“Badass spiritual teacher” reads like some sort of an oxymoron. But I can’t seem to find any other way to accurately describe meditation leader to the stars, Biet Simkin. The phrase just seems to fit her. Sure, she might soothe you into a tranquil state, but she’ll also scream at you to own up to your own bullshit if that’s what the situation demands. Thanks to her rock n roll approach to chasing enlightenment, she’s been referred to as both the Patti Smith and David Bowie of meditation (she’s also a musician, so that helps the comparison).
Knowing all of this, it’s no surprise to find that Russell Brand, Mariel Hemingway, and the Sundance Film Festival have all been among Simkin’s clients. Brand, who spoke about her on The Tonight Show, gave Simkin this endorsement: “The only other methods I know to attain the states she induces through her work are illegal. She is a wonder.”
That gets you hyped to meditate, right? Us, too.
Simkin details some of her unique philosophy in her best-selling book, Don’t Just Sit There! 44 Insights to Get Your Meditation Practice Off the Cushion and Into the Real World, where she explores the missing link between the desire and motivation to meditate and the ability to process the emotional fallout of our meditative experiences to find spiritual fulfillment. To get a better handle on how we can better put the practice of meditation into our daily lives, we linked up with Simkin who quickly got us more amped to do some breathwork than we ever thought possible.
You seem to take a more aggressive approach to meditation, do you think the modern conversation or viewpoint around meditation is coming up short?
I mean some have referred to me at the Patti Smith of meditation. I don’t know if it’s aggressive but I have a rock and roll sensibility. The reason is is that we are hurtling through space to a certain death that can happen at any moment. If you don’t take it into your hands to wake up along this ride… it’s not going to magically happen for you. You either get to ride this life or this life is gonna make you it’s bitch!
That’s what I try to show people with meditation, that meditation is a chance to choreograph this journey. When I was lost and searching, all I ever wanted was a seat at the director’s table. Today as a daily meditator and an active participant in my never-ending awakening, I get to create the life of my dreams one misunderstanding after another. I uncode, discover, and discard whatever is no longer needed.
You ask if the meditation space is coming up short, I dunno to each their own, but I like my spiritual life mixed with a career, hot sex, movement, friendship, money, death, endless learning, art, culture, music, and fashion. I don’t think everyone thinks these things are simpatico. To me, they are forever entwined.
How do we become more mindful of our everyday actions and use meditation to reach our goals?
You gotta start by realizing what a shit you are. That’s the first step. Once you get a taste of how full of crap you are, you will become willing to do the work. You can’t become the person you came to this planet to be if you’re lying to yourself. Meditation and a tool I teach in my book called “divided attention” — which is an active meditation that one uses while doing daily activities — allows you to truly see who you are. Not just the role you play or the mask you wear but the real you.
Once you get a taste of that you just want it all the time. You become willing to literally go to any lengths!
“Don’t Just Sit There…” seems to flip the conversation about meditation on its head, why was that important to you?
Well, the title can be read two ways. “DON’T JUST SIT THERE!” which implies the secret is not in just simply endlessly sitting on a cushion somewhere dreaming or on a floor making vision boards in your bedroom. It can also be read covertly as “DON’T, JUST SIT THERE!” which is also the truth. Sometimes we need to extra relax after we have made the right efforts to let the universe or the beyond have all the puzzle pieces come together.
Essentially the idea is you will have to die before you die to actually get this thing. The part of you you know as “you” dies. A new you is born. The Buddha only sat at the very end of his story. I think it’s way more renegade to be enlightened while your winning an Oscar than it is to be enlightened on a mountain while someone’s playing the flute and shit. That sounds way easier to me.
If people feel like meditation isn’t doing anything for them what do you suggest?
I usually suggest that people start with different forms of prayer (all not religious in their base). I also offer that people do active meditation that involves shaking, stomping, and at times screaming. Not everyone can enter in through stillness. Or they can but it will be fake and very surface. Think, that random yoga chick sitting there in yoga class being like “I wonder what I should buy later at Whole Foods” while she is in lotus and all quiet and the instructor is like, “You’re so peaceful now.”
At my events, I shake people out of any capacity to fake anything. Participants cry, hold each other, experience hallucinations, sometimes faint. It’s my belief that the kind of person who needs a breakthrough sometimes can’t have one because they need to be shocked into it with love, beauty, and a more somatic approach than just sitting in silence pretending to be still. Don’t get me wrong, we do all that just not right away… in my experience that just doesn’t work.
Why is meditative consciousness important for fields beyond just well-being? How does this stuff integrate into the worlds of music, fashion, and other creative and expressive fields?
If you don’t meditate, you won’t have the stamina to withstand the pain of art, fashion, and any creative field. You could douse yourself in alcohol or drugs but that’s pretty much the only other way of withstanding the pain of creation. As a former heroin addict, I can say that my art and health took a toll from drugs and booze. Meditation on the other hand is supportive. It gives rather than zaps your energy. You can thrive in the arts while also simultaneously having a successful career, a happy family, a fit body, a calm mind, a thriving community of friends, and great sex.
Meditation allows for more, not less time. Time becomes your bitch. Energy becomes your bitch!
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give to someone who has just started to explore meditation?
You are wrong. You are completely wrong about your capacity, your possibility, your strength, your beauty, your talent, the meaning of life. You are wrong. The wronger you can see you are the sooner you will remember the truth of who you actually are. Make meditation your top priority, bow to it every morning, and ask it what it would have you do. Do whatever it inspires you to do. Never say no to that whisper inner voice of yours. Surrender to it completely and melt into its arms. The pearls of life and all the jewels will be handed to you.
How do we become better meditators?
Just show up and try every day. Also, follow teachers or readings that light you up specifically. There is a brand or lineage that will take you to your high. Pursue and you will find your line
A big part of your identity and book is being the Spiritual Teacher for people who were maybe raised to think it’s all bullshit. What do you say to the skeptic, who mocks all of this and claims that they’re too busy for 15 minutes of meditating (even though they probably watch 45 minutes of Seinfeld reruns each day)? What do they need to hear in order to give it a chance?
I mostly have seen it turn around at huge events I have led. Once, I was leading meditations at Bonaroo and the tent was filled with about 200 people who were all like laying in their own vomit or eating burritos or just hanging out drinking a beer. My husband said to me, “Whoa Biet, I think this gonna go very badly”. I went up on the stage and I tore everyone a new asshole. I told people to get out of the tent if they weren’t ready for this shit. Some left. The ones who remained, approx 150 people were all shaking their hands in the air and screaming and crying and hugging each other by the end.
I just spoke to them from my heart. Not as some guru on the hill, it was just from my heart. There is no such thing as a skeptic. There are people who have shut themselves off from their heart to protect themselves. I did that in my past, with depression, with poverty, with death, with heroin and cocaine, with loss after loss. Sometimes through the din of their resistance, I break something in them with my vulnerability. I never lie about who I am or where I have been and I never tell anyone to do anything I haven’t myself done.
Essentially, I think meditation is just like falling in love. You need the right teacher to get it. Once you get it you will have to give it. It’s like a disease, it spreads… if that makes sense. So in essence, I don’t teach meditation, I am meditation. If you get around me, you will get it. Just like an actor doesn’t teach acting, they just act, and by acting you become. You leave the theatre changed. This is being!