Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Club: A Twisted Story by Jill Satterfield

Obviously, as the nature of this chapter is so personal, and simply put, one person’s story of her yogic path, I am not about to address it as I have the other chapters. There is no ‘agreement’ or ‘disagreement,’ no real comments possible, other than the following.

I had the pleasure and honor of finally meeting Jill (I had had some brief e-mail exchanges back when I lived in NY) during the first Spirit Rock Mindfulness Yoga Teacher Training, where she shared her story with the group. I was moved then, and I was moved once again while reading her story.

I think it should be manifestly clear from her story just how non-dual the body and mind are. My teacher, Samu Sunim, always spoke of mindbody (which more or less translates the Sanskrit term namarupa). Rupa is form, and in particular refers to the body, and nama, from which we get the word, “name,” refers to what in Buddhism would be called the other four aggregates (skandhas): feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.

Even before I met Jill, we bonded over an e-mail exchange where she wrote me to offer her agreement and gratitude in response to a letter to the editor I had had published in Shambhala Sun. My letter spoke to the point that in the Buddha’s teaching of the First Foundation of Mindfulness, it is eminently clear that all activities of the body, from walking, bending, reaching, and twisting or turning to the side to defecating, urinating, eating and bathing can – and should become – expressions of practice. Jill says the same thing in the section entitled “Sitting Straight” when she writes: “…practicing a Yoga posture became just another shape in which to meditate.” My only comment would be to say, make that ‘hatha-yoga posture’ as Yoga itself is meditation – or perhaps more precisely, the meditative ‘stance’ or attitude of mind.

As she states in the section “Straight To The Heart,” with the awareness a master teacher such as Jill brings to her teaching, the postures of hatha-yoga can indeed become a “doorway into the mind,” and one that may often be more accessible to many folk who would find sitting meditation much too difficult to engage in. Mindfulness of the body “in the body” is the meditative approach to cultivating greater intimacy with the body – and seemingly paradoxical – just what allows one to come to the realization that body is not-Self! In order to touch the water of the ocean, one must penetrate the wave. The wave is the ocean; form is emptiness. Yet, we cannot touch the water without touching the wave; emptiness is form!


  1. Jill Satterfield shares her personal story in such an open and lovely way.
    I do have a question about a meditation technique she used. When she wrote about dropping the "subject" into the quiet lake of the mind and wait to see what bubbles up...
    Is this a form of vipassana meditation?
    I'm a "newby" and have so far been using one point concentration (breath)as a techinique.
    I am intrigued by her description that included scanning the body to find where she "needed repair" and where the "house was the darkest".
    I've had a bit of trouble staying concentrated during body scan so I redoubled my efforts this week and began using the breath as a guide during the scan and using labeling. This has resulted in a "sharpening" of body scan as a tool.
    I'm interested in hearing more about this type of meditation.

  2. I found this to be a fascinating chapter, especially her description of visualizing her intestines into peristalsis. In my own experience I have discovered that chronic problems, such as sinus congestion, are due to unconscious exertion/tension in various parts of my body. My understanding is that the most unhealthy of problems, sense of separate self, has the same root cause.

    I also have trouble with the image of "dropping the subject into the quiet lake of the mind". I think that, to me, that means releasing the thought and then bringing awareness to my body. I accidentally tried a contemplative meditation recently, a trauma from my past popped up while sitting and I decided to run with it. I repeated imagining the situation and the affects on myself and the others involved, then stopping that activity and just opening my awareness to my body. Aside from a lot of intense physical sensations, it profoundly felt as if I was looking at the situation for the first time, as if I'd been complacent or in denial about its significance.

  3. Susan and Matt,
    I've invited Jill to offer a response to your questions as it was her meditation, after all! She has said she will -- hopefully in a few days -- but right now she is quite busy.

    Matt, your experience with the remembered trauma, is a wonderful, intuitive way to work with it. It sounds like you were able to witness from a place of inner stillness and silence. If so, in a real way, you WERE looking at the situation for the first time!

    thanks both of you, for your comments and questions. I too eagerly await hearing from Jill!

  4. Dear Susan and Matt,

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments and questions - I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you!

    There are a variety of contemplation exercises from many traditions, but the one I spoke about in my chapter is from the Vipassana tradition as taught to me by my teacher Ajahn Amaro. You'll see in his chapter how he describes the same practice using different metaphors.

    It is best to practice contemplation after the mind has stilled. This way we are allowing for the true nature of the heart/mind - the clearness, the luminous qualities, the softness and openness to facilitate the unearthing so to speak of feelings, memories etc. If we aren't experiencing clarity, then we aren't as free to observe the 'bubbling up' of insights, old patterns, juicy karmic nuggets that have been hiding in the silt of the minds lake. The view will be too clouded, the space not yet soft and free.

    There are probably as many ways to settle and soften the mind as there are ways of mind ! Which ever way works for us though - focusing on the breath, sensations of the body, sound etc. that brings equanimity is our personal choice. Once settled, we have the ability to 'bring up' and subsequently let go of things that might have been deeply hidden, or lost within the minds normal web of confusing thoughts.

    I can liken it to cleaning the house. It's as if we've just returned from a relaxing time away from home. We walk into our house or apartment and notice things that we previously hadn't - the cobwebs in the corners, the piles of magazines, the stuff stashed in the closet - and once we actually notice these things, we have a chance to give away what is no longer needed, clean the corners, and as in the actual experience of contemplation - open the windows and allow the air and soft space to clean out the room.

    Contemplation can bring things up that we might not have noticed, but rather than 'doing' something about them, we just allow for the space in the heart/mind to naturally carry what we see come up to be dissipated in the flowing breeze of the mind.

    I hope that this helps! Please feel free to contact me directly: anytime. Best wishes for your courageous practices.