Meditative Life – Skillful Compassion

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I introduced Tony Sager in last week’s post. This is the second part of his interview, where he talks about how his experience as a long-term meditator benefits clients in his work as a counselor.

What helps clients most
According to Tony, what helps is “bit by bit, believing in themselves—no matter what happened, what they have done, what unwise decisions they have made. That’s not who they are, that’s not what defines them.” The issues that clients bring to therapy are “just what has to be worked out.” And clients do this by “connecting to their greater self, who they are above and beyond their problems.” The key is that they come to “know that they have their own innate wisdom to find their way, to resolve their difficulties.”

Tony helps clients connect to their own wisdom using methods of mindfulness and meditation as well as more traditional psychotherapeutic interventions. For all of us, no matter what our life circumstances and difficulties are, “So much of our difficulty or suffering is a result of how we manage or don’t manage our own mind.”

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Photo Robert Reifel

Becoming the boss of your own mind
Tony related his discovery that even teaching clients to observe their breath and come back to it “can cause incredible breakthroughs. Thoughts are just thoughts; we don’t have to believe them all the time, we don’t have to follow them all the time.” There is something else behind all the thinking. “Some people have never learned that before, they never knew that.” In discovering this, clients begin a process. “The clearer and more settled our minds become, the more we are able to manage our minds and come back to the ‘now,’ and there is less and less fear.”

Seeing our interconnectedness
Tony pointed out that so many of our human actions and how we think and feel are fear-based. Why? I found his answer very illuminating: “Being fear-based comes from separation and disconnection. But we and others are not separate, we are all brothers and sisters. Disconnection from oneself is disconnection from others, from the world, nature and everything.” In the course of therapy, as clients “become more connected with themselves, they become more connected with others. Naturally, love and compassion grows, because we are not separate, we are all brothers and sisters, we are all in this together.”

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Part of the challenge for many of us is to relate both to differences as well as to connection and non-separation. Is there a place for self-protection, even if we don’t want our actions to be based in fear? Tony: “Seeing others clearly, navigating one’s way among differences is very important. Navigating oneself, one’s way in life: we do need to protect ourselves at times; not everyone on the street is trustworthy. But love and compassion towards self and others remains one of the greatest things. Clients learn how to navigate their way. We don’t have to fight with others, but we can set clear boundaries when necessary. Meditation and mindfulness practice help us do that.”

Tony’s own self-care is essential for him
Especially working as a therapist, Tony has many connections with people and talks a lot! He makes sure he has enough time to himself and also quiet time. So his social life is relatively uncomplicated. Spending time with his girlfriend is important for him, as is seeing friends here and there.

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Every day Tony sits in the morning, sometimes during the day, and in the evening as well. As described last week, informal practice plays an important role during the day. Tony exercises regularly and likes to be in nature hiking and biking.

Compassion and self-compassion
At one point Tony and I started talking about mistakes we’d made, and ended up in an interesting place. Tony said, “We are imperfect beings. Sometimes we are clearer and other times not. We are not perfect. We make ‘mistakes,’ though I don’t think of them as mistakes. As we get older hopefully our screw-ups are not as serious. But sometimes we mess up and make ‘mistakes.’ And that’s just part of it, that’s part of our practice. We learn from everything.”

“When we don’t come from our best self we make a ‘mistake,’ as long as we are open, we learn from that. And that’s great! As long as we have acceptance and openness everything is a great teaching for us, everything in our life, every kind of experience we have. That’s where self-compassion comes in, too. It’s not condoning when something is not done right, but it’s being able to forgive and learn and move on. Both self-forgiveness and forgiving others are very important.”

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I feel it’s quite beautiful to get Tony’s reflections, since he works on a daily basis helping others live a better life. Have a good week and let’s continue next time with a very interesting point.



3 comments on “Meditative Life – Skillful Compassion

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