The Four Immeasurables and Trauma

There is a classic prayer in Buddhism called the Four Immeasurables. It is often used as a practice to help practitioners open our hearts, to cultivate the awareness which helps us to understand and treasure our common connection to all beings. The lines are as follows:

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  1. May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

  2. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  3. May all beings never be separated from the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow

  4. May all beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I recently received a teaching on these passages from Buddhist scholar and teacher, Choying Khandro, of Dakini’s Whisper, in which she offered a fresh perspective. Instead of merely reciting the lines as a supplication, as though someone else or something else is responsible for creating such conditions, Khandro-la suggests we read each of the lines in three ways:

a) As a prayer

b) As a fact

c) As though I am personally determined to make such a thing happen

For example, let's take the first line: “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” I first read the words as is, sensing them as a plea from my heart to the universe. I feel these words go out, encompassing all beings and all realities, and sit briefly as that energy flows.

Next, I slightly change the wording in order to read it as though it is fact: “All beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” Here, I pause, and really visualize our universe as a place where this is so. What is it like to live in such a world? What energy is present? What details can I see/hear/touch/taste/smell? How do other beings react to experiencing such conditions? I take some time to flesh out as many details as possible, to really make the statement tangible.

Finally, I read the line as a mission statement: “I am determined to ensure that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” With this statement, the abstract becomes concrete. I am now choosing involvement. This simple alteration not only changes the tone of our meditation practice (click here for a great article on the dangers of 'McMindfulness'), but it transforms our mere prayer and visualization into Power. It provides us with a means through which we may resolutely and actively engage with our world.

Those of us who have experienced trauma often feel powerless. Weak. Hopeless. Helpless. We're so accustomed to being ignored, beaten down, dismissed, and/or trodden upon, that we’ve often given up. But this simple shift from prayer statement to personal power statement alters the lens through which we view our circumstances. Armed with our vision created in Step b), our factual statement, we are consciously choosing to reframe our experience of our world. My circumstances, beginning right now, are not something negative being done to me. Instead, I am the fuel of positive change.

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Of course, this is a mental exercise. But it's not so difficult to come up with even one small thing I might be determined to do today to ensure that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. This might mean that I resolve to offer a smile to everyone I encounter that day. Perhaps I take a bag along and pick up trash as I take my daily walk (plogging, anyone?) Maybe I ______________, well, how about you take a shot at filling in the blank?

In the big picture, these seemingly small actions probably won't erase our traumas nor those of the people we have chosen to help that day. But as we heal, as we move from our current “normal” toward our healthier “new normal,” this simple meditation tool can help us transition from passive bystander to active participant, from victim to survivor.

It may not feel easy, vowing to move forward from your heart. But as my Buddhist teachers have often said, “That's why we call it practice!”


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of stress reduction and trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in English, Japanese, and Korean.

A body-based deep relaxation practice


Relaxing the mind through relaxing the body.

This article from Lion’s Roar, an online Buddhist magazine, leads you through a simple three-step meditation process. The practice given is based on Buddha's teaching to not only become aware of our mind, but also the body, “...visiting each part with awareness, acceptance, care, and without judgment.”

This gentle, supportive, exploratory approach to the body is also an integral part of Somatic Experiencing (SE™) and Somatic Touch trauma resolution therapy. Through contacting and simply noticing what is present in our physiology, we begin to heal:

At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of stress reduction and trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.

Looking for Stress Management? Body-based "trauma therapies" can help!

We’ve discussed that trauma isn’t only defined by big, overwhelming events; it can also be the end product of cumulative stress (click here for more information). Even so, I have some clients who don’t feel “traumatized,” but they ARE stressed out and want to feel better! Not a problem! We can use many of the same techniques to help.

If we accept the standard definition of stress as “a state of physical, mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances,” we can see that any method which serves to release this strain or tension would be beneficial. Another important point is that if we choose to work with, for example, physical tension, we'll often register a reduction in our mental and emotional tension as well.

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I'm a massage therapist, and massage has long been used to relieve muscular tension. Most of us have had the experience of feeling completely and utterly relaxed after a good massage, and we therefore know first-hand the state of physical, mental, and emotional well-being that follows such a session. (If it’s been a while, please click here to make an appointment!)

Meditation is another helpful tool in our stress reduction arsenal. As with any tool, we obtain the most benefit from consistent, regular practice. Even just a few-minutes-a-day meditation schedule can offer a sense of being more grounded, more present, and more readily able to handle the highs and lows of life. I have a teacher from whom I receive instruction, and I often lead clients in short guided meditations, but simply selecting from among the plethora of meditation apps on your smartphone and downloading and following along will be helpful.

Somatic therapies are also effective methods for relieving stress because they too emphasize and utilize the mind/body connection. Somatic Experiencing (SE™) and Somatic Touch are sensation-focused, and are perfect for those who wish to learn more about how their body physically responds to and stores stress. A specially-trained therapist serves as a guide through this process, offering verbal and hands-on support and encouragement as the client accesses and discharges tension. For those who are experiencing stress as a form of emotion, Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) offers a method of physically connecting with and processing these feelings.

I'm happy to discuss any of these and other body-focused modalities, and how they may help you reduce the stress in your life! For clients in Japan, I'm also affiliated with a group practice (TTCR—Trauma Treatment Center and Resources) in the Saitama area. There, we have English- and Japanese-speaking therapists trained in mindfulness meditation, somatic therapies, and other body-based modalities to help with stress management.


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.

Feeding Your Demons--a revolutionary meditation practice

A large part of my job is to provide clients with self-care tools.  Most of us can't afford continual trips to various therapists, and if we're serious about maintaining or improving our health, we need to create some time in our schedule to work with ourselves. 

Physical activity is important, and proper nutrition can't be overlooked.  But we also need tools to work with our minds, to deal with those things like illness, anxiety, depression, and so on that drain our energy and keep us from feeling fully alive. We can call these our “traumas;” another way to describe them is our “demons.”

One of my Buddhist teachers, Lama Tsultrim Allione, has developed a five-step method for "Feeding Your Demons." Although most of us would do almost anything to avoid these issues, Lama Tsultrim teaches that not only should we get close to them, but we should feed them to full satisfaction! This strategy of nurturing rather than battling our inner and outer enemies offers a revolutionary path to resolve conflict and leads to psychological integration and inner peace.

The following is a video of Lama Tsultrim explaining the origin of her "Feeding Your Demons" practice, and she actually guides you through it.  If you'd like to skip directly to the guided meditation, it begins at 21:40. Please let me know how it works for you!


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.

Losar Tashi Delek! (Happy New Year! in Tibetan)

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Many of you know that I am a practicing Tibetan Buddhist.  My sangha (fellow practitioners) is Tara Mandala, and our teacher, Lama Tsultrim Allione, was one of the first Western women to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist nun in the Karma Kagyu lineage by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981).  The above greeting was recently issued by his successor, HH the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (1985-).

HH the Dalai Lama has offered this translation of the traditional greeting, Tashi Delek:  "May you be happy here and now and achieve definite goodness."  He has spoken about the importance of this at this time of Losar and suggests that we strive to live a life of meaning and to focus on benefiting others.

In this year of the Fire Bird, which begins on Monday, February 27, 2017, here are a few ideas about what to expect (taken from articles published in the Elephant Journal):

"The Year of the Firebird will be especially exciting.  By its nature, the energy of the firebird holds the intense power for continual recreation.  It is the symbolic representation of awakening, similar to the Phoenix.

In Buddhism, we see the firebird as a tenacious animal, determined and built for hard work, but also impulsive and hotheaded in her demeanor.  Similar to most passionate individuals, they adore the fine art of connecting.  We open ourselves to a time of greater community involvement and socialization as we welcome this new year.  It said that this year combines discipline and vigilance with tenderness and courage.  As we work together on challenges, we are reminded to leave time for play and banter.

The female Firebird year is often seen as an energetic but scattered year.  There are many opportunities, but concentration is necessary in order to enjoy their fruits.  The fire element adds a rather daunting but pregnant-with-possibility mix:   Fire transmits a vital, brilliant, and transforming energy and enhances expression, extroversion, and the ability to make decisions."


You may wish to make some special preparations to welcome in this exciting year!  Here are a few suggestions from my local sangha teacher, Ellen Booth Church:

To symbolize making a fresh start and eliminating obstacles from the previous year, it is traditional to clean your house before Losar. The day before Losar is the traditional day for pre-Losar cleaning. If you have an altar, you take it apart, clean it and freshen all offerings. Add fresh flowers and a "sweet" for the New Year. To create auspicious connections with good health, long life, prosperity and abundance, offer fruit, cookies, candies, etc. on an attractive plate on your altar. This is also a good time to hang New Prayer flags.

Traditionally, Tibetan families wash their faces on Losar morning with "star water."  Star water is made by taking pure water and leaving it outside in an open container so it can become imbued with starlight. This is done the night before Losar, which will be Sunday, February 26th.  A glass, crystal or ceramic container is best.  Water which is left overnight under the stars on this night is considered to have great cleansing and rejuvenating benefits.  It is said that to wash with this water in the very early morning hours of Losar is an auspicious start for the New Year!

On Losar day, you can do some special meditations/prayers at home. It is considered auspicious to wear a new piece of clothing on Losar, if possible. You can light candles on an altar, offer fresh fruit and flowers, recite long life prayers for the Dalai Lama and other lamas and spiritual figures, and chant mantras and make aspiration prayers for the new year.  Be sure to remember to dedicate the merit of your offerings to go out to all beings, everywhere, without one exception.


May each of us "be happy here and now and achieve definite goodness"!  Losar Tashi Delek!