Find peace through meditation
Suzie Daggett interviews John Travis, meditation counselor and founding teacher of Mountain Stream Meditation Center, a nonprofit organization and vipassana community of Buddhist meditation groups dedicated to open heart, open mind.
How did you get started as a meditation teacher?
Although I had American parents, I grew up in Europe and started my seeking in Paris in the ’60s. I met up with some American beatniks who introduced me to San Francisco, where I was exposed to a very different culture from anything I had known before.
I ended up in the Santa Cruz mountains where I had a vision. In this vision, I saw a man whom I actually met a year later in Katmandu. He was the Sixteenth Karmapa.
When he met me in person, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know you.” I learned that he was the head of the Karma Kagyu tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. This was a pivotal point at which my life was utterly changed. I stayed in Asia, becoming a Hindu monk and then living with Tibetan monks for three years, studying and learning. Now, I am a teacher of vipassana meditation.
What is vipassana insight meditation?
It is the original technique taught by the Buddha, which uses the breath to connect to the body/mind. There are three levels of awareness. The first level, the gross level, is body-based and relates to the senses. The second level is feeling-based and connects to the emotions – sadness, happiness, fear, etc. Then there is the third level. This is the super-subtle level, the world of texture and preverbal consciousness. Vipassana insight meditation takes you to this deep level of your own experience through the breath. Getting in touch with the breath is simple, but not easy. Thoughts are constantly flooding our minds, and we can either let go of them and come back to what we choose, or we can get lost in the thoughts. Most of the world is lost in thought. I teach a way out of this by showing people how to stay in the present moment by contacting the body through the breath and the senses. Sensations are never in the past or the future. They exist only in the present moment.
How is breath used in your meditations?
Buddha’s experience was that the breath brings the mind and the body together. This technique is now used in the medical field and in psychotherapy because it is such a profound way of knowing the mind and seeing the true nature of experience. It goes straight to the cause of human confusion and suffering. In every moment, there is a choice in which you can react to a past experience or just be in the moment, watching the experience without reacting. This is done by allowing the mind to settle on the breath, over and over again, and put the focus on the body. This gives us a way to lighten up in every moment of life and to live in the flow of the mystery.
Why do people meditate?
What we see in our physical world is not all there is. People need to find a way to stop and learn to listen deeply to the preverbal level of experience. In order to do this, the first step is to be aware that you are not aware. Sometimes, this comes from an inner sense that there is more to life than meets the eye. Then, curiosity develops. Sometimes suffering or trauma makes someone more introspective. Our culture trains us to stay safe, get what we want and push away what we don’t want. This is all done by focusing on the external world. The practice that I teach turns that around. In my retreats, at least 80 percent of the time is used to focus on the inner landscape, to find a deeper sense of self.
How does one experience meditation with you?
Mountain Stream Meditation Center has a weekly sitting group at Wild Mountain Yoga in Nevada City on Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. We do a 40 minute silent meditation; then I (or another teacher) will give a dharma talk for about another 40 minutes. Sometimes we have dialogues or questions and answers and then close with a metta, an open heart meditation. If you train the mind to be in the body, then the heart can be opened. We also offer classes several times a year. Most people who come are looking for inspiration and a simple meditative discipline. Our community is open to both new and experienced meditators. It is a place where people can find peace within themselves. Inner peace brings us together and helps us drop our judgments and self-criticisms. If people learn to love themselves, they have a chance to learn to love others. If not, there will always be chaos and suffering.
John Travis and Mountain Stream Meditation Group can be reached at 530-263-4096 or http://www.mtstream.org
Suzie Daggett is the host of Healing INsights on NCTV, Channel 11, and the publisher of INSIGHT, a directory of the healing arts practitioners, http://www.insightdirectory.com. She can be reached at 265-9255.
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