All responses are made available with permission

Last year I participated at your Thirst seminar here in Romania and couldn’t believe that I just found a way out from the emptiness and terror I thought life was truly about. I am truly grateful that I was given the chance to find out about Soothing, Presence, AND Breathing. This perspective made so much sense to me. I studied psychology, but all the books where not really addressing my problem with the terrifying emptiness that I had inside. Deep inside I had this believe that life has no sense, that there is so much terrifying pain and that my task is to somehow accept that, so that I can go on with my life. The first most important thing that I learned at your seminar was that I am not the only one who feels like that. Then I learned that there is something to do about it. I am not sentenced to being afraid all my life.

The part with the divinity is the hardest to process for me. With each day I become more opened to a soothing presence that holds everything. When I am hurt, I try to accept soothing. For now, I can rarely ask for it, but still, the thought that soothing exists makes the pain bearable and it’s easier to let go. I can cry, which I couldn’t before. I cry sometimes when I take walks and look at the sky, trees, or people. I have moments when I feel connected with everything in a warm way and the world is beautiful and not terrifying as it was before. Sometimes I feel angry and I try to let the pain come out. I am trying not to shut down my dark feelings anymore. Some days I forget everything and my panic-glasses seem stuck on my eyes. But I am becoming increasingly aware about the glasses. My negative certainty and the horrifying voice are still there with me. But they are not so strong anymore. Sometimes I can observe them and listen to what they have to say without believing in them. I try to understand their pattern. When the voice wants to take control, I try to remember about the girl. I try to look out for the girl that seems that is hiding from me. It’s hard to hear her. She is still very scared and doesn’t want to be seen. It’s hard to find her, she’s very good at hiding. I take a deep breath and sometimes she hears it. I know that she’s so very afraid, but I can’t figure out why. I don’t really know what the girl needs. I try to be with her, to just be with her pain. In the last time, as I feel that she’s building a voice, I feel like I am building a voice, like I am in contact with who I really am. (“A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry).

I am now optimistic that I can find the peace I was desperately looking. Each day is not about proving to myself that I can do amazing stuff, and that working hard to be successful in my career is the only strategy to escape from continuously drowning in an infinite darkness. Thank you so much for your teachings. It was very useful to read the book. I understood better some aspects from the seminary that for me were hard to process and I could better make sense of the changes that happened since I became opened to a whole different universe. It’s comforting to know that, at any time, I can turn again and again at this book.
— Name withheld by request

Your website is a magnificent synthesis of your personal and professional experience, traditions of mysticism and perennial philosophy, and 21st-century science - all woven together with the light of compassion and tenderness that seems to emanate from every paragraph, illuminating and beckoning that one special reader into a truly transformative relation with themselves and the universe – one that would reveal the illusory nature of the alienation and separation within which most everyone lives day to day.

As I continue in my personal practice of meditation, I will take to heart your suggestion that I see it not as something I do as an “it’s up to me” effort, but merely as an avenue to allow the grace that is always available, accessible, and deserved to freely enter (or “breathe”) into me.

I feel like there is much more I could say and want to say to you, but my basic intention is to express, reiteratively, my gratitude for you and your work. While I am far from grasping the full significance and simplicity of what you have put forth, I feel quite certain that I will continue to engage with it for the rest of my life.
— Jeff C.

The first half-hour of my 87 minutes brought to the fore what I am so inclined to disengage with: my regrets, my anxieties, my superficiality, and so on. To paraphrase what you’re saying, the parts of me that manifest as a result of not trusting what’s “out there” for fear of what it could do to me. Your words ring true in painful reflections of my own experience of absence that led to my distrust. Looking back on presence-lost and its fallout in my life sucks. However, my last half-hour with your writing addressed how I can reckon with my experiences with absence and the suffering I self-perpetuate to avoid the pain of it. I can find presence — a sense of holding — whenever I need it. Accessibility to that tenderness is wired into me. Your words remind me of that, and reading them feels like a long, deep breath. As you go on to explain, breaths like that are where I can always find my sense of holding, and that spending time there (through considerable discipline) is where I can learn trust.
— Derek C.

I’m not all the way through your website, taking time to savor and reflect. It’s beautiful. Resplendent. Thinking about absence and presence put me in mind of this quote from JB by Archibald MacLeish.

We will never know.
We are, and that is all our answer.
We are, and what we are suffers.
But what suffers, loves.
And love will live it suffering again
and risk its own defeat again and yet again
with the darkness before it,
the darkness behind it,
the darkness all around it
and yet live,
yet love.
— Gail H.

I needed this. Not sure why. Maybe it’s the ultimate simplicity of it all being “hidden in plain site.” It gives accessibility to something that you’ve just never had words for. What it feels like when you go into the black hole and words for the black hole in general.

I think that up until you find this type of accessibility you find yourself fumbling around in a world of “no one feels like this; no one has ever experienced this; I’m the fucked up and weird one; I don’t like this feeling, and what the fuck is this feeling anyway?” Once you gain some way to explain it or at least to access it on a basic level (“oh now I know what this is”) it’s all of a sudden more coherent.

And coherence is one of the foundational points of what you’re putting across. I don’t think you can ever access coherence without owning the black hole. And you can never own the black hole if you don’t have access to the words that could describe it. And you give access to it in such a straightforward and succinct way.

— Aly G.

There’s nothing I’m more interested in than this one essential thing you write about. Is it a loving universe or are we screwed? Applying attachment research and your clinical experience to this question seems extremely valuable. For me, a kind of evidence of the fact that attachment relationships may parallel a larger reality is something I learned from you a couple of years ago. To quote you (KH- from an email):

”I’m now teaching is that all traumatized children and adults are “frightened, wise, and waiting.” Obviously frightened - the key word at the heart of all trauma, disorganization. But also, always wise enough to wait for something real to come along. Something truly secure. Not a technique. Not a plan. Not a goal for me. But a genuine, honest “being with” that is authentically FOR me. And until I have a sense of this truth being real in another person I won’t risk giving up my ruptured state of mind to anyone. But if I begin to sense there actually is someone who is Bigger/Stronger/Wiser/Kind/ & Committed then I will begin to begin to sort of begin to trust. Then I will test, test, test. If the person who is offering security and strength, kindness and commitment is able to remain real and remain open to my understandable distortions then I will begin to let my innate wisdom allow my waiting to end and my trusting to begin.”

You make clear how attachment research and neuroscience show how absolutely essential love is to our development (even our survival). That coupled with what you’re saying above provides a kind of evidence for the transcendent, because if we are wired to need presence and only the real thing will do, then if meditation/prayer meets that need, it must be a real presence. In my personal experience, this has been the most compelling “proof” of an actual Presence. When you know anxiety and depression and even despair, you know how resistant it is to techniques, plans, cognitive restructuring or false assurances. So when in those darkest moments, a desperate plea to the universe is followed by inexplicable and real peace, you know you’re not making it up because you’d previously been trying to make up anything to get some relief, but nothing worked.
— Cami M.

“Wow. Maybe I’m not crazy after all.”

As I read your words, these were the words that kept echoing in my mind over and over again.

I used to wonder — Why did I often feel so alone in my pain and my struggle? Why did I continually feel as if I was running away from something that I couldn’t quite name or define? Was it just me, or was anyone else as bat-shit crazy as I was? And where on earth could I finally find peace, belonging, and security?

Now I feel like I can finally make sense of it all, as if you’ve provided me with the missing puzzle pieces I’ve been looking for for years. What once felt like a pit of chaos and confusion has been replaced with coherence. You have no idea how completely validating and enlightening it feels to be able to finally make sense of it all. I feel so, so, so much less alone.
— Therese S.

I am writing to thank you for sharing what you have learned.
I cried most of the way through. I am still crying now as I write, tears streaming down my face, chin trembling, the occasional sob and gasping the next breath.
I am crying…

- to have learned that I am not the only person who feels that emptiness
- grieving any ways in which my daughter did not feel held by me
- knowing that all the times I have sat with my pain and cried were not signs of illness but of healing
- from the hope that if I continue on sitting with my pain, I may one day feel lovable
- from the hope that if I continue on sitting with my pain, I may one day hold all I love in a way that they feel held and lovable
- from the belief that incorporating the sense of Presence will help me feel less lonely in those times of sitting with my pain
- from feeling certain that you are right about the Presence and that I will learn to feel it with me an around me

Thank you.

— Tara

Your bottle just stranded on my shore.
Beautiful reading. Deeply touching.
When you truly understand you go silent.
Like now.
AND when we meet in in this silence isolation dissolves
AND communion emerges . . .

Thank you for being there.
— Per G.

[I’m] very much taken with this memoir/ personal narrative . . . it is perhaps one of the few ways to fully convey “the truth of suffering” (probably not incidental that the reality of pain is the first Noble Truth in Buddhism).

A few quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“There are many feelings calling to us. Every feeling is like our child. Suffering is a hurt child crying out to us. But we ignore the voice of the child within.”
Reflecting on/ being mindful of our pain “is like a mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgment. So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness… If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already.”
On relationship/ ‘being with’: “If we have loved ones who are suffering, one of the best things we can do is to offer to sit or walk with them, and offer them our energy of mindfulness and peace. It can help calm them down and embrace their suffering, so that they can walk, sit, and breathe in mindfulness, and take care of the crying baby inside them.”
— Jessica S.

Your lifetime of wisdom, pain and learning is summed up in eightysevenminutes.

The writing is both simple and complex, micro and macro, real and fucked up, curative and broken. Just like us all.

Your words took very little of my time and will take all my lifetime:

Pain never had words because I couldn’t figure out where it came from.

My own unthought knowns.
My childrens’ unthought knowns.
My parents’ unthought knowns.

[This] gave me . . . a truth that was both painful and like coming home.

— Katie J.