Jack Kornfield is an American author and teacher in the Vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism. He also holds a PhD in clinical psychology and cofounded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.
I found Jack Kornfield’s conversation with Tim Ferriss to be so incredibly helpful that I listened to it twice (8/23/2022 & 8/24/2022) and read the transcript twice (8/25/2022 & 8/26/2022). They talked about a number of topics and I want to share with you some of my favorite parts to encourage you to listen to the podcast when you have time!
What I Learned From (WILF) The Tim Ferriss Show: #601 Jack Kornfield
- Ajahn Chah (founder of two major monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition) asked, “Is that boulder heavy?” And a number of the young monks said, “Yes, it is, master.” And then he replied with, “Not if you don’t pick it up.” Right?
- Benjamin Franklin said, “What begins in anger ends in suffering,” generally speaking.
- “Despair is a failure of the imagination” – Wade Davis (Canadian cultural anthropologist)
The Boulder is Heavy. However, You Don’t Have to Pick it Up.
Tim Ferriss is someone who is very familiar with anger because it’s a common trait in his family and anger is an emotional home base for him. He brings up one of the conversations Ajahn Chah (founder of two major monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition) has with his disciples. “Is that boulder heavy?” And a number of the young monks said, “Yes, it is, master.” And then he replied with, “Not if you don’t pick it up.” Right?
Tim Ferriss likens anger to the boulder and asks Jack Kornfield in what situations do we choose to get angry and speak what’s on our mind to keep it real and in what situations do we not choose anger?
Jack Kornfield’s answer is to generally avoid choosing anger because choosing anger will most likely end in suffering.
Anger Generally Ends in Suffering
Like Tim Ferriss, anger also used to be my emotional home base. My parents were quick to get angry with each other and at me. My relatives were even worse. My relatives wore their anger proudly, like a badge of honor.
For many years, I too took pride in my anger. It wasn’t until my late father was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia in 2017 that my anger disappeared. Seemingly overnight. I don’t know how it exactly happened other than it started at the neurologist’s office with the neurologist telling me I had to be supremely patient with my father now.
At that moment, I realized I couldn’t be patient if I got angry quickly. I had to make a choice and had to do so immediately because my father’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. When my father and I walked out the door, I promised my father I would never get angry or raise my voice toward him or my mom again. He smiled widely at me and I believed then I could truly do it if I desired it enough.
“Positivity, patience, perseverance” became my hourly mantra for most of 2017, and daily mantra every year after that. To all our shock, the mantra worked!
And because I stopped getting angry, my mother chose to follow suit when she saw how much more harmonious and happy our family can be without the presence of anger. It’s sometimes incredible to me that my happiest times with my parents were after my father couldn’t walk, couldn’t feed himself, and needed around-the-clock care rather than during all the vacations we went on together (likely because there were many intense arguments during those vacations).
For me, it felt wonderful to live in a calm, serene, and soothing environment. To live optimistically, and to be thankful for all the small things in life.
Since 2017, I maybe got angry 2-3 times a year and only at Mark. I thought I was almost done with anger and could put it behind me forever until recently when I found myself getting angry with Mark for 5 days in a row! I was extremely disappointed and was self-flagellating myself mentally until I listened to Jack Kornfield’s conversation with Tim Ferriss.
Jack Kornfield quoted James Baldwin in “I believe the reason that people cling to their hate and anger so stubbornly is because they’re afraid that once hate is gone, they’ll be forced to face their own pain.”
I decided to face my pain and choose to talk through my emotions with Mark. It was through one of those conversations that I realized I’m angry because I’m incredibly hurt. Being a good wife is one of my top priorities while being a good husband was never a part of Mark’s. Mark apologetically admits to this after I asked him directly.
In a recent conversation when I asked Mark if he remembers the reason I first started singing, I had no idea Mark would respond in a highly defensive tone, “How can I possibly have known that?”
It was incredibly hurtful because I love to sing and sing almost daily, Mark also loves to sing, we record songs together, and I’ve mentioned the original reason to Mark many times over the years. Moreover, I remember all of Mark’s favorite bands, singers, and songs.
It dawned on both of us how truly Mark-centered our relationship was. However, my being angry isn’t going to solve it. Instead, I chose to follow another piece of Jack Kornfield’s advice which is to ask the person who hurt you to note the situation down and imagine how they could have handled it differently.
Mark now writes down most of these instances and emails them to me whenever it occurs. It’s actually shocking to both of us how little attention Mark gave to being a good partner. Going forward Mark is going to embrace being a considerate and kind partner.
Much thanks to Tim Ferriss and Jack Kornfield for helping me understand that anger is likely a cover for pain. And for helping me realize that I’m the type of person who won’t choose anger because it generally doesn’t benefit anyone.
“Despair is a failure of the imagination” – Wade Davis (Canadian cultural anthropologist)
Jack Kornfield: “…Human beings have been in tough times since caves and saber tooth tigers, since battles between different clans. And then we don’t have to talk about the Huns and the Visegrads, or the Roman army, or the armies of the, whatever, the Aztecs, or wherever around the world. We, human beings, have dealt with epidemics, floods, and tornadoes.
“Continuing war is not a new story, right? And we’re survivors and we survive in two ways. First of all, we survive by protecting what we care about, which is ourselves and those close to us…[second] We can stand up for things that really matter.”
My thoughts: I like to think I don’t despair for very long when receiving bad news. And I think it’s because I fell in love with books at an early age and never stopped reading. It was through books that I learned to be imaginative.
Overall Thoughts on The Tim Ferriss Show: #601 Jack Kornfield
I highly recommended this podcast episode to people who are seeking to better manage their anger. Additionally, a preview of Jack Kornfield’s thoughts on meditation.
Meditation is not supposed to be a grim duty, but rather more an act of adventure and understanding of opening the mind and heart and bringing a sense of well-being.Jack Kornfield, The Tim Ferriss Show: #601 Jack Kornfield