March 5, 2024

Sebene Selassie – Cultivating Interconnectedness Through Meditation

Thomas is joined by writer, speaker, and meditation teacher Sebene Selassie. She provides guidance and wisdom for meditation instructors and beginners alike. She and Thomas discuss ways to create a consistent, coherent, and long-term practice, even when meditation feels difficult or overwhelming due to trauma.

Sebene explains key elements, such as mindfulness and compassion, that can help us build a strong foundation and observe what arises during meditation with kindness and understanding. She and Thomas also explore how meditation can benefit activism and participation in society, and the importance of practicing in relation and community, especially for those of us dealing with trauma.

Sebene opens up about her own healing journey, and how her meditation practice has helped her accept difficult realities and learn to be present with pain. She shares how her practice has illuminated our interconnectedness, and how we can all use our basic senses to experience this connection and shape our experience of reality.

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“The best teachings point back to the teacher within.”

- Sebene Selassie

Guest Information

Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie is a writer, teacher, and speaker who explores themes of belonging, resilience, and transformation through contemplative, creative, and nature-based practices. She is trained as a meditation teacher, an integral coach, a practitioner of Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy for Complex Trauma (IFOT), and is a licensed hiking guide in New York State. Sebene is also a devoted student of mystic traditions. She has taught classes, workshops, and retreats since 2010. Her first book, You Belong: A Call for Connection, is published by HarperOne.

Learn more at sebeneselassie.com and sebeneselassie.substack.com.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • Relaxing the body to make space for what comes up for us during meditation
  • How our attitudes, identities, and social situations affect our practice
  • The simplicity of awareness and kindness as foundations of meditation
  • How the practice can help us recognize that our reactions to trauma are normal
  • Breaking through dissociation and numbness with humor and kindness
  • Ancestors and Elements as two frameworks that exist in every culture throughout time

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Hello and welcome to the Point Of Relation. My name is Thomas Hübl and I’m very delighted to be sitting here with Sebene Selassie. Warm welcome, Sebene

Sebene Selassie: Thank you for having me, Thomas.

Thomas: It’s lovely. And I already feel the quality of your meditation when I listen to your voice and when I listen to your presence here. So I’m very interested, because meditation was a big part, or is a big part of my life too. So I think I will be very interested in hearing your experiences. And let’s start with, I mean, how did you start with meditation? How did meditation come into your life? Start there.

Sebene: Yeah, we have to go way back. So, I’m 53. So it was about over 35 years ago when I was in high school, my brother became what’s colloquially known as a Hare Krishna. He’s eight years older than me, so I was very enchanted by him in general. And I started attending Kirtan and lectures and all sorts of things with him, even staying in temples a couple of weekends in DC and in Maryland. And I started to become familiar with meditation then, started reading Buddhist texts that I did not understand at all. I even took an East Asian studies class in high school and I taught the class meditation. I can’t imagine that that was a good class at all. I can’t even imagine what my instruction was. But I was sort of maybe had some premonition of where I was going in life.

And then when I got to university, I ended up majoring in comparative religious studies and focusing on Hinduism and Buddhism. And I actually didn’t really start a meditation practice until I left college. I was too busy doing psychedelics and hanging out and sleeping in and missing classes. But I did really enjoy the study, and continued reading.I probably read more about meditation until I was in my early twenties, and then I started sitting in different Zen centers and different meditation, mostly Buddhist centers until I landed more firmly in the insight tradition.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. So it started also for you, for me it was similar, very early. And so let’s talk a little bit about the early stages of meditation because some of the people listening now are experienced meditators, but some of us when we start, there are all kinds of hurdles on the way. And so how do you teach people that come fresh that have not much background experience? How does it start for us on the journey or what is your experience when you see your own teaching unfold over the time? What are the difficulties that we struggle with when we meditate? And maybe then we transition to how we create a commitment to stick to a practice. Sometimes it’s easy. We start for a few weeks and we drop it and start. So maybe you can speak a little bit to that experience.

Sebene: Yeah, it’s interesting because I started meditating at a very different time. There were no apps, you couldn’t sort of go on YouTube to hear someone talk about meditation. And so I think the way I learned meditation is very different than what people have access to now, including really having other tools to deal with trauma and the material that can be surfaced through meditation.

So mine was very stop start in terms of understanding what was even going on. My very first silent retreat was probably in 1996 or 97, I did a 10-day Goenka retreat, which as you probably know are very intensive experiences. And I have to say the instruction in that particular retreat was not very good. I mean, beyond the videos of us in Goenka, the teachers didn’t offer me a lot of support for what was happening. And I was having classic symptoms of all of these images and feelings and emotions and sensations coming up that were really memories of traumatic events in my life.

And I had to kind of handle them on my own and stay with the physical process. It was quite challenging. It was very exhausting. I came away not wanting to do a retreat, and I didn’t do another retreat until I went to Thailand maybe three or four years later and did kind of a longer stay with a lot more support in terms of the environment and just also the quality of the teaching. But also the space itself, because we were in nature. It was being held by the earth in a different way, not the dead of winter in Massachusetts with very little support and instruction.

So it’s interesting now to see how people are coming with much more familiarity with meditation, much more language around not only the techniques and the practices, but also the other aspects that are included in a meditation practice, because meditation is just paying attention to life.

So I tend to start very gently with people and emphasize embodiment. I think that we all have different orientations. Some of us are more mind-centered, some of us more heart-centered, some of us more body-centered. But all of us in modernity are conditioned to go into our heads and we’re rewarded for that. So even people who are very body-oriented, I find need that extra help to stay with sensation, stay with the information that the body is giving, and then to really be with that in a way that’s allowing, accepting, compassionate and tender.

So I teach on an app and sometimes I joke that all my meditations are the same because I’m bringing people back into the body in this really gentle, compassionate way. And I feel like that’s just so powerful and we can stay with that for a long time. And it bears a lot of fruits and gives us the capacity to then work with the feelings, emotions, thoughts and stories that come up in the process.

Thomas: Yeah, I want to anyway relate this also to trauma and all the symptoms that might show up for people. And so what would you say are ways to generate commitment? Because you said, one thing I heard already in listening to you is that when strong symptoms of trauma of old feelings or stuff comes up, we tend to maybe not go back to either retreats or even to the practice because it’s too overwhelming. And what are ways to generate a more coherent practice that has a long breadth? How do you see this in your community?

Sebene: Yeah, one of the things that I like to emphasize is really that gentleness and care with the practice, because there’s so many factors that make us think that meditation has to look or be a certain way, including statues of the Buddha in full lotus, sitting straight up. And this happens on retreats as well. And there’s a reason why. If you have a hundred people on a retreat, it’s hard to get people comfortable and lying down and have the space and still have some sense of order and flow. So people do tend to sit up and there’s a lot of comparison.

So one of the very simple things I encourage is people to try and lie down if that feels better. I was forced to lie down in my practice for a number of years just because of what was going on with my body in cancer treatment. And I felt I was given permission by one of my teachers who had also been very, very sick for years and had a lying down practice in a monastery as a monk for years. And to hear that kind of permission, that kind of allowing for making our meditation practice something that’s doable for us. So not these 30, 60 hour sits of determination sitting straight up, but really 10 minutes lying down on a yoga mat in the morning and doing a body scan to really sort of create the practices that support what we need at any time. And that takes a lot of self-awareness. So the practice is not only about the sitting and the structure for what you’re doing, but it’s really understanding, tuning into what your body might need, where your heart and mind is in that moment, and really being willing to adjust.

Having said that, you want to have some consistency to understand what is going on over time. So especially new meditators, I might encourage them to sort of choose a practice for five days, or a week, or a month that they want to try. Okay, I want to try sitting down and doing, just being with my breath at the nostrils or in the belly if the nostrils are too close to my brain and want to sort of orient downwards. Or they might want to do lying down meditation for a week straight and just see how that feels and what kind of response the body has.

I find that when people are given permission to lie down so much relaxes. There’s a lot of just conditioned tension in the body that’s related to our hearts and minds. And once we let the earth hold us and relax the body, there’s actually much more space to work with whatever other material is coming up for us.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Very beautiful. And so let’s talk a little bit about what comes up in us. You referred to it a little bit already, the trauma symptoms, like the traumatic stress images, emotions, like the pain that’s somewhere stored in our body. And on the other hand, I think another set of trauma symptoms is our numbness, indifference, distance, feeling disconnected. So there are these two, this hyper and hypo activation. How do you see this? How do you work with it when it comes up? What is your guidance for meditators to deal with these sets of symptoms and how do you see meditation impacting the trauma symptoms maybe? Whatever comes to you.

Sebene: Yeah, yeah. I just should have said this from the start, but to say that meditation is not a panacea for all things. It has been somewhat glorified, glorified and even fetishized, I think, as it’s become more popular. I’m glad that it’s becoming more popular and becoming sort of part of the mainstream and there’s a way in which we can think that if we’re meditating, then that’s going to solve everything. And so even on a retreat or more intensive or lengthy process of working people, we are not just meditating. The instruction isn’t just about the meditation practice itself. It’s also about our attitude towards the practice, our full realities, including our identities and all that is happening in a space with a group of people. There’s time for feedback, for people to talk to me or other teachers or with each other. And so there’s a lot of tools that we can use to work with anything that might arise. It’s not just the meditation practice itself.

The instructions I feel are quite simple in a sense because they’re to be with sensation, again because we tend to be so mind-oriented, as a way to sort of ground and start to create the spaciousness for allowing things to arise in a way that’s more filled with this spacious awareness and kindness, this sort of mindfulness and compassion together. The two co-arise, they always co-arise. If they don’t, then it’s just paying attention if there isn’t compassion there.

So making space for whatever is arising and then meeting it with sort of a gentleness just continually. You might use self-talk, you might use self-touch, but it’s not just about being sort of empty watching things, but really visiting it, meeting it and being with it with some sense of friendliness, some sense of allowing that is really tender. So whether they’re emotions or stories and whether they’re strong or weak, we come back with that kindness and just say, “Okay, this is what’s here right now. Can I be with this?” And there are many phrases we can use. There are many techniques of visualization or making that space. But the attitude and the simplicity of awareness and kindness I think are the foundation.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. And so when people touch or in our language, we would say if people come that have very early attachment wounds that their entire nervous system is into kind of a global overload. What do you recommend to people like that? So when they come and they feel they are constantly on the edge of sitting with the stress, or feel overwhelmed by what’s coming up, what’s the support that you give to people?

Sebene: Yeah, I think that the support, and again, this is different than the sort of blanket meditation instructions on a less personal app or in a recording, which you can’t offer the same kind of relationality. But we try to through the voice and through the instructions to meet whatever is there with kindness, with gentleness. But I really believe when we’re making space for this kind of happening, of trauma or early wounding to really express itself, it really is in relationship that we care for each other in that way.

So how I show up as a teacher is also a mirror for how someone can show up for themselves. And so the way I speak, the tenor of my voice, the kindness I offer, the allowing and just acknowledging that this is all okay. And it’s even more than okay, it’s almost inevitable given the structures that we live in and all that we’ve inherited. And that’s what I mean of also allowing our identities and full selves at a meditation practice and not just a silo of techniques and a very, I think, maybe early western interpretation of meditation coming from a culture and cultures that had much more relationality just built into the whole process. This individualistic idea of a meditator sort of taking care of themselves on their own through just following the breath or being with their own trauma, I think is very different than a meditation practice that’s embedded within a sense of community and mirroring and reflection and understanding.

So if I’m working with someone, I will talk to them about what is coming up and really try and understand and reflect, not so much picking apart the origins or psychologizing, but just sort of embedding what’s happening in a whole system of meaning of why we’re all so messed up. Because we are embedded within systems of exploitation and extraction going back and millennia. And so to make room for that understanding starts to make it less reactive, because a lot of what I see and I’ve experienced in myself is that most of us think there’s something wrong with us when we’re having these reactions. That it shouldn’t be that way. And so I’m really giving permission that yeah, of course it’s that way. That makes perfect sense. We can’t necessarily know all the causes and conditions for karma and untangle it perfectly, but we can understand the generalized reality of where we’re all at.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s so lovely. I want to echo how important also in my understanding of what you just said, is that how we open up a wider context and people pathologize those in those states. And that they’re not pathologies, but something wants to come out and something wants to detox itself and there’s even an intelligence behind it. And I think if you can work with that intelligence, and you said it beautifully, in having a conversation, being in relationship, not being isolated. It’s all very, very important qualities that are beautiful. Yeah, thank you for that. Did you want to say more?

Sebene: Well, I was just going to say I’ve only learned that because that’s how it’s been for me. And I’ve seen how I have looked for the answer outside of me, projected onto teachers thinking that they know it all or are perfect in some way or can fix this being right here. And have come to understand that the best teachings point back to the teacher within and to really offer that to others, to really know that we can find our own wellbeing and answers in relationship with others by really by allowing our inner gold to shine.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s beautiful. The other set of symptoms that I come across is when people feel like they’re sitting, but they’re actually sitting in a bit of a dissociated space. And so in your teaching or guidance when people hit that, we are still here, it seems like we are witnessing, but actually part of us is shut down or numb. So we are not any more bathing or sitting in the sensations, whatever they are, because when we are in the discomfort of a lot of stress or emotions, so then we are also sensing something. But there are states where it feels like everything is a bit empty. But that’s not a spacious emptiness. That’s kind of a disconnect, which some people mix with witnessing. And I’m curious to hear your take on how you’re dealing with that. What are your guidance for people when that happens?

Sebene: Yeah. Yes, definitely. And sometimes that’s needed, right? We might need times to numb or distance ourselves from too much experience, and that’s the self-knowing that’s so important. So we need to learn to ground ourselves in our own experience, but also know ourselves, like what is really happening. And that’s where all these other tools can come in as well, including therapy and self-awareness.

Working with someone, I have to know them at least fairly well to know when that’s happening and help them see it. But I think just naming it as you’ve done can be helpful for people to interrogate when they get attached to specific states, and states of meditation can be really pleasant. We are sort of naming the difficult parts, but they can be really wonderful. But the state is not the waking up. That’s just an experience. And so really being able to know the difference between kind of numbing out and staying in a state because that feels more pleasant than dealing with our lives, that takes some knowing of another and definitely of knowing of ourselves.

And for me, I find that it’s helpful, speaking as a teacher, but also in my own experience to really use a lot of humor and kindness with being honest about what’s really going on. Because sometimes we want to project this all-knowing, meditation practitioner or teacher, that we sort of have it all figured out. And to be perfectly honest and transparent, I don’t have it all figured out. And I try and model that as much as possible in my teaching and writing so that other people don’t feel the need to hold themselves in this very rigid, all calm, all peaceful all the time, but really checked out posture.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Very important what you just said. And so when we summarize all of that now, we spoke about a lot of the experiences that can come up. And when we applied it a little bit to our world, because it seems like the volatility, the stress through the increase of data speed, many things speeding up, puts more and more stress on our nervous system to channel that information. I think where it’s open, it’s anyway flowing through. But it’s not open, it creates a more jarring experience.
And so in my understanding, actually having a meditation practice in this time that helps us to regulate and stay in the most spacious interior to participate in our world is also part of really social impact. And people who are very engaged in society I think can benefit a lot from the meditation practice. And I’m curious to hear your take on that. I’m sure many people come to you that are also very engaged in their lives, and in life, and not just teaching in a monastery or maybe even a monastery is very engaged in life.

So maybe you can speak a little bit to that because sometimes it sounds like, well, for some people in their minds it might be, oh, meditation is something more removed and I’m engaged and I’m a political activist, a social rights activist. I don’t know, a climate change activist. But I think the beauty to combine that is amazing and I’m curious what you say to them.

Sebene: Yeah, I feel and see in myself and others a lot of dysregulation right now because there is a lot going on. And that’s not just what we see geopolitically and culturally around us, but it’s also astronomically. Astrology points to the fact that these are intense years by any measure in human consciousness and history. And so normalizing that I think is really important too, to say it’s not just what we see around us and through our gadgets, which are overwhelming us. But actually the skies are reflecting exactly what’s happening right now. And for me, that’s very important too.

I work with paradox a lot. It’s kind of central to my teaching. And to say that there’s sort of our mundane material reality and there’s also a mystical cosmic reality, and the two are not separate, and they definitely sometimes contradict each other. But we can actually see a reflection of what’s happening right now. And so to normalize that these are chaotic times and we can all feel that we’re not hysterical. At the same time I love this belle hooks quote. She said, “If you’re fucked up and you lead the revolution, you’re going to have a fucked up revolution.”

Thomas: Right. Right. It’s very true.

Sebene: And there are a lot of folks who right now are sort of mistaking their dysregulation with commitment and that’s not going to help anyone. And it’s not to pathologize or make the dysregulation wrong again. Even the cosmos are reflecting to us that these are dysregulating times. But it actually means it requires more care and attention and awareness to ourselves. And I like to add to bell hooks quote, “The revolution will not be desacralized,” and that there’s actually a call to even more sacredness to more connection to the more than human, the earth and the cosmos trying to wake us up before we blow up this whole place.

So for me, it’s urgent that we actually tend to ourselves in community and really also as individuals taking care of what we need in any moment. For me, that’s meant being off social media for the past five months now because it was too much information for me, and I have to find other ways to stay informed and engaged beyond Instagram. And that’s been a hard thing in this moment, to say no, I’m not going to bear witness as I’m being asked to by Palestinians in this particular way, and I’m trying to find other ways to bear witness. So each of us have to find where we’re being dysregulated to the point of being unhelpful and fucking up the revolution and in what ways we can care for ourselves so that we can be of use to our collective wellbeing.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s very beautiful. I wholeheartedly agree. And sometimes the way I frame it is that trauma stress and urgency are two different things. That might be things that are really urgent. And we feel also in the climate change, there’s a climate urgency. We really are called to do something. But the hyper stress or the dysregulation that you speak about, that’s not the same. Sometimes it’s like, “Oh, if I don’t follow that urge, then I’m not engaging and complying or being complicit.” But the differentiation that you made is very beautiful. So I think that’s very powerful. And you said something that caught my attention. You said, “I’m working a lot with paradox.” You want to share a little bit about that?

Sebene: Yeah, I mean it’s been central to my work for a number of years now. My book is kind of about this central paradox in Buddhism of the absolute and the relative, which basically just states that all things are interconnected, but there’s also material reality of separateness, which is not the same as not being interconnected.

So I work with this primary paradox that we are not separate and we are not the same. For me, that’s a really helpful way for us to process our lived realities and also our complete interdependence with each other. So because I work a lot with people of color and with people who are coming with all sorts of different identities, I really love that work with, how do we acknowledge that everything is interconnected? I mean to the point where we can’t really understand or fathom that. Logically we’ve known this for over a hundred years. Einstein said time is a persistent illusion and there’s so much to the cosmos, to our universe, that is a mystery still. Logically we may understand the words, but we can’t really grapple fully with what that means because it’s a really deep truth.

I read this quote the other day, “It’s not something and it’s not nothing.” It’s really, it’s all. But we also have this lived reality, that we have these different histories, we have these different power structures in our world. And that paradoxical truth is, I think, the key to really us getting through these crisis times to be able to understand and hold both, and to really work with this. I have a newsletter called Ancestors to Elements, and I really like that as a metaphor for how we practically work with this, not just in terms of what we think and logically understanding it through words, but really starting to grapple with what is our ancestry, what are our traumas, what are our lived histories, and these elements that connect us to the more-than-human world that help us to move beyond just this kind of material reality, but start to connect to the interconnection and mystery and magic that is also the truth.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s very powerful. Also, because for me, the one point that you said it makes intellectually sense, yeah, that’s great. But as long as I don’t have a lived experience of interconnectedness, it’s an idea. It’s like an abstraction of a deeper state. And so it’s important for all of us to find ways how to really have a reference of what that means. Otherwise, it’s an idea. Same with trauma. We can write a lot about trauma, but it doesn’t necessarily heal us. To heal us, we really need to go deeper and really surface the suffering in our systems, in our collective systems. That’s beautiful.

Sebene: Yeah, that’s why I love the metaphor of ancestors and elements because they’re two frameworks that exist in every culture throughout time, seemingly from what I’ve researched. So every culture has some kind of ancestor connection or veneration, and every culture has some sort of system of elements. We’re going back to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, China, India, Africa, Indigenous lands around the world, and they’re both such powerful metaphors. Because ancestors really help us deal with that trauma that you’re describing that sort of dates back, that has this mysterious but material reflection in our own bodies. The science is showing that now, but people have known that forever and that’s why these practices existed.

And elements are these amazing ways for us to have a lived, felt sense experience of that interconnection because they’re everywhere. It’s not just about being in nature. Everything is nature. I have a candle lit on my desk here, and so there’s fire here. I lit incense before we started, that’s air. I sprayed water, and I touched some ground I have from Ethiopia as earth. And so we can bring in the elements all around us, when we’re in the shower or when we’re making tea, and to begin to touch into that and to reflect and understand that interconnection on a daily basis starts to make it real for us.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. I can also feel it when you speak. I can feel it through my body here. All the elements that when you speak about them, they resonate inside. It’s lovely. And so now turning a little bit to you and your own maybe healing journey, you want to tell us a little bit how you are holding your own healing journey? What are the effects that meditation has within your own healing journey? If it’s okay for you to let us participate a bit and learn from you, your own journey.

Sebene: And just to say, I’m very open about my cancer experience now, but I wasn’t for years. Even when I was already teaching, I couldn’t really speak about it publicly. And there’s a great Christian writer and teacher named Nadia Bolz-Weber. She talks about preaching or teaching from scars, not wounds. And so it’s important, I want to name that not everybody needs to talk about their trauma all the time. It’s when you’re able and ready. But I was diagnosed with stage three cancer when I was about 34, so almost 20 years ago. And I have stage four cancer now, metastatic breast cancer. And I’ve had many ups and downs with that and many brushes with death including just a few years ago and a lot of different experiences that I’ve talked about on other podcasts and written about. But for me, it’s been such a profound experience.

I was talking with a friend the other day, really supported by astrology, which I know many people are not into. But I have found is a really helpful framework or map for kind of seeing different transits in my life and understanding that whatever is happening is what’s happening. There’s nothing wrong with it. Especially with illness, there can be for a lot of people, the sense of something has gone wrong, or for me for a long time that I did something wrong, that this is a mistake. And to really rest in the truth that if it’s happening, it’s not a mistake. It doesn’t mean that you want it to continue, or that it’s good. Just like with the injustices of the world, we’re not happy about them. But again, given our human trajectory, it makes sense that we are where we are. All the causes and conditions led to this moment, and it’s our opportunity to change them.

So I don’t know why I am sick. There are probably both ancestral and karmic reasons for it. Many personal and collective kind of influences that led me to this point of pretty severe illness. But I work with how I am in this moment and it’s taken me the 20 years to get to that point of really being with what is happening now. One of those things to help with that is meditation, to help me see what’s really happening, and what are thoughts and projections, especially projections into the future. It used to be about the past, like oh, I shouldn’t have done this, or it’s because I did that. It’s because I smoked in my twenties, or whatever stories I had come up with. I now am much more trained and benefit from being with how I feel now.

So currently my cancer data is not good. It’s sort of going in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing a lot of scans and tests in the past couple of weeks. There’s a lot of scanxiety involved of waiting for the results, and that’s one kind of data. And then there’s the data of my lived experience and how I’m feeling in this moment. And I feel actually the best I’ve felt in a few years. I feel strong in my body. The cancer is primarily in my bones right now, although it’s in other places too. I had a of a hip replacement two years ago because of breakage that came from cancer treatment and the cancer itself weakening the bones.

So there’s been a lot of things to manage, including pain and learning how to be with pain, which I’ll maybe speak a little bit about too. But the lived reality of how I’m feeling in any moment, my meditation practice has helped me so much with that. And to recognize that, oh, I have gratitude for my beautiful apartment and my amazing community and the love and support I have, the resources I have, and the fact that my lungs feel good right now, my legs and hip feel good, that I can walk freely. And all of that comes from that ability to be with the present moment, to not just get lost in thoughts and stories.

Thomas: It touches me very much. And in your sharing, I feel the maturity of your practice, like how you created the holding space in yourself, or what you’re sharing with us. And I find you’re holding it in an amazing maturity. That’s very powerful.

Sebene: I had a lot of practice

Thomas: Yeah, for sure. I’m sure.

Sebene: And it doesn’t always look like this. And I’m very grateful that I have, in this moment, I haven’t always, wonderful doctors and loving support all around me in Brooklyn, friends that I can lean on and turn to. And so that makes a huge, huge difference.

Thomas: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Yeah, it’s very touching to listen to you. Also, the honesty and the transparency. Also how you share it publicly is very powerful. So thank you. It’s a great example of what it means to own your inner state. And that’s what I hear when I listen to you. And you said something that’s I think a very, very important point. You said, “I learned how to be with pain.” And many meditation practitioners, I mean, we all know meditation and pain together. Let us hear a little bit how is your experience, what is your learning how to be with pain, and also how do you bring this to your students?

Sebene: Yeah, bone cancer is very, very painful. And so when I started having this pain, and even though I have a history of cancer, they kind of missed it. I was really at my wit’s end and I felt very guilty and bad about all of the instructions I’d given for pain over the years, not really understanding severe pain, never having experienced it. And it really tenderized me because I had to find other ways to be with the pain that weren’t about being still, not even lying-down still, but that were about rocking and moving and soothing. Also vocalizing, which you can’t do on a silent retreat. But really allowing that to come out.

So to the point where the last wilderness retreat I taught a couple of years ago after this experience of pain, I invited people to go out into the mountains and just scream. And it was so wonderful. And all of us teachers were sitting just hearing all of these shouts and screams from different parts of the woods. And really, so whether it’s emotional pain or physical pain, and they actually get processed in the same part of the brain, finding ways that are truly soothing.

And again, this is knowing ourselves, because we can have reactionary reactions to pain that are just moving away in a way that is not in tune with what’s really happening. Because sometimes we can be with it in a way that allows it. We don’t have to just move away from it or have that reaction, but knowing yourself to have that gentleness takes time. And having said that, I actually experienced the break of my femur when I was on vacation, but I didn’t know what was happening because the fracture was so small that was beginning, that the doctors hadn’t seen it on the X-rays. So I thought, and they thought I was having nerve pain. So when I experienced this break, I thought I was having nerve pain. I was actually experiencing my femur ball breaking away from the rest of my femur.

And because I didn’t make the connection that it was broken, I didn’t experience that pain as severely as it was. And I continued, we were on vacation in Costa Rica, my ex-husband and I. And we continued with our friends for another week with me having a broken femur ball. And because I hadn’t categorized it as a broken femur, I just tended to that pain in the best way I could. And that to me is the power of placebo, which complicates things because we want people to be tender with their pain and not put themselves through pain, but we can also see that our experience of pain is also mentally generated. And if we are told something about our pain, then we will experience that pain in a particular way. If our pain is contextualized in a way that allows us to have more ease, then we will have more ease. So it’s both, and each of us has to find our way into that.

Thomas: Yeah. Also here, when I listen to you, first of all, it’s very beautiful to listen to the kind of complexity or sophistication of your sharing. At least for me, when I listen to you, I feel the experience that you have in being with your pain over and over and over again. And that allows a certain, I don’t know, differentiation or sophistication in the way you share about it. It has a fragrance to it that is very beautiful. And also what you said when you say, I felt only once I had very strong pain. I saw the guidance that I gave before and I was sorry for some of it.

Also, it speaks to the embodied wisdom that you can learn or generate through what you’re going through. And I feel it also. When you speak about it, I can feel it’s not just mental information for me, but it gives me a transmission through your body of what it means to be with what you’re going through. And that together with the maturity, how you have a holding space in yourself, touches me. It’s beautiful to listen to what has grown in you as a human being and also in you as a teacher through that situation. Thank you.

Sebene: You offer such kind reflections, Thomas. Thank you. I appreciate it. And the universe has given me a lot of things to practice with in this lifetime.

Thomas: Yeah, yeah. No, I can feel it when you speak, and I really mean it. It’s like that’s what I feel when I sit with you and it’s very touching. So thank you. I also think it’s very valuable for everybody that listens to our conversation that goes through some health crisis or some other pain, like the quality of being with. And also, as you said the mind, sometimes also looking at our mindsets and what are the lenses that we look through when we look at our pain. I find it very interesting, because we often look at ourselves, but not all the time we look at the lens how we look at ourselves. And to spend some time with the lens is very important because that has all kinds of flavors and then what we’ll see through that lens or has a certain color, but it doesn’t mean that that really has the color, but the lens has a certain color.

And so we feel or we won’t feel certain things given the quality of our lens. Also when we sit often with our interior spending some time, how do I actually relate to my interior and what am I looking through? And then also what kind of learned associations, assumptions, mindsets do I look through when I deal with certain aspects in myself? And you spoke very beautifully to them. And I see that it’s already, we are coming to the end of our time. Is there anything you want to leave us with? Anything that you feel either we didn’t talk about, practice and encouragement, anything?

Sebene: Well, just kind of picking up on the last thing you said, there’s such power in that. And I think that we underestimate our power because we are living in such chaotic times, and the power of our mind and our stories and our lenses to create the reality mean that the power of placebo alone to actually change the material reality of our own bodies and our lived experience just through thinking something is different, and there’s tons of research now into placebos that is mystifying science. And so that mystical unknown quality of empowerment that we have with how we look at things, how we care for ourselves, how we care for each other, I think is really encouraging to me.

Thomas: It’s so beautiful. It’s very lovely for me to have gotten to know you through this hour that we spent together. And I felt myself really being drawn into your experience, both on a human level and also as a teacher and how you embody your teaching. So thank you very much. This was very beautiful. I’m very happy that we could have this time together. Thank you very much.

Sebene: Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.