Guided Meditations:

Tess is a certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher taught by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. She belongs to the International Mindfulness Teachers Association. She has studied Mindfulness, Vipassana, and Ignatian meditation as well as lucid dreaming and dream yoga. Her influences include Adyashanti, Pema Chodron, Andrew Holecek, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Carl Jung in addition to various painters, poets and mystics. Meditation can nurture spiritual growth, deepen wisdom, and enhance wellbeing. It is not a substitute for therapy or professional healthcare.

Tess currently offers a free weekly drop-in meditation via Zoom on Thursdays from 7:00-7:30pm EST. If you are interested in joining, please email Some of the below meditations are available here:

Insight Timer:



Take a few moments to unhook from past and future, from ideas of who you are, even from your name, your gender, your age, and bask in your pure essence. Be the living field of awareness that drinks in the moment at hand. Taste the immense inner quiet that always resides within you, the love that you are. This meditation is partially inspired by Adyashanti and Eckhart Tolle. It concludes with a metta prayer for all beings and especially people suffering from mental illness. Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke.

Field of Awareness Meditation


When things fall apart, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön teaches us how to find stability. This meditation, based on one offered in her audiobook “Pure Meditation,” helps you to stabilize your mind while fostering a friendly attitude toward yourself. She uses breath, posture, and mindful awareness to infuse strength and stability into life’s most challenging moments. I highly recommend her books. Relax and enjoy!
Music by Christopher Lloyd Clark

Pema Chodron Finding Stability Meditation


Based on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön, this meditation builds your capacity to cultivate stability and foster a friendly relationship with your mind. It uses breath, posture, and mindful awareness to strengthen your inner stability and wellbeing. I highly recommend all of Pema Chodron’s books. Relax and enjoy!
Music by Christopher Lloyd Clark

Pema Chodron Simple Meditation


This recording of our Earth Day meditation is unedited and free of music. It begins with a 2-minute introduction. The ending includes a mention of the names of those present. If I post a version of this meditation publicly on Insight Timer or elsewhere, I will edit out the names for privacy. Thank you for being the wonderful human beings you are.

Earth Connection Meditation


This meditation invites us to use our five senses to connect with our inner and outer environments. In it, we gently and non-judgmentally survey our physical space, body, mental and emotional landscapes, all with tender, loving awareness. The music, “Quietude,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Grounding in the Inner and Outer Landscape


By taking a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience, you help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure. Neuroscientist Rick Hanson explains that evolutionary biology has made our brains “Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad,” but we have the power to change that wiring. This simple practice created by Dr. Hanson strengthens your resilience, heals past wounds, and resets your system for joy and wellbeing. Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke.

Savoring the Good


Created by UNESCO Artist for Peace Marko Pogačnik and the healing group LifeNet/Lebensnetz, this “telepathic imagining” guides you in a visualization for peace. It uses geomancy and collective intention to offer healing energy to Ukraine and surrounding areas. In this time of crisis for the Earth and humanity, we activate our collective hearts in the service of peace. LifeNet suggests doing this visualization daily or as often as you can until the war and its aftermath are over.
Music by Fesliyan Studios

LifeNet Visualization for Peace


Meditation helps you to center and ground yourself so that you can respond to challenges in your life and in the world with wise action. Based on the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen as taught by Pema Chodron, this meditation guides you in channeling the healing energy of your heart to those suffering in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. Photo by Sunguk Kim. Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke.

Ukraine Compassion Meditation


Based on a practice taught by Dr. Patrick MacManaway, this meditation attunes you to the magnetic field of your heart, which not only envelops every cell of your body, but has been shown by sensitive magnetometers to extend out in all directions into the space around you. It influences your environment and those around you. Through meditative stillness, you can experience this energy field, bless it with your love, and bring greater coherence to it and your life.

Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke

Tuning Into Your Heart


Throughout time many people have had the experience of seeing their life flash before their eyes. This meditation invites you into that experience not by sudden happenstance, but with intention, curiosity and compassion. Witness your life in reverse, reaching back through time to offer your younger self loving support. If you do this practice repeatedly, you may find that different moments from your life arise each time. This recorded version, free of music, is from a live class and concludes with metta intentions for some of the members of the group.

Seeing your Life in Reverse


Anxiety attacks feel devastating, but with a small step back to observe what is happening, they can become portals to awakening. Dissolving anxiety enables us to respond to life’s challenges with greater insight, clarity and calm. Inspired by the teachings of Byron Katie, this meditation invites you to see through the veil of your projections to experience the love that permeates every moment of life. Fully embraced, this practice will set you free.

Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke.

Dissolving Anxiety


This meditation invites you to notice, savor, and bask in the love that resides in your heart. That love can be extended back through time to support you at difficult moments in the past. It can reach into the future to bathe you in tender awareness when you most need it. The ocean of love that dwells in the depths of your heart wants to be noticed. Relax into this soothing meditation.

Relaxing Into Love


A clean request generates its own organizing power. When your desire aligns with your soul’s purpose, the universe wants to conspire. But you must ask in order to receive. Inspired by Eckhart Tolle‘s conscious manifestation teachings and Clare Dimond’s “Three Principles” work, this meditation opens your heart to germinate the abundance already within. Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke

Asking for What You Want


Yoga Nidra coaxes your body into deep restorative sleep while your mind, like a night-blooming flower, opens to formless awareness. Based on the teaching of Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, this includes a complete body relaxation, 61-point exercise, and ascending breath practice. Yoga Nidra deepens meditation and unhooks the neuro-conditioning that keeps you stuck. Studies show regular practice alleviates stress, PTSD and improves wellbeing. Music: Christopher L Clarke. This audio file is too large for my website to host, but you can find it on Insight Timer here:


Drawing from Adyashanti, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Ira Progoff, this technique for decision-making and inquiry embraces Einstein’s premise that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. Here you will identify a question you’ve been carrying and drop into the depths of your inner well. When the analytical mind exhausts itself, the deep waters of intuition can yield spontaneous insights when and where we least expect. 6HZ Binaural music.

Meditating on a Question


This guided visualization invites you to re-experience the presence of your deceased loved one, to drink deep their love, and express whatever you wish to express to them. Grief carves out our hearts, making them bigger vessels for love. May this meditation fill your heart and offer you solace. Music: Christopher Lloyd Clarke

Feeling a Loved One who has Died


Travel the years of your life from birth to present one breath at a time, bringing compassion to each year, remembered or not, and experiencing the whole movement of your life. People who have near-death experiences often report seeing their lives flash before their eyes, offering clarity that redirects their future. There’s no need to wait. Try the recording and then practice on your own if you like. New insights may emerge each time you take the voyage.

Life Review: One Breath per Year


In the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen, “taking and sending,” you visualize taking in the pain of another on the in-breath and sending out healing energy on the out-breath. The process deepens your heart, widens your circle of compassion, and frees you from the mire of pity. You cultivate love, and begin to access the open dimension of your being. This meditation emulates the style of Tonglen taught by Pema Chödrön.



To contract around physical or emotional pain is a normal reflex, but when the contraction persists it hampers healing. Beauty has the opposite effect. When we allow it in, it opens our minds and expands our hearts. This simple technique invites you to breathe in beauty, marinate it in your heartspace, and exhale it out to whatever part of you feels contracted or in pain. The aim is not to resist or push away the pain, but to gently release its grip. May this meditation offer you relief.

Opening to Beauty to Relieve Pain


Ujjayi Pranayama is a yogic breath meditation used to sharpen focus, improve lung health, alleviate stress, and promote wellbeing. It has been used in the treatment of PTSD. Derived from the Sanskrit Ujjayi (to lift up), it is also known as Conqueror’s Breath, Victor’s Breath and Ocean Breath. Iyengar master and bodywork therapist Tony Rivers incorporates breath meditation into his live online Hatha yoga classes:… Enjoy this powerful and transformative practice.

SUSTENANCE FOR MOTHERS: Life asks a lot of mothers. This short practice is meant to support moms at their weariest and most demanding moments. It can be practiced on the meditation pillow or in the midst of the day. By offering ourselves self-compassion, we gradually shift from reactivity to responsiveness as we meet each new parental challenge. Moms need to tend to their own flame in order to nurture their child’s. May this meditation offer you sustenance.

Sustenance for Mothers

INDRA’S NET: LOVING CONNECTION 5-27-21: Indra’s Net, also known as Indra’s Jewels or Indra’s Pearls, is a Buddhist metaphor for the interconnectedness of the universe, or what modern physics might call the quantum field. Alan Watts described the image this way: “Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.” Meditating on Indra’s Net reminds us of our interconnectedness with each other and all of creation. The music, “Quietude,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Indra’s Net: Meditation to Cultivate Connection

PRAYER FOR A LOVED ONE: This practice helps transform the corrosive aspects of worry into healing energy for both the worrier and the person we worry about. It is especially useful for those times when we feel helpless to relieve the pain of another. The practice can be used to offer healing energy to a family member, friend, stranger, pet, landscape, or the planet itself. The key is to radically trust the other’s journey as well as our own. The music, “Quietude,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Prayer for a Loved One

GROUNDING IN THE INNER & OUTER LANDSCAPE: This meditation invites us to use our five senses to connect with our inner and outer environments. In it, we gently and non-judgmentally survey our physical space, body, mental and emotional landscapes, all with tender, loving awareness. The music, “Quietude,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Grounding in the Inner & Outer Landscape

LOVE NOTE FROM YOUR INNER COUNCIL: This meditation offers a direct message of love and courage. The music, “Quietude,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Love Note from Your Inner Council Meditation

VISITING YOURSELF ON EARTH: This meditation offers a wider perspective on yourself within the context of our living, breathing planet. It’s a chance to compassionately drop in to yourself in the here and now. The music, “Letting Go,” is by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of Enlightened Audio.

Visiting Yourself on Earth Meditation

WHEN THINGS ARE NOT WHAT YOU WANTED: A little balm and skillful reorientation for those moments when your life is not what you wanted, when you are not as you hoped. Music by Christopher Lloyd Clarke of

When Things Are Not What You Wanted

SWEETENING THE SPACE BETWEEN THOUGHTS 5-13-21: The barrage of our thoughts can sometimes rob us of experiencing the full vitality of our lives here and now. This track includes a 5-minute talk on the nature of thoughts followed by a 15-minute basic mindfulness practice. This can be considered Mindfulness 101. The meditation begins at about 5:30. Relax and enjoy.

Sweetening the Space Between Thoughts

ALTERNATE NOSTRIL TECHNIQUE TAUGHT BY TONY RIVERS: 3-25-21: In this meditation, Iyengar yoga teacher and bodywork therapist Tony Rivers teaches an alternate nostril breathing technique known as Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, Sanskrit for “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” The practice helps to relax body and mind, reduce anxiety, and promote wellbeing. It can be used in meditation or throughout the day. This article explains the science behind the technique: Tony’s online Hatha yoga classes can be found at

Tony Rivers’ Nadi Shodhan Pranayama Audio only

CARL JUNG ACTIVE IMAGINATION MEDITATION: 3-24-21: This technique, devised by Carl Jung and recreated by MJ Dorian on his podcast Creative Codex, is retold here by Tess. Jung used this method to access his imaginative unconscious and later illustrated his waking visions in The Red Book. If you have a history of schizophrenia or psychotic disorder, consult with your doctor before using this meditation. For deeper instruction on Jung’s Active Imagination method, read Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth by Robert A. Johnson. The first version of the meditation includes a 10 minute interlude of ambient music by Leigh Robinson found on NaturesEye Pixabay titled, “Tibetan Alpha Wave 11hz for Focus.” If you prefer silence, use the second instead. Enjoy!

Carl Jung Digging Meditation with Music

Carl Jung Digging Meditation without Music

SQUARE BREATHING TO ACCESS WISDOM: 3-18-21: Square or “box” breathing is a technique used to reduce stress and heighten concentration. It can be used to deepen meditation experience or as tool throughout the day. This meditation will begin with square breathing and lead into a guided visualization to access inner wisdom.

YOGA NIDRA 3-11-21: Originating in ancient India, Yoga Nidra is an extreme relaxation technique proven to help with PTSD, chronic stress, and sleep disturbances. For instruction you can find material online by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati and others. Certified Yoga Nidra teacher Elaine Fletcher Chapman, my friend and writing colleague, offers weekly online Yoga Nidra meditations.

REDEMPTIVE LOVE 3-4-21: A meditation by Adyashanti (retold by Tess) to evoke restoration and remembrance of who we are.

NOTHING TO FIX 2-25-21: This meditation invites us to glimpse our present selves from the point of view of the Dalai Lama or another wise, compassionate being.

HEART LOTUS 2-18-21: A guided visualization to invite the mind to rest and the heart to open.

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: What Does it Mean to be Mindful? (1/6)

Below you’ll find outtakes from Session One of this 6-week course. Thank you to all who gave permission to share your Q&A questions, some of which appear in a Zoom video posted below. In case you are interested, here are a few of the teachers I turn to for wisdom: Adyashanti, Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Byron Katie, Jack Kornfield, Konda Mason, Eckhart Tolle, and Spring Washam. They all offer free resources on their websites.

Photo by Colton Sturgeon
Course Intro
Talk: What is Mindfulness?
Meditation: Using the Breath as an Anchor
Home Practice and Q&A

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Awareness to Thoughts (2/6)

In this week’s class, we explore ways to free ourselves from identification with thoughts in order to taste and savor the deepest dimensions of our being. The meditation includes an exercise inspired by psychotherapist and meditation teacher Loch Kelly. Please feel free to email me with thoughts and questions. Enjoy.

Talk: Noticing the River of Thought
Meditation: Mindfulness of Thoughts & Experimenting with Different Anchors

This week’s talk explores ways to free ourselves from identification with our thoughts in order to taste and savor the deepest dimensions of our being. The opening quote comes from author and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism Ken McLeod.

The opening exercise in this guided meditation is inspired by the teachings of psychoanalyst, author and meditation teacher Loch Kelly.
Guided Meditation on Mindfulness of Thoughts: 1:0020:00
Suggestions for Home Practice: 20:3025:00
Q&A: 25:0030:00

Email Q&A

A participant gave permission to share these excellent questions sent by email. The questions demonstrate curiosity and sincerity. Please know that I can only offer “my” answers, not “the” answers.

Q: On an average day, I get a shit-ton of sensory information — not necessarily a bad thing. But — is this “awareness”? “mindfulness”? When I walk the dog or sit down to  write, and I hear the wind, the birds, the distant highway, and catch glimpses of squirrels, hawks and insects— is this “presence”? Or does presence require attention to a single thing to exclusion of all else?

A: To answer this question, I’d like to ask what happens in your thought process when you take in this “shit-ton” of data. Is your brain working to identify, classify, understand? Are you labeling what you hear? Is it like a naturalist’s ledger writing itself in your head, keeping track of details? If so, this beautiful scientist/poet way of listening is a great gift, and meditation in no way requires you to dispense with this way of taking in the world. Instead, meditation invites you to notice the space around those thoughts. It invites you to experience the whole riverbed within which those thoughts arise. It invites you to notice your beautiful mind at work.

If, for example, there are moments during your walk when you pause to follow the arc of a sound the way you might notice the glide of cloud, passively experiencing it without getting the brain involved, without labeling or trying to grasp, when you simply rest in the sound itself the way you might let the final note of a song wash through you, that is closer to what is meant by using sound as an anchor for meditation. In fact, if you choose to use sound as an anchor when you sit to meditate, it’s best to use something neutral and somewhat constant, wind or traffic, something you’re not going to get interested in, something that won’t carry you away with more and more thoughts… What was that? Is it coming or going? Do I need to get involved? Those thoughts are the proverbial dog hauling you through the woods. While we meditate, we ask our beloved dog to rest quietly at our feet.

Q: When you offered up the option to “listen”, last practice, to all the nearby and distant noises that penetrated, and this came incredibly easy to me, does this count? Or do I need to find something that challenges me more? Like sticking to breath, which I found a chore?

There’s no need to intentionally make meditation more challenging than it is. Effortless awareness is the invitation. The breath is a reliable anchor, both because it is always available, and because it is a literal demonstration of the way we organisms convert air to matter and matter back to air. It’s a primal and direct connection to the visible and invisible aspects of ourselves. The body scan, when we sense the physical energy within and around us, offers the same opportunity. Sound can be a useful anchor assuming you can unlock the mind from habitually following each sound with a magnifying glass and measuring tape.

Here’s a suggestion: If you’d like to use sound as an anchor, try meditating to a recording of a crackling fire or ocean waves. Generic nature sounds are also okay if they’re not too busy, no bird calls your mind scrambles to identify. Let the soundtrack be as neutral as possible.

Here’s a question: For you, what makes focusing on the breath a chore? Is it boring? Agitating? Does it make you feel self-conscious, like you can’t breathe naturally? Does it make you panicky? What is happening in your body when you have the thought, “This is a chore”?

Q: When I focus on the breath, it feels stilted, unnatural, like I can’t breathe normally. Then I start to feel anxious and panicky.

One option is to simply to choose a different anchor—the body scan or sounds. Another option, to the degree that you’re comfortable with it, is to stay with the discomfort. Ride it the way a surfer might ride a huge wave that at first seems scary and insurmountable. Remind yourself that, panicky though you may feel, your body will not allow you to suffocate while you sit here quietly. The body knows how to breathe. Let yourself ride each breath like that surfer, knowing your wise lungs will keep drawing in breath, always landing you down safely on the other side. If it’s too terrifying, tell yourself you’ll only do it for 10 breaths, counting each one. If that’s too much, try three. Or one. You may find that over time, the waves start leveling out, and you are gliding along without effort. Experiment. Don’t push yourself too much. Stay within your window of tolerance. And see if it’s possible, even in the midst of fear, to have a little fun with it. For surfers, the two are closely wed.

Q: Also, is yoga meditation? Is savasana? Is writing? Is walking? Does meditation require quiet and stillness?


Again, I’m only giving you my answer here, not “the” answer. I find Tony Rivers’ yoga class very meditative, meaning there are moments in the class that open my awareness, when I can sense the deeper waters. For me those moments usually occur when he is offering guided breath imagery that connects with the posture. Savansa the way Tony does it is guided meditation, though I’ve seen some yoga teachers lead it as more of a chill session.


Writing is contemplative and focusing. I think when I write I have micro-seconds of meditation when I look up at the ceiling not quite figuring out a line, but resting between them. Writing can come from meditation and lead to meditation, but is not itself meditation.


There is a form of walking meditation demonstrated really beautifully by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. You can find clips on YouTube here: Walking meditation invites you to focus on each step individually as you would a breath. Ideally you walk back and forth in a line or circle so that your brain does not get the idea that you are going someplace. You pay attention to each foot meeting the earth from toe to heal, the feel of the bones accepting the full weight of the body. You take each step as if it is the only step you will ever take. It’s quite exquisite and beautiful. It’s not the same as walking around the neighborhood with Josie, but you can experiment with taking a single step this way at some point in the course of your walk. Standing meditation also works very well for some people.


Meditation does not require your environment or even your body to be still, but it does require YOU to be inwardly still. Toward this end, it is traditionally helpful to maintain stillness while meditating. If you move your body every time you have an itch, your mind will never settle. Think of a snow globe. On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine to adjust your position if you need to.

Q: These are serious questions. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking I’m achieving something if I’m not.

Here’s the irony with meditation. We can’t “achieve” it. We don’t “do” it. It’s an allowing. We allow the awareness that is already there deep within us to surface. We make a little space in our cluttered brains for that to happen.

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: Drinking from the Inner Well (3/6)

This week we explore ways to nurture our hearts during stressful times while letting go of corrosive thinking known as the “second arrow.”

Talk on Drinking from the Inner Well: Deflecting the 2nd Arrow and Finding Solace
Guided Imagery Meditation: A Gift from Your Inner Wisdom – Inspired by Jack Kornfield

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: RAIN Practice (4/6)

RAIN Practice Introduction

This talk includes an excerpt from author George Saunders’ letter to his Syracuse University students upon the closing of campus as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The letter was printed in the New Yorker and included in an interview with Cheryl Strayed on her podcast “Sugar Calling.”

RAIN Meditation

RAIN is a meditation technique developed by psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach.

Home Practice and Q&A
Q&A: 3:30
Michael’s joke: 29:45

This Q&A includes questions from both the 5pm and 7pm classes. Thank you to everyone who gave permission to share your comments. Feel free to go straight to the joke at 29:45. 🙂

Session 4 offers instruction and practice in a meditation technique developed by Tara Brach known as RAIN. Tara offers free instruction on this practice at: The above recording comes from the 5pm class.

Q&A on the RAIN practice from the 7pm class.

Email Q&A

Thank you to the participants who gave permission to share these questions. Please know that I can only offer “my” answers, not “the” answers.

Q: Okay—here’s where I am with meditating:

I usually carve out some time after dinner. During the day it’s easy to occupy myself, but after the cooking and cleaning up are done, the prospect of another day of whatever this is sets in and my mood dips a bit. So, I go upstairs to the bedroom and light a candle. I get settled in my chair.  Look slowly around the darkening room and take some breaths.  I have wanted to try a self-guided meditation, so, after I take some deep breaths, I begin thinking of each person in my family. I picture each—both those still alive and those gone—in a happy or pleasant memory. I try hard to visualize each and if I can, hear their voices. This part calms me. And then I float between paying attention to my breaths, listening to sounds I would not normally hear unless I was being so still and I also use some visualizations. I drift away from what I am concentrating on, but I do my best to pull myself back. Sometimes, counting breaths helps me to do that. I am surprised by how quickly the time goes and how the stillness is so pleasant.

So, here’s my question:  my mind is never blank.  I know. I know.  You can’t do this “wrong,” but what’s my goal?  Should I think of nothing or “something” when I become “successful” at meditation?  My mind wanders to images, sounds, sensations—but is that meditating? I’m not really goal-oriented in the conventional way, but I would like to have some sense of how I will know I have a handle on this.  I’m curious about where we should be by the end of this course.

A: Thanks for this clear and useful question. I think you’ve put into words something a lot people wonder.

First of all, kudos for finding a space and time that works for you. The moment in your day you’ve chosen—a bit empty, the light failing, the day closing, unable to picture the future—is fertile ground. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s poem, Wait without Hope.”

I love that you begin by calling to mind your loved ones and basking in that shared heart-space. The meditation we will do this week is similar. In it, you’re invited to call to mind loved ones (and later, not-so-loved ones) to wish them something like the “metta” we say at the close of our meditations, “May she/he be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm…,” etc. 

Next, you report that you switch to some sort of anchor, (breath, sounds, visualizations, counting breaths) calling your mind back each time it wanders. Beautiful.

The idea that your mind should be “blank” during meditation is a common misconception. You say your mind wanders to thoughts, images, sensations. Yes, that’s what minds do! In meditation we passively watch the mind do its thing. You’re up on the riverbank watching the river, not being torn along by its currents. Each time you gently bring yourself back to your anchor is the sweet spot, the moment of waking up from being lost in thought. If it happens a hundred times during a sitting, it just means you’ve had a hundred sweet spots.

I appreciate your question because I also ask myself, especially after a sitting when I was in monkey brain mode most of the time, “Was that meditating?” If we all had portable EEG monitors, it would be an easier question to answer. Science shows that brainwaves change when we are meditating. This study from Science Daily explains it fairly succinctly: Brain Waves and Meditation.

Professor Øyvind Ellingsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explains, “The amount of alpha waves increases when the brain relaxes from intentional, goal-oriented tasks. This is a sign of deep relaxation, — but it does not mean that the mind is void.”

So, a “blank” mind is not the goal. The only goal is to relieve the mind of goals!

Meditation, he goes on to say, cultivates “the ability to tolerate the spontaneous wandering of the mind without getting too much involved. Instead of concentrating on getting away from stressful thought and emotions, you simple let them pass in an effortless way.”

So, my advice is to keep doing what you’re doing, with this added invitation. When you are riding the waves of your breath (or whatever anchor you choose), see if you notice the pause between the breaths, the space between thoughts, the stillness that holds it all. To go back to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:

“Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.”

When you hear, or half-hear, that stillness, you’re meditating. The irony, of course, is that we can’t “do” it. It’s the opposite of doing. It’s allowing. What we CAN do is to create an environment, internally and externally, conducive to that alert state of rest—the “set and setting” we talked about in an earlier session, and you’ve already done that beautifully.

Does this resonate? I love this conversation because it helps me, too. Let me know your thoughts.

Q: Thank you for the meditation sessions. I found the RAIN technique to be quite useful.  Similar to how you describe yourself, I am also a peacekeeper and it can be exhausting anticipating conflict (I try to sense it coming to help prevent it) as well as being the mediator when conflict occurs.  RAIN may be help me to investigate and recognize why I find the need to do that and when to let things go.

I find that I haven’t been prioritizing time to meditate. Instead, I am feeling the pressure to be productive and when I do get downtime, I am seeking escapism through TV or movies. 

A: Ah, a fellow peacekeeper! I agree it can be exhausting to have those antennae out all the time. For me, it comes from my need to feel like I can control things in a world where most things are not controllable. I have a tendency to keep my radar out for conflict and try to circumvent it, as if that ever works! The invitation with meditation in general and RAIN in particular is to surrender that illusion of control, or simply set it aside for twenty minutes, in order to rest in things exactly as they are, without resisting anything, and, as George Saunders said in his email to his students, to “bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all.” In other words, when we meditate, we’re not arguing with the way things are, we’re not hiding from it or trying to fix it, we’re just being present to it. The irony is that this clearing and resting of the mind creates room for solutions to sprout spontaneously at unexpected moments later in the day, while taking a walk, for example. So, by surrendering the need to fix things (or ourselves) in meditation, we make space for the solutions we need to come to us on their own.

You mention the need to feel productive. I am also a task-oriented person, organized and productive to a fault. For me, this also comes from a need to feel in control of my world, to not fail myself or others. I don’t think I’ll ever be wired to not be productive, but by clearing 20 minutes of my day for meditation, I tend to approach those tasks less frantically and more purposefully. I think it actually makes me more productive with the stuff that counts, and helps me let go of some of the “busyness” that doesn’t.

Escapism, TV, movies: I think there’s a place for that! Twenty minutes of meditation does not preclude an hour of Netflix! For me, finding the right time of day is key. Personally, I fall out of bed and onto my meditation pillow before the day begins. If I don’t do it then, it just never happens. Another participant (see question above) found an ideal time after dinner. Everyone is different. Experiment!

Q: Several people have emailed with questions about grief, sometimes compounded by survivor guilt, which can make the “nurturing” part RAIN challenging.

A: Even when a meditation session feels frustrating, like you “can’t get things going,” there’s something sacred about simply being present to that, sitting across the table from your impatience and offering it a cup of tea, letting it know that it, too, is welcome.

Grief, whether due to the loss of a loved one, a job, or these days an entire lifestyle, can trigger feelings of blame: If only I had done more, tried harder, planned better. But as George Saunders said in his letter to his students, sometimes the tiger stands up and it’s out of our hands. No one failed. No one is to blame. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t have many “beliefs” anymore, but I do have a sense that the dead are in process as much as the living. Meditation can soften our hearts to the liminal space between worlds. The window to that other dimension can come to us as a hole torn open by grief, a portal. Being open to that space is not a rejection of our grief, despair and anger. Just the opposite. They are all mingled together in this mysterious experience of being human.

Sometimes when I meditate, I set an intention to meet with a friend of mine who died more than 30 years ago. He’s become a sort of wisdom figure to me over the years. In the meditation, I see myself walking on a very long narrow boardwalk far out over an early morning lake. It’s foggy, so the opposite shore is invisible, and soon so is the shore I left. The cloak of fog makes everything still and quiet, the only sound the lapping of water. Eventually the boardwalk ends abruptly. Before me is a short expanse of open water, and beyond that a boardwalk that extends from the opposite shore, also ending abruptly. My friend sits on the edge of his boardwalk and I sit on the edge of mine. We are too far away to touch, but close enough to see each other through the morning mist. I often wish he would say something, some words of wisdom or advice, but usually he’s silent. Sometimes he cracks a joke. “Not helpful,” I say, and he laughs. The meditation flows best when I am not attached to outcomes, when what I want is nothing more than to be present to whatever happens. Or doesn’t. I sometimes complain to him that he is not a very useful wisdom figure. That I need instructions! Details! Advice! He thinks this is funny. Not in a mean way. More like gentle amusement, as if to let me know I am more okay than I think I am, and the answers I want are within me.

The expanse between us and the opposite boardwalk is not as wide as we think. The “N” of RAIN, that nurturing balm, can be difficult to offer ourselves precisely when we most need it. If you are grieving someone, invite yourself to walk to the end of the boardwalk, sit across from your loved one, and know that if they could reach across the water and hand you a gift, it would be exactly that balm.

Mark Nepo has a beautiful poem that nails the grief experience. You can find it here.

Photo by Matt Benson

Q:  I just finished listening to the RAIN meditation again. This time, the “after the RAIN” questions resonated with me: If I no longer believe anything is wrong with me, nothing else to solve about myself, someone with nothing to fix, who am I?

I pictured myself once again the innocent, pure, beautiful soul I was at birth, before the world got me, before I became domesticated by my teachers, parents, religious leaders, and society. On Easter Sunday, I was feeling how I can resurrect and become once again that pure beautiful soul. I can give birth to myself and this time choose the qualities I would like to have and mold myself into the person I would like to be.

A: What a beautiful reflection. It’s such a powerful and mysterious question, isn’t it? Who would I be if I no longer believed there is anything wrong with me? I love how the question led to you an experience of yourself as already whole and complete. Thank you for sharing.

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: Taking in the Good (5/6)

Taking in the Good: Talk
Guided Meditation on Lovingkindness & Taking in the Good
Week 5 Home Practice and Q&A

This week we explore a technique developed by psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson called “Taking in the Good.” Hanson offers free information on this practice here. The talk also references neuroscientist Marc Lewis, Virginia Woolf scholar Dr. Jessica DeSanta, and a poem by Mark Nepo. Also referenced is the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire.”

The guided meditation below blends lovingkindness as taught by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and “Taking in the Good” as taught by Dr. Rick Hanson. The meditation is also influenced by spiritual teacher Adyashanti. All three teachers offer free resources on their websites. The meditation includes a quote from Einstein about compassion.

Email Q&A

Q: During your guided Lovingkindness meditation this past week, I unexpectedly hit a bump.  At the point in the exercise where you asked us to think of someone that has some traits we find problematic and wish them peace, etc., I found my meditative state disrupted. My conflict was with trying to isolate something that bothered me dispassionately. It kind of caught me off guard, and I’m struggling a bit to get past it. However, I am content to keep trying. Any guidance would be appreciated.

A: The Lovingkindness Meditation we did last week, also known as Metta or Maitrī, has ancient roots in Buddhism. It is a benevolence practice designed to gradually increase in difficulty. At first the meditator offers good will toward him or herself, then loved ones, neutral people, difficult people, and finally all beings. The “difficult” may include the rude, annoying, nosy, arrogant, self-righteous, disrespectful, pessimistic, manipulative, etc. 

If you unexpectedly “hit a bump,” and found your meditative state “disrupted,” that’s the sweet spot Pema Chödrön talks about. Your conflict was with “trying to isolate something that bothered you dispassionately.” Yes! Encountering this spot in meditation prepares us for meeting such unexpected moments in life, so that when unpleasant surprises arise, we can respond rather than react.

In the meditation, it’s best to start with a difficult person who is not “too” difficult, a rude cashier rather than, say, a certain political leader. The invitation is to expand your “circle of compassion,” to use Einstein’s words, to include that difficult person. This does not mean you necessarily forgive them or condone their actions, it’s just an awareness-building practice to help us recognize that we share a common humanity even with those caught in ignorant or hateful states of mind, and that even if they are searching for it in ways hurtful to themselves or others, they too are seeking simply to be happy and safe and free. By wishing them these things, we wish them to be free of the inner agitation that causes them to be outwardly difficult. Bill Moyers said of a certain president, “In place of a soul, he has an open sore.” If we offer him Metta (and I’m not saying I’ve done so successfully!) we wish him healing of the wound that causes him to experience all of life as a threat to a fragilely sustained ego. And by wishing this for him, we are in a sense wishing the same for ourselves.

In The Art of Happiness (p. 148-149) the Dalai Lama:

“In fact, the enemy is the necessary condition for practicing patience. Without an enemy’s action, there is no possibility for patience or tolerance to arise. Our friends do not ordinarily test us and provide the opportunity to cultivate patience; only our enemies do this. So, from this standpoint we can consider our enemy as a great teacher, and revere them for giving us this precious opportunity to practice patience.”

And from Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön (p. 83–84):

“When the great Buddhist teacher Atisha went to Tibet . . . he was told the people of Tibet were very good-natured, earthy, flexible, and open; he decided they wouldn’t be irritating enough to push his buttons. So he brought along with him a mean-tempered, ornery Bengali tea boy. He felt that was the only way he could stay awake. The Tibetans like to tell the story that, when he got to Tibet, he realized that he need not have brought his tea boy: the people there were not as pleasant as he had been told.”

In meditation, then, when we hit that “bump,” we simply notice the disruption. We notice our aversion to calling this person to mind. We pay attention to the unpleasant sensation this person triggers in us. The trick is to allow the first arrow, the unpleasantness, without succumbing to the second arrow—our stories about this person, all the reasons they do not deserve compassion, etc. By maintaining awareness, we retain choice. We can choose to wish that person well without denying or bypassing our aversion. Buddhists do not equate “pleasant” with good or “unpleasant” with bad, thus the need for equanimity toward whatever arises in us during meditation. There can be sound reasons why this difficult person triggers unpleasantness in you. Freedom comes in seeing through the kneejerk reaction and choosing a response, whether it is to offer Metta or not. Becoming comfortable with discomfort is a meditation tool that can be very helpful once it seeps into our everyday life. This blog post by Bodhipakśa explains it better than I have:

Sorry for such a longwinded answer. I’m not a novelist for nothing!

Q: I liked this “Lovingkindness” meditation — really good relating to the Rick Hanson teflon/velcro imagery, too. So as I practice this week, I’m going to visualize peeling those velcro “love-to-stick downers” and replacing progressively with the many, many good and beautiful contacts in my life. I don’t want that ‘groove of hell’ track in my brain…that negative self-fulfilling prophesy of doom. During the meditation, I had light beams literally streaming through my physical body and shooting out from my fingertips and toes like superhero lasers! Thank you so much for the helpful technique. Forced isolation has its upside — lots of moments to practice, as long as I turn off my computer, TV and phone!

A: When I read your message this morning, I felt so happy. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Rick Hanson is a great resource, and I’m glad the lovingkindness meditation worked for you. One of my “30-second soaking in the good” moments today will be basking in the image of light beams flooding through you and shooting out your fingertips and toes. You are a superhero!

Intro to Mindfulness Meditation: Exploring Who We Are (6/6)

Talk: Who Am I Without My Name?
Includes quotes and/or inspiration from Adyashanti, Tara Brach, Albert Einstein, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield and Ramana Maharshi.
Meditation on Pure Essence.
Includes quotes and/or inspiration from Adyashanti, Eckhart Tolle, Richard Spira and the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks.)
Q&A from both 5pm and 7pm
including poems by Jalal al-Din Rumi and David Wagoner.

This talk includes quotes and/or inspiration from Adyashanti, Tara Brach, Albert Einstein, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield and Ramana Maharshi.

This meditation includes quotes and/or inspiration from Adyashanti, Eckhart Tolle, Richard Spira and the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks.)

This clip from the movie “Angel-A,” shared by group member Andrew, resonates with the eye gazing exercise we explored in this week’s talk. Thanks, Andrew!