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Discovering intrinsic health in a world running out of sanity with Melissa Moore 


The pandemic has highlighted some fundamental and often painful differences in worldview between nations, political parties, friends and family. As we enter a 5th wave polarization and fear can undermine our collective ability to respond effectively to a changing world. According to contemplative psychology we all possess intrinsic health, a basic reservoir of sanity and compassion we can rely on.  By reconnecting with intrinsic health through mindfulness practices it is possible to release fear, bridge differences and foster healthy relationships.

In this episode of Awake In Relationship I speak with return guest Melissa Moore, director of Karuna Training and author of the Diamonds Within Us: Uncovering brilliant sanity through contemplative psychology, about the often hidden resource of intrinsic health.  In this conversation we discuss how polarization creates pathology both in the culture and the mind and how to work with strong emotions using the tools of contemplative psychology. We also discuss specific ways to reconnect to intrinsic health and create a compassionate space for dialogue in these polarizing times. 

Show notes


Episode Transcripts


intro  0:09
You’re listening to Awake in Relationship, a podcast about intimacy, community and culture in a time of great change with Silas Rose
Silas Rose  0:42
Hello friends, my name is Silas Rose,  so many of us are probably thinking a little bit more than we wish to right now about health and what it means to be healthy. Without don’t It really is kind of a scary situation with Omicron, cases are surging despite the vaccine, As we look at another winter a possible lockdowns and restrictions, it’s hard to not feel pesimisitc about the future. Whether we’re talking about the pandemic or the climate crisis, or perhaps social justice issues, the news tends to highlight the fundamental and often painful differences between nations, political parties, friends and family. We’re in the middle of a very polarized time, o lot of hatred and fear is being generated,  making it very difficult to respond sanely to a rapidly changing world. And with the rise of the new variant, I think there’s the real possibility of things getting more intense. As we’re headed to the holiday season and you know, a fifth wave, it’s really important. to emember that compassion is what will unit us and despite whatever is going on in our world, health is really intrinsic. Health is the foundation of our humanity. This is a bigger view of health, beyond just the body, it  really relates to an unshakable sense of sanity, and goodness, which we can connect to through various practices and, but certainly through cultivating healthy relationships. This is why I want to invite back my friend Melissa Moore, Director of Karuna Training, and recent author of a new book, The Diamonds Within Us, Uncovering brilliant sanity through contemplative psychology. In this conversation, we’ll discuss how fear and polarization create pathology both in the mind and culture, and how self compassion is the first step in the healing journey. We also discuss specific practices, connecting to intrinsic health and working with strong emotions. If you’re wanting some potent tools for working with fear and uncertainty, as we enter in the fifth wave, this episode is for you.
Silas Rose  2:58
Melissa Moore, welcome back to the show.
Melissa Moore  3:01
Thank you, I’m happy to be here.
Silas Rose  3:04
So for those that haven’t tuned into our previous conversation, on compassionate exchange, you’ve come out with a new book, The Diamonds Within Us, it might be helpful just to do a quick recap on your history, and how did this book come to be?
Melissa Moore  3:28
Well, I’ve been teaching something called Karuna training for going on 28 years now, and I started that in Europe, or actually started in the States when I studied at Naropa. And then took contemplative psychology and uncoupled it from therapeutic training. And just brought it in a much more general context. Karuna means compassion, of course. So it was more like compassion training. We started out in Germany, and then it grew from there, too. It’s been held in nine countries so far. And over the years, we’ve learned a lot and kind of focused on the curriculum. And the book came out of an inspiration I had 15 years ago that I finally got around, because of COVID. Because I got trapped at home literally, I had the energy and the wherewithal to write and so and I had a good editor to help me, which was a student who was working and doing some PR for us. So I just got going and it came and it was birthed. Finally, and it’s a very necessary book from the perspective of Karuna training is it’s like a textbook on contemplative psychology, but I wove it with a lot of memoir my own experience and meeting the teachings. So it’s a very personal vulnerable account as well, which is pretty much how we teach in Karuna to be on befriend our vulnerability, and find our strength through that. So the book is kind of a testimony to that.
Silas Rose  5:08
Hmm, that’s quite appropriate conceived the book during the pandemic. I think a lot of us have been focusing on health and what it means to be healthy. Normally that we do that, in relationship to pathology. And that’s something you explore a lot in the book, and much of it focuses on this notion of intrinsic health. What is that?
Melissa Moore  5:37
Well, intrinsic health. Simply put is unconditioned health, meaning it’s not conditioned by the norms that we usually think of is healthy. So one possesses intrinsic health. Or this, we also sometimes call it basic sanity, despite our relative conditions. And it’s really the ability to work with things as they are in an open and kind way, it’s the ability to show up in equanimity and find ourselves in the circumstances we’re in and relate to them directly. We’re synchronized with things as they are. And we can know what to do when we’re synchronized, we have more wherewithal, we have more access to our inner powers, and we have more access to what’s really happening in the world. And really, what we’re pointing at is the humanity within us. And that humanity that feels that can respond and can care and open and can love innately. That aspect of ourselves that can be available to the world as it is, instead of a contrived conceptual idea of what we should be doing or what we think we are and all those preoccupations we get into, which is not health, you know, in particular, it’s distraction. So we’re really talking about synchronizing, we often talk about finding our intrinsic health, to sync and synchronizing our body, our speech and our mind in the present moment, because usually those things are going in different directions.
Silas Rose  7:21
So how do we lose that? Because I think, if I look at my own experience. I’m often not synchronized,
Melissa Moore  7:30
Right,  I mean, it’s me too. I mean, we have to really be thoughtful because we have much more practice at desynchronization than we do. Synchronization. It’s not something that we’re, unfortunately, we’re not taught this in kindergarten, although some children are being taught now with mindfulness, which is great. But yeah, I think that I think that we have unconditioned health, whether we’re in tune with it or not. So it’s not something that goes away. And it’s a question of uncovering it, or finding it within ourselves. And health is such a loaded word these days, because what do you think of when I say health? I mean, what’s your first thought?
Silas Rose  8:13
I think of the Covid virus
Melissa Moore  8:16
Right, think of COVID. But a lot of people will think of having a toned body and being able to run a marathon or looking a certain way, or, you know, there’s all kinds of projections, this word is really a troubled word. And so, this unconditioned health really is an experience that has to be discovered. And we use, we utilize meditation and contemplative methods. Again, and again, you could say all the work in contemplative psychology is focused on this view of intrinsic health, that there’s nothing to fix. That’s a huge, you know, takes away 90% of what we’re trying to do all the time, which is feel better. Nothing to fix, that’s a very hard perspective to get across.
Silas Rose  9:07
Mm hmm. Yeah, we don’t really have a reference point for in our society, unlike say traditional cultures, where that synchronization, between mind and body, the connection is somehow implicit. It’s everywhere. That I know from Chinese culture and studying Chinese medicine, the sense that the mind is in the heart, the body as opossed to the brain.
Melissa Moore  9:41
Right. and there are so many indigenous and and traditional cultures that understand that synchronization. It’s true. It’s really Western culture that’s caught up in a falacy
Silas Rose  9:57
It does seem like allopathic medicine is catching up. Even psychiatry are starting to kind of tune into that through psychedelics .
Melissa Moore  10:04
I think so I think a lot of natural healing and a lot, certainly psychology is deeply influenced by Buddhism and mindfulness right now and compassion training. And so I think that I think, you know, maybe, maybe  it looks like there’s a lot of bad news going on in the world, which is very easy, because if you read the headlines, you can become overwhelmed. But we also could step back and say, there’s a lot of good news happening, too. I mean, I think that could become a practice, in terms of this evolution of consciousness that’s happening in understanding. I just say, I’m hearing it in a lot of different quadrants. It’s not just in the world, but a lot of people are understanding like, oh, things are really different right now. The weather is changing. Our relationship to politics and justice is changing. We’re seeing that we’re being fed an algorithmic version of reality and people are awakening to whats happening, right?
Silas Rose  11:08
Ultimately, it kind of comes down to what we choose to focus on, in the sense that we are being dragged, pulled into an artificial realm.
Melissa Moore  11:20
It’s like, it’s just like in meditation. If you believe everything, you think you’ll go crazy on the cushion right? In when you’re in this media world, it’s feeding you back your own thoughts. It’s just making, making things very solid very quickly.
Silas Rose  11:37
Central to the mind, body connection is really the role in the emotions. How does contemplative psychology, work with emotion, particularly the strong ones like anger, or you know, fear?
Melissa Moore  11:51
Well, one of the great things about the contemplative psychology that we teach in Karuna training is it’s based on the vajrayana teachings that understands the inseparability of confusion and wisdom, energetically, but you don’t just dive head into that energetically, it’s really about learning what emotions are how they operate in our, in our being on a moment to moment basis with our conditioned existence, with our biases, and all of that you have to study the whole package and emotions are a piece of it. But what respective two emotions is like, really, the basic training is  learning how not to suppress them, which is very habitual. So you don’t really even know you’re doing that, until you really study it. And, and knowing when you’re acting it out, when you’re also acting it out, and there’s a middle space where you can meet the energy as it is without suppressing it without acting it out. And that happens only in the present moment. And that’s what makes it contemplative psychology,  we study that. And we study it through the mandala of the five Buddha families, which is a beautiful array of all the possibilities of the elemental aspects of the world, as well as the emotional aspects of the world. And we study that in community. And so we have to be friendly, to all the emotions, because it within the emotions within those poisonous emotions, like anger and jealousy, and the ones we have trouble with, is our resource, our greatest resource, our wisdom. So we be cutting off our nose to spite our face when we’re trying to get rid of our anger, because anger has purpose, we feel our emotions for a purpose. So but we have to have training, you don’t just dive into the deep into the pool, you have to first learn not to be in total reaction with your emotions, you have to really investigate through meditation and contemplative methods, your habitual tendencies with emotions, and then you have to befriend the energy and begin to trust the energy which you won’t do if you don’t believe in intrinsic health.
Melissa Moore  14:06
So when emotions are not stuck, when they are not fixated, that can be, in some sense, an expression of that intrinsic health?
Melissa Moore  15:08
Yes, for example, if you don’t know, the energy of anger, that sharp energy that’s can be boundaried. And it’s very knowing it’s a very head energy and anger is fuelled by justification, it’s always about being right. So, if you get out of the coupling of needing to be right, and you just experience the energy as it is, you’ll find that it has a purpose, and its big purpose is knowing, its boundaries, it’s sharp, it has an energy and it sees clearly. And so it can see clearly in multiple perspectives to it’s very wise. I grew up very afraid of anger, my father was the only one allowed to be angry in the family. And so it took me a long time and a lot of repression to find that energy and trust it and learn to speak it. And then I went overboard the other way, where I was, like a two year old, saying no to everything, right, so we have to find the continuum of our energy and learn how to exercise it, they all have purpose.
Silas Rose  16:20
So we talked about the mind body connection in terms of our personal experience. . Now you mentioned earlier, the personal connection with society.In the same way we become, you know, fragmented through conflicting emotions. Or maybe, you might say, unskillful, relating to our inner world. Mm hmm. Our outer world is very fragment to a point where it seems almost impossible to be healthy, in a sick society. When you think?
Melissa Moore  16:57
Well, I actually think that, again, that health is there, whether we’re in touch with it or not, it’s a matter of coming into contact with it and doing the proper things in our life to cultivate it, which most of us don’t have the actual freedom and privilege to do because that would be like staying in retreat a lot, or I don’t know what the conditions would be that would evoke more sanity in this. But I think any of us functioning with jobs or interacting with the internet, are constantly bombarded. And it’s very hard to keep a stable mind. But I think the job is, whether we’re, no matter where we are, is to work on how we are in reaction to the world. It’s really about our responses. So when we talk about society, there’s like this small society, like our close friends and our network, the people that we agree with, you know, our inner world, or maybe we don’t agree, but we’re in contact with those people or acquaintances, then there’s the greater society, which is the norms of the day, right, which are extreme right now. Right, there’s a lot of extremity extreme social actions. And so there’s many, many variations. So I think that intrinsic health is not dependent on any of these conditions that we can learn to drop out of those that conditioned experience and feel ourself in our heart and tune into the present moment and experience the elements and come back to our senses, literally, and find our intrinsic health and nurture that without being, you know, bombarded, but it takes mind training and heart training and in perseverance, I sometimes I’ve been doing this for many years, and I do lose heart. When I get up and read headlines in the morning. This is deadly for me, and yet I’m addicted to it. And that’s been proven, you know, we get an adrenaline rush every time we read them, right. And so we’re getting highly conditioned to that. phones and devices, right? So even though I know all this, it’s it’s like what I’m trying to remember now is what’s told in the headlines isn’t the whole story. Like think about those people who are in Kentucky right now in Tennessee who have lost everything right, just two days ago and the devastation there’s matchsticks, I mean, matchsticks from these tornadoes and what’s not told in the headlines yet or will be told a little bit but not much is the profound helping hands that are showing up in the love and the food and the care. And there is an outpouring for people who are in that in those situations and they’re so there’s health there and other people relating to the situation as it is, even though it’s devastation, do you see what I mean?  So turning our allegiance again and again to health is, in a societal context is keeping this bigger perspective that humans are good. For the most part, there’s some bad conditioning that happens. And we like to to. We like to scream that from the mountaintops, in our all of our apps, our neighborhood apps. And it’s disheartening if you go in that direction, much harder to keep an open view about humans, right. That’s what I think.
Silas Rose  20:39
You touched on this a little bit earlier in the sense that much of the toxic discourse that we experience, in terms of our own self referencing or self image, or it can be in terms of our relationship with current events, and really begins online. And there’s something I’m trying to figure out that maybe you have some iinsight into. There’s something about our technology, or how we engage with our technology that just completely, in many situations disables our ability to self regulate, what is that?
Melissa Moore  21:23
will, if I study it in myself, it’s like when I turn to the devices to fill the space, which I often do, I mean, I’m conditioned to do that now. Right? You know, if I have a gap in the airport, I look at my phone, I’m looking for my phone to fill in the gaps, right? Instead of experience the gaps. So I don’t know. I think it’s like any addiction, it deadens the mind. Right? It’s it’s a form of suppression. It’s a form of distraction. It’s a form of desynchronization, right?
Melissa Moore  21:58
Yeah. I imagine many people listening to this conversation wish that we we lived in a more kind of compassionate society. But it’s really seems kind of unclear how we’re going to get there. Given the polarization, it’s, it seems on a policy level, it’s not possible, that we’re always gonna find ourselves back in this zero sum game between opposing sides. So if I follow the thread of this conversation, it really kind of begins with with ourselves and with self compassion.
Melissa Moore  24:48
Well, I’m an orthodox buddhist, but as so I save the word compassion to mean selflessness, but the word we use in Karuna is maitri which is the same the reason why self compassion is such a compelling slogan is because there’s this step in forming compassion, which is a selfless act that requires that we love ourselves. First, we must be friend ourselves and have sympathy for ourselves in our own pace first before we can let go of ourselves to be available for others, which is what compassion is, from a orthodox perspective, and I realized this self compassion is in common parlance now because we’re not trained in loving kindness towards ourselves. And in the word maitri, in fact, has no translation in English. So we use this word self compassion that’s really grown recently out of the mindfulness movement. But what we’re really talking about is this warmth of heart towards ourself, which is the first step of forming, being able to let go of self first, you have to love yourself. It’s amazing. It’s just counterintuitive, but we think that, you know, selflessness is like giving up leaving yourself behind. But it turns out they were part of the compilation.
Silas Rose  26:10
Intrinsic health really seems to me to be a very present moment experience, in some sense, beyond thought, I think that’s why people like to hang out with dogs. They’re just naturally joyful, and just exude love. And there’s no second thought.
Melissa Moore  26:37
My 13 year old pug is definitely my best friend.
Silas Rose  26:48
 I’m just convinced that dogs are here to give love to the world. I also think that’s why people, you know, intuitively want to spend more time in nature. It connects us with something very primordial. Is mindfulness is a good place to start?
Melissa Moore  27:14
Yeah, and I think actually, what we’ve been doing what we’ve been really leaning into since COVID Is this practices that relate us to the to the elements, and what I’m talking about is to earth, fire, air, water and space, which correlate with the five Buddha families, but this, these elements are sacred. They’re not neither for us nor against us. And so studying and turning our mind to the elements, tuning into our ability to experience the elements through our sense perceptions in the present moment, when we can’t sit down on a cushion, when we CAN go for a walk when our mind is buzzing, can we tune into the trees in the greenery and so forth, to pull us out of ourselves into the world. That is a great practice, and just the ability to pull ourselves into the present moment and exercise that muscle of mind. You don’t have to be a meditator for that. And I think that kind of communion with the sacredness of the elements that can become a great teacher, and whether they know it or not going out into nature is that communal exchange with that, which we are, we’re not separate from that. But we feel like we have to go out in nature.
Melissa Moore  28:39
Melissa, thank you so much. And how can people get your book or learn more about meaning?
Melissa Moore  29:08
Well, the Diamonds Within Us has its own book site, which can be found through Karunatraining.com.  And there’s a link to my book there. We have a lot of free trainings in Karuna that you can come and just get a taste of our style. The Getting Started button let’s you find out where those are.  Thanks.

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