Dr. Tricia Wolanin is a clinical psychologist, meditation teacher, author, and yoga instructor who has been working with active duty US Air Force members and their families overseas for the past six years. She has studied and practiced zazen, I Am, MBSR, walking meditation, Buddhist mindfulness, and currently focuses mainly on metta and mindfulness meditation. Clay Hamilton interviewed Tricia in summer 2019.
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Briefly describe yourself as a meditation teacher
I am a clinical psychologist, author, meditation teacher, and yoga instructor. I have been working for American special operations overseas in the United Kingdom for the past 6 years, providing therapy, workshops, retreats, yoga classes, mindfulness workshops and more recently dharma talks. I work with active duty airforce members and their families, but plan to continue to facilitate this work as I transition to returning to America. More of my focus over the years in these realms has been introducing mindfulness and meditation and the benefits that may receive from it. I have been leading retreats on building daily discipline, and how people can slowly incorporate this into their lives. I primarily have been teaching mindful meditation (utilizing the five senses) and metta (loving kindness). I try to keep it simple and non-threatening as I know people are apprehensive of exploring this world. I have recently bought a home in Sedona, Arizona, and plan to relocate there to facilitate workshops and retreats in the awe-inspiring environment.
How did you first learn to meditate and why/how did you become a meditation teacher?
I had taken various courses for meditation in the past, one was an online program, another was in person that was zazen meditation, and a retreat for MBSR. Despite learning these, I didn’t implement them daily into my life. I took a workshop in I Am meditation which was created by the hugging saint Amma. This was the only practice that I was able to implement daily. With this particular type of practice, it hooked me, but with I Am, I could not teach the sacred practice unless I went to specific various trainings. I realized I wanted to spread the practice of meditation to masses of people, because I recognized the impact on me.
What is the greatest benefit you personally get from meditation?
I notice the stillness of my mind. In the past I was very “Type A”, future, goal, action oriented. Meditation has helped slow everything down for me. It helped start my day from a place of being centered. This past year, I have begun incorporating meditation in the evening at work. It helps the process of differentiating work from home life, and bringing presence into my day again.
Is there anything unique about your work with military personnel? Are there particular stresses for being on active duty, or living abroad with a family? Are there any differences in the meditation practice, or any lessons that would be applicable for everyone else?
One particular issue I notice with working with military personnel overseas is the constant movement. Those who have been part of the military lifestyle for a while (whether time served or having been born into it) are used to moving every several years, or having a whirlwind of friendships and work relationships. Yet for those who are new to this, it is quite difficult adjusting. The practice of non-attachment is not just a virtue but a requirement to be part of this world. This can be applicable to all of us, we must remind ourselves that the only constant is change. Another aspect is the difficulty for some members to be away from home for the first time, but in a completely different country. We practice utilizing daily gratitude and living in the present moment as a means to bring in joy for their limited time here, versus being stagnated by their homesickness and sadness.
What do most students struggle with or get wrong?
They think they should attain this “a-ha” altered state. If this is not achieved, or they keep getting distracted, they view themselves as failures and quit. It’s about the journey of returning, not doing the practice perfectly.
Do you have a story about a student who has benefited from meditation, or a funny meditation story?
I had a funny story that occurred when I attended a silent retreat at Gaia House. It was my first silent retreat, and I was full of excess energy that I could not release. The only time we were able to talk was in these daily process groups. I told the facilitator I had so much excess energy, I was having the urge to do cartwheels (which I haven’t done in years). We were doing loads of walking meditations, which was beautiful, but was slow and we looked like zombies. I worried she would judge me, she used to be a buddhist nun. Instead she told me, “go ahead do cartwheels.” And so I did.
Describe your ideal meditation session (location, length, outcome, etc).
I try not to get attached to outcomes from meditation. Location would ideally be outside on a beach alone, as the sun is rising, for 20 minutes. This is generally not my reality, so I can make do with wherever I am at.
What misconceptions about meditation do you hear in the media or popular culture?
People in the past viewed meditation as a spiritual practice or “woo woo,” or they get scared this is a Buddhist tradition. They think if they meditate, they have to change their religions if they opt to meditate. Meditation is universal and accessible to all of us, and many of us already do it, we may just not call it “meditation.”
What meditation books have you read and admired, re-read, or do you recommend to others (they can be directly or indirectly related to meditation)?
“The Beginner’s Guide to Walking the Buddha’s Eightfold Path” by Jean Smith
“Noble Heart: A Self-Guided Retreat on Befriending Your Obstacles” – Audiobook by Pema Chodron
Also I feel listening to podcasts and interviews with Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Sharon Salzbrerg have been quite helpful. Also numerous texts from Thich Nhat Hanh
What books/courses/resources do you have available? What makes them special and how can they benefit a reader?
I have a book available called “The Fragrance of Wanderlust: How to capture the essence of travel in our everyday lives”. What’s beneficial about this book is it exposes meditation to people in a non-threatening way. People think meditation is not for them because they do not want to sit in full lotus position. The book helps to expand people’s ideas of how they are already in this meditative, mindful state when they travel, and see that it is also accessible at home. I also will be facilitating future retreats that incorporate mindfulness, yoga, and building daily discipline, so stay tuned.
How can readers get in contact with you or find out more?
Check out my website www.drtricia.co or my book “The Fragrance of Wanderlust: How to capture the essence of travel in our everyday lives”.
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[This interview is an extract, and there are more interview extracts here. You can see Tricia’s full interview, plus 29 more interviews, in the book How Do You Meditate? Interviews with 30 Meditation Teachers. Available from Amazon.]