment? And what would such a state entail? To what extent do nondual meditation teachers agree about what nonduality is? Are glimpses of enlightenment available to everyone? How long does it usually take a person to stabilize their ability to return to a nondual way of seeing the world? What are some common ways people get "stuck" while learning nondual meditation? How important are meditation retreats? Though the paths themselves are obviously quite distinct from one another, do all forms of meditation ultimately share a common goal? How are all of these things related to spirituality or religion?

Michael Taft is a teacher of nondual meditation and host of the Deconstructing Yourself podcast and website. He is the author of The Mindful Geek, and co-founder of The Alembic, a Berkeley-based center for meditation, movement, citizen neuroscience, and visionary culture. Having lived all over the world and practiced deeply in several traditions, Michael currently makes his home in California. Email him at michaeltaft@gmail.com, or learn more about him at his website, deconstructingyourself.com.

Jeremy Stevenson hails from Adelaide, Australia, and has a PhD in clinical psychology with a dissertation focused on the effects of self-compassion on social anxiety. During his PhD he became intensely interested in meditation, sitting several shorter retreats which eventually culminated in sitting longer retreats, including a 3-month retreat in Nepal. He is now working as a clinical psychologist as well as doing research work for Spark Wave. His ongoing meditation interest is the perplexing skill of nondual mindfulness. Email him at jeremy.david.stevenson@gmail.com, or listen to his previous episode on this podcast here.

JOSH: Hello and welcome to Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast, and I'm so glad you've joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Jeremy Stevenson and Michael Taft about meditation, mindfulness, nonduality, and awareness.

SPENCER: Michael and Jeremy, welcome.

MICHAEL: Hey, Spencer.

JEREMY: Thank you.

SPENCER: I'm really excited about this conversation today because it talks about really one of the most important topics, which is: how do we free ourselves from suffering; how do we live a life where we don't have to endlessly toil without feeling like we're getting to where we want to be. I know, Michael, that you have a lot of really interesting things to say about the role that meditation can play in our lives, and how we can make our lives better through meditation. Jeremy, I asked to come on as a sort of guest host for today, because Jeremy has a really strong background in meditation. And I know he has a lot of interesting questions for Michael as well. So we'll be kind of alternating asking questions, and I'll have some questions for Jeremy. So to get us started, Jeremy, why don't you briefly summarize your meditation journey and how that sort of motivates this conversation with Michael?

JEREMY: So it all began with Sam Harris about a decade ago — I did speak about this in an earlier podcast, so I'll just summarize it in a nutshell — but I read Sam Harris' Waking Up book and he speaks about nondual mindfulness. And I went looking for that because the way he advertised it was so profound. It just sounded amazing. But nondual mindfulness retreats are just really hard to find. They're just not as available as conventional mindfulness, so I kind of went on my own journey of conventional mindfulness, like dualistic mindfulness. And that was amazing, so I did longer and longer retreats (up to a month, and then three months in Nepal). And all the while, I was still experimenting with nondual mindfulness, and I had Sam Harris' app. That was the main way I was trying to learn. And after I kind of finished my three month retreat, I was more focused on nondual mindfulness and did a bunch of things. I had individual teachers using the app. I went and did retreats overseas with the headless way group and Loch Kelly. And it also started to overlap with my professional life. Spencer, you and I wrote this article on Sam Harris' Waking Up app. And, in the end, after all that, I'm still quite confused about how to learn it. And I've been aware of you, Michael, for a long time now. And I think one really cool thing about you, and one rare thing, is that you've got your hand in both of those worlds. And you speak pretty openly and respectfully about both of them. And yeah, I'd just love to pick your brain about what's going on here, and what it is, and how to learn it, and why it's so hard for certain people like me, and maybe Spencer as well. So, that's kind of the story in a nutshell.

SPENCER: Yeah, great. And so Michael, you've had a long history in both dualistic mindfulness and nondualistic, as I understand. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story?

MICHAEL: Of course. Thanks for sharing that Jeremy. It's a really interesting journey. You've gone through there and a very modern journey, beginning with Sam Harrison in an app and all of that. My journey is a little more old school because I'm a little older. It started out with being basically miserable in high school with a tremendous amount of anxiety. Today, I would have been diagnosed probably as having an anxiety disorder, a very severe one. But back then, especially in the social circumstances I was in, nobody knew anything about that. And so I was just anxious all the time. And so I just started trying to help myself and didn't know where to go or what to do. And the field of resources to help oneself in that way was just very, very ragged. There was almost nothing. But I eventually found magic books. Remember, I'm like a teenager here just experimenting with stuff and I found some books about astral projection and things like that. I was just interested in them, not for helping with anxiety, but they had meditations in them. And when I did some of those, I felt a big reduction in anxiety. I was really surprised. And when you're in pain, whatever makes the pain go away becomes very, very interesting. And so I started working with meditation. We're talking here about the late 1970s. And so I got very interested and have been working with it, exploring it, investigating it, spending huge portions of my life doing nothing but that and then eventually teaching it ever since. So that's the really nutshell version. Yeah, it's basically a response to suffering a lot, which I think is fairly common.

SPENCER: Could you tell us a little bit about the distinction between nondual mindfulness and traditional mindfulness?

MICHAEL: First of all, I would talk about nondual meditation and dualistic meditation. I wouldn't say mindfulness, but I'll just go with your words here. This has always been a distinction between different types of meditation. And I would even throw in another category, which is nondualistic, but gradual meditation, which is almost an oxymoron. So the big way to understand this is that we can think of meditation as being divided into sudden or gradual types. Or we can say, non effort types and effort types. Of course, sudden with no effort sounds great versus effort and gradual. But really, these two schools, these two ways of working, have been around for thousands of years, and neither one has kind of won the arms race in meditation and proven to be much more effective than the other. So, we can get very confused in our meditation practice about whether we're supposed to be doing something or not be doing something, whether we're trying to achieve something or not achieve something, just notice something that's always been there, and so on. And people who are teaching from these various viewpoints usually aren't all that explicit about which viewpoint they're teaching from. And so it can get really, really confusing. In short, however, the big difference is: are we trying to get somewhere, or are we trying to reveal something that's always been there? And is this something that takes a lot of individual effort, or is it more of a thing that we simply eventually recognize? These are the really big differences in these ways of looking at it. And some of the gradual with effort schools (this is a funny way to talk about it) don't go all the way up to nonduality. They don't even talk about that that much. So that's even another wrinkle in there is they might not even include that level of work. Whereas usually the sudden and less effort school, or the sudden or non effort schools, usually explicitly are all about the nondual work. So it's really important, even if you're with a teacher who explicitly says, "Look, we're doing nondual meditation," that you understand whether they're talking about doing it with a gradual focus, step by step with effort, or whether it's something you're supposed to just allow to happen that supposedly happens suddenly. So I'll just pause there. There's a lot more to say, but I'll pause.

SPENCER: When I think about those two types of meditation, the kind of associations I have are, with traditional meditations, you'd go on these long retreats and you develop your concentration ability. And then eventually, you get your concentration ability up to some level, where you can then begin to do more advanced stuff, and maybe over a really long period, you develop the skills. Whereas with the nondual meditation, you care about cases where someone seems to just suddenly have gotten it within a moment, perhaps even the first time they learned about it, and then they had the skill that they could apply at any time. Are those the right associations or am I off base there?

MICHAEL: Those aren't wrong. I wouldn't say that those are especially the truly instantaneous learner of nondual or nondual experience is common. But that does happen. That's like a one in a billion kind of person. But that is possible and that is because it is true that nondual awareness is sort of the fundamental basis of our being. Awareness itself is what is there to be discovered. And so some people, some very rare or individuals, just can suddenly wake up to that, because it's there to be woken up to.

SPENCER: Jeremy, am I remembering correctly that both Sam Harris and Loch Kelly said that they got the nondual thing right away when they first heard about it?

JEREMY: Yeah, I think it's quite like that. But it did seem like, for them, especially Loch Kelly, it seemed like for him, it was this binary moment, and it was just completely clear. And he describes just crying with happiness when he got the instruction. And Sam Harris, I think, had spent a bit of time in India beforehand experimenting. But it really sounded like when he got it, it was also a binary moment. And that was that. And that's why I find it a bit confusing and kind of soothing what you say, Michael, of how you can also learn it gradually. But at some point, do you think it is a binary moment where you just get it and don't look back?

MICHAEL: It just depends on what you mean by get it, because you can get it shallowly or more deeply. And you can get it for a moment and then not be in it again, or get it completely. So when I'm talking about these one in a billion people, I'm talking about people who get it completely and permanently, rather than partially and then they meditate to continue unfolding that over time. And I would say, working with lots and lots of students and my own experience or something, I think it's much more common to have it be like gradually removing veils. You get it a little more, a little more, a little more. And each of those moments might have the characteristic of an awakening, like "Oh," and you never forget that. But it's not often the case that it's all the way or that it's irreversible.

JEREMY: That's really interesting.

SPENCER: Would you say that it's a certain kind of mental maneuver that you're learning to do with your mind to see things differently? Or how would you describe what it is you're learning to do?

MICHAEL: If I were to be as clear as possible, I would say, it's what you're unlearning to do. What we tend to do is look at the world through a large number of intellectual categories, mental constructions, ideas, and orienting concepts. And this is all happening within the field of (we'll just say) pure awareness, and it helps us to navigate being a human being to have all these labels and concepts and orienting things that we're working with. But it also obscures the "shining light" of that pure awareness. If it's a learning, which is a gradual concept, so if we're going to talk about it that way, then what we're learning to do is not layer on those concepts and just allow the pure light of awareness to be there on its own without all these labels and ideas and orientations, kind of blocking the light. So it's actually conceptually quite simple, but in practice, of course, complicated.

SPENCER: There's a meditation I practice that sounds kind of like what you're describing, but I'm pretty sure that it's not. So I'm trying to understand the difference between that and what you're talking about. So in this simple meditation practice, you just watch all of your experience and try to notice if you are labeling anything or creating any concepts. And then when you notice that, you kind of let go of that and then go back to trying to watch the raw experience. But it sounds like what you're talking about is something a little bit different than that. So maybe you could elaborate?

MICHAEL: I wouldn't say it's different than that. If we're talking about a gradual pathway, it could include something like that. But over time, we would look to let go of deeper and deeper unconscious concepts. So something as obvious as mental labeling, that we can work with more or less on day one. You can start to work with it and get some traction there. And it does really, really help. But let's say you removed all the verbal labeling that was going on, again, that would be good. But you still wouldn't be that deep into nondual territory. We'd have to start going down into the sense of the body being solid and real, the sense of the inside of experience being different than the outside of the body and the mind, and things like that. That's what I'm calling these orienting concepts that we just take for granted until somebody points them out and teaches us to work with those in a very precise way.

JEREMY: I'm definitely keen to get into the weeds of how to learn it, but I was wondering if you guys would be keen to just to try and cover the first base of what it is first and specifically, Spencer and I came up with this set of criteria when we were running that study of six different criteria, and I was just wondering if you'd be willing to comment on those, Michael. I can run through them. It's not a formal definition that Sam Harris has given, but it's kind of little bits and pieces I've plucked from when he's talking about it to conceptualize it. Would you guys be keen to run through that?

MICHAEL: Sounds good.

SPENCER: Sounds good. And just to clarify, so Jeremy's talking here about this nondual mindfulness scale that we made. And then we use this for people that have gone through the introductory course in Sam Harris' app to see where they scored on this. So Jeremy, take it away.

JEREMY: Number one is the presence of awareness of identity. So there's this fundamental shift in your identity, so you no longer feel identified with the small self, and as opposed to that, you feel identified with awareness itself. And then number two is kind of the other side of the coin. It's the absence of a small self identity. So the sense of separation between you and the world drops away.

MICHAEL: So let's start with the shift of identity from the small self to awareness. That's definitely really important. And that's what I would call the first level of nonduality. Just in my own way of talking about this and way of conceptualizing it, there are two really important levels and one is higher than the other. One includes the other. And so this shift from feeling that "I am the body, and I am the thoughts of the mind, and the emotions and so on." Shifting from that to "I am this bright, clear, open awareness." That's hugely important. That's my definition of the first level of nonduality. I thought that was a really good thing in the questionnaire. The other one is interesting. The next one is the absence of the small sense of self. And I would want to point out that if you end up with no relationship to, let's say, your own personal history or native language, and your ability to do your job, and stuff — all of which is part of the "small self" — that obviously would be non ideal. So for me, sometimes in meditation, that stuff can just be gone, like you're describing. But in an ongoing way, we would never want it to be gone, because you'd become nonfunctional. What we want is to not be identified with it in any way. All the stuff of your normal life, it's not like brain damage or something is occurring, it's all still there. It's just not seen as the seat of your identity.

SPENCER: So is that kind of like witnessing it externally as though it's any other sensation?

MICHAEL: That's one way to talk about it. Yeah, I would agree with that.

JEREMY: I totally get, you wouldn't want to lose all of it. But is there something about the sense of separation that is central there, that you do want that to fall away?

MICHAEL: Absolutely. So again, this is part of nonduality one that you're describing, where the sense that "I am on one side, over here looking at things and everything else is on the other side over there being observed," drops away. And that doesn't need to ever come back. That's just straight up the meaning of nondual one, that separation between self and world, the separation between inside and outside is dissolved. And, of course, to introduce more complexity, that can happen in a meditation, one day for people and then the next day they forget it, Or it's just a memory. They don't forget it, but it's like they're not in that place anymore. So it's not even that hard to, through pointing out instructions or through meditation instruction, get someone to begin to get a sense of that. But to have that non-separation become stable and ongoing, which you guys did point to in your questionnaire (the stability of the realization), that's quite a bit more difficult.

JEREMY: So the way Sam Harris talks about nondual mindfulness is just kind of moments of punctuating his day with it. So it's not a stable thing for him at least. Would you say that in a moment that you've successfully done nondual mindfulness (it's hard to use different words here) that that sense of separation is binary and it does fall away, or would that be on a continuum as well? Like, you'd get a bit of a sense of the separation falling away, but not necessarily the whole thing collapses.

MICHAEL: I think for anyone, it can be along a continuum, where the sense of separation becomes more and more diaphanous, and then eventually just isn't there at all. It's often not sudden. But I will also add that, over time, when you see that over and over and over and over and over again, it does start to be the case that it's pretty much there most of the time, for not a few people there all the time. So it's something that over time starts to become much more persistent.

JEREMY: So third is always and readily available. And this seems very distinct to the nondual tradition. So it can be recognized at will in ordinary states of consciousness. So it's not contingent on sitting on a retreat for weeks and weeks.

MICHAEL: Yeah. And so that's part of what I would call fundamental viewpoint of the Southern traditions is that because nondual awareness is always there underneath everything, it can be realized without retreats. And then it's not a special state you're building up to. And that is definitely true. And also, even in the gradual traditions, when you get to a place where you have seen this clearly enough, then it's just there anytime you want it. But I will also add that after that, then what you're working on, if we're gonna say working, then after that what you're working on is that it's there more and more of the time, more and more and more deeply, so that eventually it's permeating every experience.

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SPENCER: So what is your experience of it? Is it there all the time? Is it there at will or something else?

MICHAEL: It's been there at will for a very, very long time. And as the years have progressed, it becomes just more and more of a part of every experience much more deeply stably.

SPENCER: So would you say that you always are in the state to some degree, but the sort of amount you're in it fluctuates?

MICHAEL: Yes. And just for the record. Even being in it totally stably, let's say it was perfectly stable at 100% depth all the time, I would call that a 'completed awakening,' like someone's really all the way woken up. But that still doesn't mean they're liberated. So we can talk about that difference, too.

SPENCER: Interesting. What do you mean by liberated in this case?

MICHAEL: Well, we can still have material in the deep unconscious that is distorting our behavior, or in an unconscious way, causing us to do stuff for us to have reactions. And of course, if we're seeing that clearly enough, with enough emptiness, it's going to have a minimal effect. But over time, when you have deep, stable, nondual awakening, the name of the game is (if I were to use Western terminology) 'to start clearing out all the knots and difficulties in the deep unconscious'. If I was to use the traditional terminology, it's 'you're cleaning out all the karma', all the samskaras. It's when you not only have deep, stable, ongoing awakening, but also all that baggage is cleared out completely, then you're liberated because that's what liberated means, you're seeing everything clearly as it is. That's the awakened part. And then the liberated part is you're not being controlled by your unconscious or to put it in traditional terms, your karma.

SPENCER: And so what are you being controlled by? Or is the idea that you're kind of choosing for yourself or something else? So, you're saying you're trying to avoid being controlled by your deep subconscious. So then, without the control of your deep subconscious, how are your choices being made?

MICHAEL: At that point, it's part of the spontaneous flow of experience. It's not just a reactive trigger from the past.

SPENCER: I see. So maybe you had a childhood experience where something happened and you became afraid of something, and now that's getting pulled up and causing you to behave a certain way. It's kind of getting rid of those reactive behaviors and thoughts?

MICHAEL: Yeah. Again, I wouldn't say getting rid of them, but we depotentiate them. They become kind of neutralized. So even when that comes up, we're not having reactivity towards it. And so at that point, then we're actually free. And if your question is, what then is controlling stuff? I would say, well, that's not exactly how I would talk about it. It's more like, we're just part of the flow of experience, or the movement of the Dao or something gets kind of hard to talk about.

SPENCER: So is that a state of being free from suffering?

MICHAEL: In a conventional sense, yeah. On the other hand, plenty of pain is still available. Life is still life. But we're not making suffering happen. Because there's no reference to the suffering, the person that would be resisting the pain, which is what the suffering is about, is completely seen through. So it's very common that people think this means you're just in some kind of bliss state. And to be honest, there is this deep, fundamental sense of well being that is tremendously blissful. But hitting your thumb with a hammer still hurts. So it's important to understand that it's not like some kind of super cosmic spiritual opioid or something. It's not that all pain goes away, or that life is perfect. It's that your experience of working with life and its imperfections is really radically different in a way that's tremendously positive.

SPENCER: The hammer example is really interesting. So say you're in the state, you hit yourself with the hammer, it still hurts. But I presume that that experience is still very different than it would be for someone who doesn't have stable, ongoing awakening. What can you say about that?

MICHAEL: It's still pain. But because, again, there is no reference for who got hurt or pain as an object, it's just a pure experience of pain with awareness itself shining through it, it has a very different character. And I don't want to sound like I'm overpromising here or whatever, but in a way, it's not even pain anymore. If I start talking like that, just in my experience, people start thinking, "You're just in almost like a Teletubby bliss land." And that's not what that's like. You're still bleeding, you still gotta tape your finger with a bandaid or whatever. But the experience of even the pain is pretty radically different. It's much, much more spacious, and much less. If we normally have that experience, there's a sense of, "That really hurt my finger, and I'm an idiot for doing that. And that shouldn't have happened." And that's all on the verbal level. But there's even a lot deeper concepts, what we would call orienting structures of relating to pain, and so on. But when those are seen as empty, nonactive, in a way, we're seeing through all of that. It's pretty hard for a hammer to hurt pure awareness, right? Even a mild aspect of this or experience of this way of being is pretty amazing. And that's not that hard to notice. Many, many people that I work with or talk to report having something like that happen with an accident or pain or particularly with sickness, where the normal misery of sickness is just hardly transformed.

SPENCER: So in just experimenting with medications, I've had glimmers of something that sounds like what you're describing, and I wonder if it is or if it's something different. So for example, some meditation I've done before is meditating on this feeling of cold to being out in very intense cold, and trying to really process that feeling directly without labeling it. And what I find happens is I'll kind of go in and out where like, I'll have moments where sort of the coldness is just as intense, like I feel it just as much. If anything, I might even feel it more, but it no longer has a suffering element. It's just like it is what it is. It's just an experience. Do you think that's the same thing?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think that's the same thing. And it can go even deeper, where the core experience of the cold itself is seen as shining awakening itself. It's still cold, though. So it goes deeper and deeper. And as that happens, the experience becomes transformed, or less and less averse to it.

SPENCER: So before we move on to the other elements of the scale, I just want to unpack your own personal transformation a little more. How is your moment to moment experience different now than it was before you got into all this meditation? I am just trying to figure out, let's say someone wants to invest and trying to get to the kind of stable ongoing awakening, what can they expect when they get there?

MICHAEL: Well, I think we've been describing it as they get more and more stable as the realization, the understanding, the recognition (we might call it) gets deeper and richer. The main part of the experience is (to put it in kind of mundane sounding terms) that things are just easier to deal with. So they're still all the same world to deal with. But we're constricting less, we're contracting up less, we're fighting and pushing less, because so much of that is composed of our own internal contraction around ideas and crystallization into self and other, and then fight itself as fighting other, or self is being attacked by other, all of that starts really in a deeper end kind of way, getting utterly seen through utterly transparent, utterly not happening, then things are just much less clunky, tight, difficult and fraught, like the lumps in the gravy start getting really smoothed out. So what you can expect as you're moving along this path is that your own reactivity to everything goes way down. And when you're not reacting all the time, you start to behave quite a bit differently. And your own experience of what you're trying to do, and what's the problem and so on becomes radically transformed. And one of the main things that almost any teacher of nondual meditation will point out is that the person who thinks they're going to get this is not the thing that gets it. It's when we set down the person, and the likes and dislikes, and all these structures of reactivity are coming from a very different place that the recognition starts to dawn and then deepen. And so it's not like, "Oh, I'm just going to be a regular old me, but I'm going to be this Superman, who has this nondual awareness." It's almost the opposite. It's like, instead of Superman changing from his Clark Kent suit into Superman, it's more like taking off the Superman suit and there's just space. It's just a wakeful space, left, right. It has the ability to move around and do things. But it's not even a person we're talking about. It's simply pure wakefulness and pure openness. So that's what they can start to experience in the deeper end of it.

SPENCER: That's a lovely metaphor. You also mentioned that it is associated with happy states or joyful states (I don't know what word you use). Do you want to comment on that piece?

MICHAEL: Yeah. I hope I'm being clear in all of this. I know a lot of these points you guys are used to talking about. So I think you probably understand what I'm getting at. I can unpack any of them at greater length if you want. This one's even harder than most to talk about, but I'll try to go there. And that is, one of the things that I find most confusing for people is they think that nondual experience means you'll never feel bad, or you'll never have difficult emotions, or you'll never be angry, or you'll never be sad. And nothing could be further from the truth. All of those things come up. And in fact, just like the cold example you gave Spencer, they might come up more intensely, more clearly, and more poignantly. And yet, because we're seeing them from this radically shifted perspective, number one, they just feel like a kind of energy or a kind of movement. So they're nonproblematic. So that's number one. We're not trying to get good emotions and get rid of bad emotions. There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, I'll still watch a comedy and I like that it makes me happy and I laugh. It's not bad, but it's not the case that if you still have difficult emotions, somehow you're not actually accessing this or recognizing nondual awareness. But that's all on the level of the personality, that's all on the level of the being, the human, with his personalities, likes and dislikes, and his her emotions and all that. The awareness itself doesn't have those emotions. But neither is it just a kind of supreme, cold, distant neutrality. Awareness itself is inherently openness. And it's inherent. That's why it's often described as spacious. It has this quality of openness. And so openness is welcoming. Awareness doesn't choose between only seeing good things or seeing bad things. It never discriminates. It welcomes everyone. It welcomes every experience. And so it has this tremendous sense of warmth, welcoming openness. And it also has a very deep sense of joy. But again, it's not personal joy down in the person. This is why it's kind of hard to talk about. It's as awareness itself. There's just this radiant joy or aliveness or something. I don't know how to say it exactly because any words I use will start to build an image that isn't exactly correct. But it's not this supreme, cold neutrality. It's warm, it's welcoming. It's joyous.

JEREMY: Michael, I was keen to ask in your own personal journey. When nondual awareness came up, did you learn it after a bunch of years doing conventional mindfulness? Or was it more kind of mixed in than that? And were the benefits different once you learned it?

MICHAEL: It was mixed in and it was mixed in as experience rather than something I learned. A whole bunch of early experiences were psychedelically triggered, like very strong psychedelics. So that was really confusing and unclear and filled with a whole bunch of other different, difficult or even fun material. But because it was coming in through those kinds of experiences, it was very hard to get a handle on. But certainly, looking back, it was very clearly that. And those did for me provide a kind of fundamental watershed in life, like everything before that was different than everything after that. In an ongoing way, that's still true. And that started to get mixed in the various meditation types and traditions and practices and stuff I've been involved with over the many decades. Since then, some of them have had mixtures like dualistic practices and nondualistic practices. Some of them have been theistic, because you can have theistic nonduality. And some of them have not been so theistic. And so I've got a real mix going on. And so for me, or as a teacher, it means that I can understand a lot of different viewpoints because it's just been a long time of trying this and trying that, and seeing this and seeing that. But I will say in general, over time, the recognition of nonduality, and the deepening of that, and stabilizing of that has grown and grown and grown and grown and grown.

SPENCER: So do you see that kind of effort for all types of meditation as aiming at something different than the nondual ones, and sort of complementary, where it's still valuable to pursue both in the pursuit of the other?

MICHAEL: Yes. Learning to simply stabilize attention or learning to sit in with open monitoring and stuff, all of that is useful. All of it is not going to get in your way, even if it's not the goal of the practice. Furthermore, as I keep saying, there's a lot of nondual practice that only goes halfway. It only wants you to see the non-separation of self and other. That's very typical in a lot of traditions. There's awareness, everything's arising in awareness, and so self and others are not separate within that awareness. And that's incredibly important and huge, but it's not the final thing. The trouble with that first level is we start to build a special world of awareness, where it's like, "Okay, there's pure awareness, and self, and other are nondual in that, and I let go of the self, but I'm in this special world of awareness." And that is somehow different from self and world or self and other. It's somehow separate from them. And it's pure. And so if we get stuck in nondual one, we end up wanting to be, it's intensely transcendent. We see any idea of the world, any idea of my likes and dislikes, any idea of getting involved in sensory experience, as somehow taking me away from this pure awareness. In fact, some of the traditions get really sharp about that, like the world itself is not just an illusion but a delusion. And it's pulling you down. And it's like any engagement in sensory experience becomes really looked down upon. And several of the traditions are very intense that way. I'm not exaggerating. It's almost seeing the world as evil, because it's taking you out of the special world of nonduality. So when we go into the next level of this — and of course, many of these traditions will say, "Michael's lost in concepts; there are no other levels." But no, you can go deeper. — And this is quite a deeper revelation. And that is that the Awareness itself is not separate from all the self and world all the arisings. So the purity of this clear awareness, and the mucky, dirty, effulgent display of the entire world are actually nondual also. So then, that's why I'm saying even the personality at that point becomes a rich display of emptiness itself, just dancing as form. This is what is talked about in later Buddhism as the nonduality, the emptiness and form. And also, it's there in nondual Shaiva tantra and several traditions. And it's taking this nonduality much further. It's a super important point, and really helps you understand why different non dual teachers talk differently about what we're trying to do or accomplish.

SPENCER: So Michael, is that the highest level [inaudible], or are there other levels beyond that?

MICHAEL: I don't know, is the right answer. Most traditions would talk about that as seeing those two, emptiness and form, or awareness and the world, not separate but absolutely two sides of one coin, are absolutely permanently intertwined. That's really awake. That's real awakening. What we don't want to do is have refuge of my identity and awareness starts to reify as a solid thing. And awareness is somehow permanently severed from the experience of the world and the senses and the self. Rather, in this deeper way of seeing it is what is animating all those, in fact, is what all of those really are.

SPENCER: One thing that Jeremy and I have discussed before is whether nondual teachers are really talking about the same thing as each other.

MICHAEL: They're not.

SPENCER: So yeah, we really need to hear some of your thoughts on that. So for example, Richard Lang has this idea of the headless way, I did a previous podcast episode with him. I have the sense that he's not talking about what you're talking about. But maybe you could kind of contrast what you're talking about with what some other nondual teachers are talking about.

MICHAEL: Sure, the headless way is a great technique, but it's a great technique for collapsing the duality between inside and outside, which is another way of talking about the duality of self and others. So it's one technique for beginning to recognize that first level of nonduality, that self and world are not separate. And so, it's kind of putting you [quote] "in awareness." And so it's a great technique, but I wouldn't ever say it's a complete path, at least as I understand it. Maybe he goes further with it. So I don't want to misrepresent his teaching. But as I understand it, and as I've used it and my students use it, it's a great technique at a certain point in one's journey.

JEREMY: There's a specific claim that a lot of the headless way people will make, that you do the technique and you recognize that you can't see your face from a first person perspective, which you can't, then you've got it. And I was curious to hear your take on that. Because it seems to me that, surely, that can't always be true, like some people will just be lost in thought when they're doing it. What are your thoughts?

MICHAEL: I would be quite skeptical of that. And in fact, I don't even think, at least for me, hearing it once without one of them explaining it. It doesn't even make sense. For the reasons you just said. You could be lost in thought or you could be reifying everything. Not seeing the nonduality of self and other in many ways and still have that one little piece clear. So certainly, it's a little sliver of awakening just to be able to do that for sure. But I would say you still have quite a long bit of ways to go. There's a lot more to recognize than simply that.

JEREMY: Sometimes I wonder if it's more of an indirect technique of they're actually trying to get people who think too much to stop intellectualizing. Like, "You've got it, don't worry, you've got it," which I think is part of the steep path. And I'm sure there's benefits to that, but it can be confusing as well. And misleading.

MICHAEL: Yeah. Again, I don't want to characterize a tradition that I don't know a lot about. So I'll just say, just from the sniff tests, I'm like, "Yeah...I'm not sure about that."

SPENCER: What about what Sam Harris is teaching? Do you think that he's pointing at the same thing that you are?

MICHAEL: Sam is working with Dzogchen teachers and so on. And so, he certainly knows what I'm talking about. And I think there's a little bit of confusion in there on the app and stuff between..usually, he's working with teachers who understand this deeper level of nonduality. Certainly, Loch understands that probably. John Astin does. I know Kelly Boys does. I know these people, so I feel pretty clear that most of those teachers are coming from quite a deep understanding and personal experience of awakening. I don't know Sam personally. And so, I can't speak to that. But everything I see in what he's trying to do in that app, I think of as tremendously positive. Henry Shukman and James Lowe are very deeply realized people. Adyashanti, of course,

JEREMY: One of the criteria, the profound well being (this is something that Sam Harris talks about a lot), like in the moment that you are nondual, there should be just a complete absence of suffering. When he talks about it, it sounds quite binary. Like it's not like conventional mindfulness, like a bit less suffering. It's like, no, you're free from suffering completely, even if it's just for a split second. Would you agree with that, Michael? Or would you frame it as more gradual? It's not necessarily like that at the beginning?

MICHAEL: Well, I think especially at the beginning, if we're realizing this more and more deeply then our sort of level of wellbeing will be progressively more profound. But again, I think eventually he's pointing to the thing I was trying to describe, which is awakened awareness itself isn't neutral. It has this sense of per super, very profound wellbeing, regardless of what is occurring in the relative world for the relative being. And that the clearer and clearer you see that or experience that, obviously, the deeper the experience of it is.

[promo]

SPENCER: Jeremy, do you want to run through the other criteria on the list?

JEREMY: So the final two is clarity, so the recognition of nonduality is clear and conclusive. That's why Sam Harris doesn't sound like he's making it very gradually like it should be clear when you're doing it, not vague. And then the final one is absence of seeking. In the moment of recognizing nonduality, there's a complete lack of seeking. So, like a sense that you've found what you've been looking for all along.

MICHAEL: The second one I think is true. For sure, it's like, "Okay, the deeper it gets, the more obvious it is that this is it, there's nothing to do." And with the clarity aspect, just the fact that there is a clarity aspect, for me, shows that we can see it gradually with more and more clarity. And it may be the case. People can say, "Well, if you don't see it with perfect clarity, then it's not it." Okay, but what if I'm seeing it with more and more clarity, more and more time, and zeroing in on it? That's still pretty good. It's still good to feel good. And then, when you do, even for a split second, half perfect clarity, you'll see "Oh, that's really, that's it." And now, it's not that all the times when I was seeing it partially somehow don't count. It's like, that helps you to guide your experience so that it's less and less intermittent, less and less of a split second, and starts to become all pervasive. So the clarity aspect is incredibly crucial. And for me, as a teacher, I think it doesn't help very much to be like, "There's nothing you can do about that." I think there's a lot of practice we can do, even when we understand, even when we've had perfect glimpses of absolute clarity, that there is stuff to do, that there is further (I wouldn't call it seeking), but there's more we can do to clear that up until it becomes not just clear every once in a while or not just clear in a split second, but clear all the damn time, under all conditions when we're doing everything. And if that's not the case, then there is still stuff to do, there is more work to do. Again, I wouldn't call that seeking, I would just call that deeper recognition of the truth.

SPENCER: Jeremy, do you have any follow up questions?

JEREMY: Yeah, just one. Michael, I was just keen to get your reaction on the central finding of our study that Spencer and I ran. When we defined nondual mindfulness according to the kind of most stringent definition from Sam Harris, we found that about 10% of people reported successfully learning it.

MICHAEL: And when you say successfully learning it, does that include the stable, continuous part? Or that they've had a momentary glimpse?

JEREMY: Just that they can get back to it at will, so it's not necessarily stable.

SPENCER: And these are people who completed the introductory course of Waking Up.

MICHAEL: That sounds a little high to me, that they can get back to it at will. And I wonder how deep their recognition really is. But I will say it doesn't sound impossible at all. Some level of recognition is available at will. That sounds reasonable.

JEREMY: Sure. Okay. Interesting. And then the second statistic is more from my own experience when I did a Loch Kelly retreat over in California last year. I would say about 90% of people from what I could observe seem to believe they got it at some level. And most of them didn't have too much experience meditating beforehand. What are your thoughts on that?

MICHAEL: Again, that seems reasonable, if what we mean is that they had some glimpse for some very short amount of time at some level. That's reasonable. And that's been reported for thousands of years. The thing about nonduality is, because nondual awareness is already there, it's already completely existing underneath all our layers and layers and layers of conceptualization, if you're good at pointing it out — and Loch is supremely good, he's really, really developed great techniques for helping people to notice this — you can take them on off the street and apply those techniques and have them at least notice that at some level of shallowness or depth at least for a little while. And that's already a huge step forward. So that makes perfect sense to me that that's possible. Again, then, how does the teacher then or how does the person then conceptualize going further with it? Because if we immediately (in my opinion anyway) slap them with the "Well, now there's nothing to do and no seeking," they're going to think, "Well, that's it" and toddle off and not realize that they can recognize that much more deeply and much more ongoingly. And even if they do recognize that they might not know how to approach that, how to do that, if the idea is there's nothing to do, so I always err towards, "Okay, here's how we begin to work with it." And I see there's downsides to that too. The downside of the gradual path is we're kind of continuously investing in the work of the personality, the work of the person rather than locating our identity completely in the awakeness. And so, there is a way that we can end up toiling away, when really what we need to do is just shift the identity. So there's upsides and downsides to both the sudden path and the gradual path. But it makes perfect sense to me. And it's, of course, with good teachers like Sam or Loch, that they're getting good results with people right off the bat.

SPENCER: In your experience, how long does it take people to get the stable ongoing awakening? And what percentage of people would you say who really invest trying to do it are even able to achieve it at all?

MICHAEL: I will just say, that takes a long time and that's a very small amount of people.

SPENCER: So many people can relatively quickly, with the right teacher, get to sort of glimmers of this experience. But to stabilize it is really, really difficult, it sounds like.

MICHAEL: Especially to stabilize it at a really deep level. But it's not like, "Oh, and if you didn't do that you failed," because anything in between those two is still awesome. But you'll often find people who are like, "Look, I had glimmers years ago, and I've been sitting since then doing the appropriate sitting with a good teacher, but it's still not all the way there." And yeah, that's not that uncommon. And that's okay. It's still very beneficial and very worth it.

JEREMY: And Michael, what about getting people to the kind of level that Sam Harris describes? It's not stable, but you can reliably get back there at will and just glimpse it over the course of a day. How long would that typically take to learn?

SPENCER: Right, so you can use it if you're suddenly upset or a bad thing happens.

MICHAEL: Sort of as a spot technique? In my teachings — again, having a pretty high bar for what a glimpse needs to be — any glimpse at all is important. But if we're saying you can drop into a very, very deep clear view of it for at least a second or two, that's a couple of years of someone who's pretty talented and getting good training. It's not that hard to just have a momentary glimpse that is pretty darn clear.

JEREMY: Actually, my way was more driven by Loch. That's quite a long time.

MICHAEL: Yeah, what I'm talking about is real clarity here, not just partial.

SPENCER: Well, Jeremy, so you have been exploring nondual mindfulness and you've kind of worked with different teachers. Do you feel like you have had glimmers of the state? Or do you feel like you have never been in the state?

JEREMY: I would say, I've had glimpses of it. The most profound was on a month-long retreat. Just having a complete collapse between the sense of object and subject. And that seems to have had some permanent changes. But in terms of being able to get back there at will, I've never been able to cultivate that. I guess where I get stuck in is when I try and do the techniques, I still feel like there's a sense of separation there almost always. And maybe that breaks down a little bit here and there, but it's pretty reliably there. So that's where I get a bit lost and frustrated.

MICHAEL: Yeah. So you had a nice, solid glimpse of sort of like the first level, the nonduality of subject and object. And because you've already seen what that looks like, I don't see any reason why with a little more effort or training, you can't achieve that. It seems very doable to me.

JEREMY: Yeah, I don't want to make this about my practice. But just in terms of the training advice you'd give to someone like me or someone else who maybe has glimpsed this and can't get back there, or maybe hasn't at all, is that where you're talking about merging dualistic and nondualistic of taking the sense of self as the meditation object and noting of that?

MICHAEL: There's a couple of things in what you said that I wouldn't say that way. But I'll just say, I would show you, or in the way that I would work and lots of teachers would work, show you over and over again a system of seeing a through conceptualization of various types of objects, including the sense of self until you had it as a pathway, you knew how to do each step along it, gradually reducing conceptualization until it disappeared over and over again, over and over again. And then once you had learned that as a pathway, it would start becoming automatic. Instead of you having to do it effortfully, it just happens and then it would happen more and more quickly, so that when the moment that you wanted to drop in, you could just drop in. That's very doable.

JEREMY: That's really encouraging because I think one downside of if you're just going hardcore nondual is you do the technique of looking for the self, and then you feel like you actually do find it, there's no breakdown of the separation, and then you're left with, "What do I do now?"

MICHAEL: And that's, to me, the result of over-dogmatizing the ideas around that the path can't be gradual. Instead, I would show you little by little. "Here's how to see the emptiness of this part of the self, this part of the self, this part of the self," until you see it very, very clearly. And you do it over and over again. And then eventually, that's just how you see it. The minute you want to see it that way, it's available. And eventually, over time, it just starts looking that way all the time. And again, there's even deeper levels of nonduality beyond what we're talking about here. So yeah, I think people get stuck in the way you're describing. Another way they get stuck is because teachers keep telling them they shouldn't strive and there's nothing to do. And so they sit there non-striving and doing nothing, with no technique, and then decades are passing. And they're told to just keep going. And it's like, actually, no, we can scaffold this, we can make it much easier, much easier. And even people who talk about sudden experiences of awakening, often themselves did years of meditation before that. It's quite an interesting, complex and nuanced topic. And in this discussion, we've been ping ponging back and forth with a lot of ideas, but slowing it all down and taking a reasonable amount of time to really step through all these ideas is worth doing. So I encourage you guys to do that at some point.

SPENCER: What is your approach for a total beginner who wants to get into this? Do you have a sequence of exercises that you teach them? Or how do you think about that?

MICHAEL: I have a sequence of exercises. I teach them if they want to get into my sequence. If they're a total beginner, then I'll usually say, "Hey, let's do my sequence." If, on the other hand, they're not a total beginner, let's say they've done a lot of dualistic meditation, a lot of (let's say) Goenka-style body scanning or something, I'll leverage the work they've already done and build that into kind of a bespoke scaffold for them so they're not starting from scratch. they get to utilize all that work they've done. And so if you're asking what the system is, it's a pretty standard system in that I'm not a Mahamudra teacher, but what I'm doing is very similar to how Mahamudra works. So it would be working with shamatha, which is stabilizing the mind a little bit. And then strong emphasis on vipassana, where we're seeing the emptiness of experiencing, the emptiness of the sense of self, seeing many, many, many different layers of conceptualization that we're seeing the emptiness of, and then we gradually start dropping into nonmeditation, effortless openness. And working with that system to learn that and have a pretty deep, pretty clear glimpse of awake awareness. That doesn't take that long. But then there's more to do after that to stabilize that in an ongoing way.

JEREMY: What about the role of retreats? Because I know in my personal experience that for a lot of people, conventional mindfulness retreats were just absolutely crucial to get my head around it. Is that the same for learning nondual mindfulness, would you say?

MICHAEL: I would say that, for most people, yeah, retreats are really going to help, especially with that first step. Just the first step of shamatha. Even if we do it in a nondual style (shamatha and so on), it is still in the traditions that are very serious about that. You do that on retreat because it's just much easier. It's not that it's required or necessary or whatever, it's just easier. So I would say, retreats can help. But in the long run, we want to take this on the street. We want it to be our everyday experience. And so you have to, after a while, start bringing it into your life, bringing it into your relationship, bringing it into your job, bringing it into everything you do. Obviously, we don't do that part on retreat.

SPENCER: Are there certain other techniques you use to help people stabilize it, one that they can kind of get it at will?

MICHAEL: Lots and lots of techniques, a whole giant palette of stuff. Depending on what the person's strengths and weaknesses are, I start to give them different things they can do to stabilize it. However, I can offer one here that works for anyone. If you have the ability to drop in at least to some level of awake awareness on demand, then one of the best techniques you can use is just do that as many times as sponsible all the time. Once you've got that momentary opening on demand, just do it a lot. And notice that could be characterized as seeking or you're still trying to get something or whatever, and someone could criticize it. But I'll tell you, it works. If you do that, if you've gotten as far as having access, then just use that access over and over and over and over and over and over. And you'll notice that window of time, the length of the access, starts to broaden quite a bit. It gets longer and longer under more and more circumstances. And that's what we want. So that's one that anyone who has that access can practice all the time.

SPENCER: Before we wrap up, one thing I want to dig into a little more is the sort of end state that more traditional effortful practices sometimes talk about the kind of building up towards this enlightenment state of some kind, and how that relates to the nondual state. I guess what I'm wondering is, do you think that that path eventually leads to the nondual path? Or do you think that it's leading somewhere else? And if so, what is that taking someone to?

MICHAEL: Well, students can end up in a number of different places, just based on their own minds, or their own karma, or whatever you want to call it. But a nondual tradition is never going to lead you into a nondual place, because that's not what they're trying to do. And so you could accidentally end up there on your own because of your own experience or whatever. But they're going towards something different. Or, we could say that's not different, but isn't as deep. And so that's why even traditions that are really focused on nondual one, it's going to be very rare that those traditions then go the next step and see the the nonduality of form and emptiness or the nonduality of awareness and the world, which is much more powerful and worth doing. They're just not ever talking about that. That's not to say someone in those traditions couldn't go there or experience that because of their own practice. But I think, yes, these are different places that these traditions are aiming at. And it's really important to understand where in the kind of space of possible places you can end up, whatever tradition you're working at is aiming you at. That being said, let's say you get really high up in a dualistic tradition (I don't mean high up in the hierarchy), like you're very good at it, it's pretty easy for a nondual teacher to take that momentum you've got and all that, and then switch it over to a nondual practice. At least that's my experience. So it's not like, "Oh, you're lost, you worked on a dualistic path, and so you're way over there, and you're just lost, you wasted your time." It's like, "No, we can use that. You've got a very stable mind, you've got very sharp attention. You've got a lot of equanimity. Okay, sure, you know exactly how to use that." All is not lost, oh dualistic meditators. [laughs]

SPENCER: Jeremy, maybe you could help me out with the terminology here. If you think about the systems that say, "Okay, well, you're going to go through these different levels, and you're gonna get stream entry, and you're gonna keep cycling through these different levels. And eventually, you're gonna get to sort of some end state or some enlightenment state." What's the best terminology for that, Jeremy?

JEREMY: Certain traditions have 'a progress of insight,' they call it, where they're proposing a specific order in which insight unfolds.

MICHAEL: Yeah, that's just one tradition. That's Theravada Buddhism that you're describing.

SPENCER: Okay, great. So, let's say someone practices that for many years, and then they achieve what is the end state of that tradition. How do you conceptualize that, Michael? What have they done?

MICHAEL: They've got nondual one, together with a lot of their mind is tremendously cleared out of these deep unconscious stuff, the karma or the unconscious difficulties. So they're very cleared out and they've achieved the understanding of the nonduality of self and world.

SPENCER: I see. But then you say, "Okay, but then there's these different levels above that, nondual two and nondual three.

MICHAEL: This is why Buddhism developed a whole over thousands of years after that. This whole other way of working and this whole other way of talking because people ended up going further than that. And so, of course, to Theravadan hearing what I'm describing, they just think I'm sadly deluded.

SPENCER: Yeah, and I think this can be very confusing for meditators. It's like, "Well, these people say that the best thing you can do is follow that path. And then someone else says, "No, that's just level one and this other path."

MICHAEL: Sure. If we want to talk about it in a really cynical way, we could say historically, this is part of the war of trying to get followers and stuff, that every path claims to be the top, the best, the fastest, the most complete, the easiest, all of that. Of course, which person is going to say, "Oh, yeah, I love my path. It's lesser, it doesn't really do the full thing, but I love it." No one is ever going to say that. It's always going to be, "No, this is the full thing." So it can be really confusing. And part of what I do in some of my beginner classes (I have online courses and stuff) is to really start to disambiguate all this. The kind of ideas we've been talking about today, I spend a lot of time separating them so people get a clearer understanding of what we're doing and why, and what traditions we're doing and why, and so on. Because it really, really otherwise is tremendously confusing. If we think nonduality means one thing, or meditation means one thing, then everyone agrees about it. It's like, no, these hundreds of thousands of meditation techniques and thousands of traditions, and even the word nondual can mean many, many, many different things. And so, really clearing that up is incredibly important. And it's something I really liked doing. On the other hand, it makes a lot of people angry at me. [laughs]

JEREMY: And, Michael, I know you just said there's various definitions of nondual and so on. But would you say that this is the most important thing to learn ultimately in meditation? Of course, you can take an interest in other things like loving kindness, and so on. But if you had a student, would you, at some point, be nudging them in this direction?

MICHAEL: Well, I wouldn't separate loving kindness from the non dual direction. But in any case, I would say, if they're my student, yes, I'm always going to nudge them in this direction, with one caveat, which is, if someone comes to me and they have a different goal, like they just want to get good at concentration or whatever, I can teach them that. I'm not religious in the sense of thinking that everyone must want the goal that I think is the good one. I would certainly try to show them why that was a worthwhile goal. But if someone didn't see the value or didn't want that, I'm not going to shove that down their throat. In one way, that's like saying, I know what the ultimate truth is. And I don't think I know what the ultimate truth is. But what I can say is working with various meditations and teachers and nondual traditions over time, I've certainly got a sense of what for me is the most alive, free, beautiful direction. It's very clear where that lies. And that's where I'm always trying to guide people towards.

SPENCER: I just have one final question for you that I think some people might wonder. What is the connection, if any, between what you teach and spirituality or religion? Do you think of this as a system that can be purely secular? Or do you think that this is sort of connected to spirituality fundamentally,

MICHAEL: I think, in the end, it collapses the distinction between secular and spiritual and that that distinction is not that helpful in the long run. I know that there's a strong desire to kind of separate out the woo and get into brain science and so on. But the deeper you go in this direction, the more you proceed along the path, or the clearer your recognition, start to notice that those two things become less sharply separate and less of an issue. It's really interesting. I think that for us Westerners who are typically inculcated into scientific, materialist viewpoint, it's a super important distinction. "Well, I don't want any woowoo in my meditation, and I don't want it to be spiritual." But you know, for talking about this kind of fundamental awareness in which everything is arising, experientially at least, that's already a non-materialist way of seeing things, in terms of experience and not in terms of philosophy about what's really existing in the world. And so, what I have noticed, and I think a lot of people notice, is that if you're strongly into the spiritual side of it, it becomes in a way less spiritual. And if you're strongly into the must be atheist science version of it, that becomes less rigid and more porous. And you see that the definition boundaries there are actually pretty hard to draw. And so to me, it's really important not to get stuck in that dualism.

SPENCER: Michael and Jeremy, thank you so much for coming on. This is a fascinating conversation.

JEREMY: Thanks, guys.

MICHAEL: Thanks Spencer and Jeremy for all your questions and for giving me time to parade my ignorance in front of the world here. I really appreciate it.

[outro]

JOSH: A listener asks: What is your deepest regret?

SPENCER: So one thing that comes to mind for me is that when I was younger, I spent some time with people who, in retrospect, I don't think are very good people. And I think that I was more focused on who's interesting and less focused on who's a really good person. And so I definitely have regrets that I spent too much time when I was younger spending time doing projects with people that I don't think were very good people. And in retrospect, I wish that I had focused more on the quality of people I spent time with when I was young. Of course, fortunately, I didn't know some really good people. So it wasn't like I didn't have that in my life. It's just that some of the people that I spent too much time with were not very good.

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