This is the second in a series of writings based on my recent experiences in Rwanda

It is the last day of the retreat; I am walking with Claudia (name changed for confidentiality), a new Rwandan friend.  Earlier in the retreat, she asked for guidance in meditation to help with painful thoughts that won’t stop.  I am grateful for the opportunity to offer some guidance. 
On this day she tells me about the killing of  her parents and four of five siblings when she is about 6 years old. A Hutu man protects her.  Later he is killed by other Hutu’s angered at his kindness. Luckily she meets her one remaining elder sister who can take care of her.  Being with this tender young woman, bearing witness to her courage, pain, intelligence and life-forward intention my heart is deeply touched.

Zen teacher Bernie Glassman has created forms for bringing the practice of sitting meditation into social action.  The “Bearing Witness Retreat”. For more than 20 years, the Zen Peacemaker Order (ZPO) has been conducting these retreats at Auschwitz and Birkenau, the concentration camps in Poland.  About 6 years ago members of a Rwandan reconciliation group, Memos-Learning from History attended the retreat and asked for something similar in their country.  This retreat grew from that request.

ZPO has three main views or tenets: 1) Not-knowing (putting aside all opinions, conclusions, and certainties), 2) Bearing witness (being present with all the joy and sorrow within the situation you are in and 3) Loving actions (if some beneficial possibility arises to offer your care).

At Auschwitz the practice is to invite healing by being present with the suffering of all beings: prisoners, guards, survivors, the dead and the land itself.  Through meditation, chanting of names of the deceased, respectfully walking around the entire site, the history is recalled and experienced with tender, open and broken hearts.

In the unique situation of Rwanda, where every person is carrying the trauma of the recent past (see previous writing), sitting with the intention of Bearing Witness is a huge challenge.  Our group of about 56 was equally divided between Rwandans, plus two Congolese and westerners from seven different countries. We went every day to the Murambi Memorial Site, a place where 50,000 people were massacred. 

Each day we would start “council” sitting together around a candle and some sacred objects with the intention of speaking from our hearts. Being in the presence of authentic, heartfelt, truth telling allows an intimacy and trust to grow.  Bearing witness to ourselves and to each other creates a healing environment.  The power of humans connecting from their hearts cannot be underestimated.

Each person, African or westerner, was processing deep personal and societal wounds through the power of the Memorial site.  In numerous rooms, lying on wooden tables, there are many skeletons including babies and children that have been preserved in lime emitting a sickening stench.  The smell lives in my nostrils.  The bits of clothing and tufts of hair make this so indelibly real. The idea is to make the reality undeniable. As with the German holocaust, there are those who will deny or minimize the horror.  We must create conditions so that humanity never forgets that this is possible.

In the first days we meditated by the mass graves sometimes in silence and at other times reading the names of the dead.  It took some time to realize that this was socially inappropriate and very frightening for the Rwandans.  The next days we sat in a more neutral setting at the Memorial Site and spoke the names there.  For me, saying and hearing the names was very important.  As I said in my previous writing, I cannot process a large number of deaths, my body goes numb.  With each name, I can sense this one individual and my heart gets torn open.  Maybe this kind of remembering brings some kind of solace to the soul of that person, this I do not know.  I do know that in the process of remembering, in experiencing our heart connections to unknown people, we become more human.  I had the added potency of reading names on Good Friday, recalling the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross in this Christian country added a whole other level of meaning.

In the evenings we would hear “testimony” from members of the three groups: Survivors, Perpetrators and Rescuers.  Hearing the stories of people who I was getting to know was the most compelling, heart wrenching part of the whole retreat.  People just like you and me went through these experiences.  I could feel my deep inner connection to each person and each story.  Each individual is part of a whole family of tragic stories.  Through the eyes and words of one person, their relatives also somehow appear in the room.  This experience lives deeply in my heart.

 (In the following examples from our group, I altered their names for confidentiality. Some of these stories are very challenging to read, some readers might choose to skip this section.  I offer them not to shock but to awaken our hearts. Listen well to your inner life and take breaks as needed)

Anna tells her story of hiding in the marshes, crawling in the mud with snakes for many days.  Dead and dying bodies would surround her. Teeming with lice and desperate with fear, she experienced the daily struggle to survive.  As she spoke, sitting nearby was Aaron the man who cut off her hand and helped kill her family.  Aaron expresses sorrow for his actions yet his testimony, which includes various deflections, does not satisfy many of the Tutsi’s who are present. Is the greatest expression of human compassion, forgiveness, even thinkable?

Rosanne, a Hutu sat with Theodore, a 31 year old Tutsi man who she saved when he was 11, at the immediate risk of her own life. Her husband was scared and angry that she was saving Tutsi’s. Theodore’s family had been killed while he escaped by running and hiding. After 5 days without food or water, Rosanne came upon him.  Rather than turning him in, she sheltered him.   How does one person find such courageous kindness when almost all others cannot?

Jeannette, participating in the retreat with her 21-year-old daughter Paula showed us the place where she hid 20 years ago holding Paula to her chest.  She had watched as her husband and two sons were killed nearby.  She was attacked with rocks and barely escaped. What lives in mother and daughter after such an event?

Roland is an ex-Belgian soldier who tried to help in Rwanda gave his harrowing, tearful story for the first time in 20 years.  What does it mean to help in such a situation?  The Belgian government was part of the horrific, colonial history that created the great division amongst these people.  What is our collective responsibility for the actions of our governments?  As an American, I have my first experience of collective shame for the actions and negligence of my country as I sit with all these people.

Can we see that every one of us is a survivor, a perpetrator and a rescuer?  Can such an extreme situation as Rwanda help us to reflect on our own life?

Within me is one who has survived challenging situations.  I am also a survivor.  Raised by alcoholic parents, my mom dealing with manic-depression, I witnessed some harrowing scenes.  Attacked at gun point while counseling a distressed ex-convict at a drug rehabilitation center, my life was threatened. As with all of us, my list goes on. While my challenges were not near the level of my Rwandan friends, it is not helpful to compare suffering.  Mine is mine. Yours is yours. Had I been born elsewhere I might have been one of the survivors in Rwanda. 

I have perpetrated violence on others in my life.  Whether through word, thought or deed I have violated others. At times I have asserted my desire to dominate others, through the use of my voice and intellect. As a young man I hit people with my fists.  I have often treated the earth with carelessness as if I had dominion over it. Also, who has not violated their own bodies, by treating it as an object to be manipulated.  Who has not violated their own inner life with vicious judgments? Our self- talk can be filled with much violence. For deep healing to occur these perpetrations must be seen, acknowledged and alternatives uncovered.   From my point of view, we do not have the right to violate the sanctity of LIFE even when it appears to be OUR life.  Life is a gift that requires our care.  Seeing all this,  I recognize that had I been born elsewhere I could have been a killer.  It is the same impulse toward domination of life that exists in me acted out in another social milieu. 

I have rescued others in my life.  Who has not served as the dove of peace and healing in at least some situations?  Who has not protected the weak, fed the hungry at least some of the time? I have been blessed many times in my life with opportunities to offer healing, solace and care. Had I been in born in another place I might have saved some threatened people.  

In The Embodied Life work we speak of being present with all that arises in body, feelings and thoughts.  I use the term ‘presencing’.  This is the same as “Bearing Witness”.  Holding presence for our inner world and/or our external situation is the essential ground for healing.  Anything exiled from our care will remain unprocessed and therefore keep us from feeling whole.  All that is rejected must be carried as a kind of tension in our bodies and will create a closing of our hearts. Opening to the entirety of life, to the inner and outer suffering as well as to the joy is our collective direction.

Integrating my experiences from Rwanda brings vivid questions to the fore: when do I turn my back on life?  How do I turn away from the suffering within and around me? What in my inner and outer world do I exile from my realm of care?  For me this is clear- bearing witness or presencing is the ground of true healing for individuals and for our world.

In my third writing, I will explore the process of integrating this learning and implications for the future.

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Recently, I wrote in this newsletter about an upcoming retreat in Rwanda. I have now returned. Over the next days I will be send three pieces of reflections.

As most of you know, I recently participated in a “Bearing Witness Retreat” sponsored by both the Zen Peacemaker Order, based in the U.S. and Memos- Learning from History, based in Rwanda in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Having just returned, I am both deeply grateful for the inspiring human beings I have met and reeling as I process what I have experienced. I come away both devastated and extremely hopeful for our potential as human beings.

Brief history: in 1994, inflamed by their leaders, the largest group in Rwanda called Hutu’s, went on a 100 day rampage of collective insanity with the intention of eliminating the minority, yet socially dominant group, called Tutsi’s. This genocidal campaign in which neighbor turned on neighbor with machete’s and clubs is perhaps the most violent short term instance of genocide in human history. (Note- there is, of course, much more to the story and many angles: how colonialism worked to divide people, aggressions by the Tutsi’s etc., I am only focusing on the specific genocide in the spring of 1994.)

“Genocide is not one million deaths, it is one death a million times”
(quote seen in the Rwanda genocide museum)

We are in the genocide museum in Kigali the capital of Rwanda. The history of these incomprehensible acts is presented through words and large panoramic pictures. I see Allison (name changed for confidentiality), one of the Rwandan retreat participants lingering in front of one picture. Although we do not share a common language we have exchanged deep, warm looks over the previous day.  As I stand next to Allison she leans into me. I put my arm around her. She points to the picture: the woman in the picture is missing much of her right arm as is Allison. The woman in the picture has a large cut on the right side of her face as does Allison. Suddenly I see- we are looking at Allison!

I discovered that it is impossible for me to process so many deaths. My body freezes, a lump in my belly won’t move, stuck like an undigested mass. The feelings can not move. When I sit with one person, someone with a name, perhaps their picture, then I can feel my heart torn open and the visceral feeling can actually move through my body. My love and care can come forth. The pain of one is more real that the mass of bodies. Yet to experience this one million times is impossible.

Genocide is a rather new term created in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish born Jewish-American jurist to signify the attempt to exterminate an ethnic, religious or racial group. It is more than war for territory. It is the ultimate demonization of a group of people. It is the creation of Us and Them.

Genocide and Otherness

Us and Them. This is the question for all of us.  Who is other? Who do we deem unworthy of life? Close to a million people viciously killed by their neighbors. How is it possible to take this into one’s heart? Each one of these people was an individual- a mother, a daughter, son, brother, father. This is not mass killing, it is one real person at a time receiving machete blows or clubbed to death.

Yet this is one instance of many just in the 20th century. Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Armenia, Kosovo and others. We humans do such things, how can we understand that? In each case the group to be exterminated (note the word itself implies insects or vermin) is made to seem less than human.  Even in “regular” war soldiers need to create names for the enemy to put aside their connections to humanity. In Vietnam it was “gooks” or “slants”,  language used to dehumanize. In Rwanda the Tutsi’s were called “cockroaches” and “snakes” even on the radio and in song.

Roots of Genocide in Everyday Life

I notice we even do this with our ordinary insults of the “other”. Much of our profanity and name-calling has this same message. In politics, calling people “right wing nut jobs” or “socialist a…holes” has a similar intention. It is so easy to create ‘enemy images’ and thus cast-out people from our sense of common humanity and field of caring.

Perhaps we can see the roots of this malicious casting-out in our own self-violence. Our often mean spirited inner dialogue has an intention of exiling that which we can not tolerate. We can not really heal (make whole) anything that has been exiled. Every inner voice is part of who we are and needs to be integrated into our Being. This is true internally and equally true of society’s outcasts- the homeless, the drug dealers, the corporate polluters, and child molesters. How do we learn to differentiate the behavior from the person? We need to vehemently say “no” to certain human actions without casting the person out of our heart. This is the lesson of most genuine spiritual teachings. This is the lesson of good parenting. This is lesson of genocide. Dehumanization is the polar opposite of interconnectedness.

If Africa is the cradle of human life, Rwanda sits near its center. How startling to experience both the greatest darkness and the greatest potential for healing coming forth from one location. Somehow, healing (again, making whole) must occur or the killing will repeat. Rwanda is a potent learning opportunity for humanity. It is not “them” over “there” but “us” over “here”. “They” did not do this to “them”, “we” did this to “us”. We must see our own potential for inhumanity, for unconscionable mass behavior and the implicit dangers of group-think.

The goal in Rwanda is reconciliation. Here in the smallest, most densely populated country on the continent, these people must live with each other. There is no place to move to and they need each other to survive. As most Tutsi’s will tell you, forgiveness is not yet possible. Perhaps some day but not yet. There is a deep, deep level of mistrust. Tolerance of each other is the beginning. This can be followed by some normal human interactions. Working in the fields or meeting in the marketplace. After learning to tolerate  the presence of the other and having some interactions, hearing each other’s stories is essential. This includes apologies but even this is tricky as many apologies can be strategic and not from deep in the heart. A big step can occur in a retreat like this in which enough safety is created for truth to be spoken. At this retreat some Tutsi’s sat with Hutu’s for the first time since the genocide.  ome even hugged.

Collective Trauma

Seeing one’s neighbors enter a collective insanity in which your loved one’s are viciously killed creates a hole in the heart that may never be filled. As I said, forgiveness is too big a step for most Tutsi’s. Deep contrition is too much for most Hutu’s. To truly acknowledge what one did without the hedge of “I was one of many”, “others did much more” or “Satan took me over” is extremely difficult. Thankfully, healing does not require forgiveness. This is an important distinction. The whole process of forgiveness takes time and perhaps may never be actualized.   Healing one’s own wounds is often reflected in the ability to laugh easily, sleep well and deeply connect with others. These abilities might well occur long before true forgiveness is possible.

Every person over 20 years old in Rwanda falls into three categories: Survivor, Perpetrator or Rescuer. All the others are children of someone in these categories. Every person! The whole culture lives in collective trauma. How can you move forward when you have experienced the potential of your neighbor to brutally kill you? Can you ever trust another human again?

This potential for darkness lives in all human beings. For humanity to prosper, to realize our True place as “Human Beings”, I believe our sense of “Inter-being” or interconnectivity must be experienced. The essence of morality comes from the deep experience of connectedness. When we feel “a part of” rather than “apart from” we will act life-giving ways. This begins with a diligent and dedicated practice of self-awareness. Who do I exile from the field of care? Which parts of my inner life are similarly exiled? As I said before, “they” did not do this to “them”, “we” did this to “us”.

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Peaceful Abiding: Equanimity Before Happiness

About twenty-five years ago I had the following conversation with my former Zen teacher.

Student: “Roshi (respected teacher), in our practice, I miss the dynamic, exuberant quality that I see in characters like Zorba the Greek”.

Roshi: “Our school emphasizes a quiet realization”.

Student: “But Roshi, there is something so wonderful about expressing joyous delight and growing happiness”.

Roshi: “You can learn to experience great delight in a quieter way”.

Student: “But, but, but………

I deeply appreciate the experience of joy. When I am in Presence and undistracted, the color of the sunlight on the grass each morning, the smell of the air, the taste of good coffee, the smile on a friends face can bring great delight. Relishing the simple gifts of life, what I call the “shower of blessings” is central to my life. Still, there is something significant in Roshi’s emphasis on quiet realization that has taken years to ripen within me. I see that the inner attitude of “peaceful abiding”, resting in ‘what is’ rather than clinging to personal preferences allows a profound deepening into life.

Grasping Happiness

When we strive after happiness we will experience more and more wanting. This leads to dissatisfaction, a sense of ‘never enough’. There is a kind of “experiential materialism” where we want to acquire happy moments. To value happiness above all else creates a kind of grasping and a devaluing of many of our experiences as human beings.

Gautama Buddha emphasized equanimity more than happiness. One could even say, equanimity or peaceful abiding in ‘what is’ is the back door to genuine happiness.

Beyond liking or disliking, equanimity emphasizes present moment awareness. This is NOT bland neutrality. It includes welcoming a full range of emotional experience. It encourages the bodily felt joy that arises in many moments of deeply connecting to Life. Equanimity or peaceful abiding means “non-fighting” with reality.

Non-fighting is NOT passive acceptance. It has bite to it, biting into the moment, like biting into an apple. There is a sense of welcoming the moment even when not ‘liking it’. Being friendly with our circumstances is the ground for effective action. Equanimity implies a warm-hearted objectivity. From this realism comes effective action. If someone is physically or verbally attacking you, seeing clearly will create the most advantageous response.

Comfort Within Discomfort

Recently, The Embodied Life School organized an all-day meditation for planetary peace, one of four that occurs each year. When sitting for many hours uncomfortable bodily sensations will arise, challenging thoughts and feelings might appear. The great opportunity is to be “comfortable within discomfort” or to find a way of being friendly with our conditions. Sitting this way is a microcosm of our whole life. Often the discomforts will pass away on their own if one does not fight with them. Sometimes it is skillful to change position or move one’s attention, slowly with awareness. From this ground of deep acceptance, intelligent actions can arise. This is learning to live. This is equanimity. How can we cultivate a non-violent relationship to our conditions as we take care of Life?

Every day we will have moments that challenge us. Either something we want does not happen or something we do not want, happens. Someone disappoints us, we fail in our own eyes.  How do we start from where we are, with ‘what is’, as the undisputed ground of  our life? 

Not Fighting, Fighting: Reactivity and Peaceful Abiding

Deep acceptance is the root of peaceful abiding. While this statement is true, it can also seem too idealistic and incomplete. When life is challenging we often fight against our circumstances.  We have a big, sometimes healthy, “NO”. The fact that we have desires and preferences is not the problem. These will always be here. Sometimes these big “NO’s” lead us toward positive life choices. The real question is how do we live with our reactivity. This requires great care. 

“Not fighting, fighting” means to include the reactive voices and sensations in our field of awareness. Rather than judging ourselves for hating the back pain or for being angry with the person who stole our purse, we find space inside for the painful states that arise. Allowing the anger without perpetuating it requires high levels of awareness. When we can not immediately embrace ‘what is’ we open our attention to this fighting of reality. Welcoming and taking care of these inner voices and contractions will lead us back to friendliness with the present moment. Also, notice carefully if equanimity becomes another ideal that creates self-judgment. 

Cultivating equanimity or peaceful abiding in the moment is the key to living our lives. Quite different from resignation, this means stepping into our reality. How? 

Grounding in your body is a great ally. Bringing your presence to bodily sensations is very helpful. 

Once we have our bodily-felt experience, we can open to our feeling states, be they desirable or undesirable. Painful moments can be met with care. We can invite moments of positive energy to permeate our whole body. Fully embracing the small gifts that appear each day, each moment, will encourage this peaceful abiding.

Kindness toward your own limitations and those of others will pave the way back home.

Our inner needs and the needs of others can all be acknowledged from the spaciousness of equanimity. This skill is a lifetime practice. Working toward equanimity rather than happiness is a good hint for skillfully embracing our lives.

Imaginary Dialogue:

Student: After all these years, I now see how important it is to put equanimity in the foreground. Thank you.

Roshi: And don’t forget to fully enjoy and celebrate the Living Moment!


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Being with Mother Teresa

Russell Delman January 2014

Thirty years ago, on Feb 1, 1984, my wife Linda and I began the extraordinary adventure of working with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.  We created the Feldenkrais-India Project in which we would work seven days a week with brain injured children at Shishu Bhavan, their main center for parentless infants.  Many of these little children were newborns left on the street or late term abortions that were rescued by the Sisters.

Our main supporter at Shishu Bahavn, Sister Barbara along two other Sisters were so excited to learn our methods for helping the older children, 2-5 years, to move more independently. Each day we would teach them along with the children.  In addition to some basic hands-on methodologies, we were able to institute some simple yet transformative practices that are still in use at the center.

For example, we explained to the Sisters that the children needed time on the floor to have the opportunity to move.  We noticed that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week these brain-injured children remained in their cribs. It is tragic yet true that while the floor is both the playground and the learning laboratory for all children, those that need it the most are often given the least access. Just this change has helped innumerable children.

Another simple example was our realization that since the kids were kept in cribs all day and their feeding always came from the same side, most developed functional scoliosis from always turning in one direction.  We encouraged the Sisters to reverse on which end they placed the head of each child. Needing to turn in both directions transformed their vertebral columns.

Much to our surprise Mother Teresa took great personal interest in our project and invited us to private meetings with her in her sitting room/bedroom each week.  How remarkable to knock on her door, walk up long, narrow stairs and sit in her little room.  Each meeting was a rich lesson. 

For example, one day we were feeling like God's gift to humanity because one of the children had begun to walk for the first time. Her response was to look out the window at the busy street and say with a sigh: "there is so little we can do, for each child we save a hundred more are born". Quite sobering for our pride-filled egos.

A few weeks later, feeling somewhat weighed down by Calcutta and all the suffering, we trudged up her stairs to meet her smiling broadly.  With a heavy voice I said, "Mother what are you so happy about today".  She said, " I was just  thinking of how each drop of goodness adds to the bucket and makes it that much fuller".  Like meeting a Zen master, we were lifted into another dimension.

In honor of the grace we received thirty years ago, I offer these exquisite reminders from Mother Teresa:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Sending many Blessings.....Russell


So much in life seems complex, yet the important issues are often very simple. For example, who does not want the world to be a kinder place? Does anyone say: “I would like my grandchildren living in a world that is less kind? Do you think there is any person in Africa, Asia, South America, New Guinea- anywhere on our small planet- who has this thought?

Remarkably, there is an absolutely foolproof way to create more kindness in the world- BE KINDER!

As a child growing up in NewYork City, my parents would warn me against offering kindness to strangers. Implicit was the message that if you are kind people will take advantage of you. Many of us absorbed a harmful, erroneous message that about the dangers of kindness: “if you are kind to the wrong people you will be hurt”, “kindness is weakness”,  “don’t be foolish (childish, naive,  stupid…), grow up already”. How strange that our culture assumes that being kind means that we can not also be wise/careful/observant/discerning, etc.

The Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying “Kindness is my religion”. His complete quote is:

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

How easy it is to offer a bit more kindness in our everyday interactions. Observing the needs of the people around you creates many opportunities for “random acts of kindness”. Little actions make a big difference. A smile, a kind word, a held door, a bag carried: our hearts lighten when we find ways of caring for our world. Offering a kind thought or prayer for someone who is struggling will help you feel more connected and perhaps have a positive influence simply through your presence.

IMAGINE you are the center of a universe and you are the main arbiter of the rules, attitudes and the overall atmosphere within that universe. All the people that you meet, all the situations that you are living in are instances of your universe. Imagine that by choosing to offer small acts of care you cultivate greater kindness in the universe in which you live.   Could it be that your “atmosphere” will actually influence the attitudes, feelings and actions of the people in your universe?

Try this experiment. Over the next two weeks test the following hypothesis: “My experience of living is enhanced enormously and not diminished in anyway when I commit myself to small, extra, unexpected acts of kindness everyday.” Do an empirical study and please send me your results.

One of the twentieth centuries most erudite and creative thinkers, the writer, social philosopher and explorer of consciousness Aldous Huxley said it so clearly:

It’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other”.

Imagine growing a kinder world together!




“The Gift” (The Truly Extraordinary Blessing of Gratitude)
(for Thanksgiving 2013)

Precious though ordinary
Never hidden away
In plain sight
Yet so easy to miss

Ever patiently waiting
And infinitely forgiving
Of our unfortunate self-obsessions
Our remarkable forgetting

Tender hearts long to open
It doesn’t take much
For the light to turn around
And for the gift to appear

Many doors lead to her
Yet one is always open
To be touched is to be thankful
When thankful we are touched

How did it happen
The darkness came to light
Only two words to remember
“Thank you” is enough

~ Russell Delman


Click on link below for a pdf of archived writings from Russell on Gratitude.

With Deep Thanks

Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks


What does it mean to be intimate with your life?

How do we become distant from ourselves and the world?

What does it mean to be intimate with living? If it is true, as I believe it is, that our way of attending to life determines the quality of our experience of life, then mastering our attention becomes critical. How can we attend to our living so that we experience the deeply satisfying connectedness of intimacy?

The first dictionary definition for intimacy is close relationship. For me this is an important part of true intimacy yet not the whole thing. To be closely related implies two- something related to something else. This deep connectedness is an exquisitely important capacity for human beings. Why do I say that this understanding incomplete?

What about moments when there is no gap between the experiencer and the experience? It seems that this kind of oneness with a moment must also be included to get at least two of the ways intimacy can be experienced. Here there is a melting of boundaries that feels distinct from “close relationship”. As Rumi says: “if there is no wall there is no need for fitting the window or the latch”.

There is a third intimacy. We can call this “not two, not one”. This is very challenging to describe meaningfully in language. When the light is on, “self-illuminated from the inside” there is an effortless “presencing” of the living moment. Sometimes this leans toward twoness, sometimes toward a oneness.

For me this third instancing is the ground for the other two. This is the realm of Embodied Meditation. It is so ordinary that we miss it: you being you without effort.  You are neither lost in habitual living nor striving to be aware. You are awake to the living moment in the natural way you were as a child yet with the added quality of “self-knowing”. This is self-reflective awareness that is at the same time spontaneous and flowing yet also can have intentionality.

In The Embodied Life School, we practice a deep, simple form of meditation called Shikantaza or “just sitting”. Although based in Zen, the teaching has been strongly influenced from many years of integrating: Feldenkrais® movement, interactive awareness practices, brain research and various forms of deep listening.

As humanity gets more and more disconnected from self, environment and each other, cultivating intimacy in all these ways seems essential for our individual and collective blossoming. We are in a very significant evolutionary moment. Please join me in uncovering our implicit interconnectivity through becoming intimate with living.

Click here for a pdf of article.

She said, “If you are really mad at your brother count to 10 before you say anything!”

“Why should I count to 10”?, the little boy asked.

“Because then you will remember that you love your brother”, my mother said.

Many cultures have this idea of counting from 1 to 10 or taking three breaths or going for a walk when in an intensely emotional situation. What happens when we pause?  What happens when we do not pause?

We can think of pausing at many levels and in diverse situations. There are the ordinary moments in everyday life when pausing offers an opportunity to refresh our perceptions.  There are the intense moments when pausing might keep us from saying something we will regret later. Pausing can even refer to taking a break from a challenging activity.  In English we say “a change is as good as a rest”. Neurologically, it is often true that simply changing the type of activity we are doing can result in an influx of creative energy. On an even larger level, when considering something important, we will often say “sleep on it”. Rudolf Steiner suggested allowing three nights of sleep for a significant decision. 

In this article I will focus on how developing a practice of pausing can have a surprisingly powerful effect on the quality of our lives. I will also suggest that a primary, yet often unacknowledged reason for the potency of Feldenkrais lessons comes from inviting a pause or creating an interruption, a gap, in one’s habitual functioning and habitual self-identity. Further, I assert that some forms of meditation practice can have a similar effect on the nervous system and hence the person. Finally, I suggest that Feldenkrais practitioners can offer practices connected to pausing in everyday life to encourage longer lasting effectiveness of their lessons.

I am using the word “pause” in two ways. One is as an intentional action, an interrupting of one’s functioning for intentional reflection. The second use of “pause” is as a gap in one’s habitual identity. The first use of the word serves as a practice that can invite the latter experience.

What does it mean to pause from one’s habits of mind, one’s usual self-identity and familiar self-organizations?  If we pay attention, we will notice that we all have “default positions” for our familiar self-identity.  These default positions include ways of physically self-organizing as well as habitual ‘self-talk’. One of the functions of inner dialogue or self-talk is to keep this familiar identity intact.  Habitual inner dialogue is usually accompanied by physical and emotional patterns or self-organizations.  Interrupting one of these can invite an interruption in the others. This insight can be very helpful, when one finds that the habitual organization is not effective or satisfying. The key is pausing from the entrenched habit, stepping back and sensing oneself and one’s environment in a fresh and alive way.

How can this pausing become a life-giving habit so that the new moment can be FRESH.   How can Feldenkrais teachers encourage this shift? What does meditation have to offer on this subject?

Carried Away

We all know how it feels to get carried away by our emotions in demanding situations.   Even in ordinary, less demanding moments we often have this sense of being carried away. We can be so wrapped up in our thoughts, images and/or feelings that we lose our sense of presence. Although sometimes this can be a creative ‘carried away’ often it is an unsatisfying diminution of one’s experience.  

This kind of ‘carried away’ is often referred to as a trance state. I believe most people live in a mild to moderate trance state, a kind of waking-sleep, only rarely coming into an awakened presence. Rather than being present and alive to our experience in the moment, we are on “automatic pilot”. Interrupting this trance is central for both cultivating more satisfying experiences and for inviting greater freedom into our lives. The antidote to this condition is cultivating awareness in everyday life. This antidote begins with an intentional pause.

When we are carried away, our old reactive patterns have control of us. Later, upon reflection, we realize that our response was not to the actual situation, rather it was based on past events. We were not aware of ourselves, our ‘unconsciousness’ took over.  Moshe’s main interest was the possibility of freedom for a human being. He saw clearly that awareness was essential for this freedom. In San Francisco he said (approximate quote) “without awareness we are bound to past behavior. Not because we are bad people, it’s just that the brain does not have an alternative”. In the Amherst training, he had great fun mimicking the great mystic Gurdjieff who had a “stop” exercise in which he would yell “STOP“ and his students would stop, i.e. pause, whatever they were doing and sense the quality of their self-awareness. Pausing is a great help for uncovering the possibility of responding in freedom to a situation rather than reacting habitually.

Here we can see a concept that was fundamental to Moshe’s thinking and method, he called it “reversibility”. By this he meant that we could start an action and have the possibility, the choice, of changing our direction at any time. This is an example of freedom in action. Pausing allows one to interrupt one’s movement and choose another. A unique contribution of the Feldenkrais Method is the possibility for students to directly learn alternative patterns of action. Without alternatives reversibility is impossible.

Shifting States

Moshe liked to joke that Freud’s greatest contribution was to have people lie on their backs while staying conscious of themselves. Also, he said that if we would lie down for 30 minutes and simply sense ourselves, as we do in an ATM or FI, we would get almost the same result as when doing the lesson. I believe he was serious when he said this. What does this imply?

Usually when we lie down we are either tired and going to sleep or ill and needing rest.  When we are in our adult, responsible, socially conscious identity we are vertical, either standing or sitting. To lie is usually a withdrawal from our social mask and our habitual self-identity.  Sex is a rare exception to this. In a lesson, ATM or FI, we have this unique situation in which our adult, social, conscious brain and our more primitive, less mature “lying/horizontal” brain are connecting. This invites an unusual shift of consciousness. Such a state is conducive to creating new patterns of behavior. Creating a gap, a pause, in our usual identity is the ground of the Feldenkrais Method.

In sitting meditation, we are vertical yet not engaged in usual activity. To limit one’s movement and one’s conscious activity while vertical is also a non-habitual, highly unusual condition for the nervous system. One can experience a gap in their self-identity as the familiar inner dialogue is observed yet not identified with. When one then turns attention toward the bodily sensations that are alive in the moment, there can be a sense of freshness, a freedom from the past. Note that this kind of meditation is not based in rigorous mind control or concentration. The inner atmosphere is closer to the attitude of an ATM lesson. This attitude is essential for creating the kind of pause that we are discussing here.

Moshe emphasized the importance of feelings of safety, curiosity, and a readiness to laugh as essential for learning. He was pointing toward how our usual goal-oriented, aggressive, insecure state was the opposite of these ideal conditions. Neurologically, we can understand the difference between these states in terms of the autonomic nervous system.

Much of our health is connected to rhythmical shifting of sympathetic and parasympathetic dominance in one’s autonomic nervous system. In the world today, more than ever, there is a strong sympathetic dominance. As the quantity and speed of stimulation increases, our nervous system is living ‘on alert’. As acupuncturists keep reminding us, our adrenal glands are over-stimulated. We often feel bombarded by all the sensations and choices that we are required to process. The body pattern of anxiety is activated by this onslaught. On the other hand, our parasympathetic system is connected to healing, recuperation, resting. In this state the nervous system can grow new patterns of behavior, new responses in our lives.

Each technological innovation seems to invite greater speed, more productivity, more choice and perhaps less freedom. In this sympathetic dominance, our breathing is impeded, our blood pressure rises, the body constricts in a self-protective pattern as the blood vessels to our organs are constricted and blood is routed to the muscles.  Our bodies are living as if we are in constant danger. For awareness to blossom, people need to shift states, to move toward more parasympathetic dominance. Here the breath slows, the blood vessels to the organs expand, the heart rate and blood pressure are reduced and a feeling of well-being ensues. Learning to function effectively in this state is one of the implicit opportunities in the Feldenkrais Method. To generalize this learning outside of the lesson, pausing is essential.

This is not just a relaxation response. This is also a brain state in which new thoughts can arise and new ways of feeling in situations can emerge. This is not to say that living in a parasympathetic dominant state is the answer. Rather, it is the harmonious shifting of states that invites more ideal functioning.

The Essential Pause

All of this points in a surprisingly simple direction: the pause. Remarkably our nervous system does not need a long vacation from sympathetic dominance, rather we need high frequency, low duration pauses. Stepping off the train of habitual thought and into the present moment is the essence of the pause. Our bodily sensations are always in the present moment and thus are a reliable doorway to fresh presence.

I often ask students to commit to five pauses a day in which they sense the ground supporting them, then hear the sounds in their environment, then attend to three breaths from beginning to end (with the ground and sound in the background). In about 30 seconds one actually shifts states. For reminders, I recommend putting notes around the house, on the desk, on the computer and/or using an “app” to remind themselves of the radical pause. As this is practiced, many students begin to notice much more frequent instances of ‘embodied pauses” occurring spontaneously throughout their day.  These pauses invite interruptions or gaps in one’s self-identity. New possibilities exist, a sense of freshness arises. As simple as this seems, I can not think of a more important or effective strategy for bringing awareness into everyday life.

One on the main contributions of the Feldenkrais Method is to help students cultivate both a capacity for and an interest in their bodily awareness. It is essential to know that different states are possible for this awareness to arise. When one receives an FI lesson or does an ATM, it is important that the teacher help the student identify changes in their self- organization. Finding words for these changes is extremely valuable for accessing the new states later.

When Feldenkrais teachers encourage their students to investigate these changes during their day, the pauses necessary for listening actually can create a change in the nervous system. Awareness as a path becomes the most life-giving gift for the student. This is helpful for people addressing challenging, painful issues and/or people wanting to become less habitual, more awake in their daily lives. Pausing as an intentional practice will invite the changes that are experienced during a Feldenkrais lesson to be remembered more easily. The power of the habitual state becomes less dominant. This kind of interruption in one’s self-identity is a path to freedom.

We are excited to offer a multilingual option. Click on the language for a pdf translation in English; French or German.

In Part 1 of this article, I emphasized the following:

  • we all create a “climate” around us through our thoughts, words and deeds
  • we influence the “atmosphere” of others
  • we can be responsible for our “emissions
  • there is a connection between our individual “climate” and how we as a species approach the planetary dangers connected to global climate change

In this section I emphasize that fundamental to “positive global warming” is the experience of interconnectivity. Our daily interactions, our collective attitudes and our ecological decisions will be based in our inner sense of interconnectivity or disconnectedness.


Your physically felt body is, in fact, part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people, in fact the whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the body as it is felt from the inside.
Gene Gendlin

We are inter-being, we inter-are
Thich Nhat Hahn

The essential cause of "positive" climate change can be summarized in one word: interconnectedness. Interconnectedness implies wholeness, the sense of non-separation, harmony and relatedness. I think of this in two ways- interconnected within oneself and interconnected with one’s world. 

We are a multiplicity. We like to think of ourselves as a single entity, a self, yet within each of us there are many “selves”, voices and ways of being. Sometimes it can be helpful to think of ourselves as a single entity, other times as having multiple selves. When integrated, these selves function as a coherent whole, when divided against each other a toxic inner environment is created. The “Russell” writing this is both connected to and not the same as the one who speaks to his daughter, walks with his wife, reads the newspaper, gets angry, is aware of joy, gets defensive and who attempts to bring wisdom to this morning’s seminar. When one’s “parts” are in good communication, flowing harmoniously together, we feel whole. “Unity within diversity” is both the model of the healthy individual and enlightened society. In addition to harmonious interrelatedness between our various selves, wholeness requires interconnectedness with the outer world.

Grass and worms and squirrels and salmon are always at one with their environment. We humans can sometimes be in harmony with the world and at other times function as if separate from it. Think of how unique this is. The natural world functions from implicit interconnectivity, thriving when conditions are right, dying when not. How do we manage to form our illusion of separation when even our bones do not exist in separation from the outer world? Without the pull of the earth our bones would not form. When in outer space the bones of astronauts disintegrate at alarming rates if they do not exercise every day. Similarly, our cells require oxygen from the atmosphere and our body is fed from the bounty of the earth. We do not exist as an entity distinct from this world. An inner sense of separation is a painful fiction. It is not just that you need these elements to live, you are not “you” without them just as you are not you without your heart pumping. We are not simply dependent upon our environment, we are one with our environment. To really understand this distinction, opens us to a new way of being in the world.

To be whole is to experience our interconnectedness both within the boundaries of our skin AND in relation to the  world. How does this work? As we have seen above, we do not exist only within the boundary of our skin? A person with a healthy sense of self can feel both the boundary of the physical body- their autonomy- AND sense that their self extends beyond the boundaries of their skin. Experiencing oneself as larger than the physical body creates a different relationship to life and our planet.

Before there is “I” there is “we”

“You look in the eyes of your mother. She smiles. You smile. In her gaze a knowing begins”.

Interrelatedness extends beyond our biology and into our self as social beings. We do not exist outside of our interactions, outside of our relationships. We discover or invent a sense of self through attachments usually beginning with our mothers and fathers.

We are “pack animals”. Even the introverts amongst us rely on relatedness to form their identities. We are formed by our “situations” which includes the functions, roles and relationships that make up every moment. The “you” that is reading this is not the same as the one who will be speaking to someone later. “I” comes from “we” not the other way around.

In the following quote from great Zen Master Dogen the “ten thousand dharmas” refers to all things that you encounter: all objects, situations, thoughts and feelings:

To carry the self forward and realize (experience) the ten thousand dharmas is delusion.
That the ten thousand dharmas advance and realize (experience) the self is enlightenment.

Reborn Freshly in the Living Moment

Could it be helpful to think that “you” do not get carried from situation to situation but are actually formed by the situation? Think about this seriously. Might we, ordinary people like you and me, accept Buddha’s invitation to “put down the burden of carrying a solid self”? I suggest that it is possible and helpful to have a sense of being both a creative, autonomous self  AND realizing that we are reborn freshly by the situations in which we live.

There is much freedom in this experience. To repeat, it is important to have a sense of continuity, a linking of the various manifestations of a self yet to live only as a solid self is a great burden. It is important, accurate and healthy to have both a sense of continuity and continual rebirth. One of the main functions of a meditation practice is to help each of these experiences of self and no-self to evolve. Each is needed for a healthy, authentic and evolving life.


If we are so obviously completely interconnected with our environment, how do we get lost in the tragedy of disconnectedness and isolation? Can we see that violence, environmental degradation and all selfish behavior come from this sense of separation? Imagine if we experienced ourselves as cells within a single organism. How would this change our relationships? Is losing the feeling of connectedness to both nature and others the necessary price we must pay for the cultivation of an autonomous, creative, free-thinking Self? 

Some spiritual writers point to the “Fall”, the leaving of the Garden of Eden, as the time when humanity “traded” connectedness to all of Life for individuality. Others suggest that it is in the development of our post-tribal, modern consciousness that we began to grow the autonomous sense of self and lose our sense of connectedness. I believe that it is the task of modern humanity to simultaneously grow these dual capacities. We each have a different gift to bring into this world. We can grow this unique expression of self- thinking new thoughts, doing new deeds, creating new beauty- while also sensing oneself as part of a larger whole. Self and no-self. This is the thrill of evolving consciousness!

In the modern western world we can see the great gift of creative thought in our artistic, scientific and social development. Even with all our collective troubles there are more men and women on our planet who have the possibility of realizing their potential than ever before. People throughout the world are living longer with far greater health, mobility and potential. Though it is important to acknowledge the many troubling social events and abuses of power, it is essential that we also see how living has been improving for humanity over the last centuries. For example, even with the horrendous violence against women that we read about every day, more women on our planet are casting off the shackles of patriarchy than ever. 

We can also see how our planet is being destroyed by disconnected thinking in which greed is encouraged through our social and economic systems. Rampant narcissism and “me, me, me” philosophy destroys both our happiness and our planet at the same time. The key to integrating our individuality with our connectivity is to bring awareness to our capacity for disconnectedness. 

Disconnected Thinking

"God guard me from thoughts that man thinks in the mind alone"
He who sings a lasting song thinks in the marrow bone"

“Lost in thought, we drive down the highway, repeating to ourselves the same upsetting conversation from the early morning. Barely noticing the glistening sunrise we continue, functioning on automatic pilot”.

We have been raised to value thinking more than direct experience. It’s as if the images in our minds, the representations in our higher brains have more reality than direct experience through our bodies. This was an unintended consequence of the scientific revolution's focus on objectivity. Many of us do not believe something is real unless it has been proven in a laboratory. While objectivity can be very helpful under certain conditions, it can also invite an alienation from one’s living experience. Thinking, when in connection to life is a great gift. Yet, thinking when disconnected from life leads to disaster. We can see this on our planet and in our relationships. Being ‘lost in one's head' destroys life. Recovering an embodied relationship to life is key to balancing this tendency. 

Think of our modern educational systems in which analysis and deduction are emphasized. Recently a young mom said to me, “in kinder-garden my child is being asked to sit at a desk all day and read. There is little playtime and just one hour of music each week”. When we overvalue that part of intelligence that divides things up, mostly through the left cerebral hemisphere, we lose our sense of wholeness. Think of how throwing balls together or dancing or singing requires both inner integration and connectedness with others. These are the capacities that the modern world tends to undervalue.

Disconnected Feeling

I don't trust my inner feelings, you know feelings come and go
Leonard Cohen 

“Lost in anger, we say words we wish to take back. Once said they can never be unsaid.”

Back in the 70's, as a way out of this thought worshipping trance, many decided that getting in touch with feelings was the answer. While being in touch with feelings as a part of our total experience is invaluable, when disconnected from our wholeness, feelings are just as anti-life as thinking. Living on an emotional roller coaster does not create fulfillment. To identify one’s self with feelings does not engender security, clarity or a sense of being whole. One simply goes up and down depending on one’s temporary state.

Disconnected Sensing

Once obsession with the body is gone, you will revert to your natural state.
Nisargadatta Maharaj

“If only I could lose 20 pounds I would be happy. One more drink I will feel wonderful”

Worshipping sensations in themselves leads us down that same path of disconnection. When the body becomes the main vehicle for self-identity, we suffer. Bodies are unreliable as sources of fulfillment. There are three main ways that body identity fails us.

  1. Pleasure Compulsion: Although physical pleasure can be wonderful, if we observe closely, we can see that pleasure divorced from wholeness creates discontent. Notice how often pleasure seeking becomes compulsive and the source of more and more wanting rather than contentment. Confusing pleasure with true joy creates pain.
  2. Impermanence: Bodies decay over time. Even the most beautiful or physically fit person will experience loss. If we strongly identify our value as a person with how we look or what we can do we will suffer.
  3. Objectification: When we identify ourselves or others primarily as bodies, our human relatedness is lost. We then live in a world of objects.  Implicit in this loss is a disconnection from our deeper soul qualities including love,  joy and peace. Deep longing then is our constant companion. As the world becomes more affluent, hatred of one’s body becomes more rampant. When asked, a large percentage of teenage girls said they would rather be thin than discover a cure for cancer! Hatred of one’s body becomes hatred of one’s self.

The compulsive “thinker” who gathers self-identity from thoughts, the “feeler” jumping from one emotional state to another or the body- obsessed “senser” who identifies exclusively with how their body looks or feels is bound to experience disconnectedness from wholeness. This disconnection from self is also a disconnection from the world.


“Sitting here, sensing my bottom in the chair and cool breath coming in, I notice a feeling of curiosity as I think about you reading this article and wonder about your response. My chest tightens a bit as I imagine it being too long and then eases as I notice a soft πsatisfaction in not shortening it”.

The antidote to disconnectedness is integration. To be integrated four components must be alive at the same time.  First, we need to have a quality of presence or awareness- one is in touch with the living moment. Experiencing our bodies is key to this. Notice that to sense your left foot right now you must enter the present moment. Our bodily sensing is a doorway to presence. The same body that can lead us astray when disconnected can be open us to the living moment. This is the ground for a sense of interconnectedness.

In addition to sensing our bodily state we also need connection with our feelings in a given moment. We always have some feeling-tones that can be sensed if we pay attention. Together the sensations and feelings form a “felt-sense” of the moment. For this felt-sense to enter consciousness we need some kind of symbol, a word, picture or image to frame the moment. Thinking is a form of symbolizing, a way of creating a representation of reality. 

When sensing, feeling and thinking/symbolizing are all alive in a single, living moment, we have the experience of wholeness or integration. Our thinking becomes “heart thinking”. Our feelings include reflection. Our body sense infuses our thoughts and feelings. From this self-aware state, people can function in harmony with self and world. This is the key to radiating a warm personal climate in which people feel sustenance from your presence. It is also the key to a sense of interconnectivity that is needed for our harmonious living on this planet.

In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, senses, movement and thought, the carriage {i.e. our skeleton} will speed along the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate and “know”. He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone.
Moshe Feldenkrais, “Awareness Through Movement”, p.54

Click here for pdf for printing.

On the topic of our interconnection, here is an audio link of an excerpt of a talk Russell gave at a recent retreat at Johanneshof.

This will bridge his two writings on Positive Global Warming: Climate Change we can live with. Part one was posted in the May

newsletter (see below). Part two is coming next week.

Click here to listen.