Richard Freeman: The heart of my work is freedom. Freedom for myself and others. Because if others aren’t free, I’m not free. I feel free.
MP: What do you do with pain, when pain comes in?
RF: You kind of hold it. When pain arises, you hold it. Say, if you had a child who was crying, you just hold them. With pain, you just hold it in the space of your awareness, so the awareness is both intelligent and compassionate. You’re holding pain. But if you turn away from it or reject it, it’ll come back. Guaranteed. It’ll come back in a way that can’t be rejected. The ability to deal with what most people would think were the unpleasant states of suffering is really the key to yoga practice. And when people finally get around to that, then the yoga really starts to work.
MP: What is it that sustains you when everything else falls away?
RF: I’m sustained by other practitioners. Others. The traditions. The tradition of the traditions. And then whatever practice I’ve done, it has a residue. Just the samskaras of that are really helpful in difficult times, when I’m not around others. It’s just the practice of returning to raw mindfulness. Mindfulness of breath, if there’s breath there, but we know that won’t last. So, it’s just that kind of gravity of that state.
MP: What is it that makes you the most vulnerable?
RF: Impermanence. [laughing] Impermanence makes everyone vulnerable because we know that this whole thing is crumbling. So, whatever it is that we’re riding on that is our prop is going to dissolve eventually. And that’s the nature of impermanence. So facing that right away, rather than waiting until the time of death, is pretty much what the path is.
MP: Why do you want to wake up in the morning? Besides coffee?
RF: That was my first choice, coffee. That’s my reward for getting up. [laughing]
It’s the ongoing mystery. The life of the mind, navigating in the world — you can never quite figure it out. But it certainly is an interesting project.
I like to wake up to just the simple, raw things: breathing, perception, the fact that the most astonishing, the most immediate things are the most incomprehensible.
MP: Last question: what is it that you’ve struggled with the most? What is it that you struggle with?
RF: Besides ego?
MP: Besides that!
RF: I’ve become impatient. And impatience isn’t necessarily bad, but I want people to understand. It’s very rare that anyone understands. They don’t even understand that they don’t even understand. I’ve become rather impatient. Usually if I am mindful of my own impatience, then I say, Well, of course people don’t understand because that would be too miraculous!
But everybody understands a little bit. That’s the thing. It’s not an either/or thing. Most people are semi-brilliant. And it’s kind of just cultivating that semi-brilliance that’s already there in people. The mind would like to look at it [like], Everyone is so hopeless, I give up! But so many people, particularly in the yoga world, they’re like 95% on fire. They’ve got it. And it’s this little fine-tuning, paying closer attention, that’s going to bring it to fruition. That’s actually pretty exciting, to get the more compassionate view of the current yoga world. But I do go through periods [when] I’m astonished or aghast. It seems [like], Oh my god, this is hopeless.
MP: We should not be hanging out because I would drive you crazy.
MP: [laughing] He agrees!