When I first talked to Biet Simkin, I was a spiritual skeptic. By the middle of our conversation, she had me attempting to meditate by contemplating a door knob. That’s part of her charm. Simkin truly believes she can help you achieve a state of zenned-out bliss — whether you want to achieve it yourself or not. Her new book — Don't Just Sit There!: 44 Insights to Get Your Meditation Practice Off the Cushion and Into the Real World — is an extension of her personal desire to help people better their lives.
Simkin starts her book with the revelation that she first meditated when she was a 2-year-old thanks to her father, who was a shaman. But life for Simkin wouldn’t be simple or emblematic of a happily meditating baby in Lotus pose.
She had dark periods. Her mother died. She started doing drugs. Her father died. She had a baby named Ula that passed away at 4 months old from SIDS. Half of her apartment burned down, Sony dropped her recording contract, and down the spiral she went. When she was sober, she’d try to meditate, but had trouble focusing. “I was the kind of ‘spiritual’ person who took breaks in the middle of a yoga class to blow coke lines in the bathroom!” Simkin writes.
Eventually, she made drastic changes to her life. She is now a successful public speaker, musician, and the founder of the Center of the Cyclone, a meditation style that blends spirituality, music, and self-reflection. Simkin has led meditations everywhere from the Sundance Film Festival to the Amalfi Coast.
Studies have shown that meditation can be beneficial for patients who have depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and pain, according to the The National Centre for Complimentary and Integrative Health. But some studies have found meditation can also have negative effects. A 2017 study from the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One conducted by researchers from Brown University and the University of California found that it can prompt negative thinking and may cause you to relive negative memories.
Ultimately, Simkin lays out her own spiritual philosophy in the book, which she says builds on the philosophy of enlightenment known as The Fourth Way and involves self-observation over a long period of time. Ahead of her book launch, she shares what she’s learned from writing about her spiritual philosophy — and how you might achieve bliss, no matter what life throws at you.
One overarching theme in your book is how to find peace during the not-so-peaceful parts of life. What would you tell people who are going through those tougher phases?
"I would say: If you’re going through hell right now, you are wrong about why that’s happening to you. If you’re going through something: Maybe a breakup, or a loss of career, or a health crisis. Maybe your go-to perception of that is that the universe or God hates you and is trying to ruin your life. That a malevolent force is actively working against you. I would say that the takeaway is: It’s actually working in your favour. And those setbacks are actually setting you up for incredible success if you could just see them differently. They become stepping stones to your success."
Sounds easier said than done. What’s the first step in seeing that failure differently?
"It’s saying: What if my tragedies, my problems, my losses, my woes, my failures — what if they are actually ingredients to my success? What if they make me the human I was meant to be. For example, Michelangelo’s David. He carved the David and said: Oh, I carved the David, but really he carved himself out. He already existed within the stone. We are like the David, but we’re also like Michaleangelo. We’re sculpting ourselves.
"So imagine taking a chisel to your own body, and sculpting it out and coming out like the David. It would be great. But imagine the feeling of the chisel going against your skin. That doesn’t sound pleasant does it? It sounds horrible. Life is this chisel that haunts you and hurts you and cuts you and wreaks you. If you can just tolerate it and say: This isn’t really here to hurt me, you’ll see that what it’s trying to do is chisel out the David. We’re trying to become this beautiful version of ourselves, and we have to accept that some of that comes from chiseling."
When you’re in the painful part, is meditating one way to make it through?
A lot of people have achieved great success just by pushing through, but they’re not enjoying life. This book gives you tools so you can make it to the top, but you can do it while drinking a margarita by a pool or making love or smiling at your baby. You don’t have to stop being in life to pursue your dreams. Meditating creates more time, and it creates a calm state of being and allows for pause in life. Pause is something we don’t have generally as humans. We’re reactive. So if someone says: “you’re fired.” We’re like: “Oh my god.” If someone says: “I don’t love you anymore.” We’re like “Ahhhh I’m never going to find love.” But if you meditate, someone can hurt you and you'll say: “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder what this is an opportunity for.”
What would you say about meditating to someone who struggles with it?
Do the thing you’re doing with one attention, but with another attention, watch yourself from above doing the thing. Do it with me now. Look at something around you.
Ok, how about a door knob?
Now, listen to the sounds of the room. Try to do both of those things at the same time. See those two attentions? Add a third: Your breathe. And then see yourself from above doing all of those things. As meditators, we can follow ourselves around with an imaginary documentary film crew. Imagine who you would be if you were having a conversation with your lover and it was being filmed. Would you make better choices if your life was being documented?
So, when you’re seeing yourself from above, is that a way to focus or a way to better yourself? Or is it both?
It’s a way to lose focus. As humans, we are fascinated. We have fascinated attention. Every minute, we’re like: Oh my god, my calendar. Oh my god, a text. Oh my god, I need to make my bed! This meditation allows us to have focused attention — but focused on something that’s invisible. We’re taking our attention away from only being focused on everything around us. It allows us to have one attention on all the insanity in our lives, and one attention on our soul.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.