Search Results for: Stephen Levine

Noah Levine’s Revolution of Kindness

Noah Levine is someone whose name I was familiar with long before I had the opportunity to record with him last fall in Los Angeles. I’d been intrigued by his story. He was someone from my own generation, 20 or 30 years younger than the most prominent American-born Buddhist teachers. He had a punk sensibility and a made-for-movies backstory of anguished teen years filled with drug use, incarceration, and suicide attempts—all chronicled in his first book Dharma Punx.

Through Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, which he founded, Noah has worked to bring the dharma to inner city youths, prisoners, and many others. With his shaved head and tattooed torso featuring a giant OM symbol over the heart, he seemed like the quintessential outsider.

Yes, he was also an insider, inheriting a rich lineage through his father, Stephen Levine and his teacher Jack Kornfield. As I headed west for our recording, I wondered how those two strands would weave together.

Effortlessly, as it turns out. Noah’s desire to make the tools of meditation available to all certainly stems from his own experience as an outsider, and the sense of rebellion that fueled his teen years has not diminished—but now it’s turned inward, toward an inner revolution whose goal is ultimate freedom.

His teachings—especially on lovingkindness practice and what he terms “kind awareness”—fall squarely within the tradition, but have a flavor and energy that I find really resonate for me.

My usual meditation practice, such as it is, is simply to sit and see what arises. The more formal structure of lovingkindness practice took me a little while to get used to, but, while editing the program I recorded with Noah last fall—Kind Awareness: Guided Meditations for an Inner Revolution—I took time to work with all the guided practices, and I found them to be extraordinarily powerful.

In particular, I was moved by the practice of asking for forgiveness from those I’ve harmed, and in turning compassionate acceptance toward myself. Doing so, I discovered a tenderness just beneath the surface—one that, when I softened, brought me to a new sense of openness and quietude. If you haven’t done a guided lovingkindness practice recently, give it a try—especially if you ever find your meditation practice becoming dry or detached. There’s an emotional sweetness to be found here—right on the other side of our vulnerability.

Footsteps of Buddha, United States, 2005

Are You Enough?

By Mary O’Malley

Are you enough?  Take a moment and be honest with yourself.  Do you live with a sense that you are okay and life is okay exactly as it is? Probably not, because you, like most people, have been conditioned to think that you need to be better or different to be okay. This brings forth the belief that it is only when you get it all together (in the future) that you will be enough.

To get a glimpse into this constant seeking, ask yourself these questions:

Is your body enough because you have gotten rid of the weight, the wrinkles, the too big nose?

Is your mate enough, always relating to you in ways that you want them to?

Are your meditations enough, or are you always seeking for better states of mind?

Are your career, your finances, even your children ever enough in your mind?

If you look closely, you would have to say that, even though your life is how you want it to be for moments, your mind always takes over again in its endless search for lasting satisfaction. We are all like a hungry ghost searching, searching, searching. We seek and long and grasp at what our mind says will bring lasting satisfaction, only to get caught in the illusion that more, more, more will finally fill the empty hole inside of us:

You finally lose the weight and then think either you should lose five more pounds or you become afraid of gaining it back.

You find your perfect mate only to discover six months into the relationship that there are things about them that drive you crazy.

You finally get a raise at work only to find out that you’re living in the same financial stress because you can now buy fancier toys or more complex plastic surgeries, hoping that this will bring you lasting satisfaction.

Stephen Levine once told a story about a 93-year-old woman on her deathbed who said, “It can’t end now because it hasn’t started yet!” It is amazing that most of us don’t see this endless search for satisfaction and how unsatisfying it is in the long run.

If you look with great curiosity, you will see that this search for something out there – a skinnier body, a different mate, more money, deeper meditations, better sex, a happier mind, a fancier house, more, more, more – is a thirst that will never be quenched except for a moment here and a moment there. Read the studies on how much misery winning the lottery brings into people’s lives and you will see the truth of this.

What would happen if you discovered that there is a field of enoughness that is always with you? What would happen if you finally understood that the deep and lasting satisfaction you have been searching for your whole life is always here? To look for lasting satisfaction in the constantly changing flow of life is suffering. To relax the search for more, more, more and to discover an intimate connection with this living moment of your life is to finally come home.

I invite you for a moment to stop reading this blog and lift your eyes to receive your life. This is a unique moment in your life and it is the only moment that matters. See it as if you have never been on this planet before.  Even if you have been in this exact place a thousand times, still, it is brand new.

If your attention doesn’t yet know how to ground here, close your eyes and focus on all the sounds that are arising and passing. There are loud sounds like somebody talking in the next room and soft sounds, like the hum of your computer.  There are sounds far away like an airplane in the sky and there are sounds very close like your breath in your nostrils.

To truly listen to your life is to come home to the only moment that matters – right now. And in an intimate connection with Life the moment it appears out of mystery, you are no longer caught in the endless and unsatisfactory search for satisfaction.

Of course, when your mind sees this, it is very likely that its newest search will be to try to live in ‘the now’, for it believes that will bring it lasting satisfaction.  This doesn’t work! Why? For you are already in the now and any attempt to get there is just more searching.

But what you can do is remember that in all your searching you are already home. You don’t need to try to get here. Instead you can discover how to see and not get seduced into the endless search for satisfaction. Whenever you are caught in wanting things to be different than what they are, it can help to simply say to yourself, “This moment is enough, exactly as it is. I am enough, exactly as I am.”

In order to rest in your natural enoughness, it is important to recognize that nothing in this ever-changing world will bring lasting satisfaction. It can certainly bring temporary happiness and we can enjoy that happiness. But to require that Life, in its ever-changing flow, is where lasting satisfaction will be found is truly suffering.

You can also understand that life is putting you in the exact set of circumstances that will allow you to see how restless and busy your mind is in trying to get to the peace you long for.

You can also finally understand that it is truly a blessing to not get what you want. The pain of having your constant search blocked is the doorway out of the endless seeking and back into an intimate connection with Life. For, what is in the way IS the way!

If you are interested in exploring this further, I encourage you to visit my website and listen to my Radio Show. I am also offering a class on What’s in the Way IS the Way.


Mary O’Malley is an author, counselor and awakening mentor in Kirkland, Washington. In the early 1970’s, a powerful awakening led Mary to begin changing her relationship with her challenges, freeing her from a lifelong struggle with darkness. Mary’s latest book, What’s In the Way Is the Way, provides a revolutionary approach for healing your fears, anxieties, shame, and confusion, so you can live from a place of ease.


Shedding Anything Other Than the Sacred

Tami Simon speaks with Stephen Levine, a poet and meditation teacher who has worked counseling the dying and their loved ones for the past 40 years. He’s the author of the bestselling books Who Dies? and A Year to Live. With Sounds True, Stephen has turned his groundbreaking work from A Year to Live into an audio learning program, in addition to In the Heart Lies the Deathless, The Grief Process and, To Love and Be Loved. Stephen discusses the power of softening to our suffering, and living mindfully as a preparation for death. (52 minutes)

Unwinding Trauma and PTSD: The Nervous System, Somatic...

The mind-body connection is still a new concept in Western medicine. Descartes’s declaration “I think, therefore I am” encouraged many to view the mind as separate from and superior to the bodyfor almost 400 years! So, to understand the discovery of feedback loops in the nervous system linking body and mind is to undergo a major paradigm shift, with radical implications for how we view and treat conditions like trauma and PTSD—and how you can empower yourself around your own healing journey.

Why Embodiment Decreases for Trauma Survivors

Until trauma survivors feel their safety has been truly restored, their nervous system relies on defensive mechanisms like dissociation, numbing out, or immobilization. This can feel subjectively like becoming a two-dimensional “stick figure” energetically, with a body that’s barely there.

If you feel like you’re not really inhabiting your body, know that it’s not your fault and you probably had very good historical reasons to leave it. With recent advances in mind-body therapies and somatic psychology, however, there are many ways—when you’re ready—to safely return to experiencing your fully embodied self. 

Perhaps the most popular of these therapies is Somatic Experiencing®.

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing is a form of therapy originally developed by Dr. Peter Levine. It proceeds from the premise that trauma is not just “in your head.” Though you may feel off-kilter psychologically in the wake of trauma, you’re not “crazy”you have a nervous system that has been put into overdrive.

The body can’t distinguish physical trauma from mental or emotional trauma, and this leads the brain, once you’ve had trauma, to get stuck in a state of believing that you’re in perpetual danger.

Without a way to shake off the effects of having been in a dangerous situation in the past, trauma survivors disconnect from their bodies; the trauma gets “frozen” inside. With this frozenness in the body, your emotions can become dysregulated easily; you might at times feel spacey, agitated, depressed, panicky, collapsed—or all of the above.

Again, it’s not your fault that any of this is happening: dissociating and numbing are a natural  defense mechanism. Still, it may take some work, often within a therapeutic container, to start to “thaw” the frozenness or unwind the trauma.

Somatic Experiencing practitioners help clients increase their awareness of their kinesthetic, embodied experience, and lead them through techniques to gradually release stresses that have been locked into the body. Allowing both physical responses and emotions to come through, bit by bit, restores psychological balance and can help resolve even long-term PTSD.

How It All Works: Polyvagal Theory

Neuroscientist and psychologist Dr. Stephen Porges synthesized Polyvagal Theory as a way to explain human behavior in terms of the evolution of our autonomic nervous system. It not only provides a biological frame for parts of Somatic Experiencing, it has helped therapists develop a host of somatically attuned interventions and refined the way they interact with clients.

The centerpiece of Polyvagal Theory is the vagus nerve. This long nerve mediates what Porges calls the “social engagement” system. The vagus nerve’s ventral branch supports social engagement: a calm and playful, pro-social state. Its dorsal branch supports the opposite: immobilization (characterized by dissociation, depression, numbness, or “freeze.”)

If you undergo a trauma, the dorsal branch of the vagus nerve activates a state of immobilization. On the other hand, when you feel safe and embodied, your parasympathetic nervous system functions smoothly and you can (ideally) engage socially. What makes all this possible is neuroception, perception that takes place without our conscious awareness, tipping us from safety into other modes, like fight, flight, or freeze.

Clinicians trained in Polyvagal Theory support clients in making shifts in their autonomic responses, from “freeze” and shutdown to fight or flight—to safety—in order to restore a healthy range of responses and the feeling of being safe. 

Practicing co-regulation with their clients helps the clients to re-establish inner safety and other positive feeling states.

How You Can Increase Your Embodiment

Trauma severs us from our body, and embodiment brings us back. 

Embodiment practices like somatic therapies, qigong, and various athletic activities are some of the best medicine around for the nervous system. Even just taking a long walk while paying attention to your feet making contact with the earth can be quite supportive.

Sounds True also has created The Healing Trauma Program to offer support for your healing. The course has a faculty of 13 esteemed trauma experts—including Somatic Experiencing founder Dr. Peter Levine, Polyvagal Theory expert Deb Dana, Dr. Gabor Maté, Konda Mason, Thomas Hübl, and many others. The program takes place over nine months and is truly an immersion into the world of trauma recovery, with teachings, guided practices, live practice sessions and Live Q&As. Find out more about The Healing Trauma Program.