Meet Master Meditation Teacher: Amy Gross

Amy Gross was at the top of her field as editor in chief of “O, The Oprah Magazine,” when she dropped out completely to practice meditation full-time. She had brought a kind of precision and thoughtfulness to the magazine that has never been found again – and it has

limped along ever since. But she has found an extremely fulfilling life far from the glitz of Manhattan’s media world, putting the same serious thoughtfulness into mindfulness meditation after professional training under Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli at the The Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical School, the Insight Meditation Society, and other centers. Gross remains awed by the course as a brilliant way to retrain our minds, to free us from the kind of reactions that make for stress and suffering.

A fairly new teacher, Gross is already in demand teaching both groups and individuals as well as contributing to Tricycle, The Buddhist Review.

Devoted student and psychotherapist Dee Tolbert said, "Amy holds you in the sense that you feel seen, heard, are met with patience, generosity and kindness, so that you are allowed to be who you are, how you are, all of you, all the parts that you yourself may prefer to split off, deny, hide or otherwise run from. She encourages your development of practice. She is responsible, energetic and sharp. Her knowledge is embodied, operating from all the senses, intellect and the felt sense. She is a first rate teacher."

Kathleen Kraft: What does your practice look like every day?

Amy Gross: I sit first thing every morning because that’s the easiest time to control. An app called Insight Timer asks me to commit to a certain amount of time. If I’m tempted to jump up earlier, I remind myself that I don’t want to take that urgency or anxiety into the day with me. Sitting through the urge to move, I get past it and I’m grateful to the commitment that kept me sitting. The peace I feel and the rich tone of the ending bell reward my effort.

Throughout the day, mindfulness surfaces, and again I’m grateful, for the perspective and wisdom it brings. Do I really need that cookie? Is my annoyance doing anybody any good? This hurt is so familiar: I can just let it be… and it loses its power.

I’m probably grateful for the practice every day.

This appreciation spills into my teaching. It makes me attached, I must admit, to encouraging people to practice as regularly as possible. The process of meditating isn’t about learning correct attitudes, trying to talk yourself out of stress, trying to manage yourself through reasoning. It’s about rewiring the brain so that beneficial changes emerge unpredictably, taking you by surprise. Your reactions change. You discover you can choose your response. You have freedom. You can’t help being grateful.

KK: What are the most important qualities of the student/teacher relationship?

AG: Mutual respect. The student regards the teacher as a friend a bit further along on the path. The teacher appreciates the student’s courage in stepping into the unknown, meeting her own mind. The teacher trusts that the dharma is the real teacher.

KK: Which sutra is guiding you and why?

AG: I’m guided by the words of my teachers: Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Guy Armstrong, Christina Feldman, Carol Wilson…all of whom can be heard at dharmaseed.org. This remarkable service records the talks at Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock, and offers them for free (donations gladly accepted). I’m guided by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, framing a way to bring this practice to people who might otherwise write off meditation as woo-woo. (Full Catastrophe Living; Mindfulness for Beginners.) I’m guided by Loch Kelly, whose teaching is accessible through his book/CD Shift Into Freedom. Pema Chodron. The book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and the Burmese master Sayadaw U Tejaniya.

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