Tania Israel

Tania Israel

I met Tania Israel a few months ago in a course we both took with our mutual friend, Anne Van de Water. There were a few things I noticed pretty immediately about Tania when we met the first day, which happened to be the day of her 50th birthday celebration. She is unbelievably grounded, intelligent and articulate while simultaneously conveying a beautiful and contagious levity and brightness. I was able to gather Tania’s strengths through the content of the course without any real context of who this person was outside of that room. Then, Anne told me about Tania’s Ted Talk on “Bisexuality and Beyond,” so Tania gave me her business card. That was when I learned what a powerhouse this woman is not only in her field of psychology, as Chair of the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology at UC Santa Barbara and advocate for LGBTQ individuals and communities, but in life in general. In listing many aspects of her identity, such as, but not limited to, Biracial, Asian American, Bisexual, Jewish Buddhist Feminist, Engaged Citizen, Actor, Cheese Enthusiast, Lyricist, Optimist, Social Justice Advocate, Psychologist, Professor, her card instantaneously struck me with the obvious, but often overlooked, reality that we are all made up of so many parts. No one aspect of any of us is what should define us, but our uniqueness is found through the mixing of the ingredients. We find commonality through our components but striving for too much sameness defies our humanity. I was excited to share a Last Cut Conversation with Tania. She shares about her deepening practice of Buddhism, which required cutting other internal and external stories, but her cut was more of a moving towards. The evolution of her Buddhist practice highlights something worth stressing: cuts can be easy, gentle and relatively effortless when, and if, we are carefully listening to the internal and external cues given by the body and life and acting accordingly. 


Before we start getting into the questions or a bigger conversation, I always like to ask people to introduce themselves and tell us a little bit about who they are. So if you wouldn't mind doing that, it would be great.

Tania: "Yes. Who am I? I'm Tania Israel. I live here in Santa Barbara, California. I've been here for 16 years. I'm a professor of counseling psychology at the University of California Santa Barbara. I am Chair of the department now. My research is mostly on interventions to support LGBT individuals and communities. I also do a lot of stuff outside of work. I do political stuff. I do stuff in the LGBT community. I have a cat. What else should I say? I gave you my card, right?"

Yes, I love your card.

"That's part of my introduction, right? I'm a biracial, Asian-American, bisexual, Jewish, Buddhist, feminist, among other things."

Right. That's perfect. That's it in a nutshell. That’s why we all should have business cards like that. So far what I love most about the book that I'm reading [Amin Maalouf’s “In the Name of Identity”], and your TED Talk, is the message that we're all so multifaceted and when we identify or when we attach onto one part of our identity so strongly, it often then is at the loss of others, because we're such rounded beings.

"I just sent somebody today this piece that I wrote about a decade ago or something called 'Conversations, Not Categories.’ It's a personal narrative piece, where I write about being biracial, bisexual and feminist, and the interaction among all of these aspects. It’s a personal narrative so there are stories in it and it's not about the labels. A student just did this dissertation on biracial people and identity, and I thought, "Okay, where did they grow up?" because I think that the context makes such a difference. I think there's so much to it. It's like I have all these identity labels on my card, but that doesn’t even say it all."

And it's constantly changing, because you're a vibrant, living being. We all are ever bouncing around and interacting with other people, which influences the context of how we show up in any given situation. 

I’d love to start with the question of what's most true to you. The answers to that question tend to feed into why we do the things we do and why we make the last cuts and the significant decisions in our lives. 

"I'll tell you that I have been preparing for this mostly because you ask really interesting questions. So I thought, "All right, let me think about what's most important to me. What's most true to me?" True, not important. What's true to me? So, I was having dinner with my partner, David, and my friend Pema, who's visiting. Pema is a playwright and asks really good questions too, and is one of those people, like you, a very thoughtful person who likes to draw stories out of people and interact with them. So, I asked this question and said, "I'm trying to figure out what to say. What is most true to me? I'm not sure!" And David said, "I know what's most true to you." I said, "Oh good! What?" (laughs) He said the thing that was in the back of my mind so I thought, "Ok, maybe that's it." He said, "Well, it's Buddhism, of course." And I said, "Oh, well, yeah. Of course, it is." Then I was thinking of this Last Cut idea. So, I'm going to tell you about my palm."

Really? Okay. That's nice.

"So, I started talking at the dinner on Thursday night about my palm and I said, "Oh yeah, when Lisa ..." That was my ex-girlfriend, I said, "Oh yeah, Lisa read my palm, and she told me there is thing about my headline." This is the headline [gestures to her palm]. When she first looked at it, she said, "I don't know what's going on here, but there's a break in your headline. It starts over here and then it...""

Oh yes, it picks up over there. [Looking at Tania’s headline on palm}

"Exactly, and right then Lisa pulled up in the driveway."

While you were having this dinner on Thursday?

"Yes, I thought, "I conjured up Lisa." And then Lisa came in and I was talking about this and David said, "Oh, will you read my palm?" So then Lisa was doing another palm reading. Anyway, it was completely hilarious, but then the four of us had this really interesting conversation. So, [back to my split headline in my palm], Lisa said, "I have to look this up and figure out what it means." So, she came back and she said, "Um, there's a point where your consciousness shifted." And she said, "And, let's see, it's like after ..." There's a first finger, second finger, third finger, she's said, "Yeah, [it splits around] when you were around 30. You know, a little bit after that." And I thought, "Yeah, that's when I started practicing Buddhism." There was a huge, dramatic shift for me and it was just wild when she saw that and then I thought, "Yes, that is it." So, when I thought about The Last Cut, I thought, “It's in my palm,” but then I feel bad because it has nothing to do with bisexuality."

This is amazing. (laughs) It doesn’t have to be about bisexuality and identity issues. This is about whatever Last Cut you want to share.

"There it is. Right there. That's my last cut." [Gesturing to headline in palm again]

That's incredible. Wow. So what at that point in your 30’s was happening in your life? What was that moment like when you stepped towards Buddhism?

"So, I'll go back to context now. I grew up in this secular, intellectual family with academic parents. My last name is Israel and my dad is technically Jewish, but they were German Jews who came here in the 1800’s and not very connected to Judaism. They were much more connected to German traditions, like Christmas trees. So we always had a Christmas tree when I was growing up and all this stuff. It was very confusing."

That was like every Jew's dream though. At least in my family, I remember, all we ever asked my mom was, "Can we have a Christmas tree?" The answer was always "No."

"Oh, you're Jewish too. Yes. So, we had a Christmas tree. Growing up my parents always said, "Oh, we're going to let the kids choose their own path if they want to find something." I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is a very ethnically black and white town, and also there's a lot of religion and people's communities are often centered around their religion. So I used to go to church with my friends. I had a bunch of Catholic friends. I'd end up going to mass with them, because then they would go out for pancakes afterwards.

I ended up doing that [version of religion], but it was mostly around the people in the community. Then I started doing yoga in my mid-20s, because I saw a bumper sticker that said, "Yoga. It feels good." (laughs) My partner at the time said, "You're really susceptible to advertising.” It's a good thing the bumper sticker didn't say, "Heroin. It feels good.” So I started doing yoga and that, for me, was kind of the first thing. I would ask people, “What does it mean when you say you're spiritual?” I don't know what that means. I just didn't feel it. I didn't have any sense of that and so I remember a friend of mine describing it. I realized, "Oh, that's sort of what I get from yoga. It helps me to feel grounded,” but I didn't have a faith. So, in my early 30s, I went through some big shifts in my life. I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, going through a divorce. I thought, "I never even meant to get married. I'm not sure how it is that I'm actually getting divorced now." I remember thinking at the time, "The only things in my life that are as I thought they would be are that I'm a psychologist and I have a cat." (laughs) You know? "How did I end up here?""

Did work take you to Memphis?

"Yeah, work took me to Memphis. That was my first academic job. So, I was there and I just felt like the bottom was falling out for me. I started looking around, asking, “What is there?” There was a “Course in Miracles” class at my gym and I thought, "Okay, I'll go to that." And I thought, "Well, that's sort of interesting," but, you know, that wasn't it. A very good friend of mine had been practicing Buddhism for a number of years and I said, "Talk to me about this Buddhism thing."

So, she told me stuff about it and I bought these tapes called “How to Meditate.” I started doing it and, after about a year, I reflected, "Whoa, this really works," and then I got curious about why does it work, you know? A lot of people would say, "Whoa, you're an academic and you're interested in Buddhism." I would hear, "Well, Buddhism is really more of a philosophy than a religion." People get very into the theory of Buddhism and all this stuff. That was absolutely not my entry point. My entry point was absolutely the practice of it without having any idea what the belief system was.

I was doing this basic “How to Meditate” thing, but then it was a package deal from Sounds True. So it's “How to Meditate” with a “Loving Kindness Meditation” and something else. With the “Loving Kindness Meditation,” you're sending out this loving kindness to other people who are experiencing similar kinds of suffering to you. I was doing this and just remember this one moment where I was just feeling so lost and so upset, and I felt all of that come back to me. I felt all those people out there sending me energy. I was like, “Whoa.” So, for me, I thought, “Okay, there’s something there. There is something to all of this.""

Something more to it than the pancakes.

"The pancakes. (laughs) There's more to religion than the pancakes. Actually, it's funny because I worked at Mr. Donut my senior year in high school and we used to prepare the doughnuts for the churches. I would think, "I want to go to church, because they get donuts." (laughs) Yes."

So in that obviously incredibly profound moment, you tapped into something much bigger than yourself. So, then moving forward from there, what changed? How did your practice deepen, or how did it influence other parts of your life?

"I feel as if life picked me up and moved me or something.  It is funny because another interesting spiritual thing happened at the same time. My parents had said, "We’ll let the kids choose whatever [religion] they want." My sister was the honor student. She was the smart one. I was not the smart one in my family..."

I find that hard to believe.

"Yes, well, we set the bar very high in my family. (laughs) So my sister was the smart one. She dropped out of high school and went to Stanford to be an honor student. Then she decided, "You know, this doesn't make me happy,” and she started following this guru who goes by Adi Da. That's probably the name people are most familiar with. It's like an Eastern-esque religion, but he's from Long Island. He’s got an island in Fiji and a place up in Northern California and all this stuff. My parents were like, "Okay, that's not what we meant. That’s going a little too far.” And then, the Jewish side of my family is like, "Oh my God, it's a cult."  So, there was all this stuff in my family about it. So when I said, "I'm practicing Buddhism." They said, "Oh, thank goodness. At least we've heard of that."

My sister invited me to come have an audience with her guru. They were trying to open things up to people outside the community so that people would have more knowledge of what it was about and see that it wasn't a cult. So, I said, "Okay." I've always been very skeptical of my sister's spiritual stuff, because I just had no way of connecting to it personally. So I went, and it was in Northern California in Lake County. I went and I had an audience with him. Just walking around the land on the sanctuary, I started feeling energy moving through me, and I thought, "I have no idea what this is." It was undeniable. I could feel something there.

There were a bunch of us and we would wait for him to sit with each individual. Then we went to sit in this room while we were waiting for everyone to be done. As I was sitting there, I could feel like this line of energy go right through me from the top of my head all the way through my spine. I thought, "I have no idea what this is." (laughs) Afterwards we were kind of debriefing and people were talking. I described it, and people said that is…I am trying to remember the word they used. Oh yes, they said that it was the kundalini. They said, "Oh yeah, that's the kundalini." And I thought, "I've never heard of this before." There were all these sorts of spiritual seekers who were going for the kundalini, and they are like trying to find these things. I call it the spiritual orgasm. People are going for the spiritual orgasm, because it's that feeling. I get it, because it's amazing. However, I also realize we're not supposed to live in perpetual orgasm.

It did make me feel that there's something beyond what I can control. There's something beyond what I can understand that is going on. So, that was also a significant moment that opened me up. It's funny because it didn't make me go, "Oh, yeah, this guy,” but it made me go, "Oh, yeah, something." And so then I ended up in Santa Barbara.  

So how I ended up in Santa Barbara. This is a great story. When I went to graduate school, I was in Arizona, in the desert, far away from the ocean and everything. I was doing this project where I was working with all these gifted girls, and we would do this activity with them called “the Future Day Fantasy.” It was to envision that day in your life ten years in the future.

For the first time, I did it along with them. When I envisioned my future day, it was like this-- I woke up in the morning and there was light streaming through the window. I get up and I look out the window and I can see the ocean. I'm kind of elevated so it's like a hilly coast or a mountainy coast.  Then I get in my convertible and I drive down this winding road to go to my job at the university, which is right on the coast. I teach and I have lunch with a colleague, and then I drive home at the end of the day and I have a glass of wine as I watch the sunset. For years I had it in my mind that that was Santa Cruz, and then I went to Santa Cruz and I realized, "That's not Santa Cruz.” The university is up in the woods there. Then I completely forgot about [that future dream day] until the week that they invited me here for the interview [at UCSB], and it popped back in my mind. And I thought that's Santa Barbara and that is no place I can think of but Santa Barbara. Okay, so that's chapter one.

They invited me here [to Santa Barbara] for the interview. I go ahead and do the interview and the week after that I go to this feminist psychology conference in Utah. I knew it was the day that they were voting on who they wanted for this faculty position [at UCSB].  At the time, I'm still living in Memphis and am going through all these transitions. I thought, "I could use a therapist,” but I'm really picky so, for me, a therapist must be feminist, and, ideally, more expressive than cognitive kind of therapy. I had started to explore this spiritual stuff. So it would be good to have somebody who can help me to do that. But I'm in Memphis, Tennessee. Right, so I'm not having much success.

So, I go to this feminist psychology conference and this is the day that they're voting. I go to this session on Buddhism and psychotherapy, and the person who's leading the session says, "I'm a Gestalt therapist in Santa Barbara, California.” And I'm like, "Really? You're a feminist Gestalt Buddhist therapist in Santa Barbara?" And I thought, "Okay, well, obviously they're going to give me the job, because that's my therapist." So, they do offer me the job, and I take it.

[Shortly after that] I'm back in Memphis and I'm packing up all my stuff to leave. I've got these boxes that my mom had unloaded on me from her attic. She was like, "it's time for you to take this stuff." So I'm putting them in newer, not 20 year old boxes, and I come across my diary from when I was 14 years old. I open it up and it opens to January 1, 1981, I believe. It's the day after I kissed a boy for the first time, and I'm writing about it and say, "And his name was Jake and he's from Santa Barbara, California." I'm thinking, "I am at the Unitarian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, what am I doing kissing a boy from Santa Barbara?” I'm thinking, "I have no idea what he was doing there or where he came from."

So then, I'm driving across the country [to move to Santa Barbara] and I think, "You know, I should go see Bethany in Portland, because she was my Unitarian Church connection and maybe she knows [why that guy from Santa Barbara was at the church in Virginia]. So I drive and take this crazy route across the country. It takes me from Memphis to Montreal to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival to Seattle and then I'm driving down the coast. I'm in Seattle and haven't seen her since high school graduation, but call her and say, "Hey, Bethany, I'm going to be in town in a few days. Can I see you ?" She said, "Well, sure. I'm like getting ready for Burning Man and it's a bit kind of crazy, but stop on by." I thought, "Same old Bethany." So, I stop by and I'm telling her this whole story, and she said, "Tania, I have the other half of this story." She takes off this ring that she's wearing and she said, "Jake was traveling with a guy named Carlos. That night, Carlos gave me this ring and said, “This is a ring that must be worn. If you are ever going to not wear it again, you must give it away." She said, "Two weeks ago I came across this ring in a drawer, and I put it on and then you showed up." So, people are always asking, “Why did you come to Santa Barbara?” I say, "Sort of for the job, but apparently I think it was just destiny.""

Lisa:    Wow. Then the work just came and it is all exactly how you described it in your dream.

"I know, and I've got the convertible." (laughs)

You need to have “manifestor” written on your business card.

"I know. People ask, "Will you be staying here forever?" I don't know, but if I'm supposed to leave, I think I'm going to get some pretty strong indication. So I started practicing Buddhism and then, whoosh, it brought me down here and apparently this is just where I was supposed to be. But when I was in Memphis and I wanted to practice Buddhism, there was a very small group of people who met every other week to do some readings or do some meditation. I come to Santa Barbara and people are like, "Oh, which lineage of Tibetan Buddhism do you want to practice?" So my friend Ivonne, my Buddhist friend, came to town, and helped me to navigate through what teachings might be helpful to me. I started going to hear Alan Wallace who does teachings that are very accessible to Westerners.

Then I went to hear this Tibetan guy. I thought, "Okay, I don't know why. I'll just go check this out." He became my teacher. There's a small Sangha, a small group here, and he's such a sweet guy, and so I started going there. I kept practicing. The main practice there every week is a practice of compassion. So that became my foundational practice. There's this daily practice that I have been doing for the last 15 years now that I've made incredibly limited progress on. (laughs) You’re supposed to do a certain number, like 108.000, prostrations. I have a little Excel file where I keep track of it all but I'm not there yet.

So then Ivonne started going to Nepal for most of the year and studying there at this monastery where they also do these programs for Westerners. So I went to go visit her and to do this 10-day meditation retreat. It was a five-year series. I did three of those five years. Yes, I went back a bunch of times and it was these ten days of silent retreat, where you're going to teachings and you're doing these practices. Apparently, when I'm silent and I can't talk, what I do is I write songs. So I have a whole bunch of songs about Buddhist perspectives on emptiness to the tune of Broadway show tunes. I ended up writing songs that summarized the ten days of teachings that then everyone sang it together. I did one to “Oh, Come All Ye Buddhists,” because apparently Europeans also know that tune. It’s Latin or something. We have, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” and they've got something else, but my version summarized the ten days of teachings. They say with the teachings you're supposed to listen, reflect, and meditate. I realize that that's how I reflect, with the songs. So I ended up doing all those songs with the teachings. Then, my friend asked, "Oh, will you write a song to the tune of “You Light up My Life” about this practice, and how it's related to Ben Franklin?” And I said, “Sure” so I wrote that. It's just crazy so I end up writing all these songs about all kinds of things."

That's amazing. Does it come through in your daily practice in that way?

"So, I have to say with my daily practice that, well, I've never been very daily about my daily practice. When I do a practice, that's the practice I do. So it's interesting because one of the times that I went to Nepal, I came back and I was talking to Tulku, my teacher. I said, "I can't seem to find a way to integrate what I've done there with my life here. My life is super busy, and I'm not doing the practice regularly."

I said, "The only thing that I've changed since I came back is that I do my offering prayers at every meal." And he was like, "Oh, that's wonderful." And I was like, "Okay." I'm confessing one of my bad Buddhist things, and he responded, "That's great.” I was confused, "Really? You think?" "Yeah, that means that several times a day you are making that connection and reflecting." And I said, "Oh, yeah," and very consistently, that's the thing that I always do. I do it at every meal and, and I eat at least three meals a day."

Maybe I need to adopt that one, because if that were me, it would be at least probably five different times (laughs) a day that I would be doing the blessings. I generally don’t like to miss a meal or the ones in between.

"I know. It’s probably the most regular thing that I do. And then I drive around and I sing songs, some that I wrote about Buddhism and sometimes chant mantras." 

I think that's the beauty of any practice that we do. It's finding a way that we can make it personal, and individual, and functional.

"Well, it's like yesterday we were going over the mountain to go to the Santa Ynez Valley, and there was an accident. When there's an accident, the traffic is all backed up. Everyone is crawling along, and I start just focusing on the people who were in the accident, and generating compassion for them.

So, it's become very integrated into the way I see things and the way I do things. I just finished teaching a Summer School class where I taught the students all a loving kindness meditation. I do a lot of stuff around social justice in counseling psychology, and I do this thing about using loving kindness meditation in working with social justice issues. Yeah, so it comes into my life in a lot of different ways."

Beautiful. You’ve answered my next question before I even was able to ask it. I was going to ask how your practice integrates into your teaching role. When does it becoming challenging for you in terms of being out in the world?

"For example, during the offering prayers at every meal, if I'm having a meal with somebody I don't know and especially somebody who is only a professional contact, that feels really risky to me. Sometimes I'll do the offering prayers, but not in any visible way. It’s funny because sometimes you've got a bowl or a plate or a cup or something and you know, you do it like this [looks down pensively at imaginary meal], and it's an offering. I realized if I'm with my plate and I'm looking at it for a long time before I eat, people will often ask, "Is your food okay?" They have no idea what I'm doing. And so then another thing you can do is you can do this [puts hands together in prayer position] and you can do an offering, because this somehow feels safer. I think.  You can also say something for the meal that is less shockingly disruptive to other people in their life, and so I try to say, “Excuse me for a moment.” I do my little thing and then I often go, "It's a Buddhist thing." Because I don't want people to think [I am] evangelical Christian, that seems more [out there]."

Right, that's edgier especially today where there's so much rejection or judgment of one’s practice.

"Exactly. So that's probably the thing where I am confronted most in ways that I have to make decisions about, because it's an extra moment of [external interaction around] it. The funny thing about when I started practicing Buddhism [was that I did not outwardly share too much], because with other things, like yoga, I would get very evangelical about. I'm like, "I'm doing yoga and I love it. You should do yoga too. You all should do yoga. Everybody should be doing yoga because yoga is awesome." (laughs) So when I started practicing Buddhism, one of the things that Ivonne told me is Buddhism is not about being evangelical, and not about pushing it on to other people. The other thing that I realized is that if I was quiet within, I went deeper with it. For all the other things, even if I've had a very limited experience of this thing, [I would still feel as if] now I'm going to teach it to everybody and tell everybody about it. If I'm quiet about it, then instead of saying, “Okay, how do I teach this?” I'm feeling, “Oh, is there another level I can go inside? And how?” So for me, being quiet with Buddhism really took me to a different level with it, and then after I've been practicing for a while, my aunt in New York, who I’m really close to, but I haven't been talking to her about it, she said, "Tania, something is different. What are you doing?" I realized, “Wow, it shows.”

That was one of the most striking things, because I didn't have to tell everybody about it. It's funny because then I moved to Santa Barbara and people in Santa Barbara think I’m extremely nice. I probably am, but I wasn't always. (laughs) I used to be much edgier, you know, critical. I say this to my friends sometimes and they say, “I find that very hard to believe,” but it’s changed me. It really changed me. So for me that was another thing, as it was the first thing probably that I just tried to do internally without showing it to everybody. Then, because it's become such an inner thing, it almost feels like I want to protect it too. It feels vulnerable. I want to protect this thing, and I also realized I want to protect it from others who are going to be critical and whatever about any kind of faith, especially in academia doing faith based stuff. The only two people in my department who are at all open about their spiritual side are the conservative Christian faculty member and me. It's so interesting, and actually we get along bizarrely well. (laughs) But, yeah, it's not about being outward with it when it's not the thing to do.

I actually believe in karma and reincarnation and all these things. For a long time I didn't. For a long time I didn't know if those are true, but I knew that I lived my life better if I act as if it was true. That’s actually the next level I reached. I will just act as if they were true, and that helps me."


Was there a notable shift that you felt in terms of how you were orienting yourself in the world? You said how you notice appearing nicer than you were before, but was there a moment in time?

"Yes. So there are these [tenets], as I think most religions have. Buddhism has its “thou shall not kill” and these [types of teachings]. So not killing is one of them. I didn’t run around killing people (laughs) everyday even when I wasn’t practicing, but it's ants and my cat is out there killing all kinds of stuff. It's all these things. So there are a lot of different levels of that, because I'm really conscious of it. For example, sometimes I will kill a mosquito, but then I’ll say prayers for it. I don't do it out of, “Oh, die mosquito,” malice kind of thing, but the intention behind it and the feeling behind it is a completely different thing. So, there's that. Then there's also the other thing that my cat does kill things. I am always fishing out dead animals from under the bed. [My partner] David was so impressed when there was a rat once and he said, “I'm so impressed that you got that rat. I’ve never lived with a woman who wouldn't say, “David, get the rat.”” I also knew that I would treat that rat compassionately and say prayers for it as I’m taking it out to the garbage and bless it in the bag and all that stuff. And that's something I want. He’ll step on snails because they eat his plants and all this stuff. He gets upset when I say, "No don't kill it,” so instead I'd take them off the path if I get out there before he does. I say to them, “Hide away! Move faster!” (laughs) Then he gets upset when I say a little prayer for the snail. It’s a very different relationship with things like that. So although we do spray the house for the ants, because they were always just a nightmare last year, I also said lots if prayers for all the ants.

Then there’s not stealing. Again, I wasn’t a kleptomaniac before or anything, but the way that it is interpreted is not taking that which is not freely given. So that,  to me also has to do with not trying to get away with stuff. For example, if they bring you the check and they didn't you include this item, maybe the waitress is going to get charged for that. Maybe not, maybe the business loses that, but I'll point that out now. I have a completely different relationship with that. So there are those things.  There are outward things. I guess some of the speech things are also outward. So there are things like just being aware of harshness of speech, such as saying things about other people. It's really like if you can't say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So I was quieter, but also started noticing it so much more with other people. I just became so much more aware of the harm that we do in form of speech, which then was even more of a motivation for me to not do it. I'm much more careful about my speech. There are all of these levels of practicing those very practical things for Buddhism. It can feel very restrictive in some ways. I mean, there’s no sexual misconduct, which can get interpreted in a lot of different ways. 

But I think that the thing about all of them is that I find that if I live my life according to these precepts, then I don't have to wonder about something I've done. I'm often late getting anywhere, and often when I'm driving when I'm late getting somewhere, I'm thinking of excuses. So, as soon as I walk in the door, I can say, “I'm late because of this, and this, and this, and this, and this.” And I was suddenly realized that's not useful to do in that situation. When you're late, the thing that people don't want is for you to come in and spend the first three minutes talking about your lateness. So instead I thought, “What if I just let all that go and just say, “I'm so sorry.”” Then, I don't have to be running around trying to make up some excuse. So all these things, they just free me up in a way.

This goes back to the conversation we were having at dinner the other night, because we were talking about the Last Cut. So I like to do this thing where I say, “I have this question. Please everybody answer it.” So, (laughs) it was this question I was asking and we started pondering this idea of a last cut. You’ve got whatever that is that needs to be cut spinning in the back of your head. You know at the back of your mind, and that's taking up energy. If you do this thing and when you make that shift, it just frees you up for opportunity.

I didn't know I had question. That is another interesting thing. There are people who are spiritual seekers their whole lives. I never was and so I didn't know I had a question. So that's part of why it’s remarkable to me. I didn't have to look for it."

The interesting thing though is how you described your life leading up to that point, which by no means sounded negative or bad, and then how it became after. There was a shift though in the flow, the beauty and the dreamlike quality of your life. Everyone has a day-to-day grind as they’re doing what they love the most, but I feel as if, just in hearing you talk about those two parts of your life, the two parts of your headline, there was such a distinct shift that even if you weren't necessarily seeking or trying to answer that specific question, when it sort of ultimately happened, then all of these different things opened up.

"It's true and there were certainly ways that I was not in integrity with myself and others before that shift. I think it’s interesting the word integrity, as it captures what it means. I feel as if it made me more whole."

Well, I have one other question that popped up when I was listening to what you were saying about listening to others. Because there has been a change in who you’ve been able to relate to or be in relationship with as you’ve deepened your faith, how have you found you have had to adjust your interactions with people? Often this happens when we get clearer around how we're showing up in the world that is more true to who we are.

"I don't know. It's interesting. I would say in some ways I would be drawn to people who are more aligned, but in some ways, it also allows me to be with people who are not so aligned and it doesn't affect me in the same way."

That’s a testament then to the practice.

"So I realize there's one other big thing that I've left out. I got this award from my professional organization; this woman of the year award, which gave me an hour [to speak] at the APA convention, American Psychological Association convention. So then, I thought, "I'm going to go get a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy “Woman of the Year” movie and watch that and that's going to give me some insight about what to say." And I watched it and I realized, "Nope, that's not it." David, my partner, watched it with me and I said, "That's not it." And he's said, "So what is it?" So we talked about it and I realized that the thing that I wanted to say was from “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.” And so I gave this talk at the APA convention called “All I need to know about being  Woman of The Year I learned from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” And then I kept using it. I gave a talk to my class because I was teaching this class about leadership, and so it was “All I need to know about leadership I learned about from Buffy.”  

There's thing that happens. All we hear for six seasons is that Buffy is the chosen one; it's her responsibility to slay all the demons, you know, she's the one. And then you get the backstory about sort of how that came to be, and it turns out it's this patriarchal system keeping her in this role. And so, at the very end, in Season Seven, there's this big battle that Buffy cannot battle on her own. So, when a slayer dies, another slayer rises, basically, but there are all these potential slayers out there. So they bring in all the potential slayers, and, at the end, she basically shifts the rules so that everybody can fully realize their slayer power. Oh my God, you have to watch Buffy. They're so good.

All right, so this is the main speech [from the final episode of Buffy], "So here's the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be our power…From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, willbe a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power, can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?""

Jacopo de Bertoldi

Jacopo de Bertoldi