animal collage


Tibetan meditation practices often involve the detailed imagining of a teacher (Guru, mentor, role model) or deity (religious icon) seated in front of and sending light, energy or power to the meditator. These types of meditation are often part of more advanced practices used by those with some mastery in concentration, focus and stability.  

My therapeutic use of meditation involves re-working practices from the Buddhist tradition to make them more effective for those struggling with mental health issues. Joe Loizzo asserted in “Sustainable Happiness” his Western psychologically focused re-imagining of Tibetan Meditation, that a meditator may picture in place of a deity or teacher, a human mentor with whom they do not have a complicated relationship. In my psychotherapy practice I notice that people find it difficult to relate to human beings in uncomplicated ways if they have suffered abuse.  Sometimes clients couldn’t name anyone that they admired or would choose people who represented complications in their lives. If I look for alternatives to using a human role model within Tibetan Buddhism, I’d find the use of a Buddha or deity figure in its place. However, Westerners may not relate to this imagery. Instead of a deity or human role model, I’ve opted to work with shapes, colors of light, and healing or inspiration animals.  Those who struggle to cope with people and who have suffered abuse often can relate to an animal or pet as something for which they feel uncomplicated love and admiration.

I’ve taken deity meditation, used animal imagery and applied it to loving-kindness (metta) meditation. I’ve included written instructions for this meditation below. Having clients imagine an animal enables them to access a compassionate response. Rather than having the deity or in this case animal impart the healing light, I use the meditator as the source of light or energy revealing themselves as powerful and capable of healing and compassion. The meditator sends light to the animal and not the other way around. It starts with picturing a small light at the heart which expands into the body and moves outside of the body. I use the mental picture of a sphere of light around the body of both animal and meditator to help them relate to space around themselves. The inner light works with the child-like self (inner child) and difficult thoughts and emotions generated from within. The meditator recites the loving-kindness phrases (May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering) to the animal first and then themselves. This order of events helps them to build confidence and accept self-compassion. By having the meditator visualize a healing animal, the energy of the compassion for another being becomes a jumping off point to self-compassion. I often find clients struggle to have compassion for themselves but are able to give compassion to another being. This helps the client get the hang of the warm compassionate feeling and generate if for themselves later in the meditation. I sometimes discuss this practice with the client as filling the coffers of compassion. I explain that it is taxing to only give compassion to others when you do not give it to yourself. With kids I present it as a gas tank in a car that needs refueling. I discuss this use of light more in-depth in a blog article entitled “The Book of Living.”

Through the use of light and animal imagery combined with loving-kindness meditation phrases, clients were able to generate self-compassion. I have found that clients walk away from a session with the confidence to use any part of the visualization when noticing anxiety in their daily lives. Post-meditation client’s reported feelings of calm and an ability to tackle their problems. Try the steps of the meditation below.

Meditation practice experiment:

Note: Relative calm is helpful for this meditation, therefore postural yoga and deep breathing exercises will help prior to meditation.

    1. Picture a small orb or sphere of colored light emerging from space floating in front of you and from that light emerges the healing animal. Take a moment to imagine the animal in great detail. Make eye contact with the image.


    1. Recite (to self) the phrases of compassion to the animal: “May they (you or animal name) be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering.”


    1. During the recitation, picture a small circle of light forming at the heart and direct a beam of light to the heart of the healing animal.


    1. As you continue to recite and send light, imagine the animal’s body filling with the bright light.


    1. Picture the light expanding outside of the animal’s body forming a sphere of bright light around the animal. Imagine the animal acknowledges you by making meaningful eye contact. Pause with this image for a period.


    1. Stop or let the reciting of the phrase dissolve into the heart of the animal.


    1. Imagine the animal dissolving into the sphere of light and it compressing into a smaller orb.


    1. Visualize the orb rising above the crown of the head and entering the body moving inside through the face, neck and resting at the heart. Pause.


    1. Recite (to self) the self-compassion phrase: “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”


    1. While reciting the phrases imagine the circle of light at the heart grow, spreading from the heart into the neck and head, down through the torso, legs and feet and into the arms hands and fingers.


    1. Allow the light to spread outside of the body forming a sphere of light around it and with each phrase repetitions allow the sphere of light to continue to grow. Pause while reciting and visualizing.


    1. Let the phrase repetition cease and pause in the light.
      Note: The light of the sphere protects one from external triggers, difficult people and situations. The inner light protects one from difficult thoughts and emotions coming from within.


    1. Allow the light of the sphere move closer to the body until it is just in the body. Let the light drain from the top of the head down to the heart and the bottom of the feet up to the heart into a small circle of light.


  1. Imagine the small circle of light absorbs into the heart. Rest and meditate as long as you’d like.


Resources of interest and References:
Relevant blog articles from this site: Role Modeling Imagery Practice, The Human Shaped Bubble, Healing Mentor / Role Modeling Meditation,
Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo
Video: Joe Loizzo on the Neuropsychology of Sustainable Happiness



Please read my earlier post that outlines my initial direction and intention for a group intervention for at-promise youth. Things changed quite a bit from the initial approach, but I believe the spirit was maintained.

My experience creating and facilitating a meditation group with at-promise youth helped me to see that flexibility and really listening to youth were my most important interventions.  This group combined the more western psychological approaches of group therapy with meditation and movement. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and proceeded to hone the development of the group via my experiences facilitating. As I began to implement the group I realized some changes needed to be made. Initially I wondered what the subject matter for each group would be, but after I began I noticed themes arose. I came up with four or five topics that seemed to be relevant for these youth. The topic for each week of group would be the following: Trust, Unfairness, Struggle, Worry and Change. Initially, I would open up the group by presenting a topic of discussion and allowing youth to talk about a situation in their life that related to the topic at hand. At times, this went well, but at other times one or two youth would monopolize the discussion and continue to talk, go off topic and need to be redirected several times. This isn’t uncommon in our groups in general, but I thought I may avoid this situation by changing the order of group events. Another approach was to begin with breathing exercises. I would do two to three minutes each of deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing and slow kapalabhati. Each type of breathing was followed by noticing natural breathing (without effort) for a minute or two after the deliberate breathing exercise. The first time I conducted the group opening with breathing it went well. Subsequent times I did this, I had issues depending on the youth in the group. It is interesting to note that though some youth remained the same in the group for four or five weeks, a good number of them would change. I had to adapt the group when new kids came in to the facility. In addition, I would use images and poetry that related to the topic of the group in order to stimulate more thinking and creativity around the topic. I ultimately came to settle on all of the elements of group and would adapt the order based on the number of kids and the energy of the group. Group events roughly looked like the following:

Group rules (always at beginning of group)

Image and or poetry relating to topic of group and discussion

Discussion and examples of topic from life

Breathing exercises

Movement exercises (yoga, qigong or other energetic work)

Guided Imagery I (w/o role model) and discussion

Guided Imagery II (w/ role model) and discussion (optional) – role modeling and healing mentor meditation based on Tibetan Buddhist Deity meditation practice.

Closing recitation – “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”

I found that being flexible with the order of events and cutting out events when more important and fertile discussion arose was helpful. I would make sure to get in one or two guided imagery practices and some form of movement.

I discovered it was helpful for the group if I selected certain members to be present from week to week. I found that having kids who I identified as “leaders” and who seemed to have an “affinity” for meditation and yoga were good to have in the group. I would make sure that at least one of them was in the group from week to week. I would often exclude youth who had difficulty being open and focusing around specific peers, who they may have had problematic relationships with prior to detention. I would discuss this with them individually, letting them know why I did not want them attending group the next week. If I noticed one youth could not focus on breathing without giggling with a friend during group I would take time to discuss the situation with them and if it did not improve I would not have them partake in group the next week. I would work with staff to identify youth who naturally reached out for support and had an air of seriousness about them. I left it open that if a youth who had been asked to not join group due to problematic behaviors in prior groups, had an opportunity to speak with me one on one about rejoining the group. On more than one occasion I had a youth approach me and ask if they could rejoin the group. This had the effect of making the group something special that they wanted to join.

I had basic rules about confidentiality (what is said in this room, stays in this room), one mic (one speaker at a time) and respect. At the beginning of group I would allow the youth to explain the meaning of each rule. It was helpful to re-iterate the rules when youth needed reminding during group.

The initial guided meditation involved counting the breath backwards, letting go of counting and focusing on natural breathing. I utilized basic mindfulness approaches to settle the mind. As far as sitting posture went, I used the analogy of a garden hose and the difficulty of water flowing through it when it is bent. We often sat in chairs around a table, but some members after being in group for a couple of weeks wanted to sit cross-legged on the floor. After noticing the breath, I would have them imagine themselves in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed. I would present the option of a special room or place outside as a place where they may feel relaxed and at ease. The youth would report that they would really feel like they went somewhere else and at times we would need to process sadness, when they came back into “ordinary life” to realize they were still in their current situation. Once the safe place in their mind was established, I would have them visualize the topic of the group. For example, if the topic was being treated unfairly, I would have them visualize a situation they identified earlier in group or the feeling of unfairness in general. I would request they observe it with curiosity as if they were a scientist with a subject or watching a movie play before their eyes. I would request they also move in to feel it in the body. Then, after visualizing and feeling unfairness. I would have them put their hands over their hearts and repeat to themselves, “I am fair to myself”. I would ask them to repeat this over and over as a mantra. I would then ask them to dissolve the words, images and the scene around them until they were sitting in the room. Next, I would bring them to notice the breath and get a sense of their body in the room on the ‘in and out’ breath. Finally, I would have them slowly open their eyes and return to the group in the room.

After the meditation we would discuss any experiences that happened during and after the meditation. Some youth would express that it was challenging for them to sit still. Some would describe what it was like for them to be in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed and were able to describe this in some detail. One youth stated that he didn’t realize he could just do that (imagine) anytime he wanted and would like to do it when he is sitting alone in his room. Another youth stated that when we repeated the phrase “I am fair to myself” he had difficulty “giving myself a break”. This turned into a discussion about the difficulty of having self-compassion.

The second guided imagery meditation intervention involved bringing the role model into a similar scenario of unfairness. At times, I would have them visualize the mentor in front of them as they showed the mentor their current struggle with unfairness or as they visualized the scene of unfairness. At other times the mentor would enter from the side and put their hand on their shoulder. I would describe the mentor transmitting their support and mastery (power) to the youth from their heart to the youth or from their hand into the youth’s body. This support and mastery would fill their body in the form of light. Initially I did not specify criteria for the role model, other than to say “leader, teacher, wise counselor, elder, super hero, author, religious figure….” during the meditation. This gave the youth an opportunity to go with whomever came to mind. After the meditation, I had more than one youth comment that the role model they chose was unable to help them. They reported that the role model they chose may not be the right one for the job. This turned into a discussion on the qualities of a role model. I eventually added a group session that dealt strictly with identifying a role model.

The success of the group seemed often to boil down to how flexible I was in delivering my interventions. When I was least able to adapt to the group dynamic was when I felt things lose energy. However, even these situations became learning situations for all of us, when openly discussed. The youth would often be able to articulate why they were struggling and feeling antsy in group and we were all able to process it together. My distress tolerance played a fairly big role in the collective distress tolerance of the group. My history of meditation and distress tolerance as well as my comfort in delivering guided meditation also played a role. I am interested in conducting assessments at the beginning and end of group at some point in the near future to measure any interesting results. I am posting narrative quotes and summaries that I collected below:

Group Feedback

Youth reported that the meditation was relaxing and that when he dissolved the world and the universe the negative things also dissolved. Youth reported it was nice to feel positive things.

Youth reported that during the reflection he saw himself changing and was able to visualize what he wished to change. Youth reported if felt good to notice change and feel supported.

“I had trouble visualizing a role-model / mentor. I had an idea of who I wanted it to be but I couldn’t see them clearly. What do you think that means?”

“This time I listened, followed along and focused and it worked.”

Youth was able to identify an effective role model in her life. Youth stated she had some difficulty with the visualization due to anxiety but that she is capable of “seeing things”.

Youth reported that when change showed up during the visualization she saw herself and that she had a difficult conversation with herself. Youth reported that she found herself difficult to get along with and this is what she needs to work on.

Youth reported that during the visualization she saw herself in a new light and that she hopes others see she has changed.

Youth stated when she reflected on a place that she feels comfortable in, it made her sad to be where she is now.

“I realized that the role-model I chose could not help me and that I needed to find a better one. I will think of a new one for next time”

“I chose Nelson Mandella as my role model.”

“I was sitting on a mound of dirt, next to a pond and had a conversation with a lizard.”

Youth reported that during the visualization he pictured himself on top of a mountain and entering a house with a family that appeared to be his family. Youth interpreted this as the possibility of having a healthy family in the future, something he did not think possible prior.

Youth reported during the reflection (role modeling meditation) he saw his past deeds play out before his eyes and he came to himself as a role model or a potential role model. Youth reported that this shows him he has to be there for himself in the future and that he has the ability to change.

Youth reported seeing a needle in front of him and how he is struggling with not using drugs.

Youth reported seeing two roads to travel down and that he has to make a decision about which one.

Youth reported that when they repeated “I am fair to myself”, they had trouble giving themselves a break.

“Caused me to see the person who was being unfair to me and think about fairness on both sides.”

“Hey, what were you guys doing in there with your eyes closed?” Youth stated this and asked to join group next time.

“Do you know what astral projection is? I felt like I was really up in a tree. Like I was really there.”

“When I let trust in, it was my mom. We had a long conversation.”

“I had trouble seeing trust. I didn’t see anything.” A peer responded by saying, “maybe that is because you don’t trust anyone”.

“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted”

“When I imagined myself on top of a mountain I looked down at our city and thought of how what I normally think of as big seemed completely different.”

“The lake I imagined was really clear and blue. I couldn’t believe how real it was.”


Sustainable Happiness: The Mind Science of Well-Being, Altruism, and Inspiration – Joe Loizzo

The Lineage Project


abstract grid drawing


When you’re feeling sad and hopeless you tend to see things through the filter of your negative thoughts and feelings. You may think that once this depression lifts you will finally be able to live. However, in the throes of despair you can easily lose contact with what you love and value the most. You may feel frustrated because you can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong and you’re unable to “think” your way through your problems. Time and again you ruminate about the past and imagine what you will do in the future. Often times this leads to blaming yourself and feeling shame about your inability to just “get over it”. The notion of “getting over it” is worsened in societies, cultures and families who push competition at all costs. This push to be competitive often minimizes feelings of hurt and pain and steam rolls self-compassion. When depressed you often end up getting caught in a loop where thoughts and feelings feed on each other. Depression is usually comprised of a constellation of biopsychosocial issues. These destructive thoughts may also cause reactions in the body. If you ruminate about how awful you are, your body is flooded with stress hormones, which in turn cause further suffering and rumination. In addition, these destructive practices and repetitive loops put us in a state of constant stress which keeps our cortisol levels elevated, further contributing to depression.

There are studies suggesting that the size of the hippocampus is greatly reduced in depressed individuals. However, those who recover from depression seem to have the ability to increase the size of their hippocampus back to within normal range. The amygdala is thought to be linked to depression in the way that it responds to both emotional stress and rewards. In depressed people, the amygdala may be overactive when introduced to negative events and underactive when introduced to positive events. The amygdala is responsible for secreting stress hormones. There are several chemical activity differences happening in the brain related to stress and soothing hormones. Often we find increased cortisol (stress hormones) and abnormal levels of oxytocin, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. There are also genetic issues which may predispose someone to depression. More recently, ideas involving neuroplasticity indicate that information flow changes between neurons based on experiences. If we hang on to or practice unhealthy responses to our negative experiences we will affect the flow of information. Conversely, if we reinforce positive experiences, that flow of information reverses. It is unclear within these biological processes if they (chemistry, genetics and structures of the brain) are the causes or effects of depression. It is important to not lose sight of the fact that whether they are causes or effects we have the ability to work with and often times change whatever we have going on. There are also social factors which contribute to depression such as childhood abuse, stressful events and limited social support during stressful circumstances. All or some of these things can converge and loop around us to contribute to feelings of hopelessness and loss of enjoyment. Yet, there is much hope in all of this confusing milieu and this is where therapy comes into play.

My job as a therapist is to help clients increase awareness and build compassion. Awareness is about stepping back and looking at what is going on within and around yourself. It may involve asking yourself a question such as “where am I in this moment?” or simply learning to observe yourself in a neutral or compassionate way. Not only will this help you step back and look at yourself, it will help you move back into the problematic feelings, emotions or thoughts. Often time’s things begin to shift when we’ve had an opportunity to step back for a moment. Guiding you to move back and forth between experiencing and observing or holding experiencing and observing at the same time, may help to alleviate and open up places that you feel stuck in. Another approach may be to visualize an admired mentor of compassion to temporarily borrow or integrate their nervous system in order to help stimulate your own resources. Using these approaches and others may help the answers come from within in new and sometimes startling ways. All of this works best when you are able to step into these feelings and emotions with compassion, which is the ability to have warm and nurturing feelings towards yourself.

I see myself as assisting in the process of viewing yourself and your circumstances with greater flexibility and compassion. At first, it may be difficult to feel self-compassion; many of us have negative associations around compassion that may not fall in line with our self-talk to “just get over it”. These approaches may help reduce stress hormones and increase the levels of the more nurturing and balancing hormones, which in turn will help re-direct and increase the flow of information in the brain in more positive directions. Just as it took time to build these negative associations, it will take time to rewire our brains and hearts to head in new positive directions. 



This project will take a multitheoretical approach to developing self-compassion and coping for at-risk youth. These approaches will be conducted in the form of an experiential and psychoeducational group. The use of the concept of “driving all blame into one” in Chekawa’s Sevenfold Mind Training will consist of driving blame into the biopsychosocial model. Gilbert’s use of the biopsychosocial model in Compassion Focused Therapy will be utilized as a reference point. Additionally, Gilbert’s exercises and view of self-compassion and compassion for others will be implemented. Bilateral stimulation and forms of trauma or shaking-off exercises will be part of the group experience. We will also practice deep breathing, stretching and imagery meditation. The order of training events will be roughly based on Van Melik’s Lineage Project approach.

At-promise youth are faced with multiple biosocial and personal issues. One issue that often comes up is the use of blame and shame as a disordered coping skill. This psychoeducational and experiential group will help youths to understand the biopsychosocial model and develop coping and integration skills. Initially there will be a brief discussion of group rules and how the hour will proceed. The group will be presented with a topic or issue of difficulty, which will be chosen from one of Gilbert’s CFT exercises or a common trend in coping difficulty youth experience in detention. An example of such topic may be feeling wronged or unfairly treated by someone. There will be time to reflect on and visualize the topic of discussion. Each youth will discuss their experience of the topic or question asked.

They will then visualize the issue or a similar issue while doing a bilateral stimulation exercise in order to help soften around defenses and fears. A brief set of simple but rigorous Tsigjong (Qigong) exercises will be presented, in order to get energy moving around the body and shake off any remaining stress. This will be followed by some deep breathing and yogic stretching. The deep breathing and stretching is a mimicking of the relaxation process animals use after a stressful event to reintegrate and continue on with their daily lives. The difficulty initially imagined will be visualized again via guided meditation, but this time the youths will take a caring approach to the narrative and imagine themselves responding to their difficulty with self-care and compassion as well as compassion for others involved in the visualization, if appropriate to the topic. The group will wrap up with a brief silent meditation.

If allowed, a brief self-compassion and or coping assessment will be used at the beginning and end of four weeks of group. The object of the group is not to delve deeply into trauma, but to handle everyday concerns with self-compassion and skillful coping. The groups will need to be brief and only build on each other for three or four weeks, due to the unpredictable lengths of time youths spend in group therapy. Each weekly group should be able to stand by itself. I hope to gain from this project a sense of how these youths view difficulties and determine helpful ways for them to cope with these difficulties. I would also like to better understand the roll compassion plays in their daily coping. My thoughts are that using a combination of efficacious and researched treatments in a new way will yield changes in their ability to cope and increase the experience of self-compassion.

The first step in executing this project will involve researching literature on bilateral stimulation and other physical coping mechanisms. It will be important to have a basic understanding of the tools and techniques used as well as research on possible outcomes. CFT literature and techniques will also be reviewed to get an understanding of the model and some of its biopsychosocial influences. This will take about one month. Based on what is gleaned from the research phase the next step is to design group specifics. The purpose is not to limit creativity, but to provide a framework for creativity. This will take another month as successive groups and topics will need to be designed in advance.


Paul Gilbert – Mindful Compassion: How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand Your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Others
Chekawa – Path To Awakening: a Commentary on Ja Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training
Link to the Lineage Project Site


submerged human


Mark Epstein’s book Open to Desire gives us permission to explore desire without shame. He gives us carte blanche to use desire to propel ourselves into a state of dissolution, where we are unburdened by craving or avoiding. This is a place completely free and expansive, where we have a profound experience with the totality (both pleasure and pain) of our consciousness. He implies that desire isn’t ultimately about merging with its object because we can’t possibly merge completely with something that isn’t solid or stable. Once examined closely the object dissolves into its constituent parts. Is a book really a book or is it paper, binding, cover, ideas and words? Is the paper in the book really paper or is it water, pulp and a manufacturing process? Which singular ingredient makes it paper? The book is there as is the paper, but its definition is a construction. We construct notions of ourselves and others in a similar fashion.

When desire arises in the imagination, it may feel like something we either need to satisfy (grasp) or push away. We often attempt to circumvent desire because we perceive it as too painful to bare. After all, who wants to be comfortable with longing for something we can never have? We could be sitting looking at clouds in the sky and perceive the shape of a dragon or a cat with sun glasses. We get caught up in that imagined object for a bit, marveling at it and giving it meaning. If we look away for a moment and return to capture it again, it is gone. If we try to stare too hard at it to ensure we grasp it, we may see something else. We can’t really form that exact image again, no matter how hard we try. Often times, another image will appear in that search for the original image and it too disappears. Objects (images, sensations, emotions) of desire appear and disappear in the landscape of consciousness over and over again. It is endless.

In the case where craving takes the place of desire, we latch on to the object. We allow something outside of ourselves to have complete power over us. We’ve managed to dig our claws into the object that our brief moment of desire initiated. But what are we digging our claws into? The object may be an image or image / feeling of someone we wish to be intimate with in some way. In this case the appearances in the imagination are much stronger than the cloud example above. This embodiment is vivid and evokes within us very strong sensations of craving. We get fixated and feel compelled to possess it. A story may run in our mind with various scenes and scenarios involving the human object of our craving. It is something that if we allow it, becomes quite elaborate and enthralling. Craving throws us into the cycle of stress and trauma. We search for something, are triggered by an appearance, we grab it, we get temporary satisfaction, the feeling disappears and we are triggered by the next thing all over again. We find ourselves deeply invested in turning this imagined human form into something that we are indeed capable of possessing. We aren’t imagining the person, they exist, but like the book example they aren’t what we’ve mentally constructed.

If we push desire away, we perhaps avoid the strong wave of craving, but may deny ourselves a chance to fully experience desire. In avoidance, we cut off desire or make it into something shameful or bad. Epstein points out how Freud saw this happening in his clients in the form of pathological guilt and shame. Desire in this case, becomes something that we blame ourselves or others for creating somehow. We end up feeling guilty and looping around stress and trauma again. It isn’t necessary and often not helpful to feel ashamed that the image or sensation appeared, nor are we responsible for it. All sorts of factors are to “blame” for these imaginings. We have the whole biopsychosocial model to contend with when it comes to the appearance of desire. The biopsychosocial model is a confluence of our primitive and modern brain system, our upbringing, culture, genetics, coping, social skills and more, all of which play into mental formations or appearances. In between the extreme of craving and avoiding is where desire dwells. It is the gap or moment between extremes. It is the subtle longing that if we tune into is always present. Desire isn’t an object, nor does it create one. Desire is a space where we get a glimpse of the ineffable “other”. Epstein believes when we are with desire we are getting in touch with ourselves, because we too are ineffable.

A lot of this stuff gets played out in intimate relationships. The “other” serves as a gateway to desire and helps us enter the gap where it dwells. This is the space were we experience things that we cannot pin down. It is the nature of desire itself. If we are able to feel comfortable in this space, we get a taste of the transcendent and the ability to thoroughly enjoy the intimate relationship by recognizing the indescribable in both ourselves and others. We are basking in eachother’s autonomy. This gap evokes our own mystery, because we both have that sweet bitter longing in common.

It is important to point out the pitfalls of a mysterious “other”, which should be examined more thoroughly than is presented here. Simone de Beauvoir wonderfully expounds upon the idea of “other” in The Second Sex. To de Beauvoir the very notion of other, when mystified, contributes to a cascade of oppression that leads to wars, sexism and racism. This is problematic in Tibetan Buddhism where we have a subservient position for ordinary women, juxtaposed with an extreme reverence for the Dakini (enlightened female bodied deity). In this tradition, the ineffable other takes the form of a Dakini (female bodied sky dancer) who appears and dissolves dancing throughout space (awareness) or what Pema Chödrön refers to as groundlessness. In some Tibetan traditions, the meditator imagines themselves as a Dakini, effortlessly navigating the groundlessness of consciousness. This other is the conundrum of the subject (experiencer). This is meant to translate to the elusive beauty within us and is open to us in a state of desire. In ordinary life this often translates to abuse of power and invalidation of the other.

When the object of desire is removed or exposed as a temporary appearance, we may feel heartbroken. However, this is an opportunity to open up to impermanence. If we are able to settle into that desire and disidentify with the object, we find a place of great spaciousness. This allows us to get past the subject (self) and object (other) and connect to the joy that we experience in each other’s presence, as well as a feeling of deep comfort in our own presence.

In future posts I will provide reflections and meditations on desire.


Open to Desire: The Truth about What the Buddha Taught – Mark Epstein
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
Civilization and Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud

empty canoe


I’m reading through the first chapter of Germer and Siegel’s book “Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy: Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice” and I’m struck by what Germer and Siegel point out as a lack of a definition for wisdom. Germer and Siegel describe wisdom as, “knowing deeply how to live”. Is it that simple? I am looking at this through the lens of the Tibetan practice of “cutting through thoroughly” (Trekchö). In other words, slicing through the delusion of ordinary life to see clearly into the dreamlike nature of reality. Perhaps wisdom or a wise person is someone who has learned how to cut through the delusion of their suffering and is willing to apply this to help others. Wisdom in this tradition, also implies something that is spontaneously revealed. I assume that through the process of cutting through, we have something revealed to us. Both Loizzo and Germer suggest that wisdom is a top-down process. A top-down process uses our rational and organizational abilities to take the information at hand and rather than acting on that information on a gut-level, we think about and process it before responding. Perhaps we are cutting through the information of ordinary life to see what holds. As an aside, in Germer’s text according to Birren & Svensson, Christian texts view wisdom as, “revelation of truth from God”. This appears to agree with the Tibetan tradition of it as “spontaneously revealed” somehow.

In any event, Germer points out that wisdom has been with a few exceptions, neglected in Western Psychology. Erik Erikson’s definition of “truly involved disinvolvement” is an attempt at a definition from a Western Psychologist. This neglect is odd in that we often seek from our counselor’s and therapist’s someone wise. Wisdom is quite possibly the “magic ingredient” or trait we seek from those who provide counsel. I believe that Linehan’s definition is missed in Germer’s text and though it is not a definition of wisdom per se, it is an attempt at defining the “magic” or way to get into a wise state of mind. Linehan directs us on how to get to “wise mind” by balancing the emotional mind and rational mind. This suggests that we are applying the emotional mind and rational mind to each other, as needed. It may be a way of applying a top-down process to a bottom-up one, and, perhaps “spontaneous revelation” is when we hit that middle point (middle way or wise mind) between rational and emotional. Perhaps it is when we hit the end of either our rational or emotional mind or when the two merge at the same place. We then get the lightning bolt (spontaneous revelation) to the head, precisely when we hit this merging point. One thing I’ve noticed about all of these definitions is that they involve the application of opposites in some way, i.e. involved versus disinvolved, rational versus emotional, top-down versus bottom-up. All of these more or less imply getting to a mid-point or point of failure between the two opposites.

Now we run headlong into compassion and its relationship to wisdom. Ultimately, at least in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, compassion and wisdom are inseparable or nested within each other. Wisdom must be applied with compassion and compassion with wisdom. Again, opposites merge. My working definition of wisdom amounts to the application of reason to gut-level emotion and vice versa, in a way that cuts through illusions and self-centered limitations to reveal a deeper knowing. All of this is applied with compassion as an end to alleviate suffering. When I think about it, this has been my most effective approach to clients. In practical application, I get that gut-level emotional connection which I infuse with deep compassion both for myself and other. Rather than going with the unskillful words of gut-level reactions, I apply reason, and the more sophisticated element of wisdom (top-down) to that reaction. In this way I am able to respond with sensitivity, knowing and allowing for the other’s process to unfold.

I am leaving a lot out here in terms of research and neuroscience on the subject of wisdom. There are some interesting things out there involving community wisdom and the interplay of social and personal domains. If you’d like to learn more I am including links to some resources below.

Germer and Siegel’s book – Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy: Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice

Twin dogs in the grass


What is compassion?

Compassion, like many ideas / words, is a definition in progress. I like to take the time to read, listen and then define terms for myself. It helps me not only to remember what they mean, but gives me a way to apply them to my life. Often, I take other’s definitions and reconstruct them in order to better understand their meaning. None of what I come up with is my own. Instead, I am adding another voice to the long and web-like conversation of humanity. Paul Gilbert and the Dalai Lama were influential in the way I formulated my definition. I like to define compassion as the noticing of another’s suffering and seeing it as one’s own with the desire to alleviate it.  This is twofold, in that it points not only to discomfort with another, it delves into discomfort with one’s own own suffering.This isn’t sympathy, which implies an interference or discomfort with the process of another’s suffering.  Sympathy also implies attaching to the person or object of suffering in a way that is ultimately not helpful. Compassion isn’t pity, which implies looking down at someone or feeling superior.  Compassion is an eye-to-eye meeting with someone, a recognition that we all suffer, an ability to take on and transform that suffering as if it were our own and using skillful effort to alleviate it.

How do I notice another’s suffering?

I see someone in a moment that I often find myself in and connect with that moment. I feel a tug or arising sensation as they look down, appear afraid or appear uncertain, angry, mean or sad. Sometimes they say something and it cuts right through my own delusion in such a way, that I completely open up to their (also my) experience. It is one of those simultaneous their / my experiences. Sometimes I really have to work at noticing suffering if it is someone with which I struggle. When I struggle with someone, I often find that their suffering is an obstacle so closely allied with one of my own that I am so afraid to dredge up, it turns into a form of dislike for the other person. Sometimes this is a pretty strong feeling of pushing outward. This pushing outward is a clever mechanism of self-distraction. Sometimes I have to call on my awareness and reflect back and forth at myself for a while. Many times I have to dive right in and feel compassion for myself.

How do I see another’s suffering as my own?

The first step in all of this is to work on alleviating my own suffering to a degree that I am equipped to assist others. That doesn’t mean that I have to be perfect and completely free of all complications. Often in reaching out to another I am taking care of my suffering. This the means that I am not acting from a place of my own obstacles and unaware of my own suffering. I am aware of and do not contribute to suffering when I am attempting to alleviate it. I keep awareness of my own suffering active as I deal with another. I have to hold the sufferings of both at the same time. I may have to bounce back to myself and to you and then back to myself. It is noticing the discomfort of both and acting from a place that steps in and cuts right through. This helps me to bravely say the words that meet the moment. This may mean asking, “Are you suffering?” or “I see you going inside yourself. What is that experience like?” It may just mean a kind look or gentle nod. It may mean briefly attending to myself in the situation so I do not contribute more to the overall suffering that is going on.

Compassion is a powerful trans-formative tool that begins with self- compassion. There are practices and ways to access compassion that I will be adding to my resourcespage in the future.