I walked into Against the Stream Nashville Meditation Center in January 2012, shortly after coming out of rehab for alcohol dependence. It was suggested that meditation could be helpful in further recovery. I remember in one of the first talks Dave Smith mentioned that, sitting was just sitting. Whether you were in traffic, the motor vehicle department or sitting comfortably on your own couch that the experience of sitting was all the same. He said, it was only my reaction to it that was sitting that created the flavor of my experience. He then explained the Buddhist concept of the second arrow. I had never contemplated anything like this before. I was utterly superglued to my own emotional reactions without the tiniest room for witnessing what was happening and therefore had limited choices in my response. Added to that, I was a stimulus augmenter. If my experience was good, I reveled publicly in full out exaggeration. If it was an uncomfortable situation, I added layers to the existing story including villains who acted out personally toward me. These stories were also embellished for wider consumption. I thought I was an interesting, expressive “character” speaking deep truth to all. I had no idea I was creating suffering. When Dave explained that simple concept, I was able to separate myself from my own perception of reality for a moment. That moment, that brief second of separation, from the theater of my thoughts, had me fully hooked.
Oh, my path to Darva. Yeah. This is a subject I love to talk about. I had come out of alcohol rehab in 2012, and they said to me that if I started to practice meditation, I’d have a much better chance of recovering. So I wandered into against the stream Nashville three months sober, and when I got there, my capacity to sit and meditate was, I would have to say, less than zero. My neurological system was coming back awake after having been anesthetized for so many years from alcohol, particularly and other drugs. And as I was coming online, how can you sit with that? But there was a teacher there who had talks, and I remember the talk that got me hooked into Dharma. He was talking about sitting and not sitting on a cushion. He had said that sitting in a car in traffic or sitting at the motor vehicle department is the exact same as sitting at home on a couch with your favorite cup of coffee and your TV show on that you love. And that’s the only difference was your response to the conditions of your sitting. I thought, what what does that even mean? And here was this idea he started to teach about the second arrow. This idea that our reaction to what’s happening to us is actually the one that describes the flavor of what’s happening to us, that it was my own push away of that experience that was causing my own suffering. Because whether I’m sitting in a car in traffic or I’m sitting at home, what’s the difference? What’s the difference is what’s happening in my mind? And that second arrow that we learn about through the Dharma, the second arrow of suffering that we cause ourselves, I had never had a space between my own experience and thinking about it. I was super glued to my own emotions, to the point where there was no space, there was no air, there was no reflection. And really, in that place, there’s no choice when you are super glued to your own emotion. You are in a place of complete reactivity, and that’s how I landed it against this stream meditation.
Appeal of dharma
If I had to say to the world, if I had to share with the world the power of Dharma and how, how could the average person on the street become interested in it? And I could say this it is the sexiest thing that. Exists, meaning that what is the most enticing in nature, the most enticing things are truth when you see something that’s real. Your mom’s baked ziti or you’re in a great hall with a classical violinist. When that person is coming from the authentic, from the truthful nature of their most caring self, of that soft and loving place, the true essence of their own being the air changes. That is the most compelling and exciting thing, and we all know that. Have you seen pink when she does that thing and she’s vibrating down off? It’s not just the thrill of that, it’s the precision and the dedication in that. And the only thing that I know that can attune us for that level of authenticity allow us to sink into that to ourselves. And although we can recognize it at others, how do we connect in that authenticity? I think that’s through the practice of Dharma and mindfulness put together. I know here in the Bible Belt people will be like, what Buddhism and this idea is? I also go to church. I go to a church that has Buddhist informed priests who do love and kindness meditations that this psychology does not always have to be a religion that the Buddha himself said that he wasn’t God. He was awake, that there was a spiritual master who came before us 20 520 600 years ago who sought one thing to decrease our own suffering. And when we decrease our suffering, we can be present for our lives. Whether that’s a little bit of a decrease in a happy life or a lot of a decrease in a miserable life, that’s authenticity. That’s real and that vibrates.
That is the question of where I’m heading and how my practice might deepen is a very interesting question I have had along the way during my meditative experiences and sometimes out of the clear blue where I’ve had these very powerful spiritual experiences and things seem to unfold from there. I didn’t even know that’s what was happening to me along the way of my practice. And then as I put on a couple of Dharma talks, they talked about these things that happened on the cushion. I was like, Oh my God, that’s me. That has happened to me at the time. I didn’t have the teachings to know what it was, but then they spoke about some of the residuals that come from these certain types of experiences, and they were happening already to me. But I had not read about them. It sounds odd, but it gave me such a deep faith that whatever is expanding or unfolding knows its way, that I bring to it as absolute and complete willingness to allow the path to unfold the way it is. So when people say, what do you expect? I don’t know. I totally have, don’t know mind about it, but I know this that I will be on that cushion, that I will continue to do my practice. I will continue to study Dharma. I am known to have talks on from people all over the Dharma world and listening to these wise teachers. It’s amazing that with a click of a button. Well, it’s not really that. That’s from my old days with the recorder, right? With the tape recorder, I just go on my phone and I’m listening to people from different types of practice from different, you know, styles, whether it be Shambala or Theravada, and that if I keep opening, if I keep sitting, if I keep being devoted that I will be aware when an opportunity comes in front of me. And if I see an opportunity of service or connection, I will do it. I will try to connect like here speaking now in this situation. I don’t know what may come of this. And then I’ll go in that direction. What I can say is I am open to the deepening, whichever way the energy of that flows. And I will be dedicated in that deepening, knowing that this is the most important thing. I know one teacher says the most important thing. Is remembering the most important thing. And it sounds redundant and simple, but it has guided me quite a bit. Is that I always remember that my practice of the Dharma is the most important thing and that I act like it by paying attention, bringing my full attention and energy and connecting to as many people as possible.
For me, they worked interstate, entered the Dharma. Worked so much within the context of the practice they were, I needed the intellectual as well as the body sensations to inform me. I think really had I just sat on a cushion in the woods by myself. I would have come to that realization, but the Dharma, the teachings of the Dharma, being able to hear the dharma assembled and organized in a way that would help inform my practice really was extraordinarily powerful. Now let me get more gritty because that seems so up on the mountain kind of stuff. I had to just sit and feel the sensations on my body. And somebody tell me it’s OK to lean into those feelings. That first foundation of mindfulness, when it all comes down to the breath and the body is so extraordinarily powerful and it sounds a little boring. But there are so many sensations that I was disconnected from. And the only way for me to put that dharma into practice, into understanding, into integrating it was allowing myself to sit with it, to feel it, to feel the boundaries of where it can. I feel the fear as it arises. Where is the fear? Where do I not feel the fear? How can I work with the fear? Can I just allow it to dissemble on its own and let the wave go through? And if it’s holding too long, what can I bring to that moment of that wave if that wave comes in and gets stuck? Can I bring some heart practice to it? So it was a lot of being willing to stay there with that feeling. And these are techniques I had not developed as an addict alcoholic. If I had anything, I had such sensitivity. It was freeze flight change, right? So it was a cumulative willingness to sit and to sit again and to work with and to speak to different people about how to work with those feelings that arose. And this belief that the Buddha said, Come see for yourself, right? Do it for yourself and see what a freedom that is across the whole practice that I wasn’t indoctrinated into some kind of belief system where I would only be OK if I bought it hook, line and sinker like I would be saved if I already believed and dedicated. And the Buddha said, No, no, no, no, no. Try for yourself. And if it works for you, that become your truth. So my willingness to sit with it, that was the power.
And how it manifests in other parts of my life is it’s really since my. Way of paying attention since my heart reaction to everything has changed. It really has changed everything. However, one big thing that it’s changing now is what I plan to do with the next wave of my professional life is how can I incorporate these very teachings and the practice of mindfulness with the teachings into helping to continue to serve others and being a martial artist of 2530 years? How does that work? How do you incorporate that? And what’s so interesting is how much it all ties together. That sense of the traditional martial arts and how it relates so deeply to the first foundation of mindfulness of breath and body. And so as I was putting together this new program for people in recovery, recovery from trauma or alcoholism and perhaps even grief. How that first foundation of mindfulness can inform us and heal us, and the Buddha knew the Buddha knew how powerful breath was, the Buddha knew that posture was important. And now this neuroscience comes in to break it all up that when we have an open posture, when we’re sit erect like his instructions are when we sit upright and alert with good effort but not tense, it changes our experience and the neuroscience is coming out to say we don’t change our posture when we feel better. Actually, our experience and our feeling about ourself changes when we change our posture that these things come from the root up. It’s how I have designed the program. So this new program of recovery, martial arts is absolutely informed by my dharma practice that concentration on the breath and movement, which is breath, start and stop on each movement. Can I use that movement to allow people to feel the ups and downs of energy, which people in trauma have a very difficult time doing in trauma? When people have an excitation response or anything cuts raised, even if it’s something that’s happy? What happens is a feeling of fear, but breath is the only way that we have to consciously work with that. So focus on the breath and every move breathing in. Know you’re breathing in, breathing out, know you’re breathing out to every move, allow the energy to rise up and work with it in the breath. As the Buddha knew that if you return to the breath, you will be anchored that the return to the breath will take you out of the obsessive mind. And he also knew, I believe from my study that that sense of posture so working in my classes on posture, allowing people to come out of that startle response into the play body. All the studies show that if you alleviate or change somebodies posture, they can even take a compliment where they couldn’t when they are constricted. So as I move forward in my practice, which is to continue to serve those who are still suffering, I really want to reach those coming down from the most painful place of recovery because I’ve been there. I know. I can’t help but want to serve. That’s what arises in me when I am in my closest to my dormant nature. Right when I can be the one who knows and I can be close to the truth of Dharma, what arises in me is that giving back. So I hope to take this understanding of neuroscience and dharma. And the culmination of that and what happens in that is that return to service. I’m really excited to put this together at this stage in my life to see if all that can work together for the good of those people around me who are suffering very similarly to the way I was when I was so entrenched in the world of addiction.
So, so much of the transformational process that I’ve gone through, how the Dharma has informed and accelerated this change of heart, that I’ve had this innate response that’s changed are the heart practices. So not just alone Metta, which is loving kindness. There is the practice of compassion. Right? This sense, Karuna is the probably word for it. And it’s that that what arises naturally when we face the suffering of others. And I think I had a Rising’s without the training, but I think sometimes I got a little into some of those near enemies like that. Sense of compassion was more about me serving my own sense of separateness and not really being able to suffer with alongside of without getting into something that may be a little more codependent and unhealthy. So the sense of learning through the dharma, that natural arising, that thing that exists within all of us that arises and how to hold that in a healthy space, that sense of suffering with others without it attaching to some of my selfhood was a real, real interesting nuance that was so important to me. The most difficult for me was empathetic joy. Oh, the third higher practice. How could I look if I thought I didn’t wish well for others? Did I really have joy arise when other people had good things happen to them? I could tell, you know, that was something I was already aware of before I came to Dharma practice. But how wonderful to have writings teachings about how to. Make the inclination of mind, that inclination towards wishing well for others and appreciating the good fortune that they get, may their good fortune shine. I’ll use that often in my appreciative joy meditation. I’ll bring up people of mine, maybe some people who I’m a little neutral to. But I also do it when I have that concentration of mind. I will bring up people that I have, you know, difficult people, people where things arise. Can I bring a practice that’ll help enable an arising of goodwill and fortune for them? Can I be happy for their happiness? I think that’s one of the most transformative practices as I went down the road. There is no way I could enter into that early in practice that sense of. True feeling of joy arising when I see other people experiencing the best that life has to offer them. And then the last one equanimity, which is kind of an interesting one because it’s kind of like the cousin that like. I think Temple Smith calls it like a fingers where like the three practices are one and the equanimity is like the thumb. That kind of holds it together. There’s a sense of equanimity and all of those practices, but all together, that sense of balance about being open to everything the world has to offer, the joys and sorrows , the ups and downs, and within that moment, to be able to incorporate all those emotions into a settled place of not having to control or minutely manage from a preference here or there. Has been an incredibly opening full basket place to land in my better practice or my heart practices.
The fact that Andrew came and he sat with me, and when I said to him, I spoke to him of the parable, the parable of the mustard seed, yeah, which really was the thing that I think got me out of that darkness. I mean, that is an incomprehensible grief to lose a child and then to lose a child by choice. And he was living here with me, so wanting so much and giving all the resources and then for things to go that way. And so as I started to emerge out and have some sense about me, that parable that had already been taught to me the parable of the mustard seed where that woman who had her only son in the village going from door to door trying to help get the medicine. two or three days after her child died, her son tried to look for the medicine to bring him back to life, and no one could separate her from her grief, from her child, from her incredible lamentation. And they said, Well, go talk to the Buddha if any of the boodle be able to bring them back to life , if anyone could. So she goes to see the Buddha and the Buddha doesn’t give her teachings. He gives her something to do. Right? Go see for yourself. Kind of like what, Andrew? When I came to him with my idea said, Well, let’s see, you can do this and let’s see. So the Buddha said to her, you go from house to house, and if you can find one household who has not experienced death, you bring me back mustard seed from there. And that will make the medicine to bring your son back to life. So he didn’t sit her down on a cushion and say, all people die. This is normal grief. This is what we all go through. He had her go door to door to look in people’s eyes and to hear the stories of their loss to connect with Sangha. Right. The power that really he always knew the power was in Sangha. So she went door to door and people would say, no, we had more that have died here that are alive. And I imagine it’s not in the parable what that felt like for her as she went and saw those eyes when she came back to the Buddha, she understood. She understood, she said, I understand, and she studied then. And, according to the parable, became enlightened. So as that surfaced in my mind, I thought, I need Sangha. I need to look in people’s eyes. That’s what the Buddha taught. I need to do that. So I asked Andrew if we could start a grief group at wild heart. And I think. Like, who would have trust in that? But a teacher, so. Learned who had put in so much time on the cushion, who had taken the time to get to know me as a student over these years. He had that trust. And he said, Start a group here. And so I started a group at wild heart. It was the most transformational and healing experience. So we worked off of a book bearing the unbearable written by a Zen priest, and we would pick short paragraphs and people would share in the group. And these were people from wild heart and people from the Catholic faith, people with no faith who came to the group. And in that group, I got what the Buddha was teaching when I could look into the eyes of another mother who lost a child. I didn’t have to have the shut down heart. I didn’t have to collapse inside myself. That very grief could be a way to my own, the path to my awakening that that crashing end of the brokenhearted, which connects me to everybody as you as that woman felt when she went door to door and saw the grief and others is the actual thing that makes us most human. And I couldn’t have known that had I not had the Sangha, the Sangha that was assembled at Wild Heart Meditation Center. So here I am, a year and a half out from the inconsolable. And I’m looking forward with the people in the group to extending that generosity and that healing and that compassion and those goodwill as we are taught in the Dharma that we don’t take the dharma, eat it and sit in a corner with it. This is something in Sangha needs to grow that we need to continue like we do in our hard practices after we wish well for ourselves, for the people in our lives. We extend that outward to others and allow that to become a living dharma. So the group and I want to invite more people in and to continue this and to figure out a way to invite more people into our Sangha to help them with this very, very common, but often never talked about experience of loss.
I am seeing and I’m aware and other people have commented back, people have known me for a long time that you just have changed and I think it’s that sense of interaction. first of all, if I had, I been able to listen to myself now for the first time. So I bring that presence to every interaction I have with my daughter. Like, instead of going right to that place where I need to tell her what to do, can I be a witness to her experience, the authenticity of her experience? And as I’ve learned from the Dharma that we have that dharma nature that that it lives in within us. So when I reach out to one of my daughters starts to speak, can I respond to her from that same place of attempted trusted listening? Can I respond to the dog owners at the dog park across the street from here that you might see where they have this highly reactive dog? Can I respond to the creatures in the park in a way where if that bracing that used to come up in me arises, so every interaction, whether it’s with the dogs across the street, whether it’s with my own dog who is working with his own anxiety, allowing my daughter to be who she is in intimate relationships transforms everything that sense of not needing to control, to be able to listen, to invite people into your life, to my inner rooms, those ones who are doing the work of themselves, willing to sit and listen to themselves, and not only just dahmen people. There is many ways to find that voice within yourself to how I structure the people I interact with in my lifetime, how how intimately I let people in. I don’t walk anyone outside my heart anymore the way I used to. But the sense of bringing a discernment to it that each person deserves the dignity of life and respect. And I don’t need to change people, but I don’t need to invite them into the intimate places in my heart. That idea of keeping your heart open to everybody, even those with whom I really can’t find any political connectedness to. I’ve recently taken to driving Uber periodically so I can connect with people different than myself. And especially here in the Bible Belt, I’m a transplanted New Yorker liberal right boodle practicing in the Bible Belt. And I felt I wasn’t having conversations with people. People like what? Look at where you live? Why are you driving over so I can talk to people so I can get and listen to other people so I can make connections with people? I think that’s probably one of my more revolutionary acts. I have met the most extraordinary people, I have met people that have come to Nashville for duck calling conventions. I would never have spoken to people like this and I know this about them. They love their families. They’re devoted to their lives. And before I don’t think I even had the interest in connecting with them or the tools to find the commonalities with them, I have so enjoyed this last iteration of my Dharma practice, the roving dharma practicing listening Uber teacher. That’s a great story. I’m going to write a book about it. What I have encountered, the people I have encountered and the bridges that I’ve been able to do distinctly from my ability to listen and to work with that reactivity and to allow a person to be themselves. And in that moment, when I find in the car, when I allow a person, that authenticity arises and there’s a softness in there, I have not yet found one person I couldn’t find connective experience with, even in a five minute ride. I can’t even tell you what’s happened in some of the half hour rides. It’s been extraordinary. It’s transformed me, people, allowing me to see the true nature of themselves. Has it has helped me to open my heart even further? Yeah, as if that’s a great story. And it’s true that they just I mean, something is like mundane as driving and how you reinterpret that. Oh, it’s not mundane. That’s what I’m saying. Yeah, that’s what it’s the whole practice. It is isn’t. It’s the whole practice of the Dharma is to get outside your bubble and to be present for another human being. Yeah. In transition. Yeah. It’s even in the five minutes that the practice of awareness and presence, that it’s a give and listening people aren’t distracted. And just like because you’re present, it’s like, it’s amazing. You know, that’s you. And I have had seven or eight people in the last two months. Find me on Facebook. And this is not romantic stuff. Women from other parts of the country reaching out to connect with me because my name is unusual. They put my name in and Nashville, and I guess that’s how they find me. So those connections, those brief five minute connections reverberate enough for people to reach out to reconnect. And that, to me, is the answer to this healing in the country. What can I do to connect to other people in this othering? This everywhere I go, it’s they’re over there. They’re different than us, their other. How can I step into a place where I will when I say yes to the Uber? I don’t know who it is. I’m saying yes, and I’m walking that person into my dharma practice.
I think having a teacher like a teacher like Andrew Chapman at the center at Wild Heart Meditation Center, somebody who has received me with such openness and allowed me to see different parts of myself and enabled me by opportunity to manifest some of the teachings. The very teachings that I’ve learned from him into our own Sangha has been quite extraordinary. I know that when I reached a very difficult part in my life, Andrew showed up. I mean, he was right there. With the ability to sit truly with the lamentation of my heart without needing me to clean my face with a Kleenex that I was allowed to have my suffering and to see him from the teachings, he does great talks and there are podcasts of Andrew and I’ve learned so much from it, but really more I’ve learned from him. By the way, he executes the way that Dharma comes up in him, that softness and that trust that he had . Then, even in my darkest moments, he trusted, I believe, the dharma that was in me. And. I can’t tell you how I know without a doubt that that helped me survive my son’s decision to die by suicide. There’s this sense that Andrew allowed and trusted in me that even in this time of being taken by these worldly winds, that he would allow me space to create a group at wild heart. And I think that’s his trust is instinctual trust in his ability to relax and trust the Dharma himself. And that’s the most powerful thing is that he showed me. He shows me dharma and action by how he believes and how he acts.
How has the path manifest in your daily experience? Does it reflect in your work and relationships?
The growing space of awareness and softening from practice affects every relationship in my life. The easiest to put into words in my experience around the heart practices. When I first encountered Metta Practice, what roared up was an initial, fierce resistance. If anyone had asked me if I wished well for others, before this practice, I would have confidently, and indignantly, bellowed,” Of course!” This push back response to the phrases helped me see that I felt a deep separation from others due to a deep seeded program of scarcity mind. This relationship was stable across most of the relationships that surrounded me, except for perhaps, my children. “If you did well, if you were happy, there was a less chance I would be” was the silent echo in my survival brain, This is not what I believed about myself, but my body’s resistance revealed my truth. As I result, I became a wandering Metta practitioner. I went to malls, parks, I sat on benches all around town and began the practice of inclining my mind towards good will for others. I watched what prejudices arose from my conditioned mind while simultaneously experiencing physical sensations of the softening of my resistance and the opening of my heart. These continued practices of the heart, metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha have revolutionarily changed my relationship to my loved ones, strangers, those “difficult” people, to earth and it’s creatures and even to bugs. I occasionally now drive UBER as a roving heart practice. It allows me to practice mindful listening to wider groups of people from all different walks of life I would never have had contact with before. It is one of my antidotes to all this “othering” so pervasive in our nation right now. This has been a heart opening, sometimes, deeply touching and often riotous experience allowing me remember just how deeply we can connect to others.
Mara teaches Kali as part of her service practice.
Who is your teacher(s)?
My first teacher was Dave Smith at Against the Stream Nashville and now, is Andrew Chapman at the same center, renamed – Wild Heart Meditation Center Nashville. After a recent tragedy, I realized how important it is to have a practice/ and a mentor. When I was mired thick in grief, Wild Heart Meditation Center became the location of my first steps of healing. I was struggling to find an openhearted grief group and when unable to, I asked the center if I could start one in our community. Looking back now, I am amazed at how much Andrew trusted me to start and facilitate a grief group when I was still so raw. His trust in me and my practice and the connection to others who were grieving were the turning point in my healing. I realize that my practice was in a way returned to me by my teacher Andrew. The way he welcomed me back reminds me of how he speaks of returning to the breath. It is a gentle, trustful, welcoming back.
I am a Social Worker as well as stock trader and a Martial Arts and Pilates Instructor. Last month I debuted a new program Recovery Martial Arts. In addition, I facilitate groups at Wild Heart Meditation Center. My established Buddhist practice gave me a path out of the incapacitating grief after my 26 year old son chose suicide in 2017. My other traditional supports did not calm or catch me. The AA mantra of “trust god” , the platitudes from retreating,frightened friends, “he’s no longer suffering” infuriated me. I felt that black of separateness descending back around me again, but at a depth and velocity I could not comprehend. The starkness of that alone feeling in my grief, except for some calm at Wild Heart or when I was with my dharma friends. They allowed my suffering and didn’t flinch when I lamented.
It was the parable of the mustard seed that began to capture my attention. As my mind steadied a little, that powerful parable began to circulate in my mind. The Buddha taught about a distraught mother who could not let go of her dead son. She went from person to person to find the medicine to bring her son back to life. I understood that wandering as I spent hours and hours walking in grief a day. I was unable to sit, and I was unable to go anywhere where people were. It was suggested she see the Buddha for the special medicine for her dead baby. The buddha told her to bring him some mustard seeds from a house that had not experienced death for him to resuscitate her child. The woman wandered from house to house, hearing again and again, that more people had died in those homes that lived there now. I imagine she began to understand the impermanence of life, and from the eyes of those talking about those who had also lost, she began to reconnect to others and deeply know the truth. At the end of the parable she is able to bury her son and step into the Dharma.
This parable was directly responsible for me starting a grief group at Wild Heart. I remember speaking of the pain of losing my son and the woman next to me who had also lost a son, leaned in with the softest eyes. She knew exactly what I felt, and I began to heal. I am now working to bring a Survivors of Suicide Loss group and Response team to Nashville to widen out that connected healing opportunity for others who may be in the same cracked open, wandering condition I was in. That wish for healing and compassion to reach further and further out is a manifestation of the radical imagining contained in the heart practice so vibrant in my heart.
The Dharma informed me, my practice enlivened me and my sangha held me.
And I continue.
I watched what prejudices arose from my conditioned mind while simultaneously experiencing physical sensations of the softening of my resistance and the opening of my heart.