Christina Feldman: Meditation as Cultivation

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Christina Feldman is a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society and co-founder of Gaia House in England. She has been teaching insight meditation retreats since 1976 and has recently been involved in the dialogue between cognitive therapies and Buddhist practice.

This interview took place at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Christina begins by telling us about the retreat she was teaching at the time, which was specifically for people teaching mindfulness in the workplace—such as in social work and the justice system. Christina then talks about the first use of the word “mindfulness” as a translation for the Pali term sati, and reflects on the more nuanced meanings of sati that are sometimes missed when using mindfulness. She then shares the English term that she thinks better reflects the meaning of sati.

Christina shares with us how we can take the present moment as an object for meditation. She also explores how being in the present moment is a means of “stripping away of the extras,” and what it really means to practice that. We learn how to approach the present moment with a more inclusive and investigative attitude, and why this can lead to a much more profound experience of what the present truly is.

We then hear Christina’s thoughts on bhavana, or cultivation. She addresses the many kinds of cultivation we do in our lives and minds, and how powerful it can be to take on a more engaged and aware exploration of what we’re cultivating.

Christina dives into the translation of dukkha, and the limitations of the well-known teaching that “life is suffering.” She then identifies perhaps the most important thing we need to do in relation to our suffering. She reflects on how a sense of disappointment or a promise broken is such an essential part of the human experience, and how Buddhist practice can engage with and transform those feelings.

She also shares what her own practice looks like when she is going through troubling or difficult times and speaks of the importance of guarding the mind when we’re struggling. Christina underscores how concentration practice can be used as an excuse for escapism, and shares how renunciation has a near enemy, disassociation.

Finally Christina tells the story of how she came to Buddhism, including how she began practicing Tibetan Buddhism as a student of the Dalai Lama, Geshe Rabten, and Ling Rinpoche before meeting S. N. Goenka and transitioning to the Theravada lineage. She also tells us about Bodhi College, her teaching project with Stephen Batchelor and others.

About the Interviewee

Christina Feldman is a co-founder of Gaia House. She has been leading insight meditation retreats worldwide since 1976. She is a guiding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts and is the is the author of a number of books, including Woman Awake, Way of Meditation, and co-author of Soul Food. Recent books include Silence and The Buddhist Path to Simplicity.

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