Not only is she the founder of Muse, but she is also a neuroscientist, innovator, and entrepreneur. We dive into her challenges with ‘the work’, and also how she overcomes them with her own practices and make such an impact in the world. And of course, get into how Muse came about and how it can help you with your meditation practice too. Enjoy!
About Ariel: Ariel Garten is a neuroscientist, innovator, and entrepreneur whose driving purpose is to empower and help others overcome mental obstacles in order to live healthy, happy lives and reach their maximum potential.
Garten is one of the Founders of InteraXon, the makers of Muse: the brain sensing headband. Muse is the award-winning wearable technology that assists and trains meditation and mindfulness. Before founding InteraXon, Ariel was not only trained as a neuroscientist and psychotherapist, but also started her own international clothing line while she worked in labs researching Parkinson’s disease and hippocampal neurogenesis.
Her creativity and entrepreneurial drive, combined with her fascination with the brain, lead her to bring together two like minded friends and together they founded InteraXon, a Silicon Valley backed startup that allowed people to control computers with their minds, the technology that sparked the creation of Muse.
Links & Resources For Ariel Garten:
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Guy Lawrence: Hi. I’m Guy Lawrence, and you are listening to the Guy Lawrence podcast. If you’re enjoying this content and you want to find out more and join me and come further down the rabbit hole, make sure you head back to GuyLawrence.com.au. Awesome, guys. Enjoy the show.
Guy Lawrence: Ariel, welcome to the podcast.
Ariel Garten: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Guy Lawrence: I ask everyone on the show. I’ll be very intrigued to hear your answer to this one. If you were at a cocktail party and a complete stranger came up to you and asked you what you did for a living, what would you say?
Ariel Garten: I make a crazy brain sensing device that helps you meditate.
Guy Lawrence: That’s the perfect answer. What sort of response do you get when you say that normally?
Ariel Garten: “A what? A who?” Or, “Meditation. I love meditation. Tell me all about it.”
Guy Lawrence: Well, your meditation device, I have one in my room. I had it for a couple of years now, and I’ve been using it. It’s quite a … It’s an amazing piece of device, and do you know it fascinates me how does one end up creating a device in the first place?
Ariel Garten: My background is quite varied. I started out as always an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurialism has been core to my being. I was trained as a neuroscientist and a psychotherapist, and I began working with an early brain computer interface system in the lab with Dr. Steve Mann. He’s one of the inventors of the wearable computer. We had a single EG lead that we can put on the back of your head, and it would allow you to control stuff with your brain.
Guy Lawrence: Wow. Okay. There’s already so many questions I want to ask you, but I am intrigued, though, because I know we were speaking off air a little bit. What led you into the fascination in meditation in the first place, before we get into the device? Was it like this big, this groundbreaking moment? Or was it just this gradual progression?
Ariel Garten: For me, it was a gradual progression. When I was young, like really, really young, I was fascinated by meditation. I would read a ton. I would lie in bed trying to meditate at night without really having an understanding what it was.
Ariel Garten: Then as a psychotherapist, meditation became a frontline tool to use with my clients and my patients. I would teach them meditation regularly, but there was always a bit of a disconnect, because I was not a great meditator. I was one of those people who when I sat down, my brain would bounce all over the place, and I couldn’t stay on task. So I’d be teaching people to meditate and not really feeling like I grokked it myself.
Ariel Garten: As a neuroscientist, I understood all the benefits of it, and then when I began working with this early brain computer interface technology, we tried all sorts of applications for it and finally recognized that the best use of it was to help people understand what was going on in their own mind during this strange activity known as meditation.
Ariel Garten: If we could give people real-time feedback on their brain while they meditated, it would solve that age old problem of what’s supposed to be going on in my head? Am I doing it right? What’s going on in there? We could literally show you what’s going on inside your brain, guide you into the state of focused attention and keep you there.
Ariel Garten: So when I truly became a meditator was by now 10 years ago, eight years ago, as we started to really build and bring out Muse. That was probably the beginning of my meditation practice. I know you were describing to me the experience of finally having a transformational experience and all of your readings making sense, and that’s what it was for me. It’s like once I started using Muse, I was like, “Oh, this is what it feels like to meditate. Ah, this is what my brain’s supposed to be doing. Okay. Now I get it.” Then it was like that whole world of 2,000 years of history that I’ve been reading made sense.
Guy Lawrence: It’s fascinating and that we have to bring meaning into everything before we look at it. I was blindsided by meditation for so long, and I hadn’t. I had already had the meaning behind it without even knowing that was stopping me from looking at it in the first place. Do you find that for yourself where the moment people have that can correlate different meaning to it? Do we already bring our own beliefs into something like this before even looking at it?
Ariel Garten: We definitely come in with our own beliefs. It’s only once you experience it that you can actually get to the meaning and the power, that you can see the impact in your life.
Ariel Garten: I always talk about it as the same feeling as when I figured out what love was. So at 15 years old, I was listening to the radio, and I’m like, “Why is everybody singing about love? Why is every single song about love? What is this love thing?” Then I finally fell in love. The next song that I heard about love, it’s like, “Oh, my God. This is amazing. This totally describes my experience. I understand why everybody sings about love all the time.” It just finally made sense to me. I got it. I felt it. It touched me.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah. Perfect. That’s such a perfect answer. For people, then, to get that experience from meditation, because that’s what happened to me. People still ask me, “Why do you get so excited about meditation… I’m like, “You’re missing out on the greatest exploration of all, the self.” That’s what I really feel like.
Guy Lawrence: What have you found, especially from your role as a psychotherapist as well? Do people start coming to look at meditation in the first place? What gets them across the line?
Ariel Garten: By now, most people know that meditation is good for you. It’s changed a lot. We first brought out Muse in 2014. At the beginning, at that point, people sort of knew meditation was good for you. Now it’s like understood. You brush your teeth, you eat well, you go to the gym, and you meditate. This is the stuff you do to have a healthy mind and body. So there was this general understanding that you should be doing it. But really getting somebody over the line to commit to it I find is describing to them the scientific benefits.
Ariel Garten: Most people are like, “Oh, I have a friend who meditates. They seem so calm, but maybe that’s not for me. I couldn’t get there.” That other person meditates. But when you really describe how science tells you the ways that meditation makes your life better, the decrease in stress, the improvements in productivity, the changes in your body, the 46% decrease in healthcare utilization after eight weeks of meditation, the increase in density of your gray matter, the improvements in your GRE scores, and on and on and on, everybody is like, “Oh.” Once you understand all of the benefits of it that have been proven in the over 1,000 published papers, then they’re like, “Ah. Okay. I really need this thing.”
Guy Lawrence: Yeah. Fair enough.
Ariel Garten: To me, the real thing that always gets people over the line for me is when I describe the impact of meditation in your brain, like the neuroscience of meditation.
Guy Lawrence: Okay. What generally does go on in the brain once you start to meditate?
Ariel Garten: The scientific literature demonstrates some amazing things. One thing that you see is shifts in the pre-frontal cortex. Your pre-frontal cortex is your attentional control center. It’s the higher order processing. It’s how you plan, organize, and attend.
Ariel Garten: For a lot of people, for most [inaudible 00:07:24] people, as you age, your pre-frontal cortex thins. But if you’re able to maintain a long-term meditation practice, you can maintain the thickness of your pre-frontal cortex even as you age.
Ariel Garten: In the work of Dr. Sarah Lazar, she demonstrated a 50-year-old meditation practitioner, who had a pre-frontal cortex thickness of a 23-year-old.
Guy Lawrence: Wow.
Ariel Garten: Yeah. So it’s really making change in your brain if you stick to a practice long-term.
Guy Lawrence: That’s the key, isn’t it? It’s a practice.
Ariel Garten: It’s a practice. You have to do it regularly. Going to the gym last month doesn’t mean that you can move the couch today.
Guy Lawrence: Absolutely.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, yeah. I’m curious to know, because when it comes to meditation, and this is why I love the Muse kit and definitely want to dive into that a bit more in a sec about, because we have preconceived beliefs around it. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it wrong? And even what is meditation? If you had to do an elevator pitch to meditation to somebody that was completely had no idea, they heard of it, but they still don’t have really any idea, how would you do that pitch?
Ariel Garten: The simple definition of meditation is a practice or a training that leads to healthy and positive mind states. It’s a very clean, technical definition. It’s not weird or woo woo. It’s just a practice or a training that leads to healthy and positive mind states.
Ariel Garten: People often wonder what mindfulness is, because you’ve heard of mindfulness meditations. Meditation is the act of sitting, the practice, and mindfulness is the skill that is built. Mindfulness is being able to have present moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, or environment, and do it intentionally. So when you practice meditation, what you end up doing is being able to be more aware of yourself and the world around you and to do it with intention. When you do that, some pretty amazing things happen.
Guy Lawrence: Beautiful.
Ariel Garten: Yeah. For one, most of us walk around thinking about something else most of the time. According to a Harvard study, 46.9% of the time we’re thinking about something else, and this mind wandering actually makes us unhappy. So they had people actually rate their thoughts. A little bell would go off. You’d open an app, and it would say, “What are you thinking about? What you’re doing or not what you’re doing? And how are you feeling? Good, bad, shitty, etc.” They used technical terms, not those terms. There was a mood score.
Ariel Garten: What they discovered is that people who were thinking about something other than what they were doing had less happiness. They had poorer mood. It was to the point where whether or not you were thinking of what you were doing or mind wandering was a better predictor of your happiness than the actual activity. You could be doing something that was completely boring, but if you were actually truly engaged in it, if you were thinking about it, if you were in the moment with it, you were likely to be happier than doing something amazing but not having your mind engaged in the activity.
Guy Lawrence: Wow, wow. What have you found then, and I’d be interested in even on your own journey, because you’ve gone on. I’ve been researching or reading up on the whole things that you’ve done. You’ve done some pretty amazing things. You’ve achieved success and you’re living life on purpose. I think it can be quite rare that we find and honor the path that we want to walk on but also have the courage to do it as well. Have you come up against your own limited … How would you get beyond your own limited beliefs and thoughts, if I’m thinking that can hold us back? Because we want to do so many things, right? And yet we can also allow the monkey in your mind, allow that negativity, allow the feelings and let that govern us. Yeah. I’m fascinated on your journey and how you look at these things.
Ariel Garten: I was very lucky at a young age to have had a ton of confidence and a relatively quiet inner critic. I believed I could do whatever I wanted. That was just a deeply ingrained belief in me. I was working in this lab with an early brain computer interface system, and I just saw it and said, “This could be taken out of the lab and I could make a product of it, and I can bring it to the world.”
Ariel Garten: I got together with my co-founders, Chris Aimone and Trevor Coleman, and the three of us went and did it. We did crazy things. Like we had a contract at the Olympics, where we let people control the lights on the CN Tower, Canadian [inaudible 00:11:48], and Niagara Falls with their brain from all the way across the country 3,000 miles, 2,000 miles away. So we were able to create these extraordinary things. We made thought control devices and thought control beer taps, and we just had this vision that we were going to create a world in which this technology would flourish and ultimately pivoted from controlling technology with your mind to having technology show you what goes on in your own mind and help you control your own internal technology.
Ariel Garten: So that’s the creation of Muse. And brought this crazy invention that never existed to life. Put it in Best Buy. Raised venture capital, having had no business background. All of this was done with the clear belief that I could do it, with the clear vision that this was possible and I could see it and I could taste it and it was going to happen.
Ariel Garten: Along the way, I would constantly find myself in scenarios where you’re like looking left and like how am I having breakfast with my investor, Ashton Kutcher, right now? How am I sharing a deep hug with Deepak Chopra, my colleague? How have I ended up in this world? It was by not being afraid to put myself out. Not being afraid to ask. Not being afraid to think that I could be there and think that I could belong.
Ariel Garten: Part of what I am so passionate about is helping people understand that the limitations that you have in your own mind are only limitations you created in your own mind. You can truly accomplish whatever you put your mind to. When that little voice comes up and says, “No, no, no. Maybe you’re not good enough. Maybe you don’t deserve it,” you can take that little voice, you can throw it away, and tell it to get lost, because we really can accomplish what we want.
Ariel Garten: For me, techniques like meditation are key to helping you understand that the dialogue inside your head is not truth, even though it feels like it is. And understand that the stories that it tells you are stories that you have a choice about whether you want to take it or not. And that you have the opportunity to actually know, regardless of what your mind tells you or what your body is feeling, that you can accomplish more than you are doing right now.
Ariel Garten: It’s so powerful, so, so, so powerful when your mind tells you that you can’t and you’re able to rise above and say, “Yes, I can. That’s just a story, and I don’t need to abide by it.”
Guy Lawrence: That’s so inspiring. I think it’s everything. It’s huge. The fact that you can if you’re willing to rise above that and appreciate that you’re not your thoughts and the feelings that are generated from those thoughts and, like you say, look beyond that.
Guy Lawrence: Do you, then, and it’s just your thoughts from it. If somebody is suffering in maybe anxiety daily, negative loops, negative belief patterns, do you believe that it’s possible to bring someone … Because that’s their world right now. That’s how they feel … to that kind of self-empowered self, like you have been with yourself with this courage, this 100% belief that you fully can achieve these things? Do you think that’s possible for everyone and anyone?
Ariel Garten: It’s a journey, and the opportunity is certainly there. For somebody who’s … This is now speaking as a psychotherapist. When you are faced with anxiety, you are believing what your body is telling you. Anxiety is like a broken alarm bell. Your body is freaking out telling you that there’s something wrong, and so you believe there actually is something wrong.
Ariel Garten: Imagine that you lived in an apartment building where the alarm bell went off. It’s like, “Okay. Oh, my God. The alarm bell is going off. Let’s run down, grab our hat, grab our coat. Oh, my God. What’s on fire?” You’re down there with all the neighbors. You’re looking around. There’s no fire. Okay. Go back inside. The next day the alarm bell goes off. You grab your hat and your coat, you run out. By the 10th day of the alarm bell going off, you’re like, “This is just a broken alarm. There is no fire.” The thing might be going, but you don’t think there’s a fire. It’s just annoying. You’re cooking your eggs, you’re watching Oprah. You’re like, “Oh, my God. Stupid alarm bell.”
Ariel Garten: Really, the sensation of anxiety in our body is a broken alarm. It’s your body freaking out as if something is wrong when there really is nothing wrong. So when you’re able to shift that relationship and say, “I don’t need to believe what my body is telling me, even though it feels so hard and so true.” I can actually know that everything is okay and you can start to reregulate through that knowledge and understanding and work with a therapist, intensive practices, and meditation, and, and, and, and, and. At that point you can begin to shift the stories that your body and your mind tells you into a grounding in what is real and what is true.
Ariel Garten: Because the reality is most of us live incredibly safe lives. We may have past trauma which triggers us to say that the current state is not safe, but that’s again just a hyperactive limbic system freaking out based on past hurt, whereas the safety is real and here now. It’s just very hard for your body and your mind to believe it. So through retraining your systems, which is a long process that requires a lot of dedication and attention, but through retraining your systems, you can move beyond the limitations of the body and the mind in these ways.
Guy Lawrence: That’s a beautiful analogy. I love that one. For people that might be listening to this who have trauma or PTSD or where they keep reenacting the feeling and from that anxious tug that happens during the day, is there a point where with this work if you practice and continue to interrupt it and like you say become the observer and step outside those anxiety feelings that are happening, there’s a moment where the body starts to retrain and starts to let go of that firing that can happen?
Ariel Garten: Yeah. If you have deep trauma, it’s really best to work with a therapist, because as you start to work with it, initially it can be very retriggering. That can be part of the process of moving through it but best done with somebody who is creating the right safety for you. But ultimately, with trauma what you’re doing is you’re taking an experience that is so overwhelming that you have not effectively integrated it and you are doing practices that allow you to integrate the experience so you no longer have a physiological response relative to it. There’s a range of very trauma specific practices, and even in meditation, we’re starting to see a real trauma informed meditation school.
Guy Lawrence: Wow. Okay. Beautiful. Again, I’d love to hear your experiences from this as well then. What have you found meditation has done for you over the years since you’ve been looking at it more in terms of your personal growth, your personal life, and how you relate to different issues and problems that arise on a daily basis? Because I’m guessing you still have problems that arise in your life on a daily basis.
Ariel Garten: Of course. Of course. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. The question is how you react to them and how you feel about them and how you label them. Are they challenges or opportunities? Are they going to crush you or are you going to figure them out and get through them?
Ariel Garten: Meditation has definitely made me much, much calmer. You commonly hear with meditation that you have a much slower reaction time, and that really is the case. I’ve been able to rather than being caught up in ego around I need to be right or I need to go this way, I’m much more able to stand back and say, “This is the way that it is unfolding, and I will allow it to unfold.” Arguments with my husband are much, much shorter now, because I can observe my own behavior and I can stand back and say, “Oh. Right. That’s an old pattern. I don’t need to do that.” I understand why I’m doing that.
Ariel Garten: At work, my productivity is increased dramatically, because I am not as distracted anymore. So in the past, any time I’d need to write something, and it would get a little bit hard, I would pull away. I’d be like, “Oh. This feels a little uncomfortable, so then I’m going to pull away.” It becomes very arduous to do things like long form documents or things that I would deem kind of scary or hard, because as soon as I encountered something that was causing some discomfort, I don’t know the answer, I don’t know what to do, it’s not perfect enough, I would pull back from it. But with meditation practice, I could feel the sensation of discomfort arising and then be like, “You’re just a sensation. You can rise, you can fall, and it’s totally safe for me to just keep going typing and work through this.”
Ariel Garten: The distracting thoughts that I would have, like, “Oh, Facebook. Oh, this. Oh, the person at the coffee machine. Oh, that other person who’s going to need something from me right now but they really don’t.” As soon as you start a meditation practice using … With using Muse, what I very quickly identified was every time my mind wandered, with Muse what you’re doing is you’re focusing your attention on your breath. When your mind wanders, you get a cue to let you know that your mind is wandering, and so you become very astute. You gain this metacognition of your mind and your wandering mind. Every time it wanders, it’s your cue to bring it back to the task at hand.
Ariel Garten: When I was doing my work, as soon as my mind would begin to wander, Muse had trained me to immediately notice that wander. It had trained me to be able to disengage from the wandering to Facebook or my colleague and immediately bring myself back. So productivity rose dramatically, because I wasn’t being distracted and being pulled either by thoughts, hunger, things taking me in every direction. I’d just be like, “Oh, right. Back to the task at hand. We don’t need that distraction.” We live in a world of distractions. It’s insane. That’s beautiful. I wanted to talk about the Muse, then, that you brought it up then, because I’m fascinated. If somebody went and ordered it tomorrow and it arrived, can you give us the breakdown of what you do with it? Probably people don’t even know if it’s a headband that you strap on. How does it pick up on the brain? How does it work exactly?
Ariel Garten: Sure. If you’ll pause for one second, I can grab one.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, please. Grab it.
Ariel Garten: Muse is a brain-sensing headband that helps you meditate. This is Muse. It’s this slim little headband, and it fits on just like a pair of glasses. There’s sensors on the forehead, gold sensors in there, and sensors behind the ears. They actually track your brain while you meditate. The metaphor we use is your mind is like the weather. When you’re thinking, when you’re distracted, you actually hear it as stormy. As you bring yourself to clear, focused attention, it then quiets the storm.
Ariel Garten: So it’s this really beautiful real-time feedback on your meditation. When your mind wanders, the storm moves, gets louder. As you come to focused attention, the storm quiets. During the meditation, you’re actually hearing what your mind is doing and being cued to come back to focused attention and stay there. After the fact, you’re actually able to see what your mind was doing. You have charts, graphs, data, scores, things that allow you to track your progress, track all your mind wanderings, and most importantly, see improvement session after session.
Guy Lawrence: Got it. Got it. Then it comes with an app and guided meditations as well to direct your awareness when you’re sitting there with it, right?
Ariel Garten: Yeah. Muse guides you and it tells you and teaches you what to do. We also have a suite of over 100 guided meditations on all of the topics for things that come up in your life. Travel, work, sleep, stress, relationships. Anything that you need in your life, we say there’s a meditation for that.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, beautiful. You’ve mentioned as well I think before I’ve heard that the Muse has come a long way, even from when it first released. What changes have happened so far and where do you see it going over the next five years, say?
Ariel Garten: When we initially launched Muse, it gave you real-time feedback on your brain, and that was the original Muse. Just about a year ago, we launched Muse 2. Muse 2 gives you real-time feedback on your brain as well as your heart, your breath, and your body.
Guy Lawrence: Wow. I did not know that.
Ariel Garten: They’re incredibly beautiful experiences, actually hearing your body, your heart, your breath as you meditate. In the heart experience, you actually hear the beating of your heart like the beating of a drum. There’s a little PBG sensor on your forehead that’s tracking your heartbeat, and so you’re able to hear your heartbeat, understand what causes it to speed up, when it slows down… your ability to understand your internal state.
Ariel Garten: Then we give you guided breathing exercises. Muse can track your breath to give you exercises to use to then calm your heart down. There’s also a body sensor. For some people starting with the brain is advanced, and you simply start with your body when you’re starting from step one, sometimes. When you’re able to find stillness in your body, you’re more easily able to find stillness in your mind.
Guy Lawrence: Wow. Where do you see technology going in the future with this work? What stones have not been not turned over yet or with this whole thing? Because the more I … The longer I’ve been meditating and the more I learn about this work, the more I just go, “Wow. What are the possibilities of where it can go?”
Ariel Garten: There are so many stones to turn over. When we began giving you real-time feedback on your brain during meditation with this device, that was this leap forward innovation that you can have a clinical EG in this tiny, tiny little and you could read your brain data on your phone. Then when we added the breath, body, and heart, nobody had done that before. Created a device where you could see breath, body, heart all at the same time while you meditate and being able to get feedback on all of these systems and learn how to develop and grow them. We’re still learning about how these interrelationships take place and how you learn and grow through the different systems of your mind and your body.
Ariel Garten: Then there is an entire movement called the transformational technology movement that is looking at how you create technology for transformation. Muse is one of them, and you have people looking at non-duality. How do you get somebody to a non-dual stage using technology? How do you bring somebody through significant shifts? So there’s so many parts of our mind and body in meditation that have been cataloged in the ancient texts, have been cataloged in people’s individual experiences, have been felt, but have not at all been cataloged by science. People don’t know how to detect and measure these states, whether from the mind or the body. They don’t know how to through technology encourage people to replicate these states. So those are the kinds of questions that we as well as others in the transformational technology movement are asking.
Guy Lawrence: Beautiful. I often wonder as well how you can bring the technology in for children as well to make it more … To bring the mindfulness practice in, but with designed for kids. Whether include toys or brain movement, like you mentioned about lighting up the Olympic stadium with people with brains. Are people looking at that, too?
Ariel Garten: Yeah. Muse is not intended for kids. It’s for age 16 and up. We have had a few groups use it in a school practice within research studies. One group in Kansas State University did a study with grade eight students using Muse, and they saw a 72% decrease in kids going to the principal’s office.
Guy Lawrence: That can’t be a bad thing. That can’t be a bad thing at all. I’ve got a few questions I ask everyone on the show. I’d love you to share with them. What’s one of your low points in your life you’ve had but has later in life become a blessing?
Ariel Garten: I had a concussion. I actually had multiple concussions. There’s incredible irony to somebody with a neuroscience background who can call up any brain scientist in the world and say, “I have a concussion. What should I do?” So through the concussion journey, I went from somebody who was very unafraid and became somebody who became quite afraid, because when you have a concussion, every doctor says, “Don’t do that. Don’t go out. Don’t do too much.” So your world becomes smaller and smaller. I had to very actively take on the challenge of facing my fears.
Ariel Garten: I was lucky enough to have known what life felt like before, to have known the freedom of being without fear. Then once I became clouded by fears and started to feel my world get very, very small and the anxiety of that small world set in and the joy from life start to diminish when you limit yourself so dramatically, I was able a, to bring in a ton of meditation practices throughout, so continuing to feel joy and love and positivity in my body. So meditation was key in that.
Ariel Garten: But probably the most transformational practice that I did was staring at and facing each and every one of my fears. When I was afraid of doing something, I would do it anyways while I felt the fear of it. It wasn’t just like, “Okay, let’s stifle the fear. Let’s man up and push through and get over it.” It was like, “I am going to feel all of the fear that I have in my body right now. I’m going to feel it fully. I’m going to acknowledge and accept it, and I’m still going to do the thing.” When you do that, you recognize how much being afraid of fear holds you back. You recognize how having the sensation of fear so uncomfortably, you’re like, “I don’t want to do that thing because I don’t want to feel afraid.”
Ariel Garten: When you’re able to do something and fully feel the fear and still get to the other side and say, “I felt fear, but I didn’t die. I felt fear, but feeling that fear was fine,” you can then do anything you want, because any time that fear holds you back, and there are hundreds of moments in our life where fear is holding us back, like, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to that person. I want to get into the shade,” anything that we could be afraid of, and there’s so many tiny, minor things. When you realize that it’s always just fear that’s guiding you in those moments and you can feel the fear and do it anyways, there’s just extraordinary freedom on the other side.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, beautiful. I was just going to say, do you think that’s the key? Because we’re so frightened of our feelings.
Ariel Garten: We really are. We really, really are. We’re scared of feeling stuff. “I don’t want to do that, because I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be afraid. I’m scared of myself feeling angry.” So when you recognize that you don’t have to be afraid of feeling something, then you can do the thing.
Guy Lawrence: Do you think it is, then, to truly feel it and acknowledge it? Like you say, “Okay. There’s that feeling right now. It’s there. Let me breathe into this. Have a moment with it. Have a relationship with it,” as opposed to suppress it, which is what we’re really good at as well.
Ariel Garten: Which we’re very, very good at. They’re both different practices. Meditation teaches you to sit with your feelings. One of the beautiful things that meditation does is it changes the relationship between thoughts and feelings. You might be feeling scared in your body, which will trigger tons of scary thoughts in your mind, which triggers more scary feelings in your body. With meditation, what you learn to do is feel those sensations in your body, fully accept them, be with them, but not have them trigger a narrative in your mind which then feeds forward with the narrative in your body. So you can feel all of the stuff happening, experience those bodily sensation, and when you do, you have a rise. It falls, and you can move on. It might come back again, then rise and fall several times, and that’s totally okay. But at the end, you move on. It’s a very different experience.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, beautiful. I actually ask myself, “Is this real right now? Or am I just acting out what I’ve always acted out or a certain behavior over a long period of time?” Just even asking that question alone stops me and reevaluates before just reacting to something.
Ariel Garten: I use very similar words. I tell myself, “This is not real.”
Guy Lawrence: Okay. There you go. There you go.
Ariel Garten: But this is reality. I bring myself into the present moment, because in the present moment, I am just here and now and actually everything is okay. I can start having anxious thoughts about is somebody going to come into my house? Is there somebody out there to get me? It’s like no, actually. I’m sitting in my house. I’m completely and totally safe. I’m in downtown Toronto. Everything is completely fine here. This is reality. Reality is it’s okay. There may be stories that tell you something else. There may be past triggers that pull these things up so strongly for you and make them feel so visceral, but the reality is in this moment in these concrete walls actually I’m fine. The body may not be able to feel it, but the first act is letting your mind understand it and helping your mind to regulate your body to be here in the moment with it.
Guy Lawrence: Then why meditation practice is so powerful, because you’re already doing the training in the controlled environment in your house, and then when you’re out in the real world, you get to marry that practice up in moment to moment real life examples that can be happening …
Ariel Garten: Yes.
Guy Lawrence: … at any given time unannounced.
Ariel Garten: It’s, again, like the gym example. You go to the gym, and then you can just magically move your couch.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Ariel Garten: You train and then you do it.
Guy Lawrence: What does your morning routine look like?
Ariel Garten: In my morning routine, I get up at not a very early hour, because I’m not a morning person. I’m a night owl, and I love to stay up. It’s my creative flow time. Till like one in the morning, I’m just flowing with ideas, and it’s awesome. I get up. I usually actually meditate in bed before I get up. I do a gratitude practice, where I focus on what I am grateful for. I feel sensations of love in my body. I roll over to my lovely partner and have some gentle time with him.
Ariel Garten: Then I get up and begin my day. Do some stretching. I always walk to work. I always walk up the stairs for as much as I can handle it to the ninth floor office that we’re at. It takes three minutes to walk nine floors. Even when I started doing it, it took four minutes, and I was terrible at it and I stopped at every floor. It’s really not a hard thing to do. And I just love my work and love my day.
Guy Lawrence: Yeah, beautiful. If you could have dinner with anyone anywhere in the world from any timeframe …
Ariel Garten: Oh.
Guy Lawrence: … who do you think it would be and why?
Ariel Garten: Mahatma Gandhi.
Guy Lawrence: Oh, wow.
Ariel Garten: Yeah. I would love to know what it is like to be in the presence of somebody who is so resolute. In the presence of somebody who so gets their vision, their ability to control their mind, control their body’s response and put themself in the line of danger for what they believe in, for the knowledge and the truth of peace.
Guy Lawrence Beautiful. Beautiful. Last question. With everything we’ve covered today, is there anything you’d like our listeners to ponder on, to take away?
Ariel Garten: You do not need to be held back by the thoughts in your head. We are all amazing, beautiful, capable, competent creatures, yet we often have these narratives in our mind that tell us that we’re not. We’re just not good enough, that we’re not beautiful enough. All these things that our brain tells us that make us feel just a little bit shitty every day. They are not real, and they are not true. When you learn to embrace and accept the fact that you are this capable, competent human being, you’re able to change the relationship to those thoughts and you are able to recognize who and how powerful you are.
Guy Lawrence: Beautiful.
Ariel Garten: That is the truth right now of each and every one of us.
Guy Lawrence: I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. That’s the perfect place to wrap it up. Where can everyone go if they want to get the new version of Muse or check out your work? Are you on social as well? Where can I send them all?
Ariel Garten: If you want to check out Muse, you can go to choosemuse.com. You can get Muse 1 and Muse 2 there. If you want to follow me, you can find me at Ariels_musings, A-R-I-E-L-S underscore M-U-S-I-N-G-S on Instagram. G-A-R-T-E-N on Twitter. You can check out my podcast that I cohost with Patricia Karpas, called Untangle, where we interview neuroscientists and meditators.
Guy Lawrence: Beautiful. I’ll make sure I check that out. I’ll subscribe to that, Untangle. I’ve got to ask you while I’ve still got you on the show. Where did the name Muse come from?
Ariel Garten: Muse has multiple meanings. When to muse, to think about something, muse on it, think about it. The other is the muses of inspiration. So you have the Greek muses of art. You have the idea of an artistic muse, something that inspires you. So here is a device that inspires you, that inspires you to discover.
Guy Lawrence: It’s easy to remember. I love it. Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today on the show. Really appreciate it.
Ariel Garten: Nice to see you. Pleasure. Wonderful to be with you and wonderful to be with all of you.
Guy Lawrence: Likewise. Thank you.