What is the purpose of meditation? Shapiro (1) studied that question empirically with meditators in California, and found that participants’ answers fitted into at least one of three categories:

  • Self-regulation: achieving a sense of wellbeing
  • Self-exploration: knowing oneself
  • Self-actualization: embodying and developing the fullness of one’s character

A closer look at the early Buddhist teachings (the Pali canon) offers a similar goal for meditation, albeit in different terms: “freedom from stress.” While this may seem at first that being free from distress only relates to being regulated (the first category above), both knowing oneself and developing qualities are also essential to this task. Looking at my own experience, I went through a deep depression in my early twenties because I could not understand my place and purpose in life. I had just separated from my girlfriend, with whom I thought I would be “happy ever after,” and did not see a future for myself in the business and economics degree I was completing at university. I had all the ingredients to feel good: sufficient resources to cater for my basic needs (and much more), plenty of friends and a very active social life, a loving family, great physical health, and a bright future ahead in the line of my professional career. Yet, I fell into depression.

My mental health was affected not just by all the factors named above, but also by a need for a deeply satisfying sense-making framework of who I was and what my place was in the world. That was missing, and it felt like I was living an increasingly darker nightmare as my desperation increased by the day. That’s when I decided to go to Thailand and start an period of meditation in Buddhist monasteries.

I practiced intensive meditation in Thailand for about six months, and a lot happened. I’ll explain more details about that in another blog post, but what I’d like to share now is that my study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings offered a conceptual framework and a systemic set of teachings to relate to my experience that was inspiring and meaningful. Finally, I could start to understand more clearly, and validate a growing intuition, that there was more to me, who I was, the world I was living in and how I experienced others than the story I had been told of a Newtonian, objectified, separate and materialistic existence.

At the core of it, my main insights centered around

  • the need to cultivate a perceptual capacity in order to have more moments of harmony inside myself and with others and the world
  • the importance of working towards a transcendent goal (nirvana) because the quality of every one of my present moment states are directly impacted by it

I could quite easily fit both of these goals into the latter two categories in Shapiro’s study: understanding myself, how I perceive myself as well as the development of new ways of being amount to self-exploration and self-actualization. What was missing though? Self-regulation! I was very intent of understanding, expanding and transcending myself, but brought no importance to being grounded and feeling good. Instead, I practiced a lot of (sometimes extreme) asceticism, in order to intensify exploratory and transcendental experiences, which eventually got me into a lot of trouble, and why I turned very seriously to a nervous-system centered approach to meditation. What is that and how does it work? That’ll be the topic of next month’s blog post.


(1) Shapiro, D. H. (1992). A preliminary study of long term meditators: Goals, effects, religious orientation, cognitions. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 24(1), 23-39.

*Systemics: the need to include my place in society, and how society affects me

“What you frequently ponder upon, that becomes the inclination of your mind

Buddha (1)


I am my perception. As I walk down the forest close to my home in the autumn, I smell the pine trees, I see the wide variation of colours as all other trees lose their leaves, and hear some birds singing softly. I am momentarily mesmerized by how beautiful and enjoyable it is to be surrounded by all this life and vibrancy. And from that, there is a sense of greatness of life, of oneness and a deeply harmonized sense of who I am and my place in the cosmos.

The thing is, as I am Swiss, I have grown up going to the mountains and forests very often, yet never got to perceive nature and myself in this way before. Undoubtedly this comes from a prolonged meditation practice and deepening appreciation of nature, both of which help to beautify a relationship to myself. Training in perception, as we do in meditation with qualities such as mindfulness, love, compassion, joy, equanimity and somatic sensitivity have influenced how I perceive myself, and vice-versa.

I have often been taught that meditation is about “being the present moment with what is.” However, though acceptance is obviously a key component of meditation, as I follow my perceptual development over these last 15 years of practice, I see other patterns emerging: more beauty, more belonging, more calm and more joy for example. And so why not intentionally develop these outcomes

This is something I have been growing into these past few years: intentionally orienting my mind towards ‘positive’ qualities such as beauty, space, pleasure, contentment and gratitude. I have found that there is most often something, even the tiniest little thing, in my perceptual experience that involves some kind of positive quality, and with a sustained attention towards that, it grows (2). At this point in my practice, I spend most of my time co-creating my experience along with spontaneous impulses coming from my nervous system, the external environment as well as imaginal drives. This last dynamic of imagination, seems to be most attractive to me now, where I allo.w my mind to create shapes, forms and colours that seem to be most harmonizing to my experience (in my imaginal repertoire). One of the indicators for this harmonizing quality that I intuit around is the somatic resonance of these imaginal impulses. For example, in my meditation this morning, I felt some narrowing perceptions on my body which got me feeling more anxious, and spontaneously I would reach out for more space and orientation outside my body, I literally created space and broadened the size of my energetic and perceptual field. It then got to the point where it felt too large and anxiety started creeping in again, with agitating waves and a feeling of fear, so I relaxed by coming back into the body softly, feeling the earth under me and gently sensations of ease and pleasure also available. This creative-imaginal movement from the creation of space, back to orienting towards palpable somatics of pleasure and groundedgrowness is an example of the intuitive skill I call somatic imaginal: allowing the nervous system to feel soothed, brightened and dynamized (“somatic”) by producing whatever impulses coming to mind spontaneous (“imaginal”).

Next time you sit in meditation, it may be worth experimenting to find out: “what images (forms, colours, sounds, voices, dimensions) help to soften and dynamize my somatic experience in this moment?”

Come and join our next Dharma Gathering on December 4th to further embody your imaginal capacity!


(1) Two Kinds of Thought, Majjhima Nikāya 19

(2) See Broaden-and-Build theory from Barbara Fredrickson


“The climate crisis is a crisis of view

Rob Burbea (1)


Our moment-to-moment experience is influenced by many factors, including the environment we are in. By the environment, I mean the immediate surroundings as well as the larger ecological and societal context we inhabit. I remember a time on silent retreat when it was cold because of winter, and I practised meditation for long periods indoors. It was enjoyable to feel the warmth of the fire, listen to the crackling wood and see its embers. It felt so alive, so vibrant, such a presence despite the loneliness in my hermitage. I thank the gods and goddesses of nature for being such a support during difficult times.

We evolved intimately with nature, and whether we feel our immediate environment matters to our sense of belonging and embodiment in each moment. Nowadays we urban people spend so much time on our tech equipment (phones, computers, cars), that feeling intimate with nature is not a given. There has recently even emerged a new mental health diagnosis of Nature Deficit Disorder (2). Our modern industrial societies, influenced by secular humanistic and Cartesian body-as-object-of-mind, have conditioned a challenging dynamic to our relationship with the environment and nature.

Sacredness can be felt in many varieties and infinite ways. What do we hold sacred in life? Is nature included in this sacredness? It is worth contemplating our relationship with nature and explore ways in which we can enrich our meaningfulness and sense of belonging on this planet. Let’s take a moment and feel Earth’s embrace – the pull of gravity on our bodies and hearts – and allow that to ground us and enable a letting go right now.

How is it to rest on Earth’s force and holding?

Let’s feel into the breath…

How things look outside as we allow this?

Our minds are often pulled in many directions, and yet there is also this opportunity to enjoy Earth’s embrace. Perhaps there is a way in which the pull of gravity can be felt as Earth’s love for our bodies and hearts.

We are right now at a key moment in our human and history of evolutionary life altogether. The climate catastrophe is starting to be widely felt in its impacts on our societies, at the edge of civilizational collapse (3) (notwithstanding the extinction period we have just entered). Is life around us and as the species itself a part of our sacredness? Let us take another moment and feel into the goodness and liveliness of having other beings around us. How is it to feel the birdsong in the morning, walk with dogs, caress cats, ride horses, or other animals resonating in our imaginal space?

Let’s bring to mind a moment when we felt an animal’s love.

Sensing into that experience, sensations, breath.

Taking time to enjoy and appreciate.

As we feel the nourishment from the life around us, and our dependencies on many many other species, perhaps our hearts open. And from this open heart, we can feel a deeper belonging with others, on this planet, together. I encourage all of us to include life and the Earth itself to be included as imaginal forces in our meditations, uplifting our hearts and grounding our bodies. From this love of nature and a felt-sense understanding of ecology, our activism, belonging, groundedness and contemplative practices can enable new ways of being into this world. This sacred world, with its myriad beings and mysterious ways, is worth protecting.

Come and join our next Dharma Gathering or Retreat to further embody Earth’s embrace and love for life!


(1)  « An ecology of Love » Dharma talk by Rob Burbea, 21.12.2015: https://dharmaseed.org/talks/32201/

(2)  “Ming” Kuo, F. E. (2013). Nature-deficit disorder: evidence, dosage, and treatment. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 5(2), 172-186.

(3)  Degroot, D., Anchukaitis, K., Bauch, M., Burnham, J., Carnegy, F., Cui, J., … & Zappia, N. (2021). Towards a rigorous understanding of societal responses to climate change. Nature, 591(7851), 539-550.

“We inter-are”

Thich Nhat Hanh (1)


With mainstream values of individualism, we will often tend to consider ourselves as separate from others, nature and the world. However, a new research paradigm in somatic neuroscience emerging called “radical embodiment” (2-3) ), shows that the shape of our sense of self differs based on our social context. This has profound consequences for our meditation!

When we feel safe with others, we broaden the edges of our self to include others and when we feel threatened, we tend to close up and narrow our self-construct. And this relational phenomenon has direct impacts on how we experience our bodies and can self-regulate. Because we have a wider sense of self with good friends, actions require less effort than if we were alone or with difficult company. Actions are less “bioenergetically costly” (4) because we assume that others are a part of our body and therefore budget our efforts based on a larger pool of resources. Others literally become resources for us. This means that the people we have around us really affect how we experience our bodies, our immune functions (5) and many other foundational physiological process for basic health.

Moreover, the presence of other people also affect how we relate to ourselves psychologically and attentionally (6) . I have been experimenting with groups of friends and in teaching retreats how paying particular attention to others, and meditating together with short phrases of loving-kindness and noting of one’s present-moment experience offered a different way of connecting to one’ own internal experience. And I totally love it!

I have spent many years in retreat, in silence, alone and certainly benefited in immensely powerful, unique and life-transforming ways from this. I do think that developing this form of self-reliance, calm and depth of commitment to any practice opens to high levels of devotion, insight and transcendent opportunities. AND, there is so much that can also be experienced and explored in relationship and with a deeply trusting relational container.

In NeuroSystemics then, we pay attention to the interaction between relationships and our quality of presence. We learn to practice and nourish a co-created safe space so that we can all go deeper inside and free ourselves from suffering. Being in relationship with others takes some work, and at school we don’t learn basic listening, emotional expression or conflict resolution skills so these do not come easy. However, as we learn to engage with others a participate in the design of a skillful social space, we can all go deeper.


Come and join our next Dharma Gathering or Retreat to further embody this quality!


(1) “Call me by My True Names  – The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh”, Parallax Press, 2005

(2)  Raja, V. (2021). Resonance and radical embodiment. Synthese, 199(1), 113-141.

(3)  Beckes, L., IJzerman, H., & Tops, M. (2015). Toward a radically embodied neuroscience of attachment and relationships. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 9, 266.

(4)Coan, J. A., & Sbarra, D. A. (2015). Social baseline theory: The social regulation of risk and effort. Current opinion in psychology, 1, 87-91.

(5) Dos Santos, R. M. (2020). Isolation, social stress, low socioeconomic status and its relationship to immune response in Covid-19 pandemic context. Brain, behavior, & immunity-health, 7, 100103.

(6) Sieber, A. (2015). Hanh’s concept of being peace: The order of interbeing. International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, 5(1).