This written offering is the first in a series of posts about Maitri Space Awareness—a type of contemplative practice from Tibetan Buddhism that is drawn upon in Windhorse work. Its author—Anne Marie DiGiacomo—is a Windhorse senior clinician, former Co-Director, and seasoned teacher of the practice. Maitri Space Awareness is intended to identify universal energies and illuminate patterns of thought and action—those of ourselves and others. The experience invites compassion—the kindness and friendliness that is maitri—for variable mind states. At Windhorse Community Services, Maitri Space Awareness is conducted in supervision groups of those in a shared role (e.g. Basic Attenders), or a particular clinical team may go through the practice together…
Two upcoming podcasts will feature Anne Marie and fellow clinicians discussing the roots of Maitri Space Awareness and sharing personal stories of enhanced self awareness and ability to relate to others. We hope you will “stay tuned” for those as well.
May this be of benefit,
Lori S. Heintzelman
Maitri Space Awareness
by Anne Marie DiGiacomo, MSW, LCSW
April 29, 2019
Maitri Space Awareness practice was conceived by the Tibetan Meditation Master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in collaboration with the Zen Meditation Master, Suzuki Roshi. They were both interested in developing a contemplative practice for people who were challenged with sitting meditation, particularly those living with intensified states of mind such as psychosis.
Suzuki Roshi died in 1971, and Trungpa Rinpoche went on to evolve this intention into an actual practice using colored rooms and postures, which were based on the ancient Tibetan view of how energy manifests in our everyday world, known as the Five Buddha Families or Five Wisdom Energies.
These five energies have specific names and are associated with the elements of water, earth, fire, wind and space, as well as the four directions. They also have particular qualities, and can manifest from a place of confusion or constriction as well as from a source of wisdom or intelligence. Essentially, they permeate all aspects of our lives. When the Buddha became enlightened, he realized that his awareness radiated the qualities of clarity (Vajra), equanimity (Ratna), discriminating awareness (Padma), all-accomplishing action (Karma) and complete spaciousness (Buddha).
The word Maitri is a Sanskrit word that translates as “loving kindness” or “unlimited friendliness toward self and others”. The practice of Maitri Space Awareness is intended to evoke our inherent compassion and offers us the opportunity to be with our experiences from a ground of non-aggression. We can let go of the constant flow of judgment and critical evaluation that tends to characterize how we view not only ourselves but the world we encounter day to day. Maitri Space Awareness practice shows us a way to contact our humanness and release our urge toward constriction. A greater sense of openness and curiosity can infuse our mind and heart with a fundamental trust and confidence in ‘things as they are’. We can open to whatever is arising so that space and inquiry can guide our everyday activity.
As we deepen our experience of being with our life as it is, there is space for our confusion as well as our sanity to emerge. The world can be experienced with a sense of freshness—invoking delight, humor and cheerfulness which can permeate our interactions. As we release fear and doubt, we can genuinely make friends with ourselves, and suddenly other people hold our interest, and we find that we can more easily extend out to them. It is a journey of loving ourselves as we are—and with that, loving the world and the vulnerability that comes with this kind of realization.
The practice of Maitri and mindfulness/awareness practice intersect with each other. Maitri practice allows us to engage and heighten our direct perceptual world, while meditation has a grounding effect. In addition, Maitri practice can be a bridge in joining meditation and the activity of life. When we begin to make friends with the various energies as they manifest in our life, we see their workability and the benefit they bring to the world altogether.
Each posture is intended to evoke the particular aspects of the five energies, and the posture is typically held between 25-45 minutes and can be adjusted when needed. Typically, the posture is demonstrated for the participants. The instruction is to relax into the posture; when you begin to notice you are holding too tightly or when you notice a sense of too loose, you can shift the posture and come back into holding the posture as instructed. As you notice your mind wandering, you can come back to your body in the posture within the space of the environment. There is a sense of surrendering to what is happening in the moment in regard to your body in the posture, your sense perceptions, and the space around you. The posture can heighten one’s constrictive tendencies or expands one’s wisdom. While maintaining the posture, it is helpful to stay awake so that you can experience the full benefits of the practice. And, if you do dose off or fall asleep, try to remember your dreams. Notice if you fall asleep in one room over another. It is important to know that you can come out of the posture or the room it you begin to feel ungrounded.
The Maitri rooms—each painted in their characteristic color (blue, red, yellow, green, or white)—are only available in a few locations, for instance Naropa University in Boulder or Shambhala Mountain Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. Due to this, colored glasses were designed as a reasonable alternative. The colored glasses fundamentally heighten the energetic ways in which we typically experience the world. It can highlight how in the midst of daily life we respond and react to what arises via our direct perceptual experience of the world.
After coming out of the posture, the instruction is to go outside and ‘aimlessly wander’. The essence of aimless wandering is to ground in our sense perceptions. You are in a transition state when you come out of the posture and immersion in its accompanying color. As you begin aimlessly wandering, you can allow the physical environment with its sensory qualities to make contact with your sense perceptions. Ultimately, aimless wandering is soaked in awareness, offering the opportunity to notice what is happening in the moment as one’s body and mind interact with the physical environment.
Maitri Space Awareness is a practice contained within a sense of structure and purpose; it is waking up to our world and including everything within it. Trungpa Rinpoche reminds us that “We constantly come across members of every one of the five families—people who are partially or completely one of those five. We find such people all through life, and every one of them is a fertile person, a workable person who could be related with directly and personally. By relating directly with all the different people we encounter, we are actually relating with different styles of enlightenment.”
Anne Marie DiGiacomo is Director of Admissions for WCS. She received her MSW from the University of Denver. She spent the first 18 years of her career working in both community mental health and nonprofit settings. In 1996, she relocated to Northampton, MA and began her work with Windhorse Associates. Ms. DiGiacomo served as the Clinical Director from 2001-05 as well as the interim Co-Executive Director from 2002-03. She returned to WCS, Inc. in 2006 as a senior clinician, and became Director of Admissions in fall 2007. From 2011-2019, she was a Windhorse co-director/owner. Anne Marie was an adjunct faculty member from 2006-2013 for the MA contemplative Psychology Program at Naropa University and has co-authored a book chapter describing the Windhorse approach.