“Meditation is the act of meditation.” ~ Sogyal Rimpoche
Yesterday a friend told me how disappointed she was with the local “Self-Compassion” mindfulness meditation class in which she was enrolled. She noticed that attendance had declined from ten people down to four people after a few weeks. It was readily apparent that the teacher was not a psychotherapist nor a devotee or former monk/nun and thus did not know how to “hold space” or gently intervene with what was arising for the practitioners during their meditations. The majority of the students soon realized that the teacher was unqualified and dropped out.
In my experience, the best meditation teachers are always either devotees of a particular lineage (usually one of the many Buddhist or Hindu lineages) and possibly monks/nuns or former monks/nuns, or psychotherapists – people who have spent decades studying consciousness, how the human psyche was built, how it has evolved, what its limitations are, how it functions, why it has a negativity bias, and how thoughts relate to emotions and emotional regulation.
Not only did Donald Altman spend time practicing meditation as a Buddhist monk with the well-known Burmese teacher and author, venerable Sayadaw U Silananda, but he is also a psychotherapist with fifteen years of experience. He is one of the few teachers who understands how meditation and mindfulness work not just on a spiritual level but on a psychological level also.
The paradox of meditation is that it is both the simplest activity in the world – our birthright, our natural state of being – and it is also one of the most difficult or at least one of the most frustrating, mostly due to the emotional clutter to which our minds cling. Similarly, Altman’s latest book, “Clearing Emotional Clutter: Mindfulness Practices for Letting Go of What’s Blocking Your Fulfillment and Transformation” is paradoxically both remarkably comprehensive and easily digestible.
Laden with references from quantum physicists such as David Bohm, psychologists such as Fred Luskin and Rick Hanson, pop icons like Mel Brooks, myriad research studies, plus Altman’s own patients illustrating points about emotional clutter and how to dispel of it, multi-award-winning writer Altman’s prose is engaging, lucid and easily understandable. It feels as if you are sitting across from a wise and compassionate teacher who is lovingly sharing all of the time-tested tools to alleviate suffering.
Here are eight practical tools I enjoyed learning from “Clearing Emotional Clutter”:
* A fundamental “Stop Riding the Emotional Elevator” meditation for escaping dualistic thinking and cultivating equanimity.
* The acronym, G.L.A.D., which Altman uses as a means of redirecting attention towards the good, the beautiful, and the decent things that exist in your world.
* His 4-Step process for pausing, reframing, and letting go when faced with difficult situations.
* Effective methods for dealing with daily transitions that can often produce anxiety.
* Numerous tools for finding presence or what he calls “fidelity to the moment” – just from breathing to savoring the ordinary.
* Ways of reconnecting nature in order to soothe, calm and build hope.
* Identifying your strengths and using them to cultivate a supportive and beautiful garden of thought and action.
* The acronym H.E.A.R., a powerful way of healing relationships through listening that helps anyone be more open, empathetic, accepting, and respectful.
One of the three jewels of Buddhism is “sangha” or community. And unlike some or most spiritually-orientated books, Altman places a primacy on healthy loving intimate relationships as essential to healing the wounds of our pasts. “Clearing Emotional Clutter” is a transformational book, a guide for escaping endless mental wandering, anxiety, and painful emotional clutter, and finding the bright luminous presence of HERE and NOW. This book is a major contribution to the fields of mindfulness, psychology, and self-help; it is an integrative roadmap that brings together mind, body, spirit, relationships, and nature as pathways to making lasting change.
Trained as a Buddhist monk as well as a psychotherapist, Donald Altman is one of the rare teachers who can explain how both consciousness and meditation work and buttress his findings with cutting-edge research and scholarship. If you ever have the opportunity study with Donald Altman, do not miss it. And if that is not possible, then I recommend reading “Clearing Emotional Clutter: Mindfulness Practices for Letting Go of What’s Blocking Your Fulfillment and Transformation”.