21 December 2023

December 21 is a turning point. In the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest time of the year starts to have more light. As we pass the winter Solstice, we count on the nights to get shorter and the days to get longer. 

Yet for many, we are burdened with a different kind of darkness, the heavy weight of knowing that some of the suffering in our world won’t automatically get lighter with time. 

To bring light to this darkness, it’s important to start where we are at. We can be feeling rage, despair, heartbreak, collapse, fear, grief, guilt, shame, blame, numbness, and not wanting to know. When we are within our window of tolerance, we can have all of these feelings while having a sense of safety in our own body, and some capacity to be aware of our feelings and respond to them. 

When we can’t metabolize the suffering, our nervous system compensates. One way is that we can get outside of our window of tolerance. When this happens, the normal range of feelings then becomes exacerbated by being less able to track and respond to them. One of the first things that goes offline when we are outside of our window of tolerance is our capacity to make skillful choices and see things in perspective. We can feel on edge, startle at unexpected noises, have volatile emotions, or be numb.

When I notice this is going on, I recognize it. When I’m agitated, I prioritize calming down and restoring the feeling of safety in my body. Simple things like rocking, humming, nature time, singing, and spending time with loved ones help me. Once inside my window of tolerance, I have different choices in how I respond to the kaleidoscope of feelings that I may be feeling. 

When I feel rage, I honor the force coming through and recognize it as a response to harm and violation. I distill and funnel the raw energy into doing what I can to stand for justice, protection, and safety.

Let me take you back to a moment that still impacts me decades after it happened. Picture this: 20,000 Cambodian refugees gathering illegally to hear the revered monk Mahagosananda. He didn’t say a single word. Instead, he began chanting a well-known verse from the Buddha: “Hatred never ceases by hatred but by non-hatred alone does it cease.” Over and over, he kept chanting it, and slowly but surely, the crowd joined in. In the aftermath of their unspeakable suffering, they realized that revenge and hatred weren’t the paths to healing.

When questioning the impact of my actions, I hold onto this truth: even the tiniest light can dispel the darkness. Whether it’s simply bearing witness, standing in solidarity with those in pain, holding others accountable, or offering a small act of kindness—every single one of these actions holds significance and matters. 

When I feel despair at how humans can do unspeakable things to each other, it helps me to remember the shadow of monastic life. Even for people who are committed to non-harm, awakening, and have liberating teachings and a lifestyle to support them realizing it, the trauma that isn’t cleared out of a human nervous system perpetuates more trauma. 

When I feel numb, I know that as I have more capacity, I will again be able to feel and respond.

When I feel guilty for not doing enough, I have to reconcile the reality of what it takes to keep a roof over my head, food on the table, and stay healthy enough to function. Then I check if the guilt is an old voice that I am not good enough or an accurate assessment that I could be doing more. 

Love can touch what is unloved, in ourselves and the world. Love makes it possible to accept our humanness, the joy and sorrow we feel, and focus attention on what we value. We become a beacon of light when love speaks through what we do, 

In small and large ways, I’m grateful to be part of this community with you, in this human vehicle during this remarkable time to be alive. I’m grateful for your support, and the Awakening Truth community. 

With you by our side, we can continue to offer trauma-informed courses and programs that help us return to our window of tolerance and have more choices in how we respond to what is going on.



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04 January 2023


Thank you for considering me as your mentor. I value the chance to tell you about myself so you have more information to decide whether what I offer and how I teach is a good fit for your aims and values.

Some significant experiences include: Meditation Master Dipa Ma showing me how transformational loving presence can be. A bear (https://youtu.be/i0S-baljhh8) teaching me the power of refuge and surrender.  Being a Buddhist nun for 26 years showing me how to suffer wisely, and where to find joy, love and peace that’s innate. Chronic illness continuing to show me many things including finding the balancing between patience with things as they are and doing whatever it takes.

I am devoted to the pursuit and embodiment of truth personally, relationally, in meditation, and watching others grow. Being an MMTCP mentor allows me to do what I love.

I am passionate about cultivating connection, supporting individuals both in their Dharma practice and their growth as teachers. Regardless of the skill you have already achieved, I invite you to step into your full potential.

I thrive in contexts where everyone can show up authentically, lean into vulnerability and experience presence. This includes understanding how different characteristics of identity – levels of ability, race, sexual orientation and gender identity shape our experiences. As part of this effort, I also emphasize trauma-informed practices, and integrate them into every aspect of the curriculum, and where applicable in mentoring my students.

I invite you to be responsible – know your needs, advocate for them asking for support when appropriate and letting me know when I or another have done something to cause you to feel less safe. I will ask you to take leadership roles in both the peer and mentor groups.

You can expect me to refer to the early Suttas particularly when they differ from the teachings of Western secular Buddhism. I do this in order to empower you in your Dharma practice and in your teaching. My teaching style alternates from relaxed and conversational where I ask you questions to didactic where I share information.


I was born in 1962 and started meditating in 1979. My first Dharma teacher, Jack Engler, said, “you have to be someone before you can be nobody.” Thus, from the onset of my spiritual path, I have been interested in psychological development alongside awakening. As a gender fluid, queer, white woman of Jewish ancestry, with invisible disabilities, I understand the importance of belonging and the pain of not belonging. I speak intermediary level Spanish.

I was a Buddhist monastic for 28 years. My first monastic teachers were Ajahn Chah and His Holiness Dalai Lama. I became an Anagarika (postulant) in 1989 and received my first nun’s ordination in 1991 in England. I first started teaching Dharma to families in 1989- and ten-day intensive retreats in 1996.

I left formal affiliations with the Ajahn Chah Forest Tradition and returned to the USA as an independent monastic in 2009. The circumstances sensitized me to harmful patterns around power and privilege. Living in monastic communities in different countries for decades showed me several ways that ending of suffering required more than what was available to us from our meditation practices and ethical guidelines; particularly true when individuals were dealing with developmental trauma.

In 2010, I was part of the first dual platform Theravada Bhikkhuni ordination in North America with Ayya Tathaaloka. I co-created a 3-year training combining Dharma study and practice with leadership skills, psychological developmental and community building. I returned to civilian life in 2017.

I have had many teachers, Theravada, Tibetan Buddhist, Non-Buddhist, monastic and lay, and I feel grateful for all of them. Currently, I’m part of the Diamond Approach school – an evolving teaching that leads to the realization of the many dimensions of our human potential and our spiritual nature. My north star is the truth and so I’m more of a Dharma Cayote than a devote. Love and the power of the land teach me and support me every day.


CULTIVATING: Inquiry, ceremony, land stewardship, singing, writing, and dancing.

DISMANTLING: White privilege, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and climate chaos.


Awakening Truth Blog posts

Lions Roar

Inquiry Mind

Rebelle Society

Abhayagiri Reflections

Forest Sangha Newsletter


Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master

Knee Deep in Grace: The Extraordinary Life and Teaching of Dipa Ma

Freeing the Heart and Mind

Awakening Presence

Dancing with Dharma

Let the Light Shine


Dharma Seed

Awakening Truth

Read more about Awakening Truth here: www.AwakeningTruth.org

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09 December 2022

Why Compassionate Witness?

We live in a divided and increasingly complex society. Together we are experiencing the effects of a global pandemic, isolation, climate chaos, racial tension, hate crimes, political instability, war, disinformation, and more.  The way these compounding stressors impact us, interactive meditation can help us find balance and stability.


What is Compassionate Witness?

Compassionate Witness calls upon our shared humanity to embrace suffering. Through  inquiry-based mindfulness offered by team of Awakening Truth teachers, with presence and compassion, stress slowly releases and suffering transforms..


Compassionate Witness in practice

We begin with some basic guidelines to create safety and holding. Then offer a guided meditation to allow ourselves to settle. As we feel our bodies more, that invites sensitivity to the vast array of feelings, numbness, joys, and sorrows that may be present. We then make an open invitation for anyone to share about their present moment experience. When someone is speaking we  all practice deep listening, adding to the support and safety of the speaker. An Awakening Truth teacher invites pauses and asks simple questions to facilitate acceptance and letting go. In this way, as one person lets go, the group also can let go; as one heals, many of us heal.

How it evolved

Compassionate Witness  evolved out of the Interactive Inquiry calls we had for many years and more recently in collaboration with Anita Pottekkatt, Sunil Joseph and Brian Smith.

Compassionate Witness events with Awakening Truth

Every first Sunday of every month

9:30am-11:00am Pacific Time, 12:30pm – 2:00pm Eastern Time.

Zoom link here: Passcode: 082690

Next one will be January 1, 2023.

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16 June 2022

Emptiness and Attachment Trauma

In addition to giving us tools to live better, healthier, more balanced lives, the Buddha instructed us that meditation is designed to end different kinds of suffering. One kind of suffering ends when we stop speech and actions that harm others. Another comes from unhelpful ways of responding to our and others thoughts and feelings. Profound freedom, one of the hallmarks of the Buddha’s teaching, comes from a radical shift in our relationship to the experience of what is going on.

There are different ways we ordinarily think of ourselves. One is how we know ourselves. Another is how we feel. A third is the ways in which we perceive time and space.

In the first instance we can be filled with pieces of information about our body, history, culture. Yet, as we undergo spiritual practice, there can be a shift from knowing to being. Instead of knowing information, our way of knowing shifts to a quality of awareness, where we are focused on our quality of being rather than what we are knowing.

When we look at how we feel, we can see that sometimes we are filled with kindness, sometimes impatience and sometimes anger. The feelings change and yet they are connected to what we perceive. As we undergo spiritual practice there can be a shift from our feelings being connected to external circumstances, to having feelings of kindness, patience, or compassion that arise independent of external circumstances.

We can see an example of this when a monk who was entered as a prisoner of war was asked if he was ever in danger. When he replied, “yes, I was in danger of losing my compassion for my captors,” he was talking about the importance of holding compassion as a central value for his captors even when they were threatening his life.

While the Buddha wasn’t able to remove the pain and challenges that come from having a body that gets old, sick and dies, he was able to put the suffering of ordinary life into perspective.

The night of the Buddha’s enlightenment, he realized the luminous conscious awareness that is beyond old age, sickness and death. He spent six weeks filled with gratitude for all the people and supportive conditions that allowed him to experience this freedom. He went on to spend the next 40 years teaching about the ethical considerations, community guidelines, concentration and wisdom that would support others realizing the freedoms that are available on the gradual and imminent path.

Understanding attachment disturbance is also important for meditators as they approach profound insights. Before first experiencing emptiness or other non-dual mind states, which is a natural gateway to states of enlightenment, where there is no sense of solidity or separateness, a meditation practitioner is expected to experience fear. [vi] Speaking from personal experience and from mentoring my students, when attachment disturbances are present, the fear as one approaches emptiness activates the abandonment fear. This fear can to turn into terror.

Instead of this fear being something that one moves through as the solid sense of identity shifts, it activates a trauma response. Trauma has to be managed. It causes the person to back off from the perceived threat. When the terror doesn’t become a manageable fear that can be moved through, it becomes an obstacle to accessing or stabilizing the experience of emptiness, or other non-dual mind states. If one has had experiences of emptiness, and the attachment disturbance remains, then the access is often intermittent. This can cause either a doubt in the teachings or further doubt in one’s ability to realize them.

As attachment repair progresses, two significant results become possible. One is that the impact of living in a chronic state of fear and distrust is reduced. This has corresponding physiological, relational and mental health impacts. Another is that a significant obstacle that prevents the access and/or stabilization of non-dual meditation insights is removed.

Our attachment patterns have a lot to do with our basic beliefs in ourselves and the world around us. John Bowlby called this the “Internal Working Model.” As we have more and more experiences of getting what we need, even when this comes from our imagination, our attachment pattern starts to shift. With it our beliefs in ourselves and the world and the patterns of how our nervous system responds can all shift.

One significant consequence of attachment repair is that it gives us more capacity to release trauma out of our system. The significance for meditators is that with attachment repair, the fear that naturally arises as we start to have more direct experience of emptiness, is less likely to trigger a trauma response. Without a trauma response, we don’t have to back away from the experience. Instead, we can move through the fear. Moving through the fear that precedes emptiness, allows more access to emptiness. More access stabilizes the experience of emptiness. When we dont’ have to back away to manage the trauma response, we have removed a significant obstacle for accessing and stabilizing liberating insights that come from the direct experience of emptiness.

The direct experience of emptiness brings a radical change of perspective. With it new levels of joy and freedom are possible.

Equally importantly, when we do get triggered, which for most of us will continue, we have more capacity to see what happened and bring what’s needed to restore balance. Our resilience to navigate the changeable circumstances of life increases.

If more information about attachment repair interests you, please visit our Integrated Meditation page to learn more about the healing work that Awakening Truth is offering.

[i] Satipatthana Sutta Majjhima Nikkaya 10

[ii] Good enough parent is a concept deriving from the work of D. W. Winnicott

[iii] Dr. Ed Tronick notes that typically, a parent and their infant are in sync only around 20 to 30% of the time Attachment Theory David Belford, LISW, IMH-E July 2011

[iv] Nurturing resilience: Helping clients move forward with developmental trauma by Stephen Terrel and Kathy Kain

[v] Attachment Disturbances in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair By:Daniel P. Brown, David S. Elliott

[vi] The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha) by The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/mahasi/progress.html

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15 June 2022

I remember it vividly. I was sitting on the edge of my chair exhilarated. I entered a class on Buddhism in 1979. I was listening to Jack Engler tell stories of meditation masters he knew. The level of peace, joy and love they lived with seemed out of reach, not humanly possible. Yet, he was sharing stories about real people and situations he witnessed. I was gripped. I knew then, at the ripe age of seventeen, that I wanted to give my life to the pursuit of freedom. A month later I had a vision of being a nun. This vision, combined with my passion for truth, propelled me into Buddhist monastic life for 28 years.

All of my blood ancestors are Jewish. Jewish culture has never had monastics. I’ve often wondered, was it spiritual precociousness that led me into a deep immersion of spiritual practice? Was it a karmic ripening from a previous life that propelled me into something that I had no cultural context to know about? Was my determination part of an unconscious strategy to resolve trauma I didn’t know existed?

In hindsight, I suspect all of these motivations were playing a part.

Let’s shift to the Buddha’s teachings and map them onto the human experience of suffering. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, with the first truth being that there is suffering. The Buddha himself said that all of his teaching could be summarized as the teaching of suffering and the end of suffering. Yet, he didn’t talk about trauma. He talked about the suffering of physical illness, aging and death. He spoke about the impact of physical pain and painful mind states like restlessness, doubt, desire for sense pleasure and anger. He described the unsatisfactoriness that even pleasant things change and cannot be relied upon.

When we look at suffering, we can see there is a continuum from the most severe to the ordinary suffering that we all experience, to the most subtle suffering only the most spiritually mature beings describe. When we look at the most severe kinds of human suffering, we find trauma.

There are many different kinds of trauma. It can be situational, systemic, epigenetic , vicarious, developmental and compound.

Let’s go into each of these kinds of traumas and see how they apply to the larger picture of the Buddha’s teaching on suffering and the ending of suffering.

Situational traumas can be specific incidents such as an accident, invasive medical procedure, a natural disaster, a single event of abuse or ongoing abuse. It can be chronic in the case of a war, prolonged states of poverty or repeated events caused by climate chaos.

Systemic trauma is when the experience of overwhelm, hatred, lack of safety is perpetuated by cultural systems and policies. Beliefs that are enforced by communities and policies target micro and macro aggressions based on certain characteristics of identity.

Epigenetic trauma leaves a chemical mark on a person’s genes which is then  passed down from one generation to another.

Vicarious trauma happens when witnessing someone else’s trauma or by being nearby helping support another as they are processing trauma. Vicarious trauma is an occupational hazard for certain first responders and health care professionals.

Developmental trauma can happen when the basic needs of an infant or young child are not met reliably enough. Except for disorganized attachment, the other types are called attachment disturbances and are not technically considered traumas. Though for simplicity’s sake, I include all attachment disturbances in this overview.

Compound trauma occurs when two or more of the above traumas combine.

When we look at the Buddha’s teaching on suffering, he was talking about ordinary suffering, not the kinds of suffering present in trauma.

Just reading all of this is a lot. I invite you to pause. Look around the room. Look over one of your shoulders.  Then slowly turn your head and look over the other. Now look again and notice the absence of danger around you. When you notice the absence of scary people, scary things, scary smells in your immediate space and behind your back, what do you notice in your body? What happens? It’s good to take time and notice that you are safe. It helps to metabolize the impact of all of this intense stuff.

The Second Noble Truth says the real suffering wasn’t the pain, aging, death or that the things  we love change, it is our desire for the pain, impact of aging and the reality of death, the reality that what we love changes not to be there, for it to be otherwise. In turning towards our desire for it to be otherwise, the resistance can release. In releasing resistance, even when the unpleasant situation remains, peace can be found. The release of this resistance  to suffering is the Third Noble Truth.

Yet, when we look at trauma, our nervous systems go into a flight, fight or freeze response. We can’t turn towards the resistance of not wanting something to be there, because our nervous system is jammed. Furthermore, with most trauma it is potentially harmful to suggest that turning towards the resistance of the pain is all that is needed to find peace.  Usually, finding safety is needed first. Unjamming the nervous system second. Then, there may be the possibility to look at other teachings to find peace.

I share a story of Patachara during the Buddha’s lifetime. She was born to wealthy merchants and eloped with her lover. At the birth of her second child, multiple tragic circumstances happened in one day; she lost her husband, her two children including her new born baby and both of her parents. When the Buddha found her, she was so overwhelmed with grief, she was running naked down the street screaming. We don’t know what the Buddha said or did. All we know is that in the Buddha’s presence, she stopped wailing and put on clothes. In my reading into it, not only did she stop screaming and put on her clothes, signs she was following social norms, but it looks like she came out of a trauma response and she was calmed in the Buddha’s presence. This was all essential before she could consider the teachings. Once she had come out of a trauma response she was able to contemplate that nothing lasts. Only then did she experience peace.

Let’s look at a hypothetical woman, Joy. As a teenager Joy was raped. We learn that Joy’s mother was also molested as a teenager and didn’t have adequate support as a child. When Joy was growing up, her mother was not able to protect her and Joy grew up not feeling safe. Now let’s look at the culture Joy was living in. The culture valued men over women, men’s pleasures over women’s safety, power over, rather than presence with. Public policies and media supported rape culture. In this hypothetical example we can see Joy’s compound trauma as situational, epigenetic, developmental and systemic trauma nested together.

Joy is a meditator. She knows how to focus her attention. She knows how to use that focus to soothe herself. Sometimes she turns her attention to simple pleasures- a child’s smile, bird’s song, the gratitude for good friends, the sensations of walking, and kindness and compassion. Even when dysregulated, she remembers her suffering won’t last. Further, Joy’s meditation shows her that she is a lot more than her thoughts, feelings, sensations and the things that she has experienced. On good and bad days, Joy keeps alive the question, ‘what is needed now?’

Now what if I told you Joy is not a hypothetical woman? I am Joy.

Let’s pause. What happens when you let in the truth of my experience? What is present in your body? Heart? What impact does it have for you as you begin to parse how you have been dealing with the traumas of your own life and how your spiritual practice has helped or not helped you? Take as long as you need before continuing.

Meditation has been invaluable to me over these many decades. It would be hard to list all of the tools, supports and insights it has offered me. Yet as invaluable as it’s been, by itself it didn’t help me learn to notice when my overwhelm was taking me out of my window of tolerance, shift my focus then to notice pleasant experiences as a way to stay present with what was happening and not disassociate. Meditating didn’t help me understand why my tendency is to freeze. Nor did it help me identify and defend against micro and macro aggressions living in this world as a woman. Meditation didn’t help me see the pattern of trauma passed on by my ancestors. Meditation didn’t help me differentiate between the dark night of the soul, the natural fear before opening to liberating insights and the terror of a trauma activation. It didn’t show me how I was using meditation to solidify attachment patterns that no longer served me. Nor did meditation help me discern when turning towards pain wasn’t helpful. What helped me were all of the ways that ‘hypothetical’ Joy benefited from meditation. Being able to focus, soothe myself, keep things in perspective by remembering that what I am isn’t limited to the painful experiences I have experienced and that still may be in my nervous system.

I used confessions in the title deliberately. For decades I lived with shame because I sought out more support than classical meditation tools provided. My belief came from what was said explicitly and inferred implicitly; meditation should be enough. In several cases in the Buddhist community I lived for decades, those who sought support outside of the tools provided by classical meditation were shamed.

Blaming ourselves for not meditating correctly or concluding that mediation isn’t valuable are both unhelpful conclusions. The real issue is that when we presume meditation is able to do something it was never designed to do, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Releasing ordinary suffering and releasing trauma require different tools. Attachment trauma and distrubances are one of the many different kinds of trauma. The next two blog posts: Meditation and Attachment Part One Meditation and Attachment Part Two both discuss attachment repair in more depth. When attachment disturbances repair, we have a foundation of reslience from which the other forms of trauma can release more readily. For these reasons, I have interest in creating an attachment repair process to further support us to accept what cannot heal and heal what can.

If more information about attachment repair interests you, please visit our Integrated Meditation page to learn more about the healing work that Awakening Truth is offering.

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15 June 2022

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Wild Geese Mary Oliver

I love this poem because it speaks to the contrast between the reality that so many people experience the world and the possibility of how we can live. So many of us live with a great deal of suffering. Yet, the aim of spiritual practice, as well as the aim of attachment repair process, is to restore ease and simple joy into our lives.

The Promise of Meditation

The Buddha explicitly says that when practicing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness for seven days, dukkha or suffering is expected to reduce until only the most subtle forms remain or sorrow and distress are completely eliminated. [i]

Pouring myself into meditation at the age of seventeen, I was longing for freedom. In hindsight, I can see that I was hoping to use the liberation that meditation promises to deal with suffering that it isn’t designed to resolve.

Even so, meditation has been invaluable. It gave me pathways, philosophy, and a lot of tools to understand and manage the patterns I experience. I suffer less because of meditation. I have more access to loving kindness, compassion and generosity.  When I get upset, I have tools that support me finding balance, tranquility and equanimity, Yet, when profound insights fade, my same core belief returns. I have learned that when our core beliefs about ourselves or the world are coming from attachment disturbances, they are not easy to shift. The resilience of attachment patterns often interferes with our efforts to break those patterns. Since practicing an attachment repair process, my core beliefs are shifting.

Attachment: Same Word Different Meaning

The definition of attachment, according to Buddhist philosophy, is an unhealthy grasping of desire, anger, or views. Grasping at sensual desire often leads to more desire, not to contentment. Grasping onto anger often leads to more anger, not peace. Grasping onto views often leads to rigid thinking and an inability to see another’s perspective. All of these kinds of attachment cause suffering, which The Buddha teaches us to reduce or eliminate on the path to freedom.

Psychological attachment however, is the bonding that forms between caregiver and child. A healthy attachment is fundamental to well-being. Without it, humans wouldn’t survive.

We want to get rid of the attachment that causes suffering, and we want to develop the attachment that comes from caregivers; not only to reduce suffering, but for health and optimal well-being. It is important that we understand that this one word has different meanings.

Attachment Disturbance

We know from research that particularly during the formative attachment years (ages 0-2,)  exposing a child to five conditions will develop secure attachment. 1. Safety and Protection, 2 Attunement, 3 Emotional Soothing, 4. Delight in their essence 5 Encouragment to explore and develop. These five qualities lead to the child feeling, 1. Secure, 2. Seen and known 3. Soothed and comforted 4. Valued in their essence, and 5 Confident exploring the world and who they uniquely are.

When as children we received good enough caregiving, we learned to rely on our caregivers. We learned they will support us making sense out of the world. We learned what co-regulating and relaxation, balance, and safety feel like. Receiving good enough caregiving is a significant component of being securely attached. Some signs of being securely attached are that we have confidence that we will be seen, understood and there are people to make sense out of and be able to manage the inevitable challenges of life. We can be creative, imagining our future and exploring the world. We are able to discover and assert who we uniquely are. With these kinds of trust and confidence, we are not in a constant state of stress.

When we didn’t receive “good enough”[ii] care, it means that the above set of needs were not met about 20-30% of the time.[iii] Equally, not good enough means that ruptures were not acknowledged or repaired. It also could potentially mean that caregivers caused harm. When a child is reliant upon someone who is unreliable, dismisses their feelings, rejects or abandons them; when a child’s safety is dependent upon someone who harms them, they find ways to compensate. Compensation leads to insecure attachment strategies. In a child they are called anxious/avoidant attachment, anxious/ambivalant attachment or disorganized attachment. An insecure attachment strategy is a sign of attachment disturbance.

Insecure attachment styles help us make sense out of what is going on and to keep us safe. Understanding this helps us appreciate how adaptive our survival mechanisms are. Further, when we learn how our behaviors, relationships and core beliefs have so much to do with our early attachment patterns, and how resistant they are to changing, it can help us find patience.

Consequences of Attachment Disturbance

As meditators, we are reliant upon being able to perceive what is going on in the present moment. It is important to understand some of the ways that attachment disturbance changes what we are able to know. According to the work by Stephen Terrel and Kathy Kain [iv], some examples of these changes are:

1.     Becoming extra alert to signals of danger and missing neutral or positive feelings.

2.     Living in a faux window of tolerance, looking like we are calm, but actually we are anxious,

3.     Interoception  is impacted; we cannot feel and interpret correctly what is going on.

Becoming extra alert means that our system is hyper-aroused and we aren’t able to notice the neutral and positive feelings that can help us feel more calm. Actually being calm, rather than appearing calm, is important in how we are able to manage our internal state. When we cannot feel or interpret correctly what is going on, both of which are essential components of meditation, we have reduced our capacity to make meditation tools effective. Living in a faux window of tolerance means that we do not employ methods to calm ourselves because we don’t think we need them. Furthermore, our therapists and meditation teachers may not notice either. When we routinely miss neutral or positive feelings and live in a faux window of tolerance, stress compounds.

Stress increases cortisol levels, impacting blood pressure and heart rate. Our breathing becomes more rapid and shallow, causing inflammation, pain, and a myriad of health issues. Our physiology impacts our mind states. The more stress we experience, the more we are primed to look for and see danger, catastrophize, feel anxious, angry, out of control and overwhelmed. This contributes to feeling unsafe. Our mind and body then drive what we see and do in our relationships and how we feel about what is going on in the world.

When we understand the far-ranging impacts of attachment disturbances, it can motivate us to find ways to repair the disturbance and return to healthy patterns.

The Three Pillars Approach  

The 3 pillars approach consists of 1. Restructuring the Internal Working Model of attachment using co-created secure imagery of Ideal Parent Figures (IPF). 2. Enhance metacognition, or the ability to use the mind to analyze the mind, and 3. Enhance collaborative abilities.

Mentalization or metacognition is learning how to differentiate between our perceived experience and what is actually happening. As an example, if we are upset and feel sad, we can shift from the thoughts and feelings to the body sensations that underpin the sad feeling. Moving to observing body sensations makes it more feasible to stay present without getting caught by a whirlwind of thoughts and associations. Following a whirlwind can lead to further states of powerlessness or feelings of despair. The sadness is what is actually happening. The despair or feelings of powerlessness come from the way we relate to sadness. In this example, getting caught in a whirlwind of thoughts about all the reasons why we feel sad can undermine our ability to respond in a wise and compassionate way to the sadness directly.

Mentalization for someone securely attached is orders of magnitude faster and more accurate than for someone who has an attachment disturbance. As mentalization increases in accuracy and speed, an individual is able to know what they are feeling and sensing and make sense out of what happens internally as well as relationally. This then leads to more capacity to soothe oneself. This also means that the greater the capacity for mentalization, the more an individual will be able to use meditation tools effectively. Furthermore, one’s mentalization capacity is directly connected to one’s capacity to know and communicate what is going on, observe what you notice in another, resolve differences of perception and repair ruptures. All of this is necessary in healthy relationships.

Statistically, a majority of children worldwide have good enough caregivers and are securely attached. If you were one of the insecurly attached children, then you can imagine an ideal parent providing you with just the right amount of attunement, and encouragement that you need. Since the mind knows no difference, this can have a profound affect on the development of the Internal Working Model of attachment. You are more able to notice when you feel unsafe and imagine what you need to soothe yourself. As you experience more safety, stress levels decrease. You have more capacity to connect with your innate basic goodness and make choices and live from there.

The Spectrum of Human Development 

As a human being we are born, we grow and then eventually we die. These things are certain. What isn’t certain is in what ways we grow and how and when we will die.

When we are born we are completely unequipped to take care of ourselves. We are dependent on the care of those around us for our basic needs. Our psychological development has a lot to do with how those needs were met and how we were able to deal with interruptions of those needs.  As part of our needs are physical, our psychological development can never be completely separated from our physical experience.

Spiritually, we grow in different ways. There are gradual shifts that happen on a progression of development. We can grow in our ethical capacity to live with respect and honesty and refrain from causing harm through what we say and do. We can have increasing skill in dealing with the thoughts and feelings we experience in ourselves and encounter in others. This can be the capacity to soothe ourselves, manage difficult emotions and have kindness, tolerance, and strength to deal with challenges. We can gradually shift from knowing ourselves through facts and characteristics of identity to having more access to the quality of awareness and being present with what is going on. Ironically when we aren’t looking at mind states in terms of whether they are good or bad, it gives more capacity to be present with whatever is arising. More capacity to be with what is arising often means more capacity for skillful response. Then there are spiritual qualities that we don’t have to develop over time, that radically shift our relationship with what is going on. The particulars of how meditation and attachment impact this domain is dealt with more throughly in Meditation and Attachment Part two.

No matter how valuable meditation is, it wont by itself shift our attachment pattern. Yet our attachment pattern has a lot to do with how we perceive ourselves, the world and how much of the fruits of meditation we are able to realize. As meditators, understanding the impact of attachment and changing it from being an insecure to an earned secure attachement style will be impactful on our personal life as well as our meditative life.

Read Part Two here.

If more information about attachment repair interests you, please visit our Integrated Meditation page to learn more about the healing work that Awakening Truth is offering.

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06 March 2022

Spiral Sandollars in tide pool

Homecoming with Somatic Regulation

Anita Pottekkatt

When I heard about the Ukrainian invasion, one of my first responses was to take stock of the 13-gallon containers I have in my living space. My “stuff” resides in these containers. My fantasy is to reduce it so that everything I own will fit into a backpack. And at short notice I can move quickly and outrun fear and grief.

My great grandmother lived in an age when her cultural matriarchal family system was being ridiculed as primitive and had been made illegal by British colonization. My grandmother, married before puberty, struggled with shame around sexuality. My mother left the village for the city, hoping to find gender equity. I, hurting from the inter-caste tensions of my parents’ marriage and terrifying patriarchy, fled to the US as soon as I could. In the US, the trees are different from those in South India and I ached for my tropical homeland. My ancestors’ story, combined with the differences in nature, lives in me as a visceral belief that to be safe I need to be continuously on the move. I share my personal story to normalize any response (or no response) that you might have to learning about the invasion. What thoughts, dear reader, passed through your mind when you heard the news of the invasion? Did you notice situational, intergenerational or early childhood trauma being activated?

Lama Rod’s Seven Homecomings helped me meet my distress and integrate my heartbreak. Practicing them has helped me begin the journey of mourning the hundreds of thousands of years of grief that lives in my body, and to simultaneously connect to the hundreds of thousands of years of wisdom that also lives in my body. This is what Lama Rod’s homecomings mean to me:

1. ancestors. Those whom I have known, those whose names I know but died before we could meet, and those whom I have never known. I stay close to them through food, song, dance and storytelling.

2. elders. Those who are further down the path than me, and take time to guide me. My elders are Amma Thanasanti, Lama Justin and Dr Nida.

3. texts. My wisdom tests are the Pali Canon and the Heart Sutra. And also the Mills & Boons romance books that I read as a teenager in delicious secrecy.

4. community. My community are my friends and those with whom I can be and with whom I can do yoga, draw, cook, garden and play with animals

5. silence. The safe silences and stillnesses in which I can hear the wind and the rain. The comradely silence of friends.

6. earth. This North American mother earth who has witnessed so much pain, and holds me firmly.

7. myself. My wonderful, obsessive, playful, skittish, lucid and lovable self.

What are your homecomings? Will you pause here, dear reader, and make your unique, awesome list? When we have unresolved developmental or complex trauma, our ability to imagine shrinks. When we bring our homecomings together, it can help us collectively to find coherence.

Resma Manakam, another elder whom I am grateful for, has helped me somatically practice the fourth foundation of mindfulness – working with fears and uncertainties, and finding centering and joys. As you read them, I invite you, my dear friend, to try the ones that call out to you.

1. noticing exits. My ancestors couldn’t always escape. Neither could I when I was younger. But in this moment and place, I can. I frequently check where the closest windows and doors are. I particularly look behind me.

2. noticing and releasing tension. Sometimes it’s my jaw, sometimes my sphincter. I gently and briefly squeeze the area, and then rel-eeaasee. I make an extended sighing sound as I release. I encourage you to try doing this in a group, and relaxing into the collective sigh.

3. rocking. As many ancestors did with children. I rock and I sway. If you can, try this with a close group of friends, especially in times of grief and anxiety.

4. tapping. Sometimes as I rock myself, I will also tap a mysterious rhythm on my thigh or heart. In bed, I will tap myself to sleep, imagining a mother soothing me.

5. gestures. I stroke my chest (heart chakra) and rub my belly (solar plexus chakra), two important branches of the vagus nerve. Try this in concert as a group. Cup the base of the back of your head, where the vagus nerve starts. ONLY If you have the permission of someone close to you, gently cup the base of the back of their head while you both hum.

6. humming. When I am tired even OM (oo-aauu-mmm) is too much. I choose one of the three syllables, and hum in no key at all.

7. hand massage. My absolute favorite. I like gently massaging from my fingertips toward the heart center, to help any incomplete fight or flight energy move again.

Which ones did you enjoy? Do you think you might try one out the next time you are activated? Do you think you might try an activity with a loved one when you are sad or worried? Would you try some activities in a safe group?

Our elders remind us that we are not defective, nor are we alone. Of course, our grief is activated by the events of the world. Our elders also show us how to somatically grieve and find our strength together. Doing this, we come home collectively.

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02 March 2022

Am I Going to Die

by David White

“I am of the nature to grow old. I am of the nature to be sick. I am of the nature to die. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Before dawn, accompanied by song birds and Venus to the east, Amma and I climbed the gently sloping flank of Haleakala to greet the sunrise. What good fortune to be visiting Hawaii, and to accompany a kindred spirit on her birthday morning adventure. The invitation was to visit Fagan’s Cross, high above Hana, to give thanks and to set our intentions for the year to come.

At the foot of the cross, Amma quietly created a beautiful “Ofrenda”, an offering of fruits and flowers, traditionally part of the Mexican Día de Muertos celebration. We sang and prayed as the Sun rose majestically from the shining Pacific. Standing at the altar, the breath quietly rising and falling, there was a deep stillness… Moved by the beauty of Amma’s birthday offering, I shared the following practice. It comes with a bow of gratitude to hospice nurse and doula, Redwing Keyssar, who has introduced it to many. I hope that it will speak to you as well, and if so, that you’ll share it with others.

Taking a full, centering breath, I began by asking: “Amma, am I going to die?”

She responded in return,

“Yes, David… You are going to die.”

Taking another deep breath, straightening my spine, I placed a hand on my lower belly to help stay as grounded and present as possible.

Then Amma asked innocently,
“David, am I going to die?”

The force of her question bridged the space between us. “Yes, Amma, you are going to die.”

Her eyes were closed and her face serene. Mine were open, softly focused, aware of the sun’s radiance and the ocean’s embrace.
Let me elaborate for a moment before returning to the practice.

As you well know, it’s often uncomfortable to talk about our death. So why go there? One answer lies in the ancient Buddhist practice of Maranasati, the contemplation of death. Handed down through the ages, it is a meditation on impermanence and the truth of our mortality. While for some it may trigger a flood of resistance, for others it may bring a renewed awareness of the immeasurable gift of this lifetime. At the heart of the practice is an energetic sword, capable of cutting through delusion while nurturing acceptance. When Amma shared her recent experience of being swept out to sea, and narrowly rescued, this practice came to mind. I imagined that sharing the practice might help integrate her recent brush with death.

Next, as in a jeweled mirror, the question and reply were allowed to be heard not separately, but viewed, felt and experienced as a unified field.
“Amma, am I going to die?”
And her compassionate reply became Manjushri’s sword, capable of cutting through duality and imparting transcendent wisdom.

“Yes, David… You are going to die.”

Watching my thoughts arise and fall away, my belly softened with each breath, allowing more energy to be freed up. Aware of emotional protection around my heart, I invited it to soften as well, allowing the full truth of this moment to make itself at home.

Now came Amma’s voice, like a temple bell, as if Quan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, were present.
“David, am I going to die?
And the fearless reply,

Yes, Amma… You are going to die.”

In keeping with the Noble Eightfold Path, this simple practice simultaneously embodies Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. What an efficient way to bring the mind home, while noticing my enduring attachment to permanence, and hence suffering.

What better time to practice than when I’m relatively healthy. Why wait to join this ‘workshop’ until I’m sick, perhaps disabled and nearing death? The heart of the practice — a piercing question and reverent acknowledgement, are worthy of daily reflection.

As we began the third and final round,
tears of joy welled up inside me.
“Amma, tell me… am I going to die?”
With loving kindness behind each word, she offered: “Yes, David… You are going to die.”

The gentle waves of her voice landed on a quiet beach, followed by waves of gratitude and wonder.

With a voice reflecting decades of devoted practice, again the question,
“David, tell me… am I going to die?”
And as if it were unfolding this very day, this very moment, standing together now at the threshold,
Yes, Amma… you are going to die.”

Then pausing, breathing deeply and fully, we bowed at the altar. Invigorated and at peace, we turned toward a new day.

David White


David White works with seriously ill patients and their family members as a full time, senior chaplain at Reading Hospital; a 650 bed, Level 1 Trauma Center in Berks County, PA. David currently coordinates “One Million Pledges”, a national campaign to address one of our culture’s most self-defeating taboos, our stubborn reluctance to discuss death and dying. To learn more, please visit: onemillionpledges.com
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06 January 2022

What I’m about to share is my inquiry after being caught in a rip tide. The blessing of connection is that you can, by virtue of your willingness to read this, be able to spark your own inquiry without having to be caught in a rip tide yourself.  I offer this inquiry tenderly. I’m cognizant that many of you are overwhelmed and only just treading water with all the deep currents you are navigating yourself. For you, contemplating kindness, all the ways you are resourced and your innate goodness may be more helpful. Be discerning in your choice to read further and know that I’ve got your back as you do.

For those of you that have the inner ground and a measure of quietude and could use some more energy investigating, I trust sharing these reflections will spark your own waking up to what is here, now, and the blessings of our connection together. Sharing together and supporting each other waking up, is part of the grace of our connection.

On December 28, I headed for Hamoa beach a mile away from where I live that I swim at regularly. It was midday and there were about 100 people on the beach and about 30 in the water. The waves were intimidating. I went in anyway.

After swimming twenty minutes parallel to the shoreline, I noticed that I was suddenly 1000 feet away from the beach. I tried swimming to shore but wasn’t making traction. I started feeling tired, scared. As the waves crashed over me, I swallowed water. I made a clear determination not to follow the fear that was starting to take hold. I flipped on my back to float and deliberately relaxed. What were my options? I had to cut across the current. One direction was towards rocks and was hazardous, but was 75 feet compared with the 1050 feet to arc past the current to the sandy shore. Assessing how tired I was, I chose the short distance even though I didn’t know how I was going to manage the rocks, made more treacherous by the waves crashing on them.

Out of the blue, a surfer appeared. He suggested I hop on his board, which I did gladly. He held onto the board, and pulled me out of the current. Then another surfer appeared with a thick wide board that rode much higher in the water and was a lot faster. On it, I made it to the shore quickly. I was tired, but not scared.

On stable ground, I went back to the surfer that orchestrated the rescue to thank him. He said,  “10 feet further out, you would have been beyond rescue.”

I let his words sink in. Recognizing how close I was to being taken out to sea and the prospects of drowning, I deliberately held the close proximity of death as an inquiry to see what might emerge.


Inquiry takes a question or a topic and keeps it alive, returning to it over and over, watching what emerges. Inquiry is an investigative practice riding a current and watching what gets revealed. I notice body sensations, tightness, contraction, absence of sensations. I notice characteristics of identity. I notice patterns, beliefs, and qualities of attention. Inquiry does not seek to change anything. It simply allows what is to be as is. Yet the miracle of inquiry is that awareness and presence with things as they are goes into ever deepening investigations. These reveal the structures of my ego as well as the qualities that are timeless and ever-present. What follows are highlights from my inquiry on death.


I live with assumptions. I live thinking that I will breathe in again and you will have another breath too; that the conversations we started, we can finish another time. I live with a pervasive sense that there is time and a future and I can rely upon both. One reason for responding to the immediacy of the present moment is from urgency—it is all that I have. It’s a sign of health to shift out of survival into something more stable, where there are choices beyond the immediate moment. Here on solid ground, I have a choice to stay with the proximity of death as an inquiry. My choice is deliberate.


The close proximity of death has me focus on relationships. The first thing I notice is that I don’t know what would have happened if the surfers hadn’t come. In the absence of knowing, I lean towards my intuition, and recognize it is likely I wouldn’t have lived. So all of a sudden, my life is linked to these surfers, who before this event were complete strangers.

What’s Unfinished

Questions emerge about what is unfinished and what conversations are needed so that I can rest in peace? Who do I need to repair with? Who do I need to express my love, affection and appreciation?  As individuals and groups come to mind, I feel clear about who to reach out to in the immediate future, and the types of conversations I would like to have.


I evaluate my values and choices. Do I live with the authenticity that makes me feel alive? Am I trying to purchase a sense of belonging by sacrificing what I value? When I look at my daily life, where do I lean into the short term gratification of puzzles or doing something else I’m good at, to defend against the tide of anxiety, uncertainty, and an amorphous feeling of badness?


I wonder what happened in my family system that when I’m not able to get out of something by myself, I’m left with a feeling of badness or that I’ve done something wrong? I feel into what gets activated when I ask for help. What part of me goes numb or contracts accepting the help that is on offer? What keeps me from living where there is a flow between effort and surrender, independence and interdependence, between will and vulnerability/grace? It’s very common when things are out of my control that I take it personally. I wonder why that is so.


Once again, I can attribute being alive to the teachings and practice managing difficult mindstates and not succumbing to panic. I eat my food, tasting it as if for the first time. See friends as if for the first time. There is less holding me apart from the immediacy of the moment. Less keeping me from the truth of what is arising. Uncertainty is always here. The truth is that we live every breath never knowing if there will be another. Yet, our lifestyles are organized around not examining this regularly. Neither do we keep this knowledge hovering on our shoulder like a wise friend reminding us to explore our choices to check if they are aligned with our values.

Mixed Feelings

After a week, I have mixed feelings. Before my heart breaks bigger from personal or collective suffering, I usually feel weary and tired. As I observe my own slow process of waking up and how slow we are waking up globally to the conglomerate of challenges we are facing, I wonder if I missed an opportunity to do more.


Independent of what I think and feel, my body has its own response towards the proximity of death. Once I let in how close I was, I was shaken. Fear took hold. Bodies don’t like to die. Unraveling this fear has coincided with spontaneous body movements quivering and shaking, needing extra sleep and allowing emotions to flow.


Restless and unable to sleep, a holographic whale appeared in my mind. I heard a loud booming voice, “I told the surfer to look out at the ocean. I was the one who saw you were in danger.” My body calms. I rest deeply. In the morning when I wake, I feel a brightness that I cannot place. I don’t try to figure out why.

This past year I have gone into and through a dull ache, an emptiness that comes from the absence of presence. This emptiness has tendrils showing up as contraction in my body, reactive patterns around loss, and shows up in my beliefs. When I allow it and stay with it, the empty vacuousness changes. Ever so slowly it has become full of presence. This gives me faith in the process.

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