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Relational Mindfulness During COVID-19 and Beyond

May 2020

"One Relational Mindfulness principle is taking joyful responsibility and it really pertains to this moment in time. We are all in this together. My welfare and your welfare are completely, inextricably linked. It is important we not forget. This reminder encourages us to really step up our practice and help one another wake up and remember who we really are."

“One of the teachings of Relational Mindfulness is turning towards rather than away,” says Esalen faculty, dharma teacher and author Deborah Eden Tull. “That principle really addresses the conditioned tendency in our world to turn away from all forms of difficulty, pain, discomfort and challenging emotion because we may not feel adequate to meet it. Instead, we can learn how to turn towards it, welcome it and everything that arises.”

Eden, who leads several upcoming workshops with Nina Simons at Esalen, including Relational Mindfulness, Power and the Deep Feminine: An Experiential Training and Leading with Relational Mindfulness: Regenerating Ourselves and the World, believes the COVID-19 pandemic offers us ample opportunity to practice Relational Mindfulness and embrace our challenges. “It's incredibly freeing to acknowledge that as human beings we contain every emotion, every color, every texture, every season and the invitation is to meet all of it with love. Love doesn't mean some kind of elevated state or like a Hallmark card. It really means to meet with presence and an open heart whatever is ours to meet as human beings.”

Eden explains there are nine principles to Relational Mindfulness, which allow us to embody compassionate awareness in all of our relationships—with the self, one another and the planet, especially now when a global pandemic challenges all of humanity. By practicing these principles, we can remember our inherent interrelatedness and recognize that interconnection is truly our birthright.

“Another principle of Relational Mindfulness is taking joyful responsibility and it really pertains to this moment in time,” Eden adds. “We are all in this together. My welfare and your welfare are completely, inextricably linked. It is important we not forget this. This reminder encourages us to really step up our practice and help one another wake up and remember who we really are.”

Eden maps out the nine principles of Relational Mindfulness below, which can be helpful during COVID-19 and beyond:

    1. Intention Relational Mindfulness begins with “the intention to pay attention, moment by moment,” Eden says, and to use our life experience and relationships to become more present.
    2. The Sacred Pause Each time we take a sacred pause and turn our attention within, we invite ourselves to return—from the mind of separation—to whole mind awareness.
    3. Deep Listening To listen deeply is to listen from full presence and it is the essence of Relational Mindfulness—listening to life, moment by moment, as it unfolds; listening to one another in a more attentive way. The more we deeply listen, the more attunement and receptivity we bring to each moment.
    4. Mindful Inquiry and Clear Seeing Mindful Inquiry means to inquire into our present moment experience, and to investigate our personal and collective conditioning. For this principle, Eden adds: “We ask questions such as, ‘Through what lens am I perceiving?’ ‘Is this really so?’ ‘Am I listening to truth or delusion?’ We don’t fill in the answer. We wait for it to present itself and remain in the space of deep listening. The more we become aware of the energy that we give to story, the easier it becomes to return to undistorted reality."
    5. Turning Towards Rather Than Away When discomfort, pain or fear of intimacy arises, we can turn towards rather than away from it. “Most of us have been taught to turn away from or try to escape the challenges we face or to escape intimacy,” Eden says. “But challenge is a natural and inevitable part of being human. Relational Mindfulness invites us to turn towards discomfort instead and to be with it, no matter what.”
    6. Taking Responsibility As we deepen awareness, we become more accepting of the fact that each of us contains authenticity and goodness and each of us carries conditioning. Eden explains that we learn to take responsibility for our conditioning so that we can impact the world around us more consciously.
    7. Not Taking Things Personally “One of the ways that we maintain the bubble of separate self is by taking things personally,” Eden says. “Oftentimes we can take our thoughts and emotions, which continually arise and pass, personally. We take things other people say personally, whether or not they have anything to do with us. We even take the weather personally. We strengthen our self-referencing bubble every time we take things personally. By practicing not taking life personally, we are more positioned to see clearly.” She adds that this means both seeing the bigger picture and seeing ourselves within the bigger picture. Not taking things personally helps us to stay connected to the consciousness of “We.”
    8. Transparency As we deepen in Relational Mindfulness, Eden says we learn to be transparent about our experience within ourselves and with others. This means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and honest, even when it is difficult. “Transparency helps us to see ourselves and others with acceptance, acknowledging the complexity and contradiction that we can embody in any given moment as human beings,” she says. “Transparency affirms the interconnected self, while judgment, defense and compartmentalization affirms separate self or ego.”
    9. Compassionate Action When we pause, listen deeply and inquire into our experience, compassionate action can arise in the form of “insight, intuition and guidance.” If there is a response required, kind and appropriate action may avail itself to us with little effort.

Finding The Path

Eden’s path toward Relational Mindfulness is unique. She grew up in Los Angeles in a family of artists and activists. At a young age, she was aware of the state of the world and says she felt the pain of the overwhelming challenges of humanity. “I was always asking questions like, ‘How can we do things differently? What traditional societies did things differently?’” she recalls. “I certainly saw something in the first book I read about Buddhism that appeared to shine a light on another way of perceiving, another way of seeing life.”

When Eden was 11 years old, her father, who had a deep meditative practice, died unexpectedly. She says the experience “invited” her to ask bigger questions and gave her everything she needed to know about the importance of developing a personal practice. After high school, she left Los Angeles to attend a liberal arts school where she designed her own major in Ecology, Community and Social Change: Design for a Sustainable Future, and strengthened her new daily meditation practice. She also became an organic farmer and learned how to grow her own food.

“I just wanted to get away from the dominant paradigm and look at what really matters, and how we could cultivate more peace and sustainability,” she says.

After traveling extensively, learning about sustainable communities, she eventually found herself working for activists she considered her heroes. A profound insight emerged: that even in the name of doing good in the world, many people fell into stress, burnout, drama, “an ‘I versus you’ mentality and finger-pointing,” she adds. “I just knew there was more.”

A great deal more.

At the age of 26, Eden made a significant life change and moved to a silent Zen Buddhist monastery where she would reside for the next seven years, embracing a monastic life and becoming a dharma teacher. She had no intention of leaving, but a twist of fate changed everything: she contracted Lyme disease. To receive proper care, she suddenly found herself back out “in the world.” It was at this time that she give birth to the teachings of Relational Mindfulness. She wanted to offer a clear bridge for herself and those she taught on how to bring meditation off the cushion and into the realm of everyday relating. Eden sees similar parallels to her transition and what many of us may confront when shelter-in-place restrictions begin lightening.

“It was both beautiful and scary challenging that transition back into the world,” she says. “From being in a silent monastery in the vast wilderness to going back to a city like Los Angeles. But I was very inspired, which helped me trust my capacity to really hold the teachings of my practice in a new context and to share them with the larger world. Upon returning to the city, I had to set conscious boundaries. I would wake up early every morning and spend time in quiet before the city awoke. I would try to take a day of silence in the beginning of each week so I could stay in touch with my deeper self.”

In that respect, Eden sees returning to society as an invitation for us to create an intention for a mindful transition.

“There can be a duality in spiritual practice between time, for instance, on retreat or time in a cave in India for contemplation versus the ‘real world,’” Eden shares. “These days, more than ever, human beings have the opportunity to deepen their practice and to wake up in the world—as it is—and to let go of that duality of retreat time versus ordinary-life time. I believe that it's easier than we think to remember the already awakened state exactly where we are. My first encouragement as we move back out into the world, would be to let go of that duality as much as we can. Let’s set an intention around returning to things—even if it's not life as we knew it. If we do that, it allows us to emerge from this time knowing that we've cultivated more clarity and presence.”

Join Eden online at 9 a.m. (PST), Tuesdays and Thursdays for free meditations.

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