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Showing posts from January, 2013

Deep Listening: Ear of the Heart

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Most of us consider listening a great virtue. We love having others listen to us with interest and care, and we hope to be good listeners ourselves. But for most of us, listening is hard. To listen well, we must become aware of the mental static that runs interference: our emotional reactivity; all the ways we interpret (and misinterpret) each other; our haste to prepare a response; how we armor ourselves with judgment.

Learning to listen involves stepping out of our incessant inner dialogue, and using what St. Benedict called the “ear of the heart.” This deep listening offers a compassionate space for healing and intimacy.
One of my meditation students, Kate, discovered the power of listening in her relationship with her mother, Audrey, a wealthy, successful, brilliant, and yet narcissistic woman. Those who knew Audrey well kiddingly referred to her as “the center of the known universe.” A well-known writer, Audrey treated other people as orbiting satellites, audiences to regale with s…

Learning To See Past The Mask

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My friend Richie and I met when we were juniors in college. A shy, thoughtful African American man, he was known for carrying his camera everywhere, listening as others poured out their stories to him, and running through the snow wearing gym shorts. We’d lost touch after graduation, yet nearly fifteen years later, he called and asked to consult with me on an upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.
Now a photojournalist living in New York, Richie had recently married Carly, a Caucasian woman he’d met at a meditation class, and he wanted to talk with me about her family. “I knew what I was getting into … country club, conservative, the whole nine yards … but I had no idea it would be this hard.”
“From the start,” he told me when we met, “Sharon [his mother-in-law] was dead set against me and Carly getting together.” While Carly’s father seemed willing to support his daughter’s choice, her mother had fought the marriage vehemently. “She warned Carly that we were too different, that we’d end up…

Awakening Through Anger

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One evening after my Wednesday night meditation class, Amy, a member of our D.C. meditation community, asked if we might talk for a few minutes about her mother, a woman she often referred to as “a manipulative, narcissistic human.” Amy’s mother had recently been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, and as the only local offspring, Amy had become her mother’s primary caretaker. So, there she was, spending hours a day with a person she’d been avoiding for decades. “I can’t stand myself for having such a hard heart,” Amy confessed.


Amy and I agreed to meet privately to explore how she might use her practice to find more freedom in relating to her mother. At our first session, she told me difficult early childhood memories had recently been emerging. In the most potent of these, Amy was three years old. Her mom yelled upstairs that she’d prepared a bath for her and that she should get in the tub. But when Amy went into the bathroom, what she found was a couple of inches of lukewarm wate…

Entrusting Yourself to the Waves

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I was drawn to my first Buddhist mindfulness retreat during a time when my son, Narayan, was four, and I was on the verge of divorce. During a slow, icy drive through a winter snowstorm on the way to the retreat center, I had plenty of time to reflect on what most mattered to me. I didn’t want a breakup that would bury the love I still shared with my husband; I didn’t want us to turn into uncaring, even hostile, strangers. And I didn’t want a breakup that would deprive Narayan of feeling secure and loved. My deep prayer was that through all that was happening, I’d find a way to stay connected with my heart.

Over the next five days, through hours of silent meditation, I cycled many times through periods of clarity and attentiveness, followed by stretches when I was swamped in sleepiness, plagued by physical discomfort, or lost in a wandering mind. Early one evening I became inundated by thoughts about the upcoming months: Should my husband and I hire lawyers or a mediator to handle the …

Letting Life Live Through Us

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Many years ago, after several years of experiencing a long chronic illness, I attended a six-week Vipassana meditation retreat. Given my struggles with sickness, I looked forward to this time entirely dedicated to sitting and walking
meditation.
I was out of my body and into my mind: “Whoa … I still really feel sick.” OnceThe first few days went smoothly. Yet, towards the end of the week, I started having stomach aches and felt so exhausted I could barely motivate myself to walk to the meditation hall. At this point it was a matter of making peace with discomfort. “Okay,” I figured a bit grudgingly, “I’m here to work with…unpleasant sensations.”
For the next twenty-four hours I noted the heat and cramping in my stomach, the
leaden feeling in my limbs, and tried with some success to experience them with
an accepting attention. But in the days that followed, when the symptoms didn’t
go away, I found myself caught in habitual stories and sinking into a funk of fear,
shame and depression. “So…