How to Transform Suffering Into Freedom | Spotlight Convo

Byron KatieLama Rod OwensHave you ever felt trapped by the weight of your own thoughts and beliefs? Or struggled to find freedom from difficult emotions like anger, grief, and heartbreak? In this insightful conversation, we’ll dive deep into two powerful practices for untangling the roots of our suffering and unlocking our truest, most liberated selves.

My guests today are Byron Katie and Lama Rod Owens, two inspiring teachers who have walked the path of radical self-inquiry and transformation. Byron Katie’s profound awakening in 1986 sparked the development of The Work – her simple yet life-changing method of questioning the thoughts that cause our suffering, that I often turn to myself, and reference often.

Lama Rod Owens is a Buddhist teacher who weaves together his experiences as a Black, queer man with Buddhist teachings on spiritual liberation. From this intersection of identities, he has created an approach called Radical Dharma that shows how to tenderly hold our anger and heartbreak as fuel for awakening.

In their powerful and contrasting journeys, both Byron Katie and Lama Rod have discovered how to radically question the beliefs and narratives that keep us trapped in cycles of pain, and they’re sharing insights, practices, and deeply personal stories to help you find clarity amidst life’s confusions and choose freedom in every present moment.

Episode Transcript

You can find Byron Katie at: Website | Instagram | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Byron Katie

You can find Lama Rod Owens at: Website | Instagram | Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Lama Rod

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photo credit: Nathanial Taylor, Rick Rusing


Episode Transcript:

Lama Rod Owens: [00:00:00] The work is really just about transforming our relationship to the world. When we transform our relationship, it’s not that the world just instantly changes. It means that I have an agency and how I’m choosing to react to the world, to the forces around me. Your concern for others deepens because you begin to realize that not a lot of people have reached this level that you’ve reached. I choose to return back to places to help people come out of the same kinds of suffering that was able to come out of. I only did that because there were people who came back and got me, and because I realized what has been done for me, then I also am ethically mandated to offer that same help to others.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:48] So have you ever felt trapped by the weight of your own thoughts and beliefs, or maybe struggle to find freedom from difficult emotions like anger, grief, or heartbreak? In today’s deep dive conversation, we explore two powerful practices for untangling the roots of our suffering and unlocking our truest, most liberated selves. So my guest today are Byron Katie and Lama Rod Owens, two deeply inspiring teachers who have walked the path of radical self-inquiry and transformation. Byron Katie’s profound awakening in 1986 sparked the development of the work, her simple yet life-changing method that really helps question the thoughts that cause our suffering, that I often turn to myself and reference. Lama Rod Owens is a Buddhist teacher who weaves together his experiences as a Black queer man with Buddhist teachings on spiritual liberation. So from the intersection of identities, he’s created this approach called radical Dharma, that shows how to tenderly hold our anger and heartbreak as fuel for awakening. And in their powerful and contrasting journeys, both Byron Katie and Lama Rod have discovered how to radically question the beliefs and narratives that keep us trapped in cycles of pain. And they’re sharing insights and practices and deeply personal stories to help you find clarity amidst life’s confusions and choose freedom in every present moment. So excited to share this conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:18] Hey, our first guest today is Byron Katie, whose profound awakening in 1986 showed her a way to liberate herself from the suffering caused by her thoughts at the bottom of a decade-long spiral into depression and self-loathing. Byron woke up one morning in a state of profound joy and clarity, and she realized that when she believed her stressful thoughts, she suffered. But when she questioned them in a very particular way, the suffering dissolved. This realization sparked the development of her simple yet powerful process of self-inquiry called the work, which consists of four questions and a technique called the turnaround that allows us to experience the opposite of what we believe. For over 30 years, Byron has been sharing the work with millions worldwide, empowering them to question the thoughts that cause their suffering and find freedom in the present moment. Her best-selling books, including Loving What Is and A Mind at Home With Itself, have introduced countless readers to this transformative practice. In this conversation, we dive deep into Byron’s personal journey and explore the life-changing insights at the heart of the work. Here’s Byron.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:22] Let’s kind of dip a little bit back into your personal story, and I think it probably makes sense to go all the way back to 86. And and maybe if you could paint a bit of a picture of what life was like before 86 for you.


Byron Katie: [00:03:34] It was a world full of depression. You know, my own depression. The depression was so deep. It was more than a decade. And it was it was so deep, I didn’t believe I could even live very suicidal. And then one morning, as I lay sleeping on the floor because I didn’t believe I was worth even a bed to sleep in, that’s depressed, a very paranoid as well as as well, just blind fear. And three children that I was trying to raise at the same time and make the house payment, etc. and you know, a life ended and I was still breathing. But one day as I lay sleeping on the floor, actually, a cockroach crawled over my foot and I opened my eyes and it’s as though I was just witnessing, you know, I was just witnessing. I was just, you know, I don’t have a description for that yet. I don’t know how to speak of it. Maybe I’ll never understand how to speak of it. But what I did see is that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered. And when I didn’t believe my thoughts, I didn’t suffer. And I saw that on the floor. I more than saw it. I experienced it because it’s like this witness, this unspeakable witness was just seen. And it was it was like a birth into the world of of just consciousness and just pure consciousness.


Byron Katie: [00:05:05] And then I saw that on as thoughts began to hit my head, everything began to have a name like window and sky and ceiling and floor and and even Katie, it was it was, you know, everything had an end at that point. I began to laugh, and it’s like I just I just got some kind of, of great joke that had been played on all of us. You know, I’ve seen that that all of us in the world, we believe our thoughts. We suffer. But to question them, you know, that’s the way out of this maze for me. And so, of course, I invite people to identify their judgments and assumptions when they’re hurt and or suffering in any way, that they just identify those judgments and assumptions and question them. And I also, Jay loved to say that, that the way to question there are only four questions. And the work, I call it the work. It’s always free at everything I have that has any value is free there and how to do it. And it’s anyone with an open mind can do this. I think of other people suffering unnecessarily, which you know, was my case and I think anyone that suffers once we learn how to question the cause of suffering and we begin to experience a life worth living, it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:28] Was speaking with a friend a while back. It was interesting because he was. His lens on depression was so many people think would say the opposite of depression is happiness. He had an interesting lens, which I’m curious what your thoughts are, which is that he felt the opposite of depression was curiosity.


Byron Katie: [00:06:44] Exactly. So. And I think a questioned mind. An inquiring mind is a curious mind because without what we’re believing, you know, everything opens up. So it really is that. I love that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:59] When you were in your darkest time, you mentioned you had three kids. Have you talked with them over the years about how they were experiencing you during that window? And then and then upon this awakening, how that shifted for them just.


Byron Katie: [00:07:14] Over and over and over and over, you know, any time we’re together. There that shows up. And you know, when in one way or another, even in just very small minor ways now. But actually every year on my birthday, we all get together, my three children and and me, we spend three days together and oh, it is marvelous. And now there’s just not a lot to talk about. Everyone’s so respectful and understanding and kind. It’s it’s as though one person gets free and it changes the entire family dynamic. But originally, as you asked the question, where my mind also went was my daughter, for one thing, said she had so much fear that the old mother would return again, that it took her quite a while, all three of them to to adjust, that I wasn’t going to flip into this, this world of depression that they were so used to enrage. You know, confusion is it’s not a friendly, it’s not a friendly world.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:16] When you started to sort of live this new life, essentially, how did others around you receive that and receive you?


Byron Katie: [00:08:23] Well, distrustful at first, for sure. And then, you know, I’ve been sharing this lately. I was I noticed one day I was sitting on a park bench and, and then, you know, people would come sit down, of course. And then the next day I noticed sitting on that park bench that maybe 1 or 2 of the same people would show up again. And then I noticed one day, sitting on the park bench, that there was a queue, a line of people standing up to wait, to sit, to sit there with me. So it’s it was for one thing, I became a listener, because when you really have no, as we say, no, no, life sounds a bit strange, but no self. We might say like no self. It’s like I don’t have a self I’m interested in. So that leaves me just fascinated by other people and connected to other people. It’s such a beautiful thing to be connected to the world. When I was distant from it for so many years, it took it took me a while to balance, you know, to, um, not to be more or less, but just in the center, you know, that balance and unrecognizable, unrecognizable balance, even though after seeing what I said may sound a little strange, but at first it was quite an adjustment as word began to pass around from one to the other. Then people were calling me from literally all over the world, and I had no idea what they wanted. But I did know what peace is, and I, I, you know, I do know what suffering is, and I know what peace is. And it’s really it’s really difficult for people, we’ll say, suffering people that are confused in their lives. And it’s really difficult to have a good life. It’s really difficult to even decisions. The simplest decisions sometimes are just can be difficult.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:22] Do you have a sense for people were coming to you because there was something about you that they wanted or they wanted to feel? Do you have a sense for what that was, what that is?


Byron Katie: [00:10:33] Well, I’m immovable in what I recognize and and so I can’t be swayed. And that may sound like a stubbornness, and yet it’s the extreme opposite. But I guess you could say that people trust that. I trust it and and I think I think that is, you know, I don’t have a mind that anticipates. Or remembers. I have a mind that’s present and I can talk out of out of the past and future, but I don’t have a way of attaching to it because I can see that that’s not reality, that’s imaging. That’s not really a past. Like we drove over here in a in a car where we were driven over here in a car, and I see that clearly, but I can see me in that car, but that’s not myself. And then Stephen and I talked about getting a coffee after our time with you together, and, and I can see me at a coffee shop, you know, in my mind’s eye, that future. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to a coffee shop. It really doesn’t mean anything.


Byron Katie: [00:11:53] And I see me at the coffee shop, but that’s not me. So when people are talking out of what I’m describing now, but once we become aware of that, it’s not self in the past and that is not self I see in the future, then we’re no longer confused about, you know, false identity, false worlds. And it’s so easy just to be just right here, right now. It’s so simple. I think the depression I came out of, I’m just so grateful that this is all there is. And I there’s no worry in my life because I don’t anticipate, even though my mind can see what we would call past future. There’s nothing concrete about it, so therefore nothing to worry over. And so my life is about just saying yes and moving inquiry to as many people as as possible. The end of suffering, the absence of suffering because we make better choices that way. We’re kinder, we’re connected, we’re wiser because we’re in touch with wisdom and as and as you as you mentioned earlier, one of my favorites, I’m curious.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:14] One of the things that came to me when I first heard your story and sort of like the moment and how it’s changed you since then, is that. Often when you hear a story of somebody who’s who’s awakened in some way and in some level, there is, along with that, some sort of almost dissociative experience, the the sort of Western world, the modern lens and, and medicine wants to label that. They want to label that as something wrong as, as disease, as a condition. I’m curious whether that was part of your early journey, sort of like whether those labels were sort of, you know, thrust upon you or people wanting to say that this was something other than what you feel you experienced.


Byron Katie: [00:14:03] Yeah, it seemed a great I can see how people could see it that way. Certainly in the beginning. So it was difficult to step into. And enseamed, I’m sure crazy to a lot of people. I had to learn all over again. What we do here on Earth was kind of my experience. You know, I’m new, I’m new, and now I’m not. Now I’m very comfortable. It just it was just a little a learning process along the way. So on I had this little book. This little book. Yeah. 12-page, very small pamphlet, like a tiny little book. And in fact, I called it the little book, but it’s still free on today, and it’s in 36 or 39 different languages, and it pretty much just guides people into their own suffering. And then just a way to walk people out of it. It’s just pure inquiry. For example, um, let’s say I’m, I’m a little 4 or 5-year-old child. I’m playing, I’m happy, I have this amazing life. And my mother says, Byron Kathleen, you’re unlovable and I don’t love you. And what I can see today is that is absolutely not a problem. There’s no cruelty in it. There’s no. There’s no way to blame her for it, because I’ve come to see that when we believe our thoughts, we suffer and we say things that we are so sorry for and feel so guilty over. But when we believe our thoughts, we live out of that thought process. And so she said, I don’t love you. And so that is complete. If I’m not experiencing compassion and connection with her because it’s painful to see someone that way, if I’m not seeing that, then there’s something way off in me.


Byron Katie: [00:16:17] So I’m just this little girl. She says, I don’t love you. There is zero problem until the moment I believed it. Now that’s my part, I believed it. Just imagine she says that and I don’t believe it. So where was the. Where was the damage done? If we. I’m using that word loosely, I believed it. So there there are a lot of. And that became my identification. I’m the unlovable one. And so I have introducing to people, you know as my job the simplicity of how to wake ourselves up from the dream of I am that identity, I am unlovable, in other words. So a person might that feels that way might just ask themselves, is it true? And then meditate on I’m unlovable? Is it true? And just to develop a practice, let’s say in the morning, to get up early and just sit in that practice and, and and contemplate that, that, that I’m unlovable? Is it true? And then to just witness in that meditation how you react and what happens to your life when you believe the thought you’re unlovable and just to witness what goes on when you the moment I believed it, that became my identification. So it gives everyone opportunity to see that for themselves. And then that last question, who would you be without the thought? So I can go back and see my mother saying that. Would I be without the thought? Who would I be without the thought? I’m unlovable.


Byron Katie: [00:18:12] And there it is, connected to my mother, compassionate as opposed to living a life of trying to convince her all my life that I’m lovable and the torture of that, and not just my mother, but other people. So, you know, we’re we’re all in this, this world of seeking love, approval and appreciation for what we already are. And it’s just a matter of of waking up to up to that and inquiry. It does wake us up to it. And then the next thing I invite people to is, is to take that assumption or judgment that we’ve been believing and, and then to, to turn it around and try it on as though you were trying on a new pair of shoes or something. But I’m unlovable. The opposite of that is I’m lovable. Now, for some of us, that’s very difficult to hear because it’s new. We’ve never even considered such a thing. So to get very still and close your eyes and just meditate on those those loving, caring acts of kindness that we have that are common for us, that we don’t, we’re not even aware of because we’re holding this identity of I’m and lovable so tightly, for example. But then when we get still and I’m lovable and I can just, you know, look back and and where was I caring toward myself, you know, where was I caring towards someone else, you know, where have I said and done things that I find connect me to other human beings and in other words, loving, lovable things I do that I would love me for basically.


Byron Katie: [00:20:06] So it is like coming out of hell, you know, just coming back into a world that we’re really living in, but because we’re believing our thoughts, we’re unaware of that beautiful world. And I’ve come to see that, you know, beyond my own doubt that the universe is friendly and there is no opposite to that. But what I’m thinking and believing could lead me to believe otherwise. And I have a word for that. It’s called suffering. And another word confusion. Another word war. So this, this new book, a mind at home with itself, it’s the entire book. It’s Stephen introduced me to this book. I’d never heard of the Diamond Sutra. And it’s all about gratitude. And when we are living out of our kindest nature, then that sense of gratitude comes with it. And we wouldn’t even name it gratitude. It is just a sense of right living and joy. And it’s a fearless state of mind and life where we know what our talents are, they’re clear to us, and there’s nothing to stop us because we’re. Out of out of what is right and a mind that is no longer confused, in other words, fearful to stop us. No one and nothing can stop us from doing the right thing when our mind is clear. And I really love that. For people listening to this podcast, to know that there is a way out of suffering. But the world can’t give that to me. It’s it really. I don’t call it the work for nothing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:51] Mhm. Yeah. And just to sort of create a little bit of structure around what you just offered The Work is you just navigated us through a really beautiful example of the process of inquiry that came to you, which is this asking of these four questions and, and these things that, that you identify as turnarounds as a way to would it be accurate to say, to develop the habit of testing the thoughts and assumptions that constantly come in and lead to suffering when you grasp on to them as truth?


Byron Katie: [00:22:29] Socrates said, an unquestioned life isn’t worth living, and I am of that school.


Jonathan Fields: [00:22:35] What’s interesting with the example that you just shared, which was that your experience as a child? Yes. When I think about, you know, as an adult, okay. So I can I can listen to this, I can I can receive the process of the work and it makes sense to me. And I say, okay, I’m open to this. You know, I’m there suffering in my life, there thoughts that I have that I’m not okay with. Let me, let me at least I’m open to it. Let me try it. Four-year-old Byron Kathleen, in your mind, is is there a gateway to introduce this process, the work to somebody much younger in life to create that lens long before the depth of suffering builds up?


Byron Katie: [00:23:23] Yeah, it’s just happening. It’s happening all over. You know, parents are they’re doing this work and it’s shifting their children’s lives. And I watch my grandchildren and it’s it’s radical watching because my daughter has the work in her life witnessing my grandchildren. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:44] The beauty of it is. The simplicity of the process. This is not a big, heavy, complex, you know, like dogmatic dogma. It’s not layered with with things or ideologies. It is. It’s such a simple, straightforward process that you can almost look at it and say, well, yeah, I it just kind of makes sense.


Byron Katie: [00:24:06] What I love about it is there’s no teacher involved. It’s just it’s just just me with myself or just anyone doing the work. It’s just that person with themself and the opportunity to just get still and be shown what meets those questions. When we ask with sincerity, I.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:26] Feel like this is actually a good place for us to come full circle. So as we sit here, I always end with one final question with everyone. And it’s a simple question with maybe a not-so-simple answer, which is in in your experience, what does it mean to live a good life.


Byron Katie: [00:24:40] To be present and recognize what is at hand to do, and to do that without hesitation and to because it’s just recognized as a good thing to do. Thank you. Thank you so much.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:55] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. So I love how Byron really reminds us of the simplicity and power and questioning our thoughts that this act alone can liberate us from so much suffering. And our next guest is Lama Rod Owens is a spiritual teacher whose powerful approach called Radical Dharma, really shows how to transform challenges like anger and grief and heartbreak into a path of healing and liberation from his intersecting identities. As a Black, queer southern man, Lama Rod creates an authentic, inclusive platform that meets people where they are with a blend of directness and lightness. With a masters from Harvard and over a decade of experience, he has emerged as a leading voice for a new generation seeking personal and societal transformation. In this conversation, we’ll explore how Lama Rod integrated his upbringing in the Black prophetic tradition with Buddhist teachings on spiritual liberation, and you will gain insights into how we can tenderly hold our anger and heartbreak as we work to free ourselves from trauma and self-sabotaging patterns. He shares practical guidance for choosing clarity over confusion, light over darkness as we strive to live our most authentic, liberated lives. Here’s Lama Rod.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:26:11] My relationship to the Black radical prophetic tradition really began in my early teens, because I was a reader and I was exposed to all kinds of literature, you know, primarily back then because of my dad, you know, who was had also been exposed to that literature and wanted me to read it. So I was reading W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T Washington. Booker T Washington isn’t necessarily an example of like Black radical prophetic, but it was. He was still a thought leader. He was still someone whose views are still held, you know, in value even now. But reading those two, those two thinkers, then moving into Malcolm X. You know, and and into these, you know, uh, Black Panther movement, the Black power movement, you know, and studying the Haitian Revolution. And I had to do that study outside of school because I, you know, we weren’t being assigned Malcolm X, you know, and the and the Panthers in our history class. Right. You know, so I did that study on my own and that really began to form, you know, this belief that, like, if I want to be free and happy, but back then it was more about free. If I wanted to be free, then I needed to do something. So get free. And that wasn’t necessarily about praying to God. It was about getting active and organizing, taking stances, you know, getting educated, joining others, you know, and and working towards a goal, you know, associated with with liberation and freedom. And that was. That was my first Dharma, if you will. The Black radical tradition and Black prophetic tradition.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:28:08] It was something that helped me to channel my anger. You know it gave my anger somewhere to live. I know, and it was it’s really because of my study in the Black radical tradition that I began to understand the power of the Black church as well, that what I was given didn’t really resonate with me. But when I was able to step back and to apply this lens of Black agency, for instance, I began to say, oh, the Black church was actually functioning in a certain way that was not able to identify moving through the church as a practitioner. And then and then, you know, earlier you spoke of this kind of Black heartbreak, right? And it’s. The heartbreak is palpable and evident. In the Black church. And I saw it, you know, that was very it was very present. But like, it was so hard for us to talk about it. And I knew that so much of my path as I got older was to talk about the heartbreak. And to talk about the heartbreak in a way that I framed that narrative of the heartbreak around freedom. Not around overwhelm, not around continued suffering, but what it meant to articulate the heartbreak. And then that articulation actually opening the door to a kind of openness and deeper vulnerability and the experience of letting go. You know, being through with certain heartbreaks and then just offering this back. You know, just saying. Yeah, I’m through with this now. I’m going to choose happiness.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:49] Hmm.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:29:50] I’ve mourned enough.


Jonathan Fields: [00:29:51] Yeah. Which is, you know, on paper, just it’s time to choose happiness in in reality. Yeah. You know, it is a much more complex and often long and deep and studied unfolding if we ever get to that place. And, of course, you know, it also depends in a certain level, how we even define happiness. Yeah. You know, we’re not talking about just getting to a place where the life is good, everything’s happy-go-lucky. But. Right. It’s a different context, you know?


Lama Rod Owens: [00:30:21] Yeah. You know, choosing happiness means that. At some point. I accept what’s happening. Now there’s a I don’t it’s not. When I say accept, it doesn’t mean agreeing with or condoning. I’m saying this is happening. But to make that step, to take that step means that I have to to contend with the heartbreak. It comes with this acceptance. I can no longer live within a fantasy of what the world is. I can’t continue to hang out in my hoping. For things to be different, I hope is still very important for me. I have to be realistic and say at this moment, right now, this is what’s happening. And there’s a kind of. Soberness that arises, and that soberness comes again from having to hold space for the heartbreak that arises that, ugh, like I have to, I have to touch into this reality. I have to touch the ground. Because I’ve been afraid of the ground. Like we’re afraid of touching the ground because. The ground is dirty, you know. When I touch the ground, I’m touching into reality. And then I move into the heartbreak. And I let the heartbreak be there. And the heartbreak doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Because actually the nature of my mind is much greater than the heartbreak, right? If I if I use, like my tantric language, you know, I would say. Yeah. And the heartbreak is actually just an expression of my mind. Itself. And if I can realize that, then there’s a freedom that begins to arise. I am no longer reacting to this energy, because I realized that the essence of this is just this essence of of spaciousness and emptiness. And just like this energy that’s moving and taking shape in different ways, and I can just watch it and let it be there. Right? And my reality begins to shift. It changes. Right. And then I’m sitting in reality. And when I, when I get through that heartbreak and not I want to, you know, also say that heartbreak doesn’t just disappear. It’s it stays there. But I’m still holding it. It’s just there. Right. And then there’s a soberness and then a contentment. That arises. Right? And when you say, yeah, this is the world. Right. And now how can I choose the best way to take care of myself and to do the work of getting myself free and getting others around me free?


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:59] Yeah. I mean, the, um, part of my career, I have a lot of curiosities around this, and part of it is, you know, when. We aspire to step into this state, this place. So often, what leads to it is action fueled by as you shared anger, rage, you know, and because there is pain, there’s suffering. There’s like physical violence that has often led to this psychic and emotional violence that has led to a certain place, you know. So I’m fascinated by this notion of. I don’t know if the right language is letting go of that or transmuting it, or like the process of moving from there and saying this still matters to me. My external world is still largely the same, but I need to change my internal world in a way, and still take action and be in the world around me and be a part of of shifting. Um. You know, the journey from that place where there is a certain anger and a certain rage to the place that you’ve just sort of described. It feels like a brutally hard transition.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:34:14] Yeah. Well, absolutely. It was, you know, it took me about 15 years to do that. And that was heavy labor on my part. That wasn’t casual, informal, you know, weekend work. It was every day and giving up a lot to go deeper into those, those experiences. But, you know, the work is really just about transforming our relationship to the world. Right in the world. You know, when we transform our relationship, it’s not the world. It’s not that the world just instantly changes. It means that. I have an agency and how I’m choosing to react to the world. To the forces around me. Right. And it’s it feels natural to assume that if you get to that space, then you just stop giving a shit. But in fact, I think that your concern. For others deepens because you begin to realize that not a lot of people have reached this level that you’ve reached. And then it becomes an ethical mandate for you. To help others. Because you know what? The experience of being lost is deeply fixated on the trauma feels like. Right. You know, and so we’re not trying to bypass anything. You know, um. You know. But there is you know, when I think about Buddhism, there is this path of, you know, what we call solitary realizers, where it’s like people get free and then they like and they’re like, okay, great, I’m getting the hell out of here.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:36:00] And I think that’s I think that’s legit. You know, that’s that’s also a part of my belief system is like, yeah, you get free. You know, I’m talking about awakening like you’re awakened to the nature of reality. And then you just head on, you know, you’re like, you know, I. I think that’s fine. But for me, I choose to, with whatever realization I experience, I choose to return back to places to help people come out of the same kinds of suffering that was able to come out of. I only did that because there were people who came back and got me. Mhm. Right. So I had teachers who did this for me. They had teachers who did that for them. That’s what’s called lineage. You know, there are people who have come back over and over and over again and have sacrificed immensely in order to pull people out of the trauma of the violence. And because I realized what has been done for me, then, I also am ethically mandated to offer that same help to others.


Jonathan Fields: [00:37:17] Yeah. Interestingly. I mean, it’s also you describe this impulse towards service and teaching from a very young age, and it’s also returning to that impulse for you. You know, it’s sort of like if, if, if there’s a script that has run in your head for, you know, as long as you can remember that says, this is part of why I’m here, you know, that, then that’s sort of like it’s part of the it’s part of the path, you know, for, for you, the, the 15 years or so that you’ve described and that, you know, you’re still within. It sounds like it really does begin with this introduction to Buddhism. Um, you know, you move through the traditional church upbringing to a certain extent, black radicalism and prophetic tradition becomes your church in a certain way for a certain window of your life. But there’s still a lot of pain. There’s still a lot of suffering. It’s not processing that through. And it sounds like Buddhism was the thing that allowed the kind of start to open the release valve to a certain extent.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:38:17] But Buddhism named suffering. And that was that’s that sold me off the bat. It was the first teaching of suffering. Right, you know and yeah, for a lot of people that that’s a turnoff. For me. I just think that’s one of the kindest things that I had ever encountered. Was for this profound path to say, oh, you’re suffering like you’re not imagining this. Right. Well, relatively, you know, on the relative level, this is happening ultimately not so much, but relatively like you are definitely moving through a lot of discomfort and you have to start there. You know, and I think there was there are certain paths to invite us to start with the happiness, you know. But but I don’t know how to do that, you know. But. Being encouraged to start where it hurts. It was this profound, profound permission. For me, that was the language that I was looking for, that I was like, oh, I am really uncomfortable. I’m suffering. Right. And it’s okay because everyone else’s as well, especially the ones who claim that they’re not suffering, they’re in the most suffering. Right. And so and so that took me from that, that basic truth into a deep relationship with what discomfort was and how discomfort arose.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:39:47] You know, and that’s a mind was the root. Of liberation. And for me, you know. Coming up in this kind of black radical tradition. Black power work. I never come across. Any discourse around the mind. You know, that was so intricate and defined and detailed. Testament Buddhism offered it. That the mind had to be awakened in order for social liberation to happen. You know. And here’s the pedagogy. To do that. And that’s what you know. That was the next thing that sold me here was a pedagogy. You know, and just. You’re instructed to take these teachings and work them, you just work them out and working the teachings out produce more insight, more wisdom, and you begin to feed off of that. That production of wisdom, of clarity. You know, it’s quite interesting to, to, to study some, you know, for me to study some of these great leaders, you know, um, that I idolize. And how many of them had a secret practice of meditation or prayer yoga. You know, Rosa Parks was a, you know, a Yogi.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:19] Oh, no kidding. I never heard that.


[00:41:21] Yeah. There are pictures, um, you know, there are pictures of her doing yoga. Actually, you know, which was like, it’s so profound, right, when you think about that. But like I thought, okay, how can I do more work to bridge this laboratory mind teaching with these laboratory teachings of the relative world together? And that was just something that started naturally happening without I mean, I didn’t sit down and say, one day, okay, I’m going to bring this together. But again, it was the the hunger, you know, for me to bridge all these parts of who and what I was. And that has made, you know, for me all the difference. I mean that well, that has shaped the way that I teach and offer, uh, instruction.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:13] Yeah. I mean, it sounds like that becomes really the foundation of this, the notion of radical dharma, right? You know, spiritual liberation is bound to social liberation, to societal liberation. And that, you know, you can’t just do the work outside with the external circumstances. You’ve got to work on the outside world and also the inside world. Exactly. And there there’s no way to unbind them.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:42:37] Mhm. Absolutely. You know, and I and I was kind of wondering through the world. You know, until, you know, I met Reverend angel, you know, and we got together and we started, like, creating. This kind of notion of radical dharma. And that, for me, was a way to ground all of these things that I was thinking about, but didn’t really have a foundation at all, nor nor a container. You know, to kind of place them and became that container for me.


Jonathan Fields: [00:43:13] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. You mentioned the pedagogy that that is built into the Buddhist path. You know, this effectively becomes your pedagogy, you know, in terms of how do we relate these two things, spiritual and social and ethical liberation, you know? You know, it’s. It’s interesting you posed the question in the work. How do we tend to the wound beneath the anger? I think the word specifically you wrote, if we don’t wrestle with the anger, we never get to the heartbreak. And if we don’t get to the heartbreak, we don’t get to the healing.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:43:47] Yeah. So many people are. So they’re bypassing the heartbreak and you can’t. You have to go to the wound. But how can you heal if you’re not dealing with the wound itself? And I know. Absolutely. That is terrifying. Absolutely. I go to these places regularly, actually. But I know that healing can only happen if I go. And if I show up and offer a lot of space, the woundedness. Right. And that over time we begin to see that the woundedness is just the teacher for us, that even the woundedness is trying to love us. Right. And it’s loving us because it’s showing us. You know where it is, you know, and it’s being vulnerable and open. If we can just pay attention. And of course, the whole process. Paying attention, holding space, letting go over and over again. You know, that’s like a really basic contemplative practice. Over and over. But the letting go. That’s the trick.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:58] Yeah, well, I mean, Reverend angel, right? Adds to, I think, the way that you phrased it and I think introduces the notion of grief. You know, part part of that letting go is also a process of grieving a certain state that has in no small way defined your daily existence.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:45:18] Yeah. You know, and it’s the ways in which we also. We have used things to create a sense of self. And when those things are disrupted, then our sense of self is disrupted and that’s where the loss arises. You know, as in, you know, Stevie Nicks, you know, and says in landslide. You know, I’ve built my whole life around you. You know, I’ve been afraid of changing, you know, and I just one of my favorite songs, actually, that’s a that’s a song that, like, I am often reflecting on, you know, like, because it’s like a lot of us get stuck because we’ve used things around us in relationships and people to define a sense of who we are, and we don’t want to disrupt that, but it will be disrupted because things change. Things die. Things are destroyed. Things dissipate. You know, we’re always changing. Even if we choose not to show up to that change. There’s the grieving there. And we have to choose the grieving in order to negotiate the energy of loss, the energy, well, the energy specifically of longing for permanence.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:45] Mhm. Yeah, I mean, that that makes a lot of sense. Part of what I’m wondering also is I hear you share that is. When on the one hand, you feel the weight of current and present harm. You see the systems all around you that continue to create that. And there’s a deep wounding underneath. But also this this rage and anger on on the surface. And if you view the anger as the source fuel for change, then. Choosing to step away from that. Can be conflated with choosing to step away from a commitment. To change. And rather than saying, well, is there another source fuel?


Lama Rod Owens: [00:47:40] Mhm. Well that’s that’s the misconception. Anger isn’t fueling our work of liberation. It’s love that fuels the work of liberation. Tell me more. You know, love is something that I’ve. You know, many of us have been beat over the head with. You know, again, I grew up in the South. You know, I live in Atlanta now, and I live like mile from Dr. King’s, you know, the MLK National Memorial site. So it’s like, oh, you know, and growing up with Doctor King, you know, my whole life in Georgia was love, love, love, love, love, love, love thy enemy. Love, love love. You know, and I just got sick of that. You know, as I got older because I just, I didn’t see or I didn’t understand how to connect to actual examples of love. I was being loved and cared for. I just didn’t get that, you know, and it I didn’t understand love until I began this really intense work of loving myself. And then that’s where love actually came into focus. And I said, oh, this is not this romantic, idealized, you know, thing. It’s just this is this hard work. Of learning how to accept myself and to hold space for all of the woundedness. And going through that and saying, you know what? It’s okay. And I’m not the only one. You know, over and over again. And so understanding that and coming back out into liberation struggle, the struggle for me, ah, my my work in the struggle is fueled by my deep wish for people to be safe and happy. That’s what fuels the work. That’s what makes the work sustainable.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:49:29] Because I believe all beings, regardless of who you are, regardless of how much you hurt me, you deserve to be free, safe and happy. Right. And that’s what motivates the work. Now the anger is still there, right? And the anger actually helps me to understand what’s wrong. In how things are wrong. It reminds me that I’m still connected to the world, and to the welfare of beings, and to the welfare of myself. It reminds me that there’s hurt still present. You know, and that I can use that energy of anger as I take care of myself. I can use that energy and channel it back into the work of liberation. You know, because it keeps me sensitive. To the world around me. It keeps me sensitive to the realities of others around me as well. Particularly. Why? It always tells me that there’s still imbalance. You know. Of course, here there are all kinds of different angles. Righteous anger, for instance. Right. Which is still legitimate. Right. Yeah. We’ve been hurt in really significant ways because of injustice. Anger arises from that. I have a right to be with that. Right now I have a right to be heard. You know I have a right to my anger to be to be held and witnessed. And the wounding that comes. For many of us comes from the ways in which our anger has been erased, sidetracked, and validated. Your anger isn’t important. Who cares? Right. Our in my case, my anger is dangerous. Is my anger actually highlights the fact that there’s a debt. That’s old.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:33] It’s so powerful in a lot of ways, you know? My curiosity around it also is that the shift where you’re not entirely letting go of the anger because you can’t. And it’s important not to to the extent that it is, it is a signal of the work still yet to be done. And the, the, the existence of, of, of harm and sources of harm in the world still to this day and yet. If that remains, tell me if I’m getting this right. If that remains the central source fuel of what motivates you. It may motivate action, but it simultaneously consumes you. So it’s it’s almost like letting you know, shifting anger to the signal that tells you almost like your compass and shifting love. Um, or these indicia, the way you described love. Um, rather than the sort of, you know, holiday card, you know, notion of it that we’re talking about. It’s not an offering to other people. It is an act of self-care, of self-preservation, of saying that like, I matter and this is the way that I can still do the work in the world and be able to take care of myself along the way.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:52:45] I think that’s absolutely right. And that also that love is the container. Therefore, for the anger, like my anger, expresses itself within the energy of love. That love is what helps me to remember. That people are human. And suffer just like me. No matter if you’re being violent towards me, you’re still human. You’re not evil. You’re not all the things that we like to say about people. But you’re still human. Someone loves you. And you lost someone else. My early teacher around love used to always say that no matter how vile someone seems, someone loves them and that they love someone. And that’s evidence that love can be cultivated for them. Even if they’re choosing not to embrace that and express that in the moment that they’re expressing violence towards you. And this isn’t you know, I know people listen to this and they say, oh, this is so, you know, whatever, right? Love whatever. And I come from that, too, like you have to. I come from a place where I was like, fuck love, let’s just go and burn everything down. Right, you know, and then getting older, deepening the practice. It was important for me to understand that. No, actually. I want to be sustainable. Like I want to create instead of destroying things. But like, I don’t think. It’s cool for the world to become. An object of my anger or a target for my anger. You know. Like because I struggled as a me, the whole world should be burned down.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:48] But I mean, it’s easy. On the one hand, it’s easy to say that. But when you say because I struggle, it doesn’t mean the whole world should be burned down. And yet, if you perceive the world as the source of your struggle, it’s complicated.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:55:01] Well, and that’s. And what’s complicated, because we don’t see it as complicated. Yeah, like it’s too simple. The world is the cause of my suffering. Well, what’s the world right to begin with? The world? Isn’t this, like one solid thing? The world is a complex eco, you know, ecological system of these different parts, you know, creating different realities for different people. So, you know, part of that is stepping back. And holding space for our suffering. And then the world. This idea of the world changes significantly. Right. You know, for me, early on. Yeah. My practice, the world was just huge antagonists. Right. The world will just. The world is just this antagonist that was trying to kill me. And then once I started the practice, I began to see that, actually. I was trying to be loved by different aspects of the world. There were people trying to love me. Like I never realized that. And that expression of love was experiences that started hooking onto and holding on to that. People were trying to get me free. Through kindness, through emotional labor, through service for me, you know, my mother, my family. They were trying to get me free. I just didn’t get that the church was trying to get me free in a specific way that I didn’t get.


Lama Rod Owens: [00:56:40] Right, you know. And so I began to see that and say, and I begin to say, oh, okay, the world is actually full of love. But my hurt, my trauma blocks that because trauma becomes a lens that we view everything out of. It’s. We’re not taking care of the trauma. The wind blowing becomes a traumatic experience. The sunshine, I mean, puppies and kittens can be. I mean, that’s just kind of the reality of trauma itself, you know, for many of us. And we can’t help that. Like we get triggered. We can’t help that. Right? But that’s also the nature of trauma. Everything is colored. By this. You know, this energy. That we’re trying to move through the stuck in our experience. You know, that’s creating these obstacles of perception and experience. Yeah, and not all of us are going to make it. That’s a big part of it. I. You know, this sounds really great, you know? And I say, oh, all you have to do is pay attention and do this and that and read my book and you’ll be fine. It’s just really not the reality either. It’s not. All of us will have the capacity. To embrace love in this life and this body.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:58] Yeah. There’s. You know, a huge part of the process is and I guess this is what a lot of the practices that you speak to and that you write about and that you teach revolve around, I think, seeing more clearly, not welcoming, but acknowledging discomfort, unease, allowing yourself to experience it rather than doing everything possible to push it away. And that doesn’t mean being complacent in your circumstances. You know, it means acknowledging that this is my reality and this moment in time, rather than sort of like living in a delusional state and then embracing the practices that say, well, like, how can I be okay in this moment in time without saying I’m not going to take action externally, I’m not going to walk away from this. But at the same time, how can I be okay? You know, through my own experience, through my own practices, through my own intentions? Yeah. I mean, whether we are talking about in the context of race, in the context of trauma that has happened in any other part of life, in the context of, of the source of any suffering that is deep and sustained. You know, like these are the questions and they’re brutally hard ones to grapple with. And there’s no I think, the American mindset, the Western mindset is, is so pill based. Like, where’s where’s the switch that I can flip to make this all to fix it, you know, rather than, oh, what if the answer is is a sustained and long commitment to a series of actions and practices and ways of being without immediate gratification, right?


Lama Rod Owens: [00:59:31] Well, that’s called work. Yeah. You know, that’s the work. Right? And we can’t always expect to be comfortable. In the work. You know, um, and it’s not just this lifetime. And my belief system is multiple lifetimes that we’re working. You know, we do pieces at a time. Life after life, we get a piece, we do what we can, we go to the next one, you know, and that’s, you know, that’s something that I have found to be very true for my experiences, you know, birth and rebirth and so forth. You know that, like, I have a clear sense of what my work is. In this life. You know, we talked about this earlier. Like when I was younger, I already knew what I was going to be doing. You know, at a young age, I just didn’t know how that was going to happen. Nor did I know that. I knew like, I just had these vague impressions of what I thought I would do. You know, the teaching, the religion, the service. Right? The mental health, like all those things were really important to me. And I try to get into these things in really different ways. And all of a sudden this happens. It’s like, no, actually Buddhism, it’s actually how you’re going to get into this door of doing all of this. You know. But there’s a lot, you know, even there, even then, there’s a lot of. Of teaching around. Again the black prophetic tradition. How do we read the times? Like how do we show up and pay attention to what’s happening now? Because what’s happening now is just a pattern that’s going to keep repeating itself over and over and over again. Right. If I can just learn the pattern and I enter into this kind of profound path where I’m actually being taken care of, when we enter the pattern, we’re being cared for because the pattern is just this the energy that we’ve created that’s actually propelling us towards freedom, towards liberation. It’s a virtue. It’s a virtuous path. It will enter into. Right and to acknowledge that means that, like, we get swept up into something that is leading us towards freedom.


Jonathan Fields: [01:01:51] Hmm. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle on our conversation as well. So sitting in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Lama Rod Owens: [01:02:03] For me to live a good life means that I’m living a life that is as clear and conscious as possible. But I know as much as I can about how I’m showing up and how I’m impacting the world around me.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:21] Hmm. Thank you. So I love being able to learn from Byron, Katie, and Lama Rod Owens, two humble teachers who have courageously walked the path of radical self-inquiry and liberation by really learning to question our thoughts and beliefs with unwavering honesty, and also tenderly holding even our most difficult emotions. They show us how to find freedom from suffering right here, right now. So may their insights ignite a spark within you to just keep questioning, keep exploring, and keep awakening to your truest self. And if you love this episode, be sure to catch the full conversations with today’s guests. You can find a link to those episodes in the show notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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