Episode 9

Our Best Role Model is Nature with Amaranatho

Published on: 12th May, 2021

Amaranatho started his working life as a Technical Support Manager and this took him on a transformational journey from studying Artificial Intelligence to exploring the world and spending 15 years as a Buddhist monk. He has spent long periods of time alone, in isolation and dealing with uncertainty.

He now coaches executives, leaders and other coaches to improve their agile mindset, their mindfulness and their ability to self-reflect so they can stay calm and connected in complex situations. He is a scrum master and developed the PlayfulMonk approach to awaken people and organizations to their true potential. Amaranatho’s website is www.playfulmonk.net

In this highly contemplative interview, Amaranatho talks about

  • the nature of audacious 'moves'
  • how to gain clarity and to 'uncover' yourself
  • how to deal with conditioning and self-limiting beliefs
  • how nature is our best role model
  • the challenges faced by men in modern society
  • the collective trauma the world is experiencing right now
  • the actions we can take to lead more meaningful lives

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript

Helen

Ama, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. We're really looking forward to this conversation. I wonder if we could begin by you telling us a little bit about yourself and some of the audacious things that you do or have done in your life so far.

Ama

Thank you very much, Helen and Maribel, for inviting us here. So I’ve just been thinking about, you know, audacious a lot, since agreeing to come on the podcast and just looking back at my life. In some ways, I've done everything backwards. So actually, I started off quite audacious anyway, I was a young man and I just decided to step up and take this job in the computer industry around, I don't know, maybe I was 20, 21 and I ended up traveling all around the world with that job. A complete surprise to me. And then after that, you know, the recession hit in England where I was based, and I ended up going to university through another audacious move. My friend challenged me basically and said, be really good if you went to university and got some sort of education. I come from a family where that wasn't really heard of. And so I got this degree in AI. And it just kept going like that. And then at the end of before I even got my certificate, I decided that I should travel around the world. So actually, I hitchhiked around the world for four years. And during that time, I needed some money. And I was in Australia, and I got a job. And it got me involved in a meditation retreat. And during that meditation retreat, I had this calling, this strong urge to become a Buddhist monk. And, and so I did. And that was another audacious move, you know. And so basically, after a few years of traveling, I ended up coming back to England, became a Buddhist monk, and stayed there in the monastery in England for 10 years. And then I had this, again, urge to test myself. So I left the monastery, and I went five years around the world as a freelance monk, I set my own brand up, and ended up back in Australia. And during a six week Silent Retreat in the Australian outback, I woke up one morning, and it said, it's all over. And I stopped it. At that point, basically, I didn't stop the retreat, but I did stop it. And that brought me back to England. It brought me back and then I ended up moving to Holland, where I live now and started my business. And that was another audacious move, which was basically I had no contacts here, I had nothing, I started from scratch. And I set myself up as a mindfulness-based executive coach, developed my own brand, again, the Playful Monk brand from nowhere. And here I am with you, you know, because last year, I took another audacious move, which was to credit as a coach through the EMCC and as a coaching supervisor and that's actually how we met. So it's kind of these audacious moves, but actually, when I reflect on it, they weren't audacious for me. Right? And I'm not sure you know, I think we all do audacious moves in our lives, we can look back at them and think, wow, you know, this is how we got here. These small little steps, you know, become something, in retrospect, in reflection.

Helen

Definitely. Yeah. And that's what we're finding when we're interviewing guests on this podcast that there tends to be, you know, when we're asking about audacious goals, audacious things that you did, the response seems to be, well it didn't seem to be audacious at the time, I was just being called, I had no choice, I had to do it. So I'd like to go back to the point where you said, you had this calling, firstly, to be a monk and then at the end, you had this calling that it was all over. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about what was going on in you in terms of the calling to start it and then to finish it.

Ama

It wasn't a thinking process. The word ‘calling’ in itself says it just arose. And it was. I like to call that clarity. And basically, though, the course was so life changing, in a way, this meditation course that I did, that I had no option. I delayed it. Of course, I delayed it. It took a few years for it to fully manifest, to fully come into force. You know, but I just couldn't stop the urge. There was no, I didn't research very much around monasteries. I had a couple of criterias. Right. I didn't want to I didn't want to do it in Asia. I wanted to do it in the West. So actually, I joined a monastery just outside Heathrow Airport, in the countryside. I knew I wanted to live with people that had already traveled. A lot of the monks and the nuns they had already traveled. That was another sort of criteria. And I wanted to live an ethical life. The most ethical life I thought at that time was that if I gave up money, I gave up all the ways of hurting people, then that would be good for me. But when I got to the monastery, I suddenly realized I had this other opportunity, which is I could find out who I really was. And that was a game changer for me. But I was probably going there for that. But I didn't know that I was going there for that. And it's been a trust game for me. Really, a big trust game.

Helen

What's the biggest thing that you found out about yourself, then when you said she discovered who you were?

Ama

Oh, I'm not who I think I am. Absolutely not. And the quicker one can get insight around that process, the more peaceful and free one's life is. And in the monastery, it was relentless. I sometimes describe it like a cosmic vacuum cleaner. So basically, if you're committed to the process of which I was, maybe not committed so much to the monasticism in a way, but committed to understanding what the teachings, the process was all about, that I was committed to and still am, then that process just clears you out of all limiting and binding beliefs that you may have about yourself or about other people. And although that's an ongoing journey, because there's always more things to understand about yourself, the understanding of who I am finished there in the monastery, and then that's what has always propelled my life, and informs me now, so people often say, well, you know, what about being a monk, you know, what, where are you with all of that, but actually, I haven't changed that I am, at heart, a contemplative and I always have been, even though I didn't know it before. My traveling days were part of reflecting on life. And I read a very powerful quote by a Christian monk called Thomas Merton, who said, like, the contemplative life is like a form of love, a form of social action. And that's what I committed myself to. And yeah, it's what's brought me here today, as well, it's not changed in much weight, really.

Maribel

Ama, I wonder, now that you've been through that process. I mean, you arrived as an adult man, and you said, I am not who I thought I was. And then you went into the journey to discover who you really are. How can we do that? How can we discover who we really are without becoming monks?

Ama

Absolutely agree. Yeah, yes. Totally possible and it’s what I do now, because I bring that into my work. So that's awakening to your true potential, you know, by staying calm and connected in complex situations, you can wake up to your true potential. So it's actually not something that you can discover. It's something that you uncover, a discovery is something that you have to work at. And in my experience, it's something that's actually already there for you, and it is revealed in a way to you. And the way of doing that is just to see and understand about the way that you're conditioned through your social, political, cultural, adult development, conditioning. And the more that you can see that conditioning for what it is cause and effect, things arise because of the way that you've been conditioned, then you can see what is not conditioned. And in that not conditioned, there is freedom. And there always has been, it's always there for you. In the heart of pain and suffering, and in the heart of intense joy. And, and boredom, any extremes actually. It's always there. And there's different ways of doing it. Each tradition has its own different ways of doing that, each faith or non-belief or science, but it brings you back to this point of stillness, calm, openness, receptivity.

Helen

So are you saying that that is actually the natural state of being when we peel back the layers of conditioning that's been applied to us? Why then do you think it's so difficult to do that? What's the challenge of doing that?

Ama

The challenge is the cultural, social and political conditioning that we get and part of our adult developmental growth is that we have to go through that, to be able to recognize who we are. Now for some, it's quite simple. For others, it's very painful. You know, there's a whole mixture of things, some people just awake to it. There's a very famous story of a woman that got on a bus in London, got off the bus. And that was it, her journey was finished, she couldn't understand it. At that time, there was not much being spoken about it. And it took her 10 years to find out actually what happened because the transformation was so immediate. Most of us it's a sort of gradual uncovering. And sometimes you see this, particularly when I was in a monastery, people that work with their hands, plasterers, plumbers, gardeners, that these people, it sort of happened to them naturally. Yeah, and then people, some people that get older also come to this experience. I wouldn't wait, personally, I couldn't wait. As a young person, I couldn't wait. There was something not right in my life. I wasn't happy. And I wanted to know why. And that's what drove me to two extremes, you know, I was extreme as a monk, you know, I chose an extreme life, probably because I've got an extreme personality, you know, it's less nowadays. But in those days, I did you know, and it's not that I didn't, I wasn't scared, or I didn't have worry, or any of those things. I had plenty of that. But I was willing to step out. And so yes, our true nature is this freedom. For everybody, you know, maybe for a few people that have something wrong with their brains, maybe not. But even that's not true, because it's not based on our physiology so much. You know, I know of a woman that’s extremely ill, bed bound and when she turns over, she cracks ribs. One of the most radiant women I know, right? She committed to understanding who she is. She's always radiant, quite extraordinary. Extraordinary. And so you know, and I've met these people in the monastery, all sorts of different people. I remember once a monk coming into the monastery, and he walked in like a security guard, he had his head shaved, red braces, you know, like, a bit like a skinhead, and I could just tell he was gonna become a monk, he's still a monk now, you know? So it doesn't matter about your conditioning whether you're a skinhead or your hair, your color, nothing. It's not based on any of those things. It's based on your willingness. Are you really willing to investigate who you are, in this moment, right now? You know, I work with executives, they say I haven't got time to do it. But we find a way and they do in the end.

Helen

I'm curious as to, you said that you're quite an audacious person and you just did, well you did these things, you know, whether you call it audaciousness or not, you just did it, you were driven to do it. And I'm wondering whether there were any role models in your life where, you know, there were parts of your life where you weren't sure what to do, when you looked up to somebody else? Is there anyone that you followed? Can you talk about any of that? Or if not, why not?

Ama

Yeah, actually, I'm not sure that I, I really have had. In the monastery, I had the abbot of the monastery definitely, was a role model, you know, and I probably had a few psychotherapists that have really helped me with that as well. Because I got psychotherapy, when I was in the monastery, both group and personal and both those people had a big impact. But in my early life, there was no, I would say no role models, actually. And I would say that is, that's also why I work with men so much nowadays. I do a lot of work with men and help them to become elders, because I feel it's such a valuable role, another part of our society about helping people transition through the different life stages. So I've been actually running a men's group through the Coronavirus every week, nearly for the last year, nearly for a year now. Because I feel so passionate about that. So, I mean, there's plenty of you know, wise people and it’s a fantastic thing, but in the end, you know, the role model is actually yourself and your connection to the universe. I mean, not in some you know, New Age hippie way, you know, it's just all out there, but actually a deeper fundamental connection to what is in front of you. So a role model could be a tree for me, well, the sky or nature itself, because it's always teaching us, you know. I'm very lucky where I live in the Netherlands. I live close to nature. Well, it's not lucky, I chose it. You know, my partner lives here. I came here and I thought, do I want to be in London or do I want to be in this nature, I wanna be in this nature. I live very close to the man-made nature reserve where I can see eagles, you know, flying in the sky. So there was a choice, you know,wWe ended up here. And so you know, I go out most evenings around nine o'clock, at the moment, we have a curfew. But I go in the evening and I look at the sky, I look at the stars in the skies, because it's Corona time, the skies here are very, very clear. There's hardly any pollution. So you see the stars... I mean, there's a role model. Look at the skies, look at our connection. I mean, just look, we know so little about ourselves, you know, we're watching things that are already dead, you know, stars have already died, you know, dead, and we're just seeing the echoes of them. So we're already hearing a story about our past and our future and, you know, in the present moment. And so, you know, whilst I appreciate the role model approach, actually, it's also based on the hero model, and the heroine, and this is finished, this is gone. The one that needs to be built up now is community, collaboration, where we support one another, and, you know, it's important to be able to open one's eyes and see what's in front of oneself at any given time. I had a pretty rough day, for some reason yesterday, you know, it's just, I don't know what it was. It's just, that's how it goes. Sometimes you have those days. And then I went out, I usually go in the afternoon for a cycle ride. I went out for a cycle ride and just looking around. It's just amazing. This is just amazing. Look what was in front of me: water, trees, cars, I mean, this all sounds so what's special about that, but when you really look at it is truly amazing. And then that becomes my role model. So nothing can't become your role model. If you look at a hammer in the right way it can become your role model. Just look at all the people that it took to design a little hammer.

Maribel

Incredible. I would like to go back to what you mentioned that you work, particularly with men, because you have a different perspective to the one that I have. I work specifically with women and I could talk hours about what their issues are, what is keeping them where they are. And I'm interested to hear from you, from your experience, what are the challenges, and what is the uncovering that men need to do that you see in your practice?

Ama

Yeah, thank you. So I do work with women. But in this specific thing, I work a lot with men. So what I've seen, because it's based on my own experience, right, that's normally how we come to these things, right? And in my experience, what I didn't have was a language of feelings. Very simple. I couldn't express myself. I didn't know how to find, I didn't know what feelings words were. And I didn't know what my needs were, yeah? And being able to connect on that level really helped me. I also work with the union archetypes. And this applies to both men and women. They're slightly adapted for women when I run workshops with women. But for men, I use four archetypes. They're called the warrior, the king, the magician and the lover. And I work with men in terms of what's called the mythic-poetic approach to working with men. And these archetypes are really helpful, because they can help you develop into a mature person, they help you individually. What I see with men is usually it depends on where they come from, but like the king usually comes on later in life, that's, you just need more experience you can come on quite early. Usually we have a very immature warrior, which means that we like kicking down doors, arguing and fighting and concepts rather than one of service. Our lovers can be addicted, so it means we want more things, rather than one of abundance and looking at gardens and well, being a magician is over interpretation. Most coaches and therapists are magicians in that way. They like to sprinkle fairy dust and, you know, over-interpret things. And then yeah, so that's the four ones and you using that lens is a way of helping people mature in all of those quadrants. There might be one dominant depending on their life where they are. And then into maturity, maturity brings us back to peace and calm. And what we can see, you know, what I can see working within the executive world of course, is there a lot of this is set up on the hero leader, yeah? And that's a real burden for everybody for the leader itself, you know, for the leader themselves because they're bound into that position. So helping leaders to collaborate, find a language, slow down, connect better with their staff, connect better with themselves. Really helps them to become a better man. That's what I see, their relationships are better with their wives, with their kids. You know, my brand Playful Monk, you know, that's play, which is, you know, Child's Play, which is actually about attention. And then the monk is the monk mindset, that contemplative, the reflective the, you know, the play is embodied, monk is mindset. So when you put those two things together, it's where you get behavioral change where things really changed for these men. And the other thing about running a men's group, particularly, is that men can freely speak about what's on their minds. It's not that they can't do it in front of women. But there's something about the way that men are wired, what I learned at the monastery as well, which really helps them to come out of themselves, and really helps them to communicate more effectively and clearly. So there is a whole thing around gender, which I don't want to get into too much today because of time. But that's been my experience, my experiences to support men in that way. And for me, it's worked really well, both in terms of my own growth as a man. And in, you know, supporting elders. You know, one of the people in my men's group is looking for actually a male initiation at his 40th birthday. That, to me, is incredibly sad, that that didn't happen when he was a young man. You know, I've run quite a few of these now to really help men through initiations, to find out who they are, and to come into their fullness. And once men are in their fullness, of course, there's only service, there's only collaboration, there's no fighting or wanting to be better, or dictatorships.

Helen

And I think we need it in the world right now. I'm curious as to whether you've noticed a change in recent years. And in the recent year, or you know, during the coronavirus pandemic, is there a big awakening occurring? Or, I'd be interested in your views as to what you've experienced with there, Ama?

Ama

Yes. So in the circles that I am in, I would say people are definitely interested and wanting to awaken and find out who they are, for sure. And I think we are only touching the surface now of what might happen in five years time, 10 years time. I think there's probably a collective trauma that's going on right now that will unfold over the next few years. And I think people that have seen so much so clearly, like it’s so crazy in a way, like a few years ago, you'd say about, oh, let's do remote working, and you'd hear all these nonsense things, bla bla, I've been remote working for years, even as a monk when I was traveling. And people say oh, you can't do this, and you can't do that. And, well, six months, we're all doing it. So people say well can't be changed or can't change things. Now, we can't do that. Okay, we'll do it. And so some people have benefited, for some people, it's been very difficult. I'm sure in small flats with lots of kids, it's difficult. On the whole, thought, there's some, I see that people are really seeing through the system. So there's a possibility for it to happen. It's very interesting that, you know, for me the virus is a virus within a virus.

Helen

Can you explain that?

Ama

Yeah, so the virus is just an outside manifestation, yeah, of what we really need. Isn't it interesting that it stopped us breathing, because we're choking the planet. It's brought us home, it’s stopped us buying all these things. So you know, I mean, you can read a lot of things into it, but that's the way I see it. So actually, what it's doing is it's giving us an opportunity to pause. This is a once in a lifetime experience that actually on a collective, on a universal, not universal sorry, world level, actually, we got some chances to reflect. Of course, if you're in the health service, you haven't, you know, you're working flat out. And for a lot of us, it's our first opportunity of actually being, to pause, to inquire and see what we're doing. Because you can't go out. You can't go to the shops. I live in the Netherlands, no shops are open still. You can't go shopping, you can only go for your food. I was speaking to a new client yesterday. They said, actually, they've saved a ton of money, because they just haven't gone shopping. And they rather like it. So what's the priority, you see? What do you actually buy and what do you need to buy? You know, I would like to go and buy a few things just for the fun of it. I quite enjoy shopping since I haven't shopped a lot in my life. But the thing is, like as a monk, so you renunciate and give things up. And I like the word, the word I like to use is moderation. How do you moderate your behavior for the wellbeing of yourself and the wellbeing of the planet? So you know, and the virus in the virus is actually giving us an opportunity to really explore this.

Helen

Yeah, definitely. I'm gonna ask you a big question here.

Ama

No problem.

Helen

I’m calling on your wisdom, Ama.

Ama

Okay.

Helen

How did we get into this mess? And how do we get out of it?

Ama

Well, you see, that's an interesting thing. You see from the place of recognition of who we are, awareness itself, it's not a mess. There is no way, there's nothing to get out of. It's only when we decide that we divide the world up between good and bad and right and wrong and up and down, that it becomes a mess. So from that place, we can choose to accept this is how it is right now. And then we can choose our actions. And that's going to be individual for each person about how they see it.

Helen

So what advice would you give for anybody listening to this podcast? What actions can they start taking? Or does it need to go, before that they need to change themselves, discover themselves, uncover themselves, I'm backpedaling, here! Before you can take the action.

Ama

Actually, I would like to say that you can do both things together, which is uncover yourself and also do some level of action. And action, I've seen a lot of really angry people that want to change the world. And I've never really seen very good results from that. Maybe towards more violent rather than angry, and I'm finding ways of, and it is changing within that world within the action world about you know, the way that activists are trained, there's a lot more awareness of that. And you see that now in what's happening. But there are so many simple things that we can do about the way that we choose our life, you know, just simple things, ethical banking, you know, just where we put our money, where we shop, you know, what we buy? And I would personally suggest not to get into extremes.

Helen

Okay, like what you did?

Ama

Yes, indeed, like I did. You see, that's the contradictory nature of life, is not to do...

Helen

So you don't have to join a monastery and become a monk for 15 years...

Ama

No, I don't recommend it. And I would only recommend any of those things, if you actually have the calling to do it. Whatever your calling is, you have to do it. There's a beautiful saying from the Hidden Gospels, I think, Gospel of Thomas, that says, do what you need to do, otherwise, the thing that you need to do will kill you, will hurt you. So you must do what you've come in to do, regardless of the impact on yourself or others, I mean, as long as it doesn't hurt you, you know, in a deep way, but just do it. And then we're all doing it. So if we're looking at this more collaborative, collective way of working, you know, of being, working and being, then if we each do our own thing to support, then change will happen. And it can happen quite fast, there's no reason for it not to. Some of the more systemic changes are tricky. You know, there's some very big organizations out there that turn like a huge boat, they've got no adaptability, no flexibility to move, although that's also changing because companies know they have to be more flexible and adaptive. So the thing is, in your own mind, how can you become adaptive and flexible? And that's, you know, for me, that's really this ability to reflect on why do things upset you? What are the things that bring you joy, understand your conditioning, understand how it affects you. And then once you get some understanding about that, then see what you can do. I mean, it doesn't have to be about telling, you know, everybody about it, it can just be just one thing at a time. I have a simple thing here - we have a cherry tree in our garden, we have too many cherries always we get, I don't know, 10 or 15 kilos. I just put it into bags and tap on people's door and give them cherries. I’m not looking for a conversation about how they are, you know, sometimes it happens but no, I just want to give the cherries away. And that's a nice act. It’s enough, isn’t it? Compassion, compassion. Compassion means to be with others, com and passion.

Helen

Yeah. I hadn't thought about that before.

Ama

Passionately be with other people, you know.

Maribel

Is that the type of leaders that we need - compassionate, collaborative type of leaders?

Ama

Well... Ask yourself, what's the opposite to that? What does that produce? It's a challenge, isn't it? So the answer to that is: Yes, we do. And the thing is, how do we do that? Without it becoming another sort of goal directed approach? So everybody, every leader must become more compassionate, more collaborative.

Helen

This has been a fascinating conversation. I'm just about to ask the last question. Maribel, do you have any other burning questions coming up?

Maribel

I do. But we need to wrap it up.

Helen

We'll have to do a part two. Ama, I'm gonna ask you the last question, which is about the name of our podcast, which is Audaciousness. And yeah, so the audacious part of it is what you do. But the ness is this, this piece of land, this solid grounding that gives you the basis to do your audacious things. And I'm just wondering, what is it that gives you the grounding to continue, despite what life is throwing at you?

Ama

Always awareness, awareness itself, this ability to know who you really are, that's the ground, isn't it? The ness is the ground. Like they sometimes they say the ground of all being, the ground of who you are. You know, you I just thought that when you said audaciousness, I thought, you know, that sort of body and mind. Two things have to be together. The ness is the ground, it's our body. It's the earth element. You know, the action and the audaciousness is the courage, the willingness to receive yourself and the way that you are and the courage to invest and reflect.

Helen

Wow, I think you've worded that a lot better than we could have done, eh Maribel? Thank you so much, we'll have to change the title in the podcast.

Maribel

If we may, then we might copy that. Amazing!

Helen

Thank you so much, Ama. I've loved this conversation. This has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Maribel

From my side, I feel blessed today. Thank you so much for your time. I have to say I've never quite met anyone like you. Amazing.

Helen

Thank you so much

Ama

Thank you.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.