Embracing Experience with Dr. John Astin

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In this podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. John Astin, psychologist, counselor, author and songwriter. We had a vibrant discussion about about what experience really is and the power of embracing experience as such - an indescribable piece of our life journey that makes us who we are. Find out how Dr. Astin's strengths have led him on his own personal journey and what he has learned along the way about point of view, music and our inner light.

About Dr. John Astin

In 1977, as a young college freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, I became quite involved in political activism. Over time, however, I grew more and more disenchanted with what I was observing as many of the people involved in and at the forefront of these movements seemed to be exhibiting many of the same qualities — e.g., intolerance, anger, close-mindedness — that they were speaking out against and protesting in others. I spoke about my dismay to a friend of mine and what she said struck me like a bolt of lightening, setting me on a life course that I’ve never really left. “John,” she said. “What they fail to see is that the real change comes about inside ourselves. Changing the world is really fundamentally about the transformation of our own hearts and minds.”

Shortly after that conversation, I was introduced to a number of books that began to open my mind to the whole world of meditation and contemplative practice. It was during this time that I also began to integrate my interests in meditative practices into my academic work, writing my undergraduate thesis on the applications of yogic philosophy to psychology and conducting research on the physiological effects of yogic meditation.

In 1984, I completed a Master’s degree in Counseling. My thesis examined the potential of training in meditation to enhance the listening and attentional skills of therapists. Following two years working as a counselor for adolescents in treatment for substance dependence, I decided to pursue my work as a singer-songwriter and recording artist full-time, doing so for the next seven years. In 1987, I released my first studio recording, “Into the Light,” and since that time, seven other recordings of original contemplative music, including the most recent title, “What We’ve Always Been.”

Between 1993 and 2000, I completed a doctorate in health psychology at the University of California, Irvine and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine. During this time, I continued to conduct research on meditative practices, turning my attention from the yoga traditions to the mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues and based on various Buddhist contemplative practices, notably vipassana or insight meditation. During my career as a researcher, I have written extensively in the fields of integrative and mind-body medicine, publishing over 50 scientific papers that have appeared in such journals as American Psychologist, Journal of the American Medical Association, and Annals of Internal Medicine.

In the decade from 2000 to 2010, my work was influenced by a number of non-dual contemplative traditions that emphasized letting go of any attempt to manage or control the flow of experience and instead, simply relaxing into present moment awareness and making no effort to interrupt the flow of mental, emotional and bodily states. This in turn led to a shift in my research focus as well, viewing mindfulness not so much as a skill one must cultivate or develop through extensive practice (“intentional mindfulness”) but rather as a spontaneous function of the body-mind, naturally occurring and already present within all experience (i.e., “effortless mindfulness”).

During this time, I also helped found and served (from 2008-2010) as the executive director of the Baumann Foundation, whose original mission was to conduct and support research on the potential mental and physical health benefits of these practices that emphasize the immediate, effortless and direct approach to realizing greater awareness in one’s life.
Presently, I hold faculty appointments at several universities including Notre Dame de Namur and Santa Clara and maintain a private counseling and consulting practice, supporting others in finding greater ease, freedom and well-being in their lives.

0:36 Introducing Dr. John Astin

5:04 Dr. Astin's early years

  • Independence and relationships
  • Inner exploration
  • Spiritual interests

13:33 The unfolding journey of life

  • What is experience made of?
  • Change that begins within

21:48 Each individual's life journey

  • Embracing experience as it is
  • Experience can’t be captured by language

31:12 How we experience our experiences

  • Two dimensions of experience
  • Seeing beyond a limited point of view

39:35 Discovering the indescribable

  • The power of music

45:58 Music and light

  • We are vibratory creatures
  • The light we search for

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2 replies
  1. Mia
    Mia says:

    I really enjoyed this podcast because how often do we really take the time to think about what experience is made up of? Personally I don’t often do so. I found it very enlightening.

    • Michael Seng
      Michael Seng says:

      Thank-you so much for your thoughts! By wondering about the experience, and opportunities, each moment brings our mind clarifies and deepens its power to bring joy to ourselves and everyone we touch.
      Take Care,
      Dr. Seng


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