Photo by Isaac Hernandez
Editor’s Note: The following is a conversation between Cat and her meditation teacher Sarah McLean. This is truly an inspiring piece. As I was editing this interview, I felt an inner shift happening within me and with it came a sense of serenity and peace. Hope this inspires you as it did for me. Sarah is truly an incredible and powerful human being. I look forward to learning from her. Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this interview.
“Meditation is an essential travel partner
on your journey of personal transformation.
Meditation connects you with your soul,
and this connection gives you access to your intuition,
your heartfelt desires, your integrity,
and the inspiration to create a life you love.”
A few years ago my husband and I drove to Sedona, Arizona to seek out a private mediation session.
At that time, I was embarking on a self-discovery journey, in deep inquiry about how to lead a more meaningful life. I had this fundamental restlessness that no longer had me fully engaged in daily life – I was uninspired by the complicated upkeep of the corporate hustle that was rewarded solely by material comforts.
Something was off. And I was seeking for answers.
With a mouthful of questions and ambiguity, I began to search outside for purpose and change: Should I move out of the country and teach English in Taiwan? Should I switch careers locally? Should I start a family?
Tucked away at the top of a mystical red mountain in Sedona, we arrived at the studio of meditation teacher, Sarah McLean. Though meditation wasn’t new to us, Sarah’s modern translation of meditation – coupled with our own thirst for change – sparked an inner exploration.
In the hour we spent with her, Sarah’s casual style, relate-ability, and guidance reoriented us to seek out a new life path.
Since leaving Sedona that afternoon, I have stopped looking outside for fulfillment: I wouldn’t move out of the country. I wouldn’t switch careers. I wouldn’t start a family.
I would, instead, become more still, contemplative, reflective … and take my attention inwardly. Not too long thereafter, my inner growth would manifest into external life-changing decisions (look for this new post next week).
Sarah’s practical guidance, as a mentor, has been influential in attuning to my inner wholeness. When she provided me a copy of her new book, you can imagine how excited I was to have this opportunity to share her inspirational wisdom with you—my TSN Family.
In Sarah McLean’s new book, Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks With Meditation (Hay House), she offers a practical program, on a weekly basis, that instructs readers on how to explore our own awareness with mindfulness practices.
She provides bite-size, daily exercises that can ultimately transform the way we experience our lives with more ease and fulfillment. Alongside simple instructions for cultivating our inner world, she also generously shares her fascinating meditation journey.
The following is a conversation I recently had with Sarah, about life, fulfillment and the power of meditation:
1. How did meditation transform your life?
Question: Sarah, how long have you been a meditator? How did meditation transform your life?
I have been a meditator for 22 years, though I wanted to learn to meditate years before that. I just didn’t know where to turn.
I was a sad, stressed, confused young woman, and I searched everywhere-even traveling to other continents-to find peace and relief.
My meditation practice helped me to know who I really am, what I truly want, and find that peace I had always searching for “out there”.
I am certainly living a fulfilling life now, and have been for years—a peaceful, satisfying and magical life—one beyond my wildest dreams!
2. Why Do We Struggle with Life Purpose?
Question: In your book, you outline an 8-week plan to a more meaningful life. What do you think is the main reason we struggle to live purposeful lives?
I believe the reason we struggle to live purposely is that what we prioritize in our life changes.
When we are very young all of us are basically joyous, free, and engaged with the moment at hand. There is an interconnection with our internal world – with what we feel, think, and desire – as well as with our environment. And this interconnection keeps our attention fully engaged in each moment.
By the time we’re 8 or 10 years old, our focus begins its shift. Instead of easily focusing inwardly on our own sensations, thoughts, and feelings as we had done as younger children, we begin to prioritize the external world with its variety, dynamism, and ever-changing landscape.
And by prioritizing the external world, our center-point begins its shift and our point of reference becomes the external world. This external world charms us as we wait for the next thing to see, to do, or to accomplish, or the next relationship.
So not only has our focus made its shift from the internal world to the external world, but the focus also shifts away from the present moment and our innate ability to be fulfilled with what is happening in the moment at hand and the joyous journey of our lives.
We are no longer fulfilled with the moment and feeling interconnected with our internal world and all that is supporting our life. This causes a subtle persistent discomfort. And, unfortunately, most of us continue to look externally for ways to address it.
Everyone wants to be happy, free, and fulfilled. And, here’s the thing, we already are – our soul, our being is naturally like that. And it is creative, wise, patient and loving too.
We can rediscover this aspect of ourselves by shifting our awareness back inside, into our inner world with the creating of an internally guided life.
It’s not that you have to sit around and meditate all day, but if you set aside some time for a meditative practice, a practice where you turn your attention inward, stay in the present moment, and focus on one thing at a time.
This facilitates the connection with your peaceful center-point on a regular basis, helping to re-establish the internal reference point – the connection to your soul.
Regular practice is how you become soul-centered, happy, fulfilled and creative.
3. What Is Transformation?
Question: The word transformation seems big – grandiose – what do you mean by transformation?
Transformation isn’t an exaggeration of reality or an absurd concept. Transformation isn’t an accomplishment. However transformation is impressive.
Transformation unfolds, naturally. You can’t will it. Instead, it has its own timing and intelligence and is guided by intent: like a seed growing into a seedling, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, a bird hatching out of an egg, a rosebud in fully blooming.
The difference between making a change and undergoing a transformation is vast: a change can be temporary, and you can will it as you change your hair-color or your clothes or your name. You can always change back.
But transformation is evolutionary, and supported by all things.
There is no going back.
4. Soul Centered?
Question: And what does it mean to be soul-centered?
I came up with the term “soul-centered” to describe a shift in perspective which meditation cultivates: a transformation of the vantage point for one’s life. I’ve seen it in my students and in my own life. And there wasn’t a word for it.
For example: how do you answer the question, “How are you?” Many of us look to our external world to determine the response. We base how we’re doing on outside factors such as our relationship status, our work life, our state of health or wellbeing, our financial situation, and sometimes even on worldwide events.
With daily meditation, the external world begins to lessen its grip on your attention. Instead, you begin the inward focus and connect to your essence, your awareness, or what some people call “the soul.”
Though it’s always been there, your inner world often overshadowed by the external world. Meditation helps you to experience your inner world and how you feel, what you think and who you are – your soul. And you bathe in the soul’s qualities of peacefulness, stillness, creativity, wisdom, acceptance, and more self-awareness on purpose.
With this practice, this soul’s connection becomes more prevalent in your awareness—no longer overshadowed by external conditions. You begin to live with more internal awareness and your soul’s qualities are more dominant.
This transforms your perspective. So when you go to answer the question “How are you?” you don’t look toward externals. Instead, your reference point is internal. You check in. This is what being soul-centered means.
5. Science & Meditation
Question: What has science taught us about meditation?
Let’s face it, science hasn’t really taught us much about meditation, but what it has done is to confirm what meditators have been saying all along: that meditation is good for you!
And they’ve done meditation a good service, as this makes meditation more attractive to the general populace: those who may have previously been mystified by meditation and its attraction.
The outer world has been explored and much of it conquered, so as scientists are wont to do, they are finding new frontiers. And it’s now the inner world that has captured their attention. This is due to technology and the ability to measure deeper into the brain.
Years ago it was found that meditation helped with people’s physical issues, lowering their blood pressure, sleeping better, enhancing their immunity, etc. Then, it was found that meditation relieved mental issues like depression, lack of focus, addictions, or difficulty making decisions.
Over the last ten years or so, the new focus is the actual brain – or what’s called neuroplasticity. They see that meditation can actually change the physical structure—the gray matter—of the brain.
And not only do the changes occur while in meditation, but they last long after the meditation is over. They are finding that the areas of the brain change—the stress-response area of the brain shrinks (the amygdala) and the self-awareness area of the brain increases its folds (the insula).
These findings show beyond a doubt why those who meditate really do experience more compassion, more self-awareness, and less stress.
6. Transformation For Normal People
Question: You’ve had a pretty amazing spiritual journey – living in a Zen Buddhist monastery, meditating in ashrams, temples throughout India and the Far East – can we accomplish a similar transformational life in our ordinary routines?
Funny, when I first learned to meditate, I had this poem from T.S. Elliot cut out and pasted to my wall:
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.
My journey took me all over the world. I loved where I went, the people I met, and the experiences I had, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
However, the time I spent on planes, trains, buses, tuk-tuks and wagons, hiking and riding my bike throughout the remote areas of the world seeking wholeness, could have been spent exploring my inner terrain at home. You know the saying, Wherever you go, there you are. It’s true.
I was dissatisfied with my life, and I was motivated to find peace and fulfillment.
What I didn’t know then was that the external world is not where I’d find the answers to many of the questions I traveled with, such as Who am I? What are the mysteries of this life? What do I want? How can I be happy? How can there be peace?
I didn’t even imagine that the answers would be found when I quieted my mind, when I shifted my focus internally, and could be had without leaving my room.
It was often after some time of silently sitting in meditation that many of the ah-ha moments arrived.
Franz Kafka illustrates what I am suggesting: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
7. Who Am I?
Question: I remember when my husband and I first met with you for our meditation session, you asked us to reflect on the question, “Who Am I?” Throughout your book, you ask your readers to reflect on many questions – How does inquiry and meditation, together, play a role in transformation?
When you ask the question, “Who am I?” who is doing the asking? And who is it asking?
Who am I is a koan, a question that stops the mind’s rational response.
So, that instead of responding with reason, you dive into a deeper realm, the realm of being. When you do that, you begin to transform the way you see life and the reference point for all activity.
Who is the one reading this right now? Where does my awareness arise from? Ask and you begin a dialogue with something other than your intellect.And this gives you the direct experience of your soul, your being.
8. Meditation For Busy People
Question: We’re all so busy. Now in addition to eating well and going to the gym, I need to fit in one more wellbeing tool—-meditation. And you suggest 30 minutes/twice a day? Is there a secret to how to fit it into your life?
I’ve found, and so have my students, that when you fit in 20-30 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning, then your entire day goes more smoothly.
If you can’t do that, five minutes once a day will show some benefits. You see, meditation creates a settling of the mind and body, and relieves stress that has built up over time. This has an effect on your whole life.
Think about it, how long do you wait in line at Starbucks? How long do you spend surfing the Internet? Set your priorities. Give yourself the same amount of time to do something that will garner proven results – results that will ultimately transform your life.
If this interview spoke to you, grab a copy Soul-Centered and actually try the bit size exercises from the book. Witness as your life transforms in an extraordinary way by integrating meditation into your daily ritual.
SPECIAL PROMOTION: If you order a copy of Soul-Centered by May 15th email a copy of your confirmation to Sedonameditation@gmail.com and Sarah’s team will send you a copy of her Guided Meditation CD as a FREE GIFT ($20 Value).
Giveaway for You
We are giving away 5 copies of Sarah’s book Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks With Meditation and beautiful Meditation CD to 5 people. Do you want one?
To Enter: Leave a comment below. In your comment, you can answer the question: “How do you want to feel?”
Alternative entries: tweet this article and leave a link to your tweet in the comment below.
Entries into the giveaway will close on May 31, 2012 at 8am PST. Make sure to use a real email address in the comments (Only TSN editors will see your email). If you’re a winner and we do not hear from you in 3 days, we will redraw.
More About Sarah
Sarah McLean is an inspiring contemporary meditation teacher, makes meditation accessible to everyone. She has been featured in the New York Times, and Phoenix Woman magazine calls her “an inspirational and dynamic teacher”
She has been teaching meditation since the early 90s and has worked with some of today’s great teachers, including Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie, Debbie Ford, and Gary Zukav.
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