Everyone has their favorite food, but have you tried being really aware of the experience of eating? Author of The Nobody Bible, J.A. Plosker, studies ancient wisdom and is devout to the practice of mindfulness. He shares the positive effects of being mindful on your daily lives. He gives emphasis on the gravity that discipline plays in this practice. J.A. lives by this practice and he gives real-life scenarios where being mindful can even give assistance with the harsh stress that most people go through.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Practice of Mindfulness
Welcome, everyone. I’ll be interviewing J.A. Plosker. How are you?
I’m good. How are you?
I’m doing great. What I like to do is I’m going to read your bio for our audience and we will have a bit of a conversation. J.A. Plosker has had careers as a social work counselor, attorney and college instructor who has taught courses in comparative religion, ethics and social work. His own deep personal search for meaning and fulfillment led him to the study of ancient wisdom and a mission to inspire others to find extraordinary power in everyday life. He published the multi-award-winning book, The Nobody Bible, uncovering the simple wisdom in ordinary life. He hosts The Nobody Guide to Life podcast, YouTube video series, and speaks on mindfulness and the power of ancient wisdom in everyday life. I was honored to be on J.A.’s podcast months ago.
It was a great interview.
We had a wonderful time. I was like, “I need to interview you on my podcast,” because all of your ideas fit well with what I’m trying to do with Discover Health and help people find their utmost optimal place in their daily life. What is the study of ancient wisdom? How is it powerful in everyday life?
I spent a lot of time in college and on my own, studying world religion and philosophy. When I started going through a rough time in my late 20s and early 30s, I was struggling and I found myself looking for answers like everyone else. At some point, we all look for answers. I went back to those books that I had used to learn and teach world religion to my students. I started looking through all of that ancient wisdom. I realized that a lot of the things that the ancients passed down to us and we’re talking about ways to live a better and more fulfilling life, were things that I was doing right in my everyday life.
If we pick any one of the Ten Commandments and work on one of them, that’s a powerful tool for personal and spiritual growth. If we read about the Mysteries of Karma, we go out in our day and think about how we’re speaking to people or treating people that can also be a powerful tool. I learned that a lot of the things that I was doing right in my everyday life. The simple things that I was doing were building a bridge back to this ancient wisdom. I found that it was not only relevant to my life, but it was transforming it. It was an interesting search. It helped me and it was a lot of fun, too.Resetting your focus moment by moment without judgment helps you handle harsh stress better. Click To Tweet
That was back in your twenties?
Yeah, in my late 20s or early 30s. I was struggling and I was trying to make something of myself. I graduated from a professional school and I was thinking about how I was going to be somebody. I realized that maybe the purpose of life wasn’t to strive to be somebody, maybe it was to turn the whole idea on its ear and become nobody. That doesn’t mean nothing and it doesn’t mean I cease to exist. What it means is, I stop taking up so much space. You learn to tame your ego a little bit or hold space during a conversation instead of filling it or clear out some of your possessions instead of collecting things. You basically start to strip away layers of yourself until you get to the core of who you are. I found that even though we’re “nobody,” we have this amazing access in everyday life to these unbelievably powerful tools for personal and spiritual growth. It’s that “nobody” concept that has transformed my life.
As it says in your bio, you’ve studied in college to be a social work counselor. You’ve been trained as an attorney as well. Have you worked as a lawyer before?
I worked as a lawyer briefly. When I graduated from law school, I found some jobs. I was always a much better writer than anything else. I found a lot of jobs writing for attorneys. What that turned into is I married that legal background with my religious studies in a master’s degree. I started teaching Healthcare Ethics, Bioethics, Philosophy and things like that. That law degree turned into a love of teaching and I didn’t practice for that long. I turned my attention to teaching and later became a social work counselor.
I started my career as a high school teacher and then moved into medicine after that. Once you’ve been a teacher, you enjoy it and you’ve seen the benefit of it and the service it could be to others, it helps you. It’s neat to say that you were looking at ancient wisdom. How has that ancient wisdom helped you in your life?
It’s interesting because when I was struggling with depression and anxiety, you get up in the morning and the events of a day seem overwhelming. They seem like something that you have to slog through or get through until fate or something smiles on you. When I started to apply these techniques of ancient wisdom, what I found was, over the days, months, and years as I was practicing these, I noticed that the events of my day were opportunities to practice. If I had an opportunity to get angry, somebody cuts me off in traffic or I had an opportunity to get revenge on somebody, that’s something that comes up for us. Sometimes, we have that opportunity to get even. I would start to think about karma. I would start to think about this simple tool from ancient wisdom and how it could affect my life. I would apply it right at the moment.
In chapter 78 of the Dao De Jing, it says, “Nothing is more soft and yielding than water, but for attacking things that are solid and strong, nothing is better.” When I was confronted with a fight or a potential fight, sometimes, I would yield at that moment to change the energy. I found that instead of having a day that was filled with angst, worry and anxiety that by applying these simple ancient tools right at the moment who I thought I was disappeared. I became more peaceful. Mindfulness was one of the big tools that I came across and started applying and that undergirds it all. Why? Because I started to pay attention to and participate in my life instead of trying to avoid it. Once I did that, I started to discover that not only were things not as bad as I thought, but they were such powerful instruments for change. Over the years, everything’s changed for me. I still struggle with anxiety and stress and I’m human but the way I filter it and the lenses through which I see it are different.
Let’s talk about karma. There are a lot of people out there, and even myself, that’s like, “What does that mean?” We’ve heard that word and I have a sense in my being of what it might mean, but what did the ancients say about them?
There are probably as many different ways of interpreting that concept as there are ever people who have believed in it. The way I’ve used and distilled that concept is the idea that my actions reverberate. It’s like banging a gong through the universe. If I take an action or not take an action and stay silent when I’m supposed to act, that has consequences. It has reverberations. It has vibrations across a lifetime. When you use that as a tool in your daily life, it serves as a stop. Before you make a hand gesture in traffic or before you say something mean, you stop and apply that concept and think, “Is what I’m about to say or do worth the potential repercussions and reverberations throughout my life and maybe throughout lifetimes?” That’s how I’ve distilled that concept in everyday life and used it as a tool for myself.
The other concept that you brought up is mindfulness. That’s another term that we can all say, “What does that mean and how do we apply that?”
It means whatever the practitioner at that moment probably thinks. As I’ve distilled it, it’s the idea of being present. It’s the idea of instead of avoiding, being present for it. Instead of evaluating my life, being in my life. Instead of walking around judging myself harshly and always wishing I was somewhere else and wishing that things were other than they were, I embrace that moment as best as I can and pay attention to it fully without judgment. That’s how I’ve distilled that concept for myself and that’s gotten me very far on my journey of personal and spiritual growth.
It’s being conscious of observing your life and every moment of it.
That’s right. Like washing dishes is big for me. We go through a lot of dishes in our house and I use what seemed like mundane tasks. Sometimes, I get excited about doing them because I’ve trained myself to look forward to everyday tasks like that because those are golden opportunities to practice growth. When the towels are done in the dryer, you go in and you fold them consciously. That may seem like such a small thing for someone, but is it? If I practice there and I go into the kitchen and there’s a pile of dishes, I could have this reaction, “Ugh.” That produces a response in me that I don’t want. Instead, I embrace that task and I concentrate. Maybe I do breathwork or I say a mantra or a phrase to myself while I’m washing those dishes. I find that I’m a lot calmer during the day because mundane tasks don’t have the hold on me that they used to. I look forward to them. That’s minutes and hours of time in my day that I’ve not only gotten back but used for personal and spiritual growth. It’s been powerful for me.
Many of us have this list of things we have to accomplish. Either a day, the goals for the week, the month or the specs quarter. It seems like we’re constantly looking or thinking about the list and what needs to get done. The mundane task is in the way. You’re getting to where you want to go in your goals, getting to that next accomplishment or that next title where it’s stopping you from getting to the next profession or the accomplishment. There’s a therapist here locally and she focuses a lot on mindfulness. When she spoke one time in a gathering, she had us all take a raisin and put it in our mouths. Simply be mindful of the whole process of chewing it and truly tasting it and then allowing that whole process to be conscious. For example, many of us throw food in our mouths and we don’t pay any attention to the fact that we may chew it once, twice or twenty times, then swallow it and we move on to the next. It was such a neat experience to chew, taste and enjoy the raisin that day. We were all there for five minutes for one raisin that we eat.MIndfulness takes discipline and and practice. Click To Tweet
You can stretch that practice in two hours and that can be a whole meditation. I gave a talk on mindfulness and I was giving examples from everyday life. I thought about the idea of making dinner and for so many of us, cooking is that annoyance between the end of work and the start of our shows on a streaming service. I asked the audience, “What is the sound of black pepper when you crack it from the mill. What is the shape of olive oil when you throw it into the pan?” These things have a life to them. Sometimes, we rebel against mindfulness because it doesn’t seem like it’s “doing anything,” but I can attest firsthand the constant practice of mindfulness, whether it’s mindful eating, cooking or parenting. Resetting your focus moment by moment to the moment without judgment, helps you handle harsh stress better.
In the times when not much is happening, that’s when you practice. When you’re annoyed by doing dishes and laundry, that’s the moment to tame the inner world do that when there is a crisis, you have already trained yourself to go into a calmer mind. We still have anxiety and stress in life. We still make judgments, but we dial it back and we become the calm person in the office. The person that people like to come to for advice because they know they’re going to have a level head to talk to. It’s tremendously powerful. Your description of that exercise is important because it can start with something as small as a raisin for five minutes.
We’re stuck in our list and in our stress and we’re in that situation where we’re faced with this opportunity of growth and the people that are reading this blog are saying, “I got the laundry and dishes to do, but I’m anxious about these five other things I need to be doing and my kids are screaming.” What do you suggest to them? What do they do at that moment? What are the tools to use?
That depends on the person. Some people may be more verbal. Some people may want to say to themselves, “Stop.” There are people I know who that’s their habit. When they feel themselves getting stressed, they tell themselves out loud to stop. That’s their way of pulling themselves into the moment. Some people are more cerebral, it’s a thought. When you’re faced with a stressor like that, you think to yourself, “Stop.” That’s a good word. I’m using the word stop because that’s one of the tools that I used to talk about with clients. It’s a short word and a quick reminder to snap you into the moment. I know for myself, sometimes, I’ll go into a breathing pattern. I’m sure a lot of your readers know about 4-7-8 breathing where you breathe in for a count of four, hold for seven and then release for eight.
There’s also another variant of that, the 4-8 breathing. In a moment when you’re struggling with a toddler or you’re sitting in traffic, your blood pressure is rising and you can feel that, which is not a good feeling. You can go into a breathing technique. You breathe in for four and you let it out for a count of eight. That can stop and at least, short-circuited the fight-or-flight response. I’ve started practicing that all through the day even when I’m just sitting and relaxing. I noticed that a lot of my triggers have been dialed way back and things that used to trigger me seriously to a nine or ten, are now low, some of them have even disappeared.
The important thing to do is to practice in moments when there isn’t stress so that when stress comes, you’ve trained yourself. If a stressful moment shows up and you don’t feel prepared, have a word that signals your body to stop. Have a breathing technique that you can go into. Even if the toddler is pulling on your leg, you’re not yelling, you’re breathing. I found that that worked well raising my child. There are simple things you can do. If somebody’s coming at you in an angry way, sometimes, you can smile but it’s imperceptible. It’s just a light smile. I’ll bring a sense of happiness. I’ll see the person in good humor and it puts my body at rest. Sometimes, it even completely disarms the situation. My suggestion to readers would be to play around with this and see what works for you. Think about the things your grandma said to you, “Be nice.” Those simple things like, “Smile at a stranger.” Those simple things that we learned as children not even from ancient wisdom, but sometimes wisdom from the ‘80s or ‘90s at grandma’s house can go a long way to helping us when a crisis strikes.
I like to make sure that our readers understand some of the science in the essence that inhalation is more of a fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system controlled the action. Your exhalation is a more parasympathetic relaxation, calming part of your autonomic nervous system. That’s why when you say, “Breath in for a count of four or five and out for a longer count,” whether that be seven, eight or whatever it is. Again, the inhalation is the fight or flight, but the exhalation is calming. That’s why you want to breathe out longer. You’ll notice that your whole system calms down. I love that idea of saying in your head some short words like, “Stop.” Because you’re putting a wrench or you’re turning the pattern off, shifting it and your brain is going, “What?” It’s ready for whatever tool that you’re going to bring in next. Something like stop and then doing that breathing not out loud, it’s in your consciousness and in your being.
I found that pairing the breath technique with a mantra has been powerful. I say, “In for four and out for eight.” If you pick a mantra or a saying that’s important to you, that’s two or four syllables, there’s your count. Let’s say you want to be calmer and that’s a commitment you’ve made. In your everyday life, you’re going to be mindful of situations that push you out of your calm zone. Adopt the mantra, “I’m calm.” When you breathe in, in your head, you think, “I’m calm.” There’s your count of four then you breathe out, “I’m calm. I’m calm,” and there’s your count of eight. What you start to find is the affirmations that I have used with this breathing technique have worked their way and it almost feels like muscle memory.
When I feel myself getting anxious, I start the breathing pattern and a mantra and it becomes automatic. Even if you can just dial the crisis down from a ten to a seven, you can think more clearly. We know the damaging effects of cortisol. They’ve been talking a lot about the importance of the vagus nerve in social interactions. By doing simple breathing techniques and approaching a social crisis even in a calmer way at work or wherever you are, it has a massive effect. If you can help the people around you to be calm then it amplifies and magnifies that effect even further.
All the concepts coming out here are the idea of karma but also for you to be calmer and affect that energy has on the ones around you. It’s that same concept that’s going to reverberate into the energy system of the others around you and bring the situation down. We are emotional beings first and we’ve all been in that situation where our emotions are so heightened either in a negative way, particularly, angry or frustrated. We can’t even think and we say things or do things that when we walk away and get away from the situation, we say, “I can’t believe I did that.” The other thing you’ve pointed out is that if you worked on it and set up a pattern in your being to automatically because you’ve trained yourself and worked on it. You can’t just expect it to happen out of the blue. If you start working on it in your daily life, on a daily basis then in those mundane situations, your brain, nervous system, consciousness and being are going to remember that. It will automatically start to do things to take you down in a good, quiet and positive way.
Anybody who has a spiritual or personal growth practice knows that sometimes if you’re talking to someone that isn’t necessarily doing that in the same way you are in your life, you get hit with resistance. Someone will try and say, “I tried meditating once and it didn’t work. I tried that whole mindfulness thing and it was stupid. It didn’t do anything.” No one would ever expect a Quantum Physicist to say, “I tried Algebra once and it didn’t work so I stopped.” All these things take discipline and they take practice. Standing and washing my dishes does not make me any money. It does not get me into the newspaper. It does not get me famous on TV. What it does is it helps me to become not me.
The me that thinks they don’t like dishes and a task is annoying, that me, steps aside and it allows a different me to step in. I’ll let your readers decide for themselves how they define that other me and what they think that is. All I can tell you is, by practicing these disciplines over and over, I’m not just going to say day to day, but minute to minute, and second to second, something happens. I struggled with math for years and one day in one of my classes something clicked and I ended up doing fine in that class but I had to practice. I got tutored and I got help then it clicked. That’s the same for spiritual and personal growth. On The Nobody Guide to Life, that video series exists because if you listen to these shows, you hear these tools. You know that they’re good from these guests and you practice these disciplines that you’ve heard other people practice, one-day, it clicks and you add it to your tool belt. That’s all you can ask yourself for, practice.
Tell us more about the podcast.
The podcast was a love affair I have with nobody and this idea changed my life. I am like many. The original intent of The Nobody was, “I’m just some guy who wrote a book and who’s going to want to read this?” You don’t have to be rich, famous or ordained to connect to ancient wisdom and other powerful wisdom. The podcast is me. I’m just some guy interviewing people who have something that can help us. That was my whole thing is that even if I wasn’t rich, famous or ordained, I could be a kind person. I could go with the flow. I could practice good karma. No matter who we are, we can take one of those episodes, hear a tip or two in it and practice it right now. Even if we’re not at a ten-day retreat, on the mountain top and in the deep dark cave with the guru. Also, even if we’re not famous with millions of dollars to hire ten life coaches to coach us through our careers as actors enact, we can use this right now. If you practice these tools, they chip away at things like resistance and ego. They help you to discover who you are at your core. That’s why I had to have you on my show.Everyday events have the power to transform lives. Click To Tweet
What you’re talking about doing resonates with everything that I believe in and the essence to discover one’s health. One has to step back and focus on the moment and the front that the universe has our back and the universe is supporting us. If we connect with it and realize that the universal energy is loving energy and compassionate energy, then we have to have that for ourselves as well. We’re all going to have stress and anxiety. We’re all going to have difficult times in our lives. If you learn and work every day to have the discipline, faith and believe and how do you build those? You’ve already given the examples. Start with the basic tools of breathing and telling yourself to stop. Realize that this moment is the moment you’re in and the dishes before you are a gift and not a horrible thing. They give you a moment to shut up, be still and let the work go on with your hands and feel it. Let’s see how the dish goes from filthy to clean. That’s a transition.
You’ve studied law and I’ve studied medicine. You’ve been a teacher and I’ve been a teacher. I’ve been a personal trainer of many things in my life, but none of that makes me who I am. We’ve all learned that over time because when we’re younger, it’s like, “Who am I going to be when I grow up?” We keep learning and striving and finally, at some point for those of us that hopefully wake up, we say, “None of these matters.” I’ve accomplished things and it’s great, but it doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is being of service, giving and connecting with other people and community, and connecting with the universal energy in the love of the universe. That’s what makes me feel connected and calm.
Depending on your belief system, it isn’t just inert energy and that’s what you have to remember as you’re doing this, “If I don’t fight back, then I’m a doormat. If I don’t call the manager over, how will the waitstaff ever learn? If I don’t complain, scream, cut them off, and get revenge. If I don’t become somebody, listen and follow.” We have many things in our head that we believe we shouldn’t do or we have a million reasons not to practice mindfulness, restraint or stepping aside, but this does do something. I know sometimes, people don’t want to do these practices because they feel like they’re not taking action or they’re not doing something right. I didn’t stop living and participating. I studied and became a licensed social work counselor. I still participated in my life but it was because of these disciplines of stopping, yielding, and stepping out of the way.
What makes a great teacup is that it’s empty so that you can put the tea in it. Nobody goes and buys a teacup that’s already full. We have to empty out so that we can be filled and that’s the hard lesson when you’re just starting or it doesn’t seem to be going your way. These practices in a lot of ways, empty us out and they also empty negativity of its power. Because if someone comes at you and starts screaming at you and your “not there,” then it completely diffuses and disarms a situation. It’s only when two people full of anger come together that a fight breaks out. It’s hard to have a one-person fight.
We’ve all experienced that in life when you’re interacting with someone and they already know the answers or they already know it all. You realize along the way that there isn’t anything you can’t share with them or teach them even if they know something that they may not because their cup is already full.
That’s not on you. I get caught up in that and that has nothing to do with you as your being, “We want to share that and we want this.” You to step back and you hold space instead of filling it. You hold a space for someone else’s fullness and you allow them to express that then you move on your way without judgment.
The idea is there. There was no judgment about the interaction just observation. It was interesting because you’re being mindful and being conscious. Tell us about your book, The Nobody Bible.
The original genesis of that book was the who am I. I remember walking around in bookstores thinking, “I have all these ideas in my head, but who’d want to read a book from me. I’m nobody.” One of the great influential teachers in my life said, “Being nobody is the highest state because it means that you’re a mirror. You’re open, and available.” That’s where the light went off. I started looking into this ancient wisdom and I realized that no matter who we are, we can connect to that ancient wisdom. I decided to write about it.
What I do in the book is I take, The Book of Moses, The Book of Jesus, and The Book of Brahman. I take these traditions and I show you how some of the teachings of these traditions, powerful little spiritual, and philosophical cores, can be tools that we can use in our everyday life no matter who you are. By opening a door for someone, going with the flow, and sharing a smile with someone, you’re building a bridge to the ancients. That can be a powerful realization. That’s what The Nobody Bible is dedicated to in each chapter. In the eBook, you can download the exercises from a website, but they have interactive exercises. At the end of the book, you take those exercises and create your own The Nobody Bible. You have an entire book dedicated to your core beliefs and it was transformative for me to write that book. It made all of this real.
How would people get your book? Where would they go?
They can go to JAPlosker.com and everything’s there, the links to the videocast, podcast and the book. That’s a one-stop for everything.
I also like to ask you to share one secret that you would feel is one of the major secrets that help you in being optimally healthy.
Everyday events have the power to transform lives. That insight came to me, that’s not new to me. I didn’t just invent that but this idea that the things I encounter every day are my best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. It reduces my anxiety, my sense of dread, my stress levels and it fires me up to see what the day could bring. That insight more than anything has probably served me best and served my health best. Anything that can hold our cortisol levels down, anything that can reduce that shot you get in the stomach of whatever juices that is, whatever can reduce those feelings, is for me. That approaching my everyday life is one big opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. That’s done it more than anything else.
This has been great. People have come away with some beneficial tips on how to be mindful and so forth. Thank you for being on the show.
Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Take care, everyone.
- J.A. Plosker
- The Nobody Bible
- The Nobody Guide to Life
- YouTube – The Nobody Guide to Life
- Podcast – The Nobody Guide to Life episode with Trish
- Dao De Jing
About J. A. Plosker
“What am I doing right now in this ordinary moment?”
I used to avoid that question. I was busy ruminating on a past I couldn’t change and worrying about a future that might never happen, and the anxiety was absolutely crushing me – until it almost broke me. This personal struggle didn’t make headlines, but it was destroying me.
After a life-changing encounter I still can’t fully explain, I began a personal search for meaning that revealed powerful, ancient tools for healing, growth, and happiness – tools we can all use right here, right now, right in our everyday life – if we’re mindful, and paying attention.
It’s now my mission to spread this message of personal and spiritual growth and the power of a mindfulness mindset through speaking, seminars, writing, podcasting, and videos. Feel free to look around the site. Read, watch, or listen. Reach out. And most importantly, whatever you’re doing, notice it. You may just discover extraordinary opportunities for personal and spiritual growth right in ordinary life.