Episode 4: Exploring meditation, spirituality, and life choices: A conversation with David H.Wagner

Meditation, spirituality, and life choices with David Harshada Wagner.

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Podcast Transcript:

So welcome, everybody.   

I want to welcome you to Choice's Books and Gifts - our podcast where “You Always Have Choices.”  

Today, I have an old friend of mine named David Harshada Wagner with me.  He is a meditation instructor, coach, and author of ‘Classic Tantra Teacher on a Mission’ to help people walk the spiritual path and live happier and freer lives. He’s classically trained in the wisdom traditions of yoga, Vedanta, and Tantra.  His teachings come from his decades of working with people, helping them to learn to live more fulfilling and soul-centered lives.  

He is also the author of a men's book, ’Backbone and on the Field of Dharma’ and is currently working on a modern translation of and commentary on the 10th-century Tantric text known as Shiva Sutra.

How did I do, David?  

Jay, you did great.

 All right, I was a little slow. It's now on the screen. 

And you're at the bookstore. 

I am, yes. We like to have the bookstore in the background.  So, we're promoting it from the bookstore, wanting people to know about the bookstore - where they can get these books, etc.  So, the idea is to have it done in the bookstore, so people know where it's coming from.

I love it. Well, you know, I love Choice's bookstore. You know, having lived in New York for most of my adult life, I miss it. It's one of the things that I miss about New York. It's like - it’s really like a treasure, what you've cultivated there with you at the helm and everything that you've cultivated within yourself as a man, on the spiritual path and a man of wisdom; it's great that you're doing this.  In fact, I have been to the store so many times to give out AA chips and AA coins to people celebrating in recovery.  It’s a real gift to have all the recovery gifts and AA resources in one place. 

And I do thank you. And that's how we know one another from a past of if I know I made bad choices, and I think you had some, too.   I'd love to know how you've become this wonderful spiritual meditation instructor who helped many people in many ways

Well, thank you. And I, too, continue to make bad choices - on a daily basis, you know, it takes (self) inventory. When I'm wrong, I try eventually to promptly admit it.  It's a great way, and I'm right there with you each and every day.

I sometimes wonder if I'm getting older and supposed to be getting wiser, but I still make the same mistakes. 

Yes, yes.  Wow. Well, you know, I got into this…the reason I know about Choices is because I have been in recovery for most of my adult life.  I got clean and sober when I was a teenager. And have stayed sober since then.  But before we get too excited about that, at some point, I'll tell you about my most recent kind of recovery journey.  But anyway, Choices is, you know, one place that you can walk in and get stuff like sobriety chips and literature for all kinds of 12-step wisdom and things like that.  So that's how I came into Choices and got to know you, Jay. 

But that's also how I originally got into spirituality because I got sober in the rooms - and that encouraged a spiritual connection and a connection to a higher power—and so exploring that, with those great people that helped me get it into it, to get it. 

So that was in Peoria, Illinois, in the eighties if you can imagine. And while I was there in that context, a fellow in that world lent me a book called ‘Be Here Now,' which is a famous spiritual book by an author called Baba Ram Dass. And that is what turned me on to the Eastern spirituality I have become a teacher of.

So, it was a combination. The short answer is a combination of staying on the path of recovery and, where we say - religion is to save your soul, and spirituality is to save your ass.  So, my spiritual path has never been optional for me because of that. Then, being turned on to Eastern spirituality and having excellent teachers guide me in that world is the short answer.

Then, I just lived through decades of life, being a dad now, and so many things where I must live my life along spiritual lines. Yeah, yeah, it's crucial. So that and then giving it away, you know, has become my profession. 

And that's wonderful because, you know, I have found in my own life that you can't keep it unless you give it away. But you've taken it to the next and next level - where a lot of us stay with the program, we do this and that.  But this has led you into a whole different lifestyle and even a way of business. Yeah, I would imagine that doing what you do, you must also get a lot of benefit from helping people - teach meditation, spirituality, the things you do. 

Because it keeps me in this world. And it also -integrity is an essential value of mine. Doing this work with integrity means I have to keep doing the work on myself.

At the same time, it's not always the case for spiritual teachers, but in my case, it's something that my teachers drilled into me so heavily that it does it like it. It keeps me in shape spiritually, emotionally, psychically, therapeutically, and everything else. 

You know, I've two stories I want to share. One briefly. I was blessed to go on one of your retreats, and one of the fascinating things I found was when we were out in the forest and had a fire pit, and you had asked us to say the word OHM. You made some of us start, then some do it a little (4 seconds later) and another 4 seconds later. And the sound of that and the peace.  And David, it took me into another world.  I want to say that it was such a fascinating experience with you. And, you know, I know that for myself, I pray and meditate every single day. But for someone who's an expert like yourself, what would you say if I was just getting started with you? How often do I have to meditate? How long do I have to do it for?

Well, the answer is to do it enough to get a taste but not so much that you overwhelm yourself with it. Then, just make that a little bit more specific. The reason is that you have to enjoy it. And there are so many different ways to meditate and so many different avenues to it.  It is so finding, trying different things, finding what works for you. It's a very counterintuitive thing for us to do.  And if it's something that we're totally brand new to, when we get into it, we're likely to encounter resistance. Resistance can be tricky because is that resistance, what's that? 

What would some of that resistance be? 

Yeah, well, it would be, first of all, doing it at all.  Just the thing of stopping and sitting down and sitting still and closing your eyes and keeping them closed and just trying to do whatever the meditation technique is, whatever it is.  We'll want to open our eyes. We want to get up and move because we probably won't get immediate satisfaction from it.

It'll take a little bit of time. Like the magic lamp that you must rub a few times before the genie comes out - you must rub it enough to see the genie but not so much that you hate it.

When I was a kid, my older brother took me to transcendental meditation - about 15 years old. I was a squirrely little kid, and I remember sitting down in this classroom. Maybe because I was young, they'd only let me meditate for 8 minutes. Then, I had to build up to 16 and then 20 (mins). And I remember one thing they said that was so interesting - if you sit there, no matter what's happening, the mind will eventually follow if you stay seated. And that's been my experience. 

And it's worth it. And, also, it can be damn boring. And you know, I can't emphasize this enough that there are so many variations.  The word meditation is like (the words) dessert or medicine - it can mean so many different things. And especially nowadays, you can easily find guided meditation and other resources that are very different.  So, some meditations are very minimalist. You sit still, feel your breath, focus on your breath. Some are mantra-based, like transcendental meditation, but also still very minimal.  You can do Some guided visualization practices that are fabulous for people with very active, imaginative minds.  Some of them are very body-based and somatically oriented. There are so many ways to do it.

And it really behooves someone starting off to experiment a little bit and find something that they like that turns them on and makes them want to do it more. 

That leads me to my next question. So, say I'm interested, and someone sees this podcast and gives you a call and says, what do I do? How do I start this? I want to come to your class. Is there a meditation you prefer or one over others? And what is this person going to experience? 

Generally, if someone new to meditation comes to me, I have the luxury of finding them. I do a lot of work - one-on-one with people.  And that's very luxurious. We can get to know each other.  Suppose somebody comes into a class, and I don't remember where they're coming from. In that case, I will give them a guided meditation that will be a combination of relaxing the body systematically.  You close your eyes and relax your head, face, and arms.  (It will be slower than that.)

I'm producing a guided meditation – and the person reading the meditation speaks Arabic. We're making a guided meditation for children in Gaza so that the parents can help get their kids to sleep at night in this horrific situation.  I thought of that because, in the script, I'm writing, “Relax your arm. PAUSE. Relax your chest in your belly.  PAUSE. PAUSE. Because there's a way to lead somebody, a meditation where you allow them to slow down.

So, it will include guided relaxation, and then it will have something for the mind to do. So rather than sit still and let your mind do whatever it wants to, watch your mind. (That's a typical kind of meditation instruction that people get that comes more from the Buddhist mindfulness tradition.)  Coming from the yoga tradition, I will give them, “Imagine your breath flowing up and down through your body every time you breathe.”  Take a mantra that you would repeat like the syllable RAM, and you repeat that syllable and feel the vibration of it.  Or OHM, like what we did on our retreat. And I would encourage them to focus on whatever we're doing and let the mind do whatever it wants. So, not to be frustrated that you're trying to focus on Ram, and your mind is thinking, what am I having for lunch after this fine thing?

Suppose this thing does come back to Ram because the mind will do all kinds of things, or you'll fall asleep.  You know, a lot of people fall asleep. They never relax.  And so, then when they do relax, they pass out. 

Usually, they say if you fall asleep during meditation because meditation gives you everything you want, you need to sleep more than the meditation. And it's funny because when I meditate the way it was taught to me, as you mentioned, you have a type of phrase or a word, but they said at the end of that, look at it like a ticker tape that's going by. See it for a few seconds, then try to empty your mind again. And I do it.

But in extremely short periods, you know, it's never perfectly done for an extended time. But I do love doing it.

I now have a platform called Big Heart Meditation Club that people can subscribe to for very little money and have lots of guided meditations. There's a great resource that every beginner and meditator should know about called Insight Timer, and it's an app you can get on your smartphone or a website you can visit. And I need to find out how many teachers we have on Insight Timer - it's countless. And every kind of meditation you could imagine is there.  And I have many of my meditations on Insight Timer – that doesn't cost anything.  If you want to pay for a subscription fee, you get some added benefits, but otherwise, it's an open-source platform.

It's fantastic. 

Do you have something, a website you can give us that people can go on and learn more. 

You can access all my stuff at  DavidHWagner.com.   (Don't forget the H.)    DavidHWagner.com and my Instagram is also very active, which is - https://www.instagram.com/harshadawagner

How many years have you been doing it now - teaching meditation? 

Well, I started teaching yoga classes first in 1993.  I did some meditation work in those yoga classes but formally taught just meditation and yoga philosophy in 1996.  So, it's 30 years. 

That's fantastic.  And do you still do these retreats? 

Yes, we do retreats.  I'm leading a group on a retreat in India in January.  We're putting together a retreat in Mexico for the spring that I'm very excited about.  We always have retreats from time to time in different places worldwide.  I want to get another East Coast retreat going. I haven't done it on the East Coast. I did an East Coast retreat last February at Kripalu up in Massachusetts, and we're trying to find some alternative to that, too, to have an East Coast retreat shortly. 

That's good because I'd like to be at that one. 

But the next question I'd like to ask is, can you tell me a little about your books?

I have a men's book, as you mentioned in the intro, called ‘Backbone’- a publisher wanted me to do this men's book because I was doing a lot of work, especially in men's work and conscious masculinity.  So, we made that book, which is a primer in conscious masculinity.  You can find that on Amazon. 

And then the other book that you mentioned, it's a very lofty book. It's almost 100,000 words, but it's a commentary on an Indian text called the Bhagavad Gita, which is a critical text in Indian Hindu philosophy. And then I'm working on another book.   I'm working on these three projects right now.

I am also translating another text called the Shiva Sutra and working on another sort of mainstreamish book. 

The people I can help the most are in the advanced stages of their spirituality or during a significant life change or a big breakthrough. I'm adept at getting in there with them and helping them do that work. 

You help them get through that challenging phase through meditation and spirituality. 

And through the process of what we call awakened living - of just taking our experience as a human being and looking at it comprehensively and what is our purpose, what is our spiritual connection, and what is the bullshit that holds us back.

Those are what I call the three pillars.  It's our purpose, our spiritual connection, and then whatever is holding us back from that. And that's the work I do with people the best, I think. And that's what this other book I'm working on is about. 

I'll tell you, David, it all sounds so good because I have so much identification with that. As far as…  listen, I meditate, pray, and exercise. It's like a card in my shop that says, “I still want to slap someone.”   I probably shouldn't say it like that, but I'm just telling you the truth. It takes so much work and effort. You could be that person. And without any of this, I wonder if I'd be completely lost.

But with that said, you know, the conversation was just wonderful and in-depth. And I hope that we can have you back on again shortly. 

I would love that. 

You're a remarkable man to me - a friend and someone with amazing wisdom. In closing, I'm just going to say this: I hope our time together was inspiring and motivating.  Stay empowered, stay well. And remember, “You Always Have Choices.”  Peace and blessings. And we shall see you next time. So good. God bless you.