Podcast Episode 4: David Harshada Wagner - Exploring Meditation, Spirituality, and Life Choices


Join us for an insightful conversation about meditation, spirituality, and life choices with David Harshada Wagner, an experienced meditation instructor, author, and guide in conscious living. Explore the transformative power of meditation, the journey towards spiritual fulfillment, and navigating life's decisions in this engaging dialogue. 

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Podcast Transcript:

So welcome, everybody. I'd like to welcome you to Choice's Books and Gifts - our podcast where “You Always Have Choices.”  Today with me, I have an old friend of mine named David Harshada Wagner.  He is a meditation instructor,  a coach, author of ‘Classic Tantra Teacher on a Mission’ to help people walk the spiritual path, 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 a more fulfilling and soul-centered lives.  

He is also an 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, if I may say. It's now on the screen. 

And you're actually 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 whole 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 really great that you're doing this.  

And I do thank you. And that's actually how we know one another from a past of, of I know I made some bad choices and I think that you had some, too.   I'd love to know the story on how you've become this wonderful spiritual meditation instructor that helped so many people in so 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,  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 really 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, so Choices is, you know, one place that you can walk in and get stuff like sobriety chips and literature for all different kinds of 12 step wisdom and stuff like that.

So that's originally how I think 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 this famous spiritual book by an author called Baba Ram Dass. And that is what turned me on to the Eastern spirituality that 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. And then being turned on to Eastern spirituality and having amazing teachers guide me in that world is the short answer, really.

Then just living through decades of life and being a dad now and so many things where it's really crucial that I 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, you can't keep it unless you give it away. But it seems like, in my opinion, you've taken it to really the next and next and next level - where a lot of us, we 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 that you do. 

Definitely because it keeps me in this world. And it also -integrity is an important value of mine. In order to do this work in integrity means that 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, yeah, it does it like it. It keeps me in shape spiritually and emotionally and 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 that I found was when we were out in the forest and we had a fire pit, and you had asked us to say the word OHM. You made some of us start and then some of us do it little (4 seconds later) and  another 4 seconds later. And the sound of that and the peace.  And David, it literally took me into another world.  I just want to say that it was so fascinating, that 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, is to do it enough that you can get a taste of it, but not so much that you overwhelm yourself with it. Then to just kind of make that a little bit more specific. The reason being is that you have to enjoy it. And there's so many different ways to meditate, there's so many different avenues into it.  So, finding, trying different things, finding what really 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 just be first of all, just 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 just want to open our eyes. We want to get up and move because we won't probably get immediate satisfaction from it.

It'll take a little bit of time. Like the magic lamp that you have to rub a few times before the genie comes out - you have to 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, and maybe because I was young, they'd only let me meditate for 8 minutes. And then I had to build up to 16 and then 20 (mins). And I remember one thing they said that was so interesting - they said,  if you sit there, no matter what's happening, if you stay seated, the mind will eventually follow. 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 pretty easily find guided meditation and other resources that are very different from one another.  So some meditations are very minimalist. You just sit still, feel your breath, focus on your breath. Some are mantra based like transcendental meditation, but also still very minimal.  Some are whole guided visualization practices that you can do that are fabulous for people with very active, imaginative minds.  Some of them are very body based and somatically oriented. There's so many different ways to do it.

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

That leads to my 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, what's they're going to experience going to be like? 

Well, generally if someone who is very new to meditation comes to me, I mean, if 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 really get to know each other.  If somebody just comes into a class and I don't really know totally where they're coming from, I'm going to give them a guided meditation that is going to be a combination of relaxing the body in a systematic way.  You close your eyes, relax your head, relax your face, relax your arms.  (It will actually be slower than that.)

I'm producing a guided meditation - and  the person who's reading the meditation is speaking in Arabic because we're making a guided meditation for children in Gaza so that the parents can help get their kids to sleep at night, when they're in this horrific situation.  The reason I thought of that is because in the script , I'm writing “relax your arm. PAUSE. Relax your chest in your bell.  PAUSE. PAUSE. Because there's a way to lead somebody, a meditation where you sort of give them a chance to really slow down.

So it will include a guided relaxation, and then it will have some kind of something for the mind to do. So rather than just sit still and just let your mind do whatever it wants to, and watch your mind. (That's a very 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 just repeat that syllable and feel the vibration of it.  Or OHM, like what we did on our retreat. And I would encourage them to just focus on whatever we're doing and let the mind do whatever it wants to. 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?

If this thing does come back to Ram, because the mind's going to do all kinds of things or you're going to fall asleep.  You know, a lot of people just fall asleep. They never relax.  And so then when they do relax, they just 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, and then just try to empty your mind again. And I do it.

But in extremely short periods, you know, it's never perfectly done for a long amount of time. But I do love doing it.

I have a platform of my own now called Big Heart Meditation Club that people can subscribe to for very little money and have lots of lots of guided meditations on there. There's a great resource that every beginner should know about, every meditator should know about called Insight Timer, and it's an app that you can get on your smartphone or a website that you can go to. And I don't know how many teachers we have on Insight Timer - it's countless. And every kind of meditation you could possibly imagine is there.  And I have many, many of my meditations on Insight Timer - that  doesn't cost anything.  If you want to pay for a subscription fee, then 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 of 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 and that was 1993.  I did a little bit of meditation work in those yoga classes but really 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 of people 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 coming up from time to time in different places around the world.  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 in the near future as well. 

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

But the next question I'd like to ask is, can you tell me a little bit 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 kind of 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 like almost 100,000 words, but it's a commentary on an Indian text called the Bhagavad Gita, which is a very important 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 I'm working on another sort of mainstream-ish book.  

I find that the people that I'm able to help the most are in the advanced stages of their spirituality or they're in the midst of a big life change or a big breakthrough. I'm very adept at getting in there with them and helping them to do that work. 

You help them get through that challenge 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 really looking at it in a very broad way 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 so that's the work that I really do with people the best, I think. And that's what this other book that I'm working on is really about. 

Well, I'll tell you, David, it all sounds so good because I have so much identification with that. As far as…  listen, I meditate, I pray, I exercise. It's like it's a card in my shop and it 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 just wonder -  I'd be completely lost.


But with that said, you know, the conversation was just absolutely wonderful and in depth. And I hope that we can have you back on again in the near future. I would love that. You're a special man to me -  a friend, and someone that has an amazing amount of wisdom. I'm just going to say this in closing, 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.