Struggling with the disempowerment and manipulation of his Tibetan Buddhist community, Neil McKinlay thought he’d found solace in meditation. But little did he know that meditation would lead to an unexpected twist in his story – a journey of healing and self-discovery, offering him the chance to reclaim his inner knowing and find direction in life. What will Neil discover on his journey?
“Through this process of turning toward and settling in and coming into contact with these basic qualities… we do begin to have a sense of path.” – Neil McKinlay
Neil McKinlay is a meditation teacher and mentor whose inspiring journey led him to explore the healing power of meditation and the importance of community in mental well-being. Neil started practicing meditation as a teenager and went on to study and practice in Tibetan Buddhism communities. After facing a challenging time in his life, Neil discovered the transformative potential of meditation in guiding him through his healing process. With a focus on embodied meditation, Neil teaches and shares his experience with others through his podcast, Bringing Meditation to Life, and his online communities. Join Neil as he dives into the world of meditation and its role in mental health and personal growth.
In this episode, you will be able to:
- Discover the healing potential of meditation during life’s challenges.
- Understand the vital role community plays in maintaining mental stability.
- Uncover your inner qualities through meditation habits.
- Achieve the perfect balance between patience and direction in meditation.
- Gain insight into the rise of mindfulness in the business world.
Related Live. Love. Engage. episodes you may enjoy:
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In this episode, I talk about the impact meditation has had on my life and why I recommend it as a practice to everyone!
Meditation for Guidance with Daniel John Hanneman
Daniel shares how you can own your value, why it’s important to trust yourself, and what it means to step into who you truly are.
Expressive Meditation with Pragito Dove
In this episode, Pragito explains how expressive meditation helps us to release repressed emotions.
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Gloria Grace Rand
Namaste. I am Gloria Grace Rand, and I am so glad to be with you today for another episode of Live Love Engage as you just heard from the intro. And I’ve got a guest who I’m really looking forward to talk with today because Neil McKinlay is a meditation teacher and mentor, and he offers a range of resources that encourage and empower us to link meditation and daily living to let the wisdom we touch through our practice come into the world. And these include two online communities, and he has his own podcast called Bringing Meditation to Life. So I want to welcome you first off, Neil, to live, love, engage.
Thanks very much, Gloria. It’s great to be here. I appreciate this opportunity.
Gloria Grace Rand
As I said, I’m looking forward to it because meditation is a practice that I’ve been doing for, oh, my goodness, let’s see, since 2009. So what does that make? That’s a long time now. Let’s just put it that way. I don’t feel like doing the math right now, but it’s been a while, and I’ve gotten a lot of benefits out of it. And so I know we’ll talk a bit more about that, but I do like to start off on our podcast, asking our guests a little bit about their journey. And I know you’ve had a unique experience with meditation, and where you are now that wasn’t always pleasant. So I wonder if you can share with us a little bit about that.
Yeah, well, I learned to meditate as a teenager. I was a competitive swimmer, and a swim coach taught us one rainy night in Vancouver. It was an interesting time to be involved in athletics.
This is the late 70s, early 80s, and what we now consider commonly as sports psychology was beginning to edge its way into my world. At least the coaches that I worked with were open to this. And so we did all this really weird stuff for the time, like visualization and progressive relaxation and goal setting and subliminal messaging and all this stuff. And part of that suite of tools and resources was meditation. I was taught to meditate at a swim meet during my competitive swimming years.
And about 30 years ago, I started to give my engagement with the practice a little bit more formal shape. I was compelled by something that I still can’t describe what, but I was compelled by something from the beginning. I started to study and practice in two successive communities. Both of them were grounded in Tibetan Buddhism. Both of them provided opportunities for formal engage, to engage formal curriculum, to do long retreats.
And then, as you suggested, around 2016 or so, my relationship with the second community started to unravel to a certain extent. I started to feel uncomfortable with the way the leader was treating students, especially close students, senior students, long standing students like myself. It just became apparent to me over a period of these years that in spite of what I’d believed, in spite of what I’d been told myself, in spite of what I told others as a senior member of that community, what was driving that community was not the teachings. It wasn’t the practice, it wasn’t the development or the well-being of students, but really the self-centered impulses of a leader.
And the extent that he was willing to go, to assert these impulses, to my eye, created an environment that was characterized by manipulation and disrespect and disempowerment. To give you an example of this, one general example. He was a master of what I call the bait and switch, promising one thing we’re going to do this, and then taking it away and replacing it with something else. Expecting all of us to go along silently pretending like what had ever happened before had never actually occurred. Which, maybe in isolation doesn’t sound like much.
But when the dynamic repeats over a period of years and when plans and schedules and lives are upended by this, all by an authority figure that one trusts and an authority figure who seems to have little concern for the consequences of this, the effect was, for me, crazy making. It really distorted my relationship with my own inner knowing. And by 2019, that disorientation or that distortion had become so severe that I was mentally compromised. I was physically compromised and I had to just leave. So in February 2020, I made this difficult but utterly necessary choice to leave this 20 year relationship with this teacher in this community and opened up a path of recovery and healing, path of exploration and discovery, path of renewing my relationship with meditation that continues to this day.
Gloria Grace Rand
Wow. And it’s interesting the timing of that too. It’s like right before the Pandemic shut down too. How did that affect you or not affect you?
Well, it was a very difficult one to blow if I focus only upon my own experience. And that’s really difficult when we’re talking about the Pandemic, because, of course, the effects of the Pandemic, I mean, global, they’re incredibly far reaching. But focusing only upon my own experience with blow number one, I saw this community that I’d been part of for 20 years, this relationship, fall apart. I saw a significant amount of my livelihood because it was invested in that context, fall apart. And then with the Pandemic showing up, all the rest of it disappeared. And so within the span of two or three months, 100% of my livelihood vanished. And there are certainly other things that we could talk about in terms of impact, but, oh my gosh, that was a really intense impact just there.
Gloria Grace Rand
So what did you do? How did you kind of obviously you’re doing well now and it seems to be anyway, so what did you do to kind of get yourself back going again, shall we say?
Well, I was really lost, so we’ve got this one-two blow. And I was lost and literally lost. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what I was going to do. And there were two things that happened that were noteworthy in my path of personal and I guess professional recovery that I need to be clear is ongoing. This is not something that’s in the past, I still have good days and I still have bad days. So this is what I did, this is what I’m doing. So there are two things that were really interesting that arose in this context is the first is I turned towards what was familiar to me.
I turned towards meditation. And it was just like that first time when I was taught how to meditate, when I just felt compelled toward the practice in a way I couldn’t describe. I couldn’t tell you why I turned toward meditation in this context, but that’s what I did. And I started to settle into what was happening for me through the practice. So not getting rid of, not changing, but settling into that sense of lostness.
And as I settled into that sense of lostness, there was this experience of knowing that became apparent that often spoke directly to what was happening to me, directly to what I was going through, which suggested to me a phase of meditation that I had never recognized before. One in which I let the wisdom that arises out of the settling of meditation actually guide me into my life. And that’s what I started doing. That’s a silver lining of being completely lost. It’s like, well, what else am I going to do?
And if what arose suggested I was tired, I would rest. It was that basic. If it suggested I was lonely, I would reach out. If what arose suggested I was stuck, I sought therapy to help with that stuckness.
So the first thing in terms of this journey of recovery that I turned towards was meditation. And more specifically, this new renewed or new understanding of meditation that includes settling, that includes arising wisdom and then includes allowing that wisdom to guide me into my life. The second thing worthy of note in this context is that I did much of this in community. I did much of this my meditating with others. With the end of that difficult relationship and with the arrival of COVID as we’ve already acknowledged, my teaching livelihood vanished.
And so I started to offer something online, something that has now evolved into the community known as the online gatherings. And in doing so, in coming together with these folks online day after day, week after week, month after month after month, I started to see the brilliant and articulate and vulnerable and adaptive ways that others were engaging meditation. Yes. And also the challenges and difficulties of their lives. And with these two, meditation and community working together, much to my surprise, I found myself starting to move through that loss.
Not getting over, as I said, but slowly finding my way through with meditation beginning to heal a relationship to inner wisdom that had been so damaged in that prior context. And with this community of others reminding me of the existence of this basic knowing just by showing up and being themselves. And through that I started to find what I could call healing, I started to find direction, I started to find purpose in my work in life that I hadn’t sensed before.
Gloria Grace Rand
I’m glad you did. And I think you really bring up an important point about what we all need is we fundamentally need some time to go within, to be able to listen to that inner voice.
And at the same time, we really need to connect with other people. We really need community. And I think the pandemic really taught us the importance of that is that so many people were so isolated and it’s still happening a little bit to this day because suicide rates have gone way up, especially for young people. And to be able to have, as you said, to be able to connect with other people now in a new group, I can see how that was beneficial to you and it’s so beneficial to others. So I encourage anyone listening to this, that if you’re not in a community, to find a community, because it’s so much better when to try to be able to go at whatever you’re trying to do. To do it alone just doesn’t work. You need community.
Yeah, I think if I was surprised to realize that meditation could play a role in the process of recovery we’re talking about here, I was and am still positively gobsmacked to have realized that community is important there too. Community in my mind is actually essential, as you’re suggesting. So much of what we talk about with meditation is about being reminded that inner knowing is there, that basic tenderness is there, that our ability to respond appropriately to situations are there.
And we need constant reminders of this fact. Meditation practice is one way we can have those reminders. We sit down and it’s like, oh wow, there it is, openness, ease, well-being, tender heartedness. And others are such wonderful reminders in that regard, affirmers in that regard, again and again and again, that there’s something basic, something indestructible, something really glorious in us, in human beings. And that this shows up when we’re having a good day and when we’re having a bad day, when we’re wearing glasses and when we’re not wearing glasses.
When it’s sunny out and when it’s cloudy out. This is always accessible to us. And that reminder, I can’t tell you how much gratitude I feel about being offered that reminder, beginning to realize that how much community can actually offer.
Gloria Grace Rand
Can you share with us a little bit about what type of meditation or how does your meditation practice look? Because there are lots of different ways out there to meditate.
I’ve done lots of different ways myself. I’ve done Vipassana, I’ve done some guided meditations. I’ve just done, just sitting in the silence. There’s walking meditations, there’s all kinds. So what does your practice look like?
Yeah, well, sure. And every form of meditation that I’m aware of, so this is not to say every form of meditation, this is just every form of meditation that I’m aware of shares a common dynamic. And that is that the practice involves us taking our normally wandering attention and asking it to rest somewhere, placing it somewhere. It’s called the object of meditation, where we place our attention. So all meditation that I’m aware of shares that dynamic.
What varies is where specifically the attention is we’re asked to place our attention. So for instance, a lot of people are familiar with mantra meditation. With mantra meditation, you’re placing your attention on that sound.
The style of practice I do myself, that I teach with others, that I share with others, is embodied meditation. So we’re turning our, placing our attention on some aspect of our embodied experience. So what we do more particularly is we turn our attention toward what’s ever happening for us right now in this moment, in this embodied moment, we turn our attention toward slightly tight shoulders, for instance, slightly shallow breathing, for instance, a tingling nervousness coming up from the belly, for instance. We turn our attention toward whatever is going on for us and let ourselves settle into that. And I still can’t get over, I mean, I started meditation thinking I was going to be getting away from that.
But we settle into the, thatness the, thisness, the thusness of our lives. And as we settle in, something really interesting happens. So I settle into the nervousness that I feel and I begin to touch into something more fundamental. So I don’t get rid of the nervousness. It’s still there, I can still feel it in my belly, I still feel it in my shoulders.
But we begin to touch into something a little bit more fundamental and that’s that innerness that we spoke to a few moments ago, those inner qualities that are built into us and that are there no matter what. And often the first thing that we touch into when we do this, turn our attention toward our embodied experience and settle in, the first thing we notice is what you could call as a fundamental sense of ease and well-being, what we call relaxation. So people will often say, wow, I love doing meditation because it relaxes me. And I often say, well, actually, meditation doesn’t relax us, it allows us to connect with the relaxation that’s already there. And so we turn our attention toward our embodied lives, we settle into what’s there and we begin to touch these fundamental, innate qualities and words like clarity, wisdom, knowing, stability, tenderness, compassion, responsiveness, are all appropriate in this regard.
The thin edge of the wedge where we begin to first notice this is through that sense of ease and well-being, what we commonly call relaxation.
Gloria Grace Rand
Well, I like that I might try to do next time I meditate, which will be tomorrow morning probably, and give that a try, because I like the idea of that. And I, one of the benefits that I found, which you sort of touched on, I think, a little bit at the beginning, because you mentioned, you know, these sort of ideas that were leaning, leading you to like, you know, take an action at at this point, you know, whether to rest or whatnot. One of the benefits I found from meditating is I will get awesome ideas. I mean, sometimes it’s nothing for days and weeks at a time, and then all of a sudden, one morning, an idea will pop into my head.
And I love those ideas normally. And I think that’s one thing that besides all the, there’s also been documented lots of physical benefits that you get, certainly mental and emotional benefits and spiritual benefits, but some practical benefits I think are good. So if you are maybe stuck for some creative ideas, spend some time in meditation for a while and see if something shakes through. So at least I know.
I find that that’s becoming a very central aspect of my understanding and articulation of meditation practice. It’s certainly central to the recovery process I’m going through.
I call it the path finding quality of meditation. It’s so interesting. What’s my path? Where’s my purpose? Where do I go? And one of the things that I’ve learned through this experience is, well, our path is right here. It is right here in this moment. Well, this moment isn’t very good. I’m kind of upset. I’m kind of depressed.
I went through this relationship thing. It was really kind of awful. Well, no, within that, within that there is an inner clarity and inner wisdom and inner knowing that when we connect with that, when we turn toward and settle in with that, that will give us the next step in that journey. And we don’t get more than the next step, but we get our next step. And sometimes it’s as ordinary as I’m tired and rest, I’m lonely, reach out, I’m stuck in therapy.
Sometimes it’s a bigger step, a bigger sense than that. But through this process of turning toward and settling in and coming into contact with these basic qualities, which let’s talk about clarity now that the clarity of our innate knowing, we do begin to have a sense of path. We do as you suggested. We do often have to wait a long time for the next message. Meditation is a lot of waiting, a lot of resting, a lot of lingering.
And then these little poofs come up and these poofs are like those stepping stones in our backyard gardens, each one giving just a tiny little step in our journey, which is really I mean, one of the things that I noticed when I was looking, listening through some of your earlier episodes before coming on here was the frequency with which I heard the word empowerment. And what we’re talking about here is a really empowering view of what it is to be a human being. Because under this view, things like teachers and guides and mentors and experts and traditions and frameworks and modalities, they can all help us and support us and encourage us on our journey. But the journey is ours to find in our necessarily unique human lives. And meditation is one way among many to actually find those stepping stones.
Gloria Grace Rand
Yeah, that is so good that you pointed that out and yeah, I appreciate that because having mentors and having support is so important. But ultimately, I do believe the answers are within us.
It’s just, the world is noisy and if so many things are bombarding us and that’s why taking that time to be able to be quiet and to go within and to give yourself a chance to really tune in to that voice inside of you that can give you some guidance. And it can be guidance of like yeah, you need to look up a video, in fact, because I had that actually, not too long ago. I think it was like last week, I was meditating and I just sort of had this feeling that I needed to check on something and just scroll through YouTube. And then I found a talk by a teacher that I follow who’s a Unity minister, and it was exactly what I needed to hear that morning. So that’s what it can be as well.
Not only your inner gut, but it could be your inner guidance pointing you towards somebody else.
Yes, very much, though. Very much, though. And I love that phrase you used a few moments ago, like, let’s give ourselves a chance. Let’s just give ourselves a chance.
Gloria Grace Rand
Yeah. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Yeah. What are you curious about right now?
What am I curious about right now? I’m curious about what this understanding of meditation that we’re talking about might have to bring into this world. I mean, it’s a really interesting, in air quotes time to be alive right now. There’s certainly a lot going on and clamoring for our attention, appropriately clamoring for attention. And I’m really curious what this approach and understanding of meditation might have to offer this time that we are in. This understanding of meditation, where we’re turning toward our experience, we’re settling into our experience, we’re receiving the wisdom that’s inherent in our experience.
And this is the piece that’s revelational for me, and then allowing that wisdom to guide us out into the world in necessarily unique ways. I look out at the world, and I see a lot of challenges, and I feel like those challenges are calling for all that we are as human beings. And I think this deepened relationship, or this deepened relationship with I mean, I keep using inner knowing. We could talk about inner divinity. We could talk about on so many different levels.
I’m really curious in the kaleidoscope, the mosaic of all the human capacities that we need to bring to bear to these challenges. What is what we’re talking about here, this approach to meditation, this approach to spirituality, this approach to contemplative living, what does it have to offer this time and this place and these circumstances and these challenges? Deep down, I’m convinced that there is something to be offered from all of this. And I’m really curious to discover what that is.
Gloria Grace Rand
My intuition and instinct is that if enough people start doing this type of work, you know, work, but meditation and spending more time going, going within that the solutions to a lot of the challenges that are out there can be found and will be found.
I believe that. I’m doing that. I’m holding to that thought that there seems to be an awakening out there of a lot of different people in lots of different walks of life. I was trying to come up with the right phrase. People in corporate settings, for instance, are becoming more aware of the practice of mindfulness or meditation and are more attuned to that. And so that gives me hope that despite all the seemingly chaos that is out there, that also we do, any good change happens after there is some chaos. That’s when things happen. I know there’s like a scientific explanation for all that, but I know what it is, entropy or something I remember vaguely hearing about. So all of this is maybe not so pleasant to go through at the moment. And I do feel there’s a silver lining on the other side of it.
Yeah. And we do have that capacity to respond appropriately. Yeah. So let’s give ourselves a chance. Let’s develop our relationship with that capacity.
Gloria Grace Rand
Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything else that I should have asked you about or anything else that you feel is important for our listeners to know about meditation?
Well, maybe I think it’s helpful let’s conclude my story to date, as it were. So we’ve talked about what happened, this difficult relationship coming to an end.
We’ve talked about the path of recovery, working with meditation and community, and finding a damaged relationship to my own inner integrity, beginning to heal and finding others, actually reminding me over and over and over, affirming to me over and over and over again the existence of this inner integrity. Yeah, this is a thing. It is there. And all of this has really transformed my sense of what I’m doing with meditation, both personally and professionally. It’s provided me a sense of purpose, as I said a few minutes ago, that I hadn’t been aware of before.
And that purpose would be to bring together meditators of all backgrounds and all levels of experience so that we can, so it’s a communal effort, so that we can encourage and empower – there’s that word – encourage and empower, inspire and support one another as we gradually develop our capacity to turn toward the immediacy of our embodied lives, receive the wisdom, the guidance, the direction that waits there, and then follow this out into the world for the benefit of ourselves, for the benefit of others, for the benefit of all. I sometimes call it bringing meditation to life. I help others, the community that I host, the online gatherings particularly helps meditators bring meditation to life. It encourages and empowers, inspires and supports us as we bring the stillness and knowing that’s already in us, that we reconnect with, reconnect with through meditation into our lives.
I think that would be the thing that I want to make sure that we touch on, so that’s the sense of what happened, how I am recovering and how that has shaped what I’m now sharing with the world through the work that I do.
Gloria Grace Rand
Wonderful. Well, if someone listening out there would like to join this community, what is the best way for people to reach out to you and find that?
The best way is to go to my website. NeilMcKinlay.com and as we were talking about before we came on air, I am a rare L-A-Y McKinlay.
So neilmckinlay.com and this is a great place to go because bringing meditation to life is, in fact, a broad mandate. And what I offer is fairly wide ranging. And you can get a good sense of everything that I do there including the subscription based online gatherings that I’ve mentioned. So if you’re so inclined, check it out. Neil McKinlay.com and if you’re really inclined, sign on to my newsletter.
When you’re there, it gives you a gradual introduction to what I’m offering. It gives you a sense of upcoming events, some teachings, some special offers. And when it arrives in the inbox, it offers a reminder that meditation might have a place in your life. And this is something, I mean, back to community. This is something that I’ve learned from others.
I can’t tell you the number of people that I’ve run into in the streets over the years and they’ll say, oh yeah, I saw your newsletter the other day and I’m like, oh great, I worked really hard on it. Did you like it? Well, I didn’t really open it. You didn’t open it? I said, yeah, I never open it.
You never open it? But I love getting them because every time it shows up it says Meditation Update. And I think to myself, okay, maybe this month I’ll start meditating. And that to me is a win. Giving ourselves a chance, that’s giving ourselves a chance just to allow that thought to percolate to the surface.
So that newsletter and the roughly monthly emails that come with it can really be a reminder. And as we’ve talked about throughout this conversation, reminders, I think are really important in this work, really give us a reminder that meditation is out there, that it might have something to offer our lives and here’s a place where we can go to explore and check things out.
Gloria Grace Rand
Excellent. Well, I will be sure and have that information in the show notes. And I just am so glad to have met you. I can tell you it’s interesting, I’ve done so many interviews with so many people, but for today, I don’t know, it’s just something has just I just really feel a strong connection with you.
I’ve just kind of felt it in my heart all the time that we’ve been speaking today and it’s a good feeling. So I know that you are doing important work in the world and it may to some ears possibly seem simple, but it’s powerful and it is empowering, as we’ve mentioned. And so I’m glad that you, for whatever reason, things didn’t work out with the community you were in before, but at least you did have. I’m sure part of that time was fruitful for you, but you’re on an interesting path now, and a good path.
And I’m happy to have met you and happy to have given you an opportunity to share your message with my audience today.
Well, I really appreciate that. It’s been a wonderful opportunity. One of the things I really love about doing interviews such as this is I’m actually affected as well.
I usually come away with a few fresh insights about oh, that’s what meditation is, and echoing what you said, I just felt myself fairly relaxed and so those poofs of, “oh!” fresh understanding were pretty common. So I’ve got a handful to go and contemplate in the hours and the days ahead, which I really appreciate.
Gloria Grace Rand
Awesome. Well, thank you again for being with us and I also want to thank all of you for listening and are watching on YouTube and encourage you to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or on my YouTube channel if you aren’t already. And to also share this episode with a friend if you really receive some value from it.
Because I do believe the more people that can start doing some type of meditation practice, the better off our whole humanity will be. So I encourage you do that and until next time, as always, I encourage you to go out and live fully, love deeply and engage authentically.