Meditation helps us rest in sky-like awareness, and plumb the depths of our oceanic mind. It’s a central part of the work we do. We don’t separate our inner life off, as an escape from the world, but draw on the wisdom we find there to help heal the suffering of people, and all life on our planet.
EMBODYING MOTHER NATURE’S WISE LOVE
Let’s take a brief look at the worlds we can open up with ‘meditation’, and the creative transformation and healing that can come out of it.
The ‘meditation’ we practise is not what we’ve come to expect meditation to be. It’s more like a kind of shamanic journey, rolling together creative imagination and embodying, to engage heart, mind and spirit in a process of growth and transformation.
Our body is our sacred home, where mind, heart and spirit live. If we are to live the natural wisdom that’s our nature, we must embody it, not only have ideas about it. It becomes infused in our whole body presence, and our daily habits.
The general idea in the West about meditation seems to be that you sit on your cushion, and get peaceful by blanking out thoughts. I tried various methods that seemed to do something like that. I was tormented by thoughts and feared I might scream, and didn’t know what to do. At this point many people decide they can’t meditate and turn to other things.
THOUGHTS LIKE OCEAN WAVES
Thoughts are like the waves that toss about on the ocean surface. Like any weather, they’re perfectly natural. We’re not in a battle to get rid of them. The first achievement is to become aware how much buffeting there is. Then we descend into the ocean depths, where the mind works not through words but images, emotion and body sensation. It’s like a dream state; we’re present and conscious, and watch the depth processes take their healing course.
Like dreaming, this style of meditation heals the psyche, with images and emotion, including the dark terrors and states of being beyond naming. It combines creative imagination with embodying: learning to feel love and wisdom in the body, and being that, because we can feel it in the body.
It’s more than creative visualisation; Sister Niguma, an 8th century Buddhist yogini, said, ‘this is not to be done by mere imagination but by manifesting the most subtle aspects of energy and mind.’ (‘Niguma, Lady of Illusion,’ p127)
My teacher Adzom Rinpoche said ‘a Yogi or Yogini transforms negative emotions to positive.’ It’s sometimes more like emotional rock ‘n roll than the inner peace we usually associate with meditation. It’s a masterful combination of therapy with transcendent insight.
We weave together all the threads of our lives, in a life-affirming practice. We can be fully present in every moment of daily life, and at the same time develop our strengths and capabilities, transform fears and miseries in a process like composting, and become a competent helper in the world. This style of meditation is far from being an escape into peace for a while. It brings us ever more present with the reality of life, with ever more compassion and wisdom to help.
In the state that’s like the deep ocean, we begin to feel that we and the ocean water around us are not separate. Of course I’m not talking about real water: void or Great Mother (it’s called both those names) is like the spacious feeling in and around us, where we can relax into our natural state. ‘We are the union of bliss and emptiness’ said Adzom Rinpoche. When we relax like this, being a form arising in that spaciousness is bliss. The details of daily life, even when they’re painful, can be felt as an essential kind of bliss – odd as that may sound.
THE MODERN WORLD
This was the practice I found that worked for me: the ancient tradition of Tibet. Because it’s so many-faceted and all-encompassing, I realised it could be invaluable to help us live the best we can in the difficult times we’re in now.
I found two teachers who were already working on ways these methods can be more available for modern people, while maintaining the original essence and purposes of the teachings. I keep on developing it, with my students, and that’s what I teach.
I apply the teachings mainly in two overlapping areas: women’s work, and eco work towards an inner and outer culture shift to a sustainable way of life: such as social and spiritual permaculture, and working with climate change. To do this, I use a lot of imagery from Nature, which is easily accessible for modern people.
NATURE AND NATURAL MIND
As an adolescent I had a special rock in the bay where I lived. It made a seat where I looked out at the tossing white wave-crests on windy Wellington harbour. Though the water wasn’t calm, my mind settled deeply. The world was bathed in a mystery, that gave life meaning. I saw that magic in the native bush above the bay too: sunlight shining through leaves, damp mosses, living trees. I’d be very surprised if all you who read this have not had some experience with nature as I had? Maybe in your garden?
This is what led me to meditation. I wanted to live in that feeling among London buses and on the tube train. We desperately need to connect with Nature in these times, to heal the rift we presently have with her. Imagery from nature helps us invite the mystery to transform our life, and live in it.
Our body, mind and spirit are all bound up in one shape, created by Mother Nature. Her wisdom is ours, her ways of operating are ours, both our body’s and our heart’s. Mother Nature’s natural state is our own too. We don’t always realise that. We get confused and think we are just little separate me.
Meditation can help us feel that Nature’s wisdom is our own nature too. It needs to be more than an idea: when we experience that in our body, heart and spirit, it becomes infused in our daily habits. We embody Mother Nature’s wise love, not just little separate ‘me’; it transforms our life, and gets us feeling more empowered to look after our Mother Nature.
Meditation and Psychotherapy
I worked many years as an art therapist, and have done a lot of psychodrama training. I underwent ten years of Kleinian psychoanalysis in the 70s, and later did several years of personal therapy in self-psychology, the psychodrama trainer Lynette Clayton.
Ever since I began Buddhist meditation, I’ve integrated the methods of depth psychotherapy with my own practice. I also weave the two together in the way I teach meditation.
Many people do therapy alongside their Buddhist practice; often they’re see as two very separate methods. I have found many places the two can link arms, and enhance each other. My therapist Lynette Clayton said my therapy was able to progress much more effectively because I was also doing the meditation work.
Although those seem opposite aims, there is a lot of co-operation between the two.
It can be important to strengthen the self, while not believing in it as permanent and self-existent. The self is ever-changing; at the same time it needs to be stable, confident and well developed, to provide a basis for insight into its own impermanence.
Both meditation and therapy encourage us to go beyond the limited and narrow ego, that clutches to a tight worldview, to make it feel safe. We grow into a much larger arena, if we are able to live with the depth of ourselves, dark and light, and bring to light and transform our anger, greed and so on. We develop flexible and spontaneous action as well as more compassion and understanding of others.
We can approach therapy using meditation methods, and vice versa. Awareness of how emotions lodge themselves in our body, and how awareness releases these blocks, into flow and positive power, works with the passions in a deep place.