VASCO GASPAR speaks about meditation, thoughts and experiencing the inner world.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and the kind of work you do with mindfulness?
VG: I like to think that I work as a Human Flourishing Facilitator, investing my energy in trying to inspire change and transformation globally for a more human and compassionate world. For that I’ve been sharing information online, writing books, giving talks and facilitating programs online and face-to-face, mainly within the corporate setting, but also for the public ingeneral.
Mindfulness is just one of the ‘awareness-based social technologies’ that I’ve been sharing in the last years, mainly in Europe and South America, but a powerful one to open the field of consciouness. One of the most requested protocols I deliver is Search Inside Yourself – a Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence program that was created at Google in 2007. It gathers Mindfulness and neuroscience in a secular way to create wiser and more compassionate leaders. I also developed my own Mindfulness protocol in 2013, an 8-week program called ZBHD, that has already been done by more than 3,000 people worldwide. Studies show that even a few minutes of daily practice can lead to significant changes in measures like stress, social trust, mental well-being and attention.
I’m now dedicated to merging different practices, like Mindfulness, Heartfulness and Presencing, into the same protocol at the service of the greater good: human flourishing.
Q: You’ve taught Mindfulness in corporate settings and organizations for many years. What surprises people when they start an introspective practice for the first time?
VG: There are several reactions actually. Some people feel restless and scared in the beginning when they notice how much mental noise they have inside themselves: ruminations about the past, storytelling about the future and so on. Others feel surprised or even sad when they realize that they spend most of their waking hours almost completely in autopilot, just going with the flow of their conditioning, both internal and external. But most of them feel amazed when they get in contact with parts of them that are healthy, sane, wise and compassionate. That brings to most people a sense of peace that they have almost forgotten it was possible to feel. In one workshop, a gentleman shared after the first very short three-minute practice: “I’m 55, and I haven’t felt so peaceful since the moment I started working 25 years ago.” That is something that brings me hope. Q So it’s never too late to start a meditation practice! What are some tips you have for people who want to establish a regular practice?
I think one of the best things people can do at the beginning is to start with baby steps. Instead of trying to meditate for one hour right at the beginning, maybe they can start by doing it for five to ten minutes a day and then gradually build upon that. One teacher I had even used to say that one minute is infinitely greater than zero minutes. So start small.
Another thing is to do it regularly, daily if possible, in order to create a habit. Most of us don’t need to think about the act of brushing our teeth or taking a shower. Why? Because it has become a habit. We can do the same with meditation.
Q: What do you remember from your first weeks of the Mindfulness practice? Is there anything that you would have applied differently knowing what you know now?
VG: My memory is not my main strength, but what comes to mind is a feeling of frustration mainly of sensing that I was not doing it right, that my mind wouldn’t stop and even one minute seemed to me like an hour of agony. If it were now, I would know that that is totally normal, that the goal of meditation is not to stop the mind. The mind thinks as the heart beats and the stomach digests, and the more effort we apply in that direction the more restless the mind becomes. So, as the Mindfulness teacher Joseph Goldstein often says, I would try to “be simple and easy.”
Q: How can we bring simplicity and ease to our lives in an increasingly complex world?
VG: Sometimes it feels like we have to stay plugged in just to feel productive or knowledgeable. Where’s the balance?
That is a wonderful question. Here is where I think remembering to be present is so important. Moment by moment. Each breath. Each action. Coming back to our selves, to our senses. And if it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do it with so many distractions around us, that is where we need to use our will and our intention.
Our intention can work like an anchor. If my intention is to have a healthy body, I will go to the gym even on the days I don’t feel like going. Or I will choose to eat broccoli instead of fried potatoes. The same applies to our mind. If I have a strong intention to have a healthy mind, and to be present, I will make choices in that direction, using my will to meditate daily, to pause during the day, to notice regularly where my mind is at each moment, and to bring it back to my body if it is not there, in order to find balance.
Q: Some people worry that getting too involved in meditation will make them feel detached from the world around them. Has your journey enriched your life?
VG: I understand that concern, but I see it the opposite way. I believe that the more you are connected to your self and your inner world, the more you’re able to connect with the outer world in a clear and authentic way. Even in terms of empathy, for instance, there are several scientific studies suggesting that the more you are aware of your bodily sensations (some practices develop such sensations), the more empathy you can feel towards others. Why? Because the mind uses the body to understand the worlds of other people, by mimicking in our own bodies the emotions we see in others. People who put Botox on their faces, for instance, have more difficulty in identifying emotions in others. On the other hand, the concern is valid, because when you get in contact with your Self you’ll understand better what life wants to live through you. Then maybe you’ll realize that you’ve been searching for happiness in the wrong places: in status, money, drugs, alcohol, consumerism, sex, and so on. That realization will probably stir you towards your Real life. You will leave behind what is superfluous and doesn’t nurture you deeply. And that will allow you to step into a world that is more aligned, conscious and authentic for you and what you value.
Heartfulness goes into deeper places
of our journey and potential as humans.
And then there is the quality of
Yogic Transmission in Heartfulness,
which raises the experience
to a completely different level.
Q: What is one of the most powerful tools we can use to expand our awareness of the present moment?
VG: I sincerely believe that some types of meditation allow us to be more aware of the present moment; that being the main focus of the Mindfulness practices. And not only of what’s happening inside us – our feelings, thoughts and emotions – but also what’s happening around us. We can train our awareness to be more expansive, to be more relaxed and open to what’s emerging at each moment. That will allow us to be more conscious and, therefore, to make better decisions, moment by moment. That will lead us to better results in life.
Q: You recently conducted an eight-week Mindfulness course for a number of Heartfulness trainers from around the world, and I had the pleasure of participating in it. Can you share a little about your experience of guiding seasoned meditators?
VG: I feel deeply humbled to have had that opportunity. At the beginning I was a bit scared, I must confess. There I was, delivering a Mindfulness program that was designed for beginners, who don’t have any contact with meditation at all, to a group of very skilled Heartfulness teachers, some of them with several decades of practice. But I think it went very well. The program had several sessions of dialogue, and it was beautiful to learn about the bridges people were making between the practices, sharing what they were feeling, and so on. I’ve learned so much from the experience
and by being in contact with so many wonderful people. I feel very grateful.
Q: What are the bridges between the mindful and heartful approaches?
VG: I believe that there are several bridges. They are different paths, if we go to the core of the practices, but both are true and valid. Maybe Mindfulness focuses more on grosser sensations, like body sensations, emotions and thoughts, whereas Heartfulness goes into deeper places of our journey and potential as humans. And then there is the quality of Yogic Transmission in Heartfulness, which raises the experience to a completely different level. But that needs to be experienced, and I invite all the readers to try it and realize it for themselves. At the same time, maybe Mindfulness can help Heartfulness practitioners to be more conscious and aware of their heartful journeys, to be more awake to what’s really happening when they enter into deeper realms of consciousness. I think we can learn from both approaches and have a more integral understanding of who we are in our journeys.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share?
VG: Just a feeling of gratitude for the wonderful and inspiring magazine you’ve been sharing with us in these last years. Thank you!
Interview by EMMA IVATURI