Talking Shop With Erich Schiffmann
Take a glimpse at previously unpublished dialog from Yoga Journal's interview with Erich Schiffmann, one of today's most sought-after teachers.
Nora Isaacs is a Yoga Journal senior editor.
- You are married to a yoga teacher. Do you think a partner must be on the same
spiritual path for both people to feel satisfied?
Absolutely not, luckily. What's necessary is for each partner to have respect
for one another's path, and to then put into practice that which they are
learning from whatever their particular discipline or non-discipline is. The
essence, always, is Love. You're learning to be the simple presence of Love.
You do not need to be on the same path as your partner in order for you to be the
presence of Love, nor do you need to speak the same lingo. You just need to live
what you are learning. Be the place where Love flows through, and do this wherever
you find yourself being, and with whomever you find yourself being with. Your
partner will naturally approve of your involvement with whatever spiritual path
you are on if it is helping you be a more loving presence. You'll be easier to
be around! It's nice to be partnered with someone who shares your same love
for the path you are on, but, in a deeper sense, we are all on the same path, or
same non-path. I am married, and my wife teaches and practices yoga, but we do
different styles and rarely, if ever, do we ever practice together, and rarely, if
ever, do we talk much about it. It is not necessary. But we are both living what
we are learning from our respective inquiries. The result is a deeper love for one
another, and respect for one another's differences.
- You are so modest, yet convey so much authority. How do you interact with
students who put you on a pedestal?
I don't take it that seriously. Or, more accurately, I totally appreciate
their appreciation. I take it in, and then in all sincerity I say, "Thank you" to them.
It's nice to be acknowledged, and it is respectful to that other
one to receive their appreciation and express your thanks in return. Their
appreciation is an affirmation to me to just keep trying to do my best. It helps
me do a better job. But one of the main things you learn through yoga is that
there really is an equality throughout Creation, that there really is only One of
us here, and putting someone up on a pedestal as being more special than someone
else is not where it' s at. But it does feel good to be grateful to someone who
is helping you make more sense out of life. I was like that about Krishnamurti. I
would have done anything for him. His main request, though, was that you go within
and become your own light, that you live the teachings.Thank you for saying I
convey authority, and in a modest manner, but any authority I may project is
really just simple clarity. If you are clear about something, then you are not
confused, and then whatever utterances you make or behaviors you exhibit will
simply reflect that unconfused clarity. From my perspective, I am mostly clear
that I don't know, that my personal ground-level perspective is necessarily
limited, and that it makes more sense to no longer make up my own mind about
things, and to, instead, go within, become still, ask inwardly for Guidance, and
then dare to do as the inner Guidance prompts me to do. This comes across as being
confident, yet modest, because you are not in charge of what you find yourself
Knowing when you Listen. You can't take credit for it. What comes through you
will be powerful and transformative because it is not personally contrived, but it
is the wisdom of the Infinite flowing through you, not your personal wisdom.
Do you ever find that yoga takes you more "out of the world" than "into" it?
What do you do in this case? At first, it did. I had to withdraw in order to go
within. I left home, went to India, and really felt like I had to extricate myself
from everything I was familiar with in order to get away from my conditioning and
external influences, in order to get in touch with my deepest motivations about
what to do. But once you go inward and start feeling the Energy that constitutes
you, then, because the Energy that you are is the creative Life Force of all the
universes, then as you get in touch with it and dare to go with its Flow, then,
inevitably, because the Energy is the Substance and Source of all Creation, what
we call life, you will find yourself coming back into the world, so to speak, and
living in the world from this seemingly other-worldly place or perspective. You
will come to life. Your life will come alive. One of the main things you learn in
yoga is to participate more fully, to really get into the asana, or to really
immerse yourself in the chant or meditation, etc. As you do this in the relatively
simple context of a yoga class or your personal practice, you will spontaneously
start doing it more of the time, that is, in your life. And the more fully you
participate in your life, the more fun your life becomes, and you'll find
yourself becoming a more effective and meaningful presence. When I was young, I was
the shyest person I knew. If someone asked me my name, I would turn red. It wasn't
until I started teaching yoga when I was twenty-one that I felt I had
something important to talk about and share, and that it would have been weirder
to not talk and stay shy. Teaching yoga brought me out of myself, made me more
extroverted, more in the world. I'm happy it works like this. The world needs
more yogis who are willing to participate more fully in all aspects of life.
This will help heal the world.
What do you do for fun?
Stuff I don't like to do! No, pretty much, my whole life is fun. As much as
possible, I don't do what I don't want to do, and if I am in a
circumstance that I would rather not be in, I do my best to bring my attention
into the now and participate in what I was previously defining as an undesirable
moment, and then bingo, it shifts. Life is meant to be fun. Doing what is
meaningful to you, what you love to do, is the most fun. And so, a lot of what I
do revolves around yoga. I read about it, I write about it, I practice it alone
and with friends, I make videos about it, I participate in discussions about it
and related topics on my webpage. I do interviews, like this one with you. I'm
having a blast. I also like naps, going to the movies, lying in my hammock,
listening to music, and whenever possible I go down to the beach and watch the
I've noticed that you seem to really get into technology. Any connection
between yoga and technology?
Much to my surprise, I really like computers and all the amazing things you can do
with them. I find creative writing so much easier with a computer than without.
You can make changes easily, print it up, see what it looks like, all in a matter
of seconds. I also love the digital video revolution that is currently happening.
For $1000 you can buy equipment that used to cost $100,000 and make your own
high-quality videos. It's fun. I also have a little digital voice recorder
that I carry around with me to capture insights as they are happening. You never
know when you will be blessed by an intuitive insight or good idea, and so if it
starts happening while I am driving or going for a walk, or in the middle of a
meditation, I simply pick up the recorder and speak it live. I can then either
transcribe it or download it to my computer and burn it to CD. I've also used
a Timex Ironman beeping watch for years as a training device to remember to pause
frequently throughout the day and ask inwardly for Guidance. But I am especially
impressed with the internet and what it is doing for yoga and humanity. I
communicate with way more people now because of email than I ever did before.
There is also a discussion area on my webpage (www.movingintostillness.com) where
people from all over the globe can write in and participate. You can sit in your
room at a time that is convenient for you, type it into your computer and speak to
the whole world. It's amazing! It's unifying! It's actually evidencing
the oneness of Mind. It's a really good thing.
You've said that "there is no such thing as death--there's only
life." How does this affect the way you live from day to day?
Yes, I am very interested in this question and there is a lot that could be said
about it. But just to put it into context a little, let me say that up until I was
27 or 28 there was always this swift, little thought in the back of my mind that
colored everything I did or thought about doing. It was, "You're just
going to die anyway, so what difference does anything you do make? Why bother?"
I remember being in Spanish class thinking, "I'm just going to die
anyway, so who cares if I ever learn Spanish?" I was doing yoga and loving it,
but still this sentence was there. It did not stop me from living my life, but it
definitely put a damper on things. Then over a period of several years, and
especially lately, I started receiving insights and having experiences which began
to illuminate for me the fact that life is actually ongoing and eternal. What
looks like death is an illusion. You don't actually die when you die. Death is
a fake. Years earlier, when I had discussed this with friends and teachers, there
was a reluctance on both our parts to being open to this idea. The thought was
that if life was ongoing and eternal, then you would not care as much about this
life. It wouldn't matter if you lived or died because you weren't really
going to die. It wouldn't matter if someone else lived or died because they
weren't really going to die. Morality would go out the window. But what I am
experiencing as a result of these new realizations regarding the ongoingness of
life is that I actually care more about this life and where I am now. It's
like, "Hey, I'm not just going to die anyway and that will be the end of
it. What I do matters." That simple shift of perspective has made a huge
difference for me. Suddenly it makes more sense to get involved and participate in
life. And the more involved you get, the more you find to interest you; and the
more interested you are in your life, the more fun (meaningful) it becomes. I
think human consciousness is on the brink of a tremendous realization. We are
maturing into the awareness of immortality. Morality will then be based on the
realization of immortality, rather than the unquestioned assumption in the reality
of death. Death is a fake. There is no such thing. Life, Creation, the Movement of
God, is forever new, never dies, and is always morphing into fresh
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