About Heather's Teachings: Body, Heart & Mind

When I am looking at a new teacher to practice with, or even just wanting to ‘get to know’ a teacher better, I always wish that they have something on their website that talks a little about their Main Threads of Teaching, WHY different areas interest them, and HOW they teach on these topics. This section is designed as an attempt to lay out my primary teaching passions and areas of experience.

Awakening Through the Body:  First Foundation of Mindfulness
The Divine Abodes of Heart:  Lovingkindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity
Awareness Practice:  MahaSati

Awakening Through the Body: First Foundation of Mindfulness

When I began the practice of meditation at the age of 17 years old, I was in low-grade chronic pain from a car accident, my heart was closed due to family difficulties, and I had already learned quite well how to live ‘from the neck up’ in my head.

When I was invited to be mindful of the sensations of breath, I could not do it. Bringing attention into my body felt unbearable, and so I spent much time being mindful with a breath or two, followed by long periods of time spent in fantasy or rehashing the past.

Regardless, the dharma called to me, and I knew I needed what meditation had to offer me, so I continued my training. While my teachers offered constant encouragement to ‘bring the mind into the body’, I was not offered many techniques or tools to bring this mystery of embodiment into form. However, over time and with much struggle, I was able to ‘bring the mind and body’ ever closer together until they felt whole again. 

Because of my own difficult history with embodiment, I am passionate about supporting other practicioners in their journey with mindfulness of the body. My training in Somatic Experiencing and Hakomi Mindfulness-Based Somatic Therapy have both deeply informed the ways in which I creatively weave traditional meditation instructions, and teachings on the First Foundation of Mindfulness (The Body) with modern understandings and modalities. I offer specific meditation instructions to work with physical pain, which we all experience at times, whether chronic or not. In 2012 I began a personal practice of Qi Gong under the guidance of my friend and colleague Spirit Rock Qi Gong teacher Teja Bell, and include this elegant practice in a very simple accessible form in my teaching.

Whether you have a history like mine, or you find yourself moving faster and faster ‘from the neck up’ in our modern technological world, I would highly recommend you Listen to a Talk or Join me for a Daylong or Retreat on these important teaching and practices of Mindfulness of the Body.

   First Foundation of Mindfulness  2015

If you are interested in learning more, I’d suggest you:

  • Listen to more of my Talks on Awakening in the Body
  • Attend a daylong or retreat with me
  • And then contact me if you are interested in support for ongoing training & individual support.

The Divine Abodes of Heart:  Lovingkindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity

Due to the initial difficulties I had in my meditation practice in my younger years, from early on in practice my teachers suggested to me the practice of lovingkindness meditation (metta). At first, I also found the metta practice to be difficult, especially wishing metta to myself. I developed a theory that metta practice was a ‘pre-school level practice’ for people who could not be mindful of their breath.  
Goodness, was I ever wrong about that! All’s to say, that at first the Divine Abode Heart Practices were not my thing. 

Then one day on retreat, as I was recounting my difficulties with metta practice to one of my teachers, they looked at me with concern and said something like, “You are in pain. Maybe you need Compassion Practice.”

I always remember this moment, it was as if something 'lit up' inside of me. My face broke out in a big smile and I said,
“Tell me more about that!” 

From then on I began developing all of the Divine Abode Heart Practices (Brahma Viharas), starting with Compassion. I fell in love with them all.

I did not know until I began teaching retreats that it was quite unusual at that time for a practicioner to train equally in both Insight Meditation and the Divine Abodes. I would go to my annual Two Month Meditation Retreat and practice approximately one month of Heart Practice and one month of Insight Meditation. After a while the two trainings felt exactly the same to me, even though the forms and techniques of the training differed significantly.

I feel quite privileged for the circumstance of having Spirit Rock founding teacher Sylvia Boorstein be the teacher to both initially teach me the Heart Practices, and then later train me to teach them in retreats, and then still later to teach them with her in retreats. It is an honor to follow in her footsteps.

The form of Divine Abode Heart Practices I teach is originally from the Mahasi Sayadaw lineage in Burma, taught by Sayadaw U Pandita to IMS founding teacher Sharon Salzberg, by Sharon to Sylvia, and by Sylvia to me. We use phrases of well-wishing to collect the mind around friendliness and benevolence, supported by the optional techniques of calling up an image of who we wish well to, or how we feel somatically when we think of them. We work with the traditional categories, or ‘muses’ of those we wish well to, including ourselves, the benefactor (mentor/elder), good friend, neutral person (familiar stranger), difficult person, and all beings. I emphasize the importance of feeling the metta in the body and the heart, and allowing to it permeate our being and radiate out in all directions.

For a decade I taught at the annual winter January Metta Retreat at Spirit Rock and have many Talks and Guided Meditations on Heart Practice on www.DharmaSeed.org, as well as many daylongs and retreats elsewhere. I also work with students individually on developing a daily life Heart Practice routine. Some of my students have taken one month for each Divine Abode (metta, compassion, joy, equanimity) during all activities.  Others have taken long periods of time just to wish metta to themselves (no, it’s not cheating to do this!). Still others have worked with the traditional categories over time in daily meditation practice.

If you are interested in learning more, I’d suggest you:

  • Listen to my Talks on the Heart Practices
  • Attend a daylong or retreat with me
  • And then contact me if you are interested in support for ongoing training & individual support.

Awareness Practice:  MahaSati

Within a few years after beginning meditation practice, I was introduced to the lineage which would most inform both my practice and my teaching – the Thai Forest Tradition.

The teachers who most influenced and supported my practice and teaching in a variety of ways included: 
Ajahn Jumnien:     Teacher in my early years of practice
Ajahn Amaro:       Mentor during senior teacher training, and co-teacher at the SRMC Family Retreats & Teen Retreats
Ajahn Pasanno:     Spiritual advisor, and co-teacher at the SRMC Family Retreats & Teen Retreats
Ajahn Sumedho:    Inspiration, teacher at retreats I sat
Ayya Taatalokha:  Dear friend in the dharma, inspiration
Ajahn Sucitto:       Influenced by his teachings, though I don’t know him personally
Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Buddhadasa, Upasika Kee & other late masters whom I’ve studied and been inspired by.

Through a variety of interactions and teachings over the years from these teachers, I became aware of a vast body of teachings and practices pointing to the nature of Emptiness-Awareness. These teachings and practices transformed my mind and my spiritual life.

The Map of Awareness which I teach through retreats and Ongoing Training Programs is an acknowledgment that mindfulness matures through the training and leads to the transformation of suffering.

Basic Map from the Thai Forest Tradition:
-  Sati (Mindfulness)
–  MahaSati (Mindfulness of Emptiness/Pure Awareness)
–  SatiPanna (Mindfulness-Wisdom: specifically wisdom of the Three Characteristics of Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, Not Self)
-  PannaVimudhi (Wisdom leading to Letting Go-Release)

Other Areas I Teach Connected with Awareness Practice:

  • Embodied Awareness
  • The Relationship between Energy & Awareness
  • The Relationship between Concentration & Awareness
  • Using Maturing Awareness to Work with the Defilements
  • The Qualities of Spaciousness, Equanimity & Compassion as Reflections of Maturing Awareness
  • Diving Deeper into the World of the Three Characteristics (Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, Not Self)
  • Emptiness, Suchness & Letting Go
  • Integration of Deepening Levels of Awareness

There are many doorways and techniques to develop Pure Awareness (MahaSati). The ones I teach are inspired by the Thai forest tradition. 
A number of other teachers these days are offering teachings and techniques from the Burmese tradition of Sayadaw U Tejaniya. I’ve sat retreat with Sayadaw also, and find his teachings to be a delightful compliment to the very similar awareness practices offered through the Thai forest tradition.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest:

  • Listen to my Talks: "Mindfulness, Great Mindfulness, Wisdom, Letting Go", or MahaSati Overview & Guided Meditation.
  • Attend a Awareness/MahaSati retreat with me, which are offered mainly online these days.
  • And then contact me if you are interested in support for ongoing training & individual support.
  • If you are seriously interested in training in MahaSati, have sat residential retreat with me before, and have at least 30 days of residential reteat in Insight Meditation, please contact me about newly forming MahaSati Trainings serving students nationally and internationally.