Feel and release what
arises, then let heart
finish what you
The skills of quieting, feeling, offering and receiving sometimes need clarification. Below I record several conversations about these four interior actions.
Questioner: I’m a beginning meditator, looking for a good technique. What’s the best way for me to quiet thoughts?
Tria: There are many ways: repeating a sacred word or phrase, watching the breath, focusing on the spaces between the words that compose your thoughts. Find a way that fits you—that gives you pleasure.
Questioner: I meditate by rejecting thoughts. I’ve been using this method for a while, but I don’t experience much silence.
Tria: How do you reject thoughts?
Questioner: I tell them, “No, not now.”
Tria: Instead of opposing thoughts, let feeling replace your thinking. Then explore whatever arises during meditation through your ability to feel—without moving into analysis or judgment. Eventually, the silence of the heart will emerge. When this silence is disrupted by additional thoughts, keep feeling heart; you do not need to reject this new string of ideas.
Questioner: But some thoughts—especially the ones fueled by emotion—are very commanding. I don’t think I would be able to stay focused on heart when they take me over.
Tria: When I’m overcome by distressing thoughts or emotions and unable to experience heart, I begin my spiritual practice by feeling whatever disturbance is present while at the same time releasing my pain into heart’s care. When eventually I experience the divine flow again, I allow it to complete the process of release that I—in my ordinary consciousness—began.
Questioner: What do you mean by “felt silence”? When I meditate, I just go blank.
Tria: The kind of silence I’m talking about is vibrant and alive; in this silence, I become more aware, not less. This is possible because I replace thinking with feeling: During meditation, I attend to the many sensations—physical, mental and spiritual—that animate my inner world.
Questioner: Do you ever use a method like a mantra during meditation?
Tria: Yes. Sometimes, when my mind is especially active, repetition of a sacred word is helpful.
Questioner: Are you really doing spontaneous meditation, then?
Tria: I’m not a purist in these matters. If a sacred word helps me return my focus to heart, I’m grateful. As long as my focus is primarily on my true nature, I believe I’m practicing spontaneous meditation.
Questioner: I’m going through very bad times and am upset a lot. Should I go into my dark emotions alone?
Tria: Are you able to feel your true self during this turmoil?
Tria: Then it is best not to enter those dark places alone. When we open to painful memories, we must simultaneously feel our true nature—otherwise, we can hurt ourselves. If you want to explore your distress, but are not able to feel heart at the same time, have someone with you (a therapist, a minister, a deeply wise friend, for example) who can feel heart for you. In other words, there must be someone in the room who can remain anchored in heart, no matter how much suffering is released.
Questioner: What do you really mean by “feeling?” Don’t we feel all the time? Right now, I have a headache and I feel that clearly enough.
Tria: Imagine for a moment that our inner world is like an onion. We have a center, which I call “heart” or our “true nature,” but many layers lie in between our ordinary consciousness (the onion’s skin) and our core, our divine essence.
When we’re in daily activities, most of us are only aware of superficial sensations, thoughts and emotions. To be in direct relationship with our core, we must “peel away” (feel into and through) the many layers of our personalities—beyond conscious ideas into subtle beliefs, embodied habits, and congealed emotions and memories. The closer we get to the core—where the onion sprouts new life—the more we are able to experience its regenerating power.
Questioner: In the Catholic religion, there is a stage on the spiritual journey that resembles spontaneous meditation. Medieval mystics describe this phase as “passive.” Why don’t you use that word?
Tria: I prefer the term “receptive.” In our era, the word “passive” implies that a person is inert—that his or her vitality is somehow impaired. But in spontaneous meditation, we are fully awake and alert, open to receive—to feel and to follow—the promptings of our true nature.
Questioner: In your essay, A Typical Session, you describe the four skills required to practice spontaneous meditation, but you say very little about the fourth skill, “receiving.”
Tria: When we quiet our minds and feel, we naturally enter a receptive state. In other words, receiving occurs effortlessly when we rest in a silence that is felt.
In spontaneous meditation, receiving is essential. Remember that the many forms spontaneous meditation takes are created, not by a seeker’s skill enacting traditional exercises, but by the divine flow and the meditator’s ability to receive it. In addition, if a blessing circle is to arise—if spiritual energy is to move within and between persons—every “giving” must be met by a “receiving.”
Questioner: Do you ever receive insights when you offer something to heart? If so, can you give me an example?
Tria: Yes. In the early years of my second marriage, I often turned to the river of love for guidance. In the beginning, there was a lot of love between me and Rich, but sometimes I felt hurt or angry anyway. Whenever I was distressed, I opened myself to God’s silence and waited. Frequently, I heard, “You think he’s your first home.” I understood this to mean that I was reacting to my new husband as if he were one of my parents. Equipped with this understanding, I released my distress into love’s river, instead of directing it at Rich. In later years, when I was upset, my heart’s voice occasionally explained my unhappiness by saying, “He forgot you.” In those instances, I spoke to Rich, asking him to remember me next time.
Offering a marital problem to heart helps me know whether the issue is rooted in my past or whether it is something to be worked on with my partner.
Questioner: I also get intuitions that tell me the right thing to do. They come to me all the time.
Tria: The process I’m describing requires practice, patience and humility. It takes discipline to distinguish between the ideas and sensations that come from the personality and those that arise from the silent depths of the God within. Part of spiritual maturity is learning to distinguish between the impulses generated by, for example, our hurt inner child, and those that reveal our true, divine nature. This process is sometimes called “discernment.”
Questioner: What do you really mean by “giving” to heart? Are you talking about “releasing?”
Tria: You may think of it that way if you like. My experience is that I am releasing to my true nature, with whom I’m in intimate relationship.
Questioner: What happens when you offer something painful to God?
Tria: When I make a gift of something disturbing, it usually transforms, either into another emotion or into its root thought. Sometimes it simply dissolves in divine love—disappears like a puff of smoke dispersed by the wind.
Questioner: It’s hard for me to believe that a painful emotion could disappear, just like that!
Tria: It would have been hard for me to believe, too, if I hadn’t experienced it many times. Occasionally, I’ve seen this process described in spiritual literature. For example, the American philosopher, Michael Washburn, writes in The Ego and the Dynamic Ground that our true nature is known for its “solvent” properties. Sometimes, when a troublesome thought or emotion comes into contact with our true nature, it simply fades away—the way a lump of dirt dissolves when it is immersed in a flowing river.
Questioner: Can you provide an example of how you give something to heart?
Tria: Let’s imagine that I’m about to meditate. I know I’ve been tense all day, but I’m not sure why. Scanning myself, I discover a hot pocket of anger in my belly. Opening to this anger, I may recognize what I’m angry about—or its cause may remain unknown.
When I open to my inner world, I also find the river of love flowing gently inside me. Since it is my desire to have more love than not-love residing in my body, I allow heart’s current to act within me. As it moves, the divine flow washes over my anger. Now touched by heart, my anger softens, then turns into sadness and I weep. While I cry, I keep feeling heart, which allows its current to bathe my sadness, too.
Eventually, the timer goes off, signaling the end of my meditation. By now, I may (or I may not) have completed the process of joining my sadness with heart: Perhaps my sorrow has dissolved into love; perhaps it sits like a soggy bog inside me. If I still feel sad, I am content, for today I have grown in self-knowledge. (When I began this meditation, I didn’t even know I was sad.) What’s more, I know that heart is always flowing inside me and that I can re-immerse this sadness in love another time. I know, too, that when I return to the day’s activities, I can keep offering my sadness into the river of love.
Questioner: I was taught to direct only positive thoughts toward God. So, I wouldn’t want to release something ugly—like anger—into divine consciousness.
Tria: There’s another way to think about your offerings to God. Imagine that your divine essence resembles a loving mother whose beloved child has been angry for hours. This child is so angry, she has shut herself up in her room all day. Finally, the child comes out of her room clutching a piece of paper and hands it to her mother. On the paper, she has drawn her anger in chaotic slashes of black and red. What would the mother’s attitude be toward this gift?
Questioner: The mother would feel gratitude—relief that her child has returned to her.
Tria: Our true nature is like this mother—always ready to receive our sincere offerings, whatever form they take.
Questioner: I’ve tried giving my problems to God but nothing changes.
Tria: Tell me what happens.
Questioner: Well, when something is troubling me, I give it to my Higher Power, hoping to be rid of it, but the pain doesn’t budge.
Tria: You are thinking of your “offering” as something unpleasant to be discarded. Instead, think of your offering as something valuable that you are presenting to a beloved.
Questioner: I don’t understand.
Tria: Recall what happens when you offer a present to a special person. First, you carefully select the gift, then you present it to your friend, hoping that it will express your love and deepen your relationship.
It’s possible to offer a problem—even something painful—to our divine essence with the same attitude. First, take time getting acquainted with the emotion or the dilemma. Observe it, feel its contours, colors, weight and texture. Once you are well acquainted with the gift, offer it to the God within, knowing that this act of self-giving will enhance the love-flow between you.
Try offering a situation or an aspect of yourself to your divine essence with this attitude and see what happens. But don’t decide in advance how God should respond. In true gift-giving, we leave the other person free, able to respond to the gift in her own time and in her own way.
Questioner: All these interior actions….I’m getting confused! Can you give me something simple to hang on to?
Tria: The Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, described several reliable routes inward. He’s best known for his method of self-inquiry, which begins with the question, “Who am I?” This method takes most people time to understand, however. Ramana described another path that can be summarized in only one sentence. To his devotees he said simply, “Give me your silence, I’ll do the rest.”
The Indwelling God extends this same invitation. To each of us, it says, “Give me your silence, I’ll do the rest.” Whenever we offer ourselves to heart with a quiet mind, allowing our divine essence to do the work of transformation within us, we are practicing spontaneous meditation.