Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos (#414)

“We have the opportunity, even in difficult times, to let our spirit shine.”

— Jack Kornfield

Jack Kornfield (@JackKornfield) trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India, and Burma, shortly thereafter becoming one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974.

Jack has had a profound and direct impact on my life, and I’m thrilled to have him on the podcast once again.

Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein), and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is a father, husband, and activist.

Jack’s books have been translated into 20 languages and have sold more than a million copies, including The Wise Heart; A Lamp in the Darkness; A Path with Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (one of my favorite book titles of all time); and his most recent, No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are. He offers a brilliant online training program for those who want to learn to teach meditation at JackKornfield.com

This episode is more of a personal therapy session for yours truly in some respects. You will notice that I sound anxious and unsure in this interview, and that is very much by design. I think it is unhelpful when people in the public eye hide the fact that they also struggle, and it puts them on this illusory pedestal that I think is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, I want to share with you that no matter how much Stoic philosophy I read, no matter how often I meditate, there are times when I struggle, and this week is one of them.

I also hope that you’ll listen to portions of this conversation multiple times. There are a number of exercises that Jack shares that I will certainly be listening to in the upcoming weeks.

Please enjoy.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

#414: Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear Jacks first appearance on this show? Listen to this episode in which we discuss hang gliding, monk training in Thailand, unpleasant mystical experiences, the difference between compassion and empathy, lovingkindness meditation, and more. (Stream below or right-click here to download.):

#300: Jack Kornfield — Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy in the Present



  • Connect with Jack Kornfield:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


  • Amid COVID-19 fears, I confess this conversation isn’t entirely selfless — it’s as much therapy for myself as it will likely be for my listeners. Jack demonstrates an exercise he used to help a large virtual class in China cope with the fears and anxieties generated by the current situation there. [08:10]
  • How might someone blend a Western developmental framework with an Eastern fruitional framework to best solve the unique problems we’re facing today? Could it be as easy as remembering “your Buddha nature and your social security number?” [16:06]
  • Jack recalls the first time he got malaria as a monk in the forests of Thailand and Laos in the ’60s, how his teacher helped him through it, and the lesson we can take to find our center in the midst of outwardly miserable circumstances — how we can witness what’s present without being lost in it. [21:08]
  • Our society may not be well-prepared to deal with the further spread of COVID-19, but here’s a lesson from WWII that might help us prepare ourselves with some perspective. [25:41]
  • If it’s true that adversity reveals — rather than builds — character, has Jack noticed any patterns among people who are having the greatest psychological difficulty dealing with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and is there anything to be learned from them that can help us? [28:15]
  • At nearly 75 and part of the demographic most susceptible to the COVID-19 coronavirus, how does Jack relate to his own mortality? He tells us about a visit with his twin brother shortly before his passing a few years ago and what he did to facilitate peace at this difficult time. [31:43]
  • Meditating on the four dimensions of freedom that allow us to “enter the terrain of birth and death with a wise and spacious heart.” [38:52]
  • What might Jack suggest as a way of helping people overcome their fears and anxieties around the process of dying — either for themselves or their loved ones? [49:19]
  • I concur that using an altar for the sake of visualization can be surprisingly effective, and that linking consciousness with others may be helpful for people who feel isolated during periods of quarantine or social distancing. Jack expands on the idea that we shouldn’t be squeamish about letting things go. [57:44]
  • What is the significance of Guan Yin for Jack as a symbol of something we all have inside of us, and what is spirituality really about? [1:01:22]
  • Jack’s take on psychedelics as sacred medicines throughout human history, their welcome reintroduction to the mainstream after being demonized for decades, and the complementary relationship between psychedelics and meditation. [1:07:21]
  • In what ways does Jack feel these sacred medicines can be overused or abused when they’re not treated with due respect? [1:16:34]
  • Often underrated ways that we, as spiritual beings, can access and interact with the mysteries around us — from poetry to sleep. [1:20:33]
  • Recommended preparations and precautions before dipping a toe in the pool of psychedelics. [1:23:05]
  • According to Stan Grof, what is experiencing an urge toward suicide really trying to tell us? [1:26:31]
  • Jack’s favorite Stan Grof book. [1:27:42]
  • When Ram Dass passed the torch of psychedelic research to Roland Griffiths. [1:28:27]
  • How experiencing psychedelics under a controlled setting at Johns Hopkins differs from casually taking them at a party. [1:31:11]
  • How would Jack suggest that people think about trauma? [1:32:16]
  • Jack explains how, in his final years, Ram Dass became “a lighthouse of love.” [1:44:03]
  • What is Jack focused on these days? [1:48:52]
  • My personal endorsement of the expansive toolkit that Jack and clinical psychologist Tara Brach brings to the table — especially for anyone who has ever considered learning to become a meditation teacher. [1:51:03]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:53:21]