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Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits

This article first appeared in Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit #34, Summer 2013.

(by Tara Bennett-Goleman)

The Lotus Effect

A vast river flows through Bangkok, dividing the city’s sprawl. From my hotel window I watch elegant, handcrafted teak boats glide through the undulating waves. At the shoreline I notice what appears to be a cluster of lotus pads bobbing up and down with the rhythmic swells.

On closer examination, I see lotus pads surrounded by an eddy of garbage, the random detritus in the river. Their lotus flowers blossom anyway, rising above the debris.

Fascinated, I begin to reflect on how we human beings have the same capacity as those lotus flowers, which in Eastern cultures are symbols of enlightenment. They teach that we can rise up out of our own form of debris and muddiness, those painful ways of being that can burden our relationships, our work, and our inner lives.

MIND WHISPERING: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits by Tara Bennett-Goleman, published by Rider, Paperback (352 pages).

Mind whispering means attuning to the subtle habits of our minds and hearts, to uncover the qualities deep within us that can allow wisdom to bloom lotus-like out of the mud of confusion.

Learning to see the ways in which we succumb to the muddiness of our minds over and over again is a first, crucial step.

The painter Magritte, commenting on his mysterious surrealist images, saw his creative works as “the best proof of my break with the absurd mental habits that take the place of an authentic feeling of existence.” Mind whispering seeks to bring our “absurd mental habits” into awareness, to help us attune not just to ourselves but also to others, which creates a warm chemistry.

This work helps us see ourselves as we truly are instead of through the lenses of our emotional habits and mental patterns. Mind whispering is both an educational and therapeutic model, an approach to our minds that seeks to transform our emotions and connect us to our inner wisdom.

There’s a Tibetan term, sanje, which translates as “waking up and blossoming,” akin to how a lotus grows from the mud. As these qualities of the mind and heart awaken, they allow wisdom and compassion to fully bloom.

What allows the lotus to grow out of the mud? What are the inner qualities that allow wisdom to bloom lotus-like out of a mind of confusion and connect us more genuinely with ourselves and with each other? And how can we break free from modes of being that capture and constrict us?

The “lotus effect” in biology refers to that plant’s remarkable waterproof capacity to grow through the mud while remaining pristine. Nothing sticks to lotus leaves. The secret of the lotus’s self-cleaning property is a leaf surface filled with tiny bumps, which meet droplets at an angle so only a tiny portion of a water drop contacts the leaf. The drops stick more strongly to particles on the leaf than to the leaf itself, thus cleaning impurities as they roll off.

Like the lotus effect’s non-stick properties, the basic practices of mind whispering create a field of non-clinging in the mind. This application of kindheartedness, calmness, and clear awareness allow for a lightness of being.


Patterns That Connect

Bob Sadowski is a gifted natural horseman, and I’ve been studying with him for several years. He practices what he calls horsemindship. Under a federal land-management program, Bob domesticates wild mustangs to prepare them for adoptive homes, yet he uses no force in taming them. In essence, Bob befriends the horse, becoming a trusted member of its herd—even its leader. He knows how to approach a prey animal: with respect. He invites them while also giving them space.

Horses are always inviting us into the present, always ready to connect with us the moment we attune to them. They live in the moment, waiting for us to find our way there too. One day Bob, my horse Sandhi, and I were in what we call the playpen, a round, fenced training ring at the stable where Sandhi boards. Bob was giving me guidance on an energy located in our abdomens, which when pointed toward a horse acts as a force to which the horse is keenly attuned.

He demonstrated by asking Sandhi to move forward, but not with words. He directed what he calls our “core energy” toward the horse. When he turned away, she stood still. But as soon as he turned toward her, she moved forward.

He then guided me to relax and retreat—that is, move my core away from her—and let my energy settle downward. This tells her that she has responded to the communication and engaged in the conversation, which seems to delight her. For horses, engaging and retreating like this is a way of connecting in a language they understand.

Then we asked her to move around the ring with an unbroken continuity, simply by guiding her when needed, letting her learn on her own to respond to these minimal requests, and retreating again to acknowledge her having understood. She ran around the ring with a steady fluidity. Then, as Bob and I stood in the center of the circle, we turned, silently calling her toward us. She broke her step and trotted over to us. And then she lightly rested her head on my shoulder, linking us in the equivalent of a spontaneous warm hug. I felt an amazing connectedness. When I started to walk around the ring, she stayed glued to me, her head gently touching my back. I felt like one of those mythic half-human, half-horse creatures—a centaur.

In horse whispering, this deep connection is called “joining up,” and we cherish it in our lives whenever and however it occurs. In those moments, any sense of separateness dissolves and it’s like we are one being, replete and perfectly content in a shared cocoon. There’s an invisible link.

The ways we humans act and think of ourselves as separate and in control of things must, to a horse, appear strange, even predator-like. But horses seem to accommodate our foolish ways, accept us anyway, and even find creative ways to remind us that we’re really part of the herd—as though we’ve just temporarily forgotten. They are always ready to join up with us; it’s where they live.

Joining up expresses our interconnection; it gives us a direct experience of natural relatedness. As with a horse, whether we notice or not, it’s always there, waiting for us.

Such connections can arise when we feel a deep and genuine bond with another being. But they can also occur spontaneously in any number of ways—for instance, through creative absorption, from the inspiring beauty of the natural world, or in meditative immersion. When we shift into such a flow of being, we embody a pattern that connects. A deep sense of wellbeing, security, and receptivity pervades our hearts. In this way of being, we yield to our positive qualities, perform at our peak, and open ourselves to a deep resonance with others.

When I have glimpses of this connective force, and a sense of what’s possible, I wonder: Why are we settling for less? My heartfelt intention in writing this book is to help free us from patterns that obscure how interconnected everything already is naturally, to melt the barriers to the patterns that connect us.

Patterns of disconnection interrupt this flow of being. The horse-whispering tradition sees such disconnection as relics of the ancient predator–prey dance played out for ages in the equine world. It exists more subtly in the human realm. In these disconnecting patterns, we may find ourselves feeling insecure, holding to distorted views, acting in self-focused or dysfunctional ways, and tuning out. Such states are like a fog of bewilderment moving through the mind. Like fog, these modes of being are not fixed, solid parts of us, but passing conditions. That perspective is at the heart of this work.

When we fail to recognize the bewilderment created by these disconnecting emotional habits and their filters on our lives, the fog can settle over us. But just as the sun evaporates clouds to reveal a clear sky, these inner fogs can dissolve when we recognize them for what they are, see their transparency, and reconnect with our natural clarity.


“We all want to be happy, but in today’s world we may be confused about how to achieve it. In my own experience and that of the author of this book, the source of real and lasting happiness is in the mind. The key to finding happiness and overcoming problems is inner peace, the source of which is not to be found in sensory pleasures, delightful though they may be, nor in physical exercises, but in working with the mind.

We may not see it at first, but many of our problems are our own creation, and what I find encouraging about this is that it means that solutions to them are also within our reach. Pacifying the mind is not easy; it takes time and hard work, but that is true of any human endeavour. You need determination right from the start, accepting that there will be obstacles, and resolving that despite them all you will continue until you reach your goal.

This is not to say that in transforming the mind pressure or force are involved. It is something that needs to be approached voluntarily and willingly. Tara Bennett-Goleman has drawn from several different sources in preparing this book, among them Buddhist teachings she has become familiar with and the therapeutic insights of our mutual friend Dr Aaron Beck. But what she has learned from working with a horse whisperer, and which gives the book its title, is the importance of becoming attuned to the mind’s needs and concerns, approaching problems and finding solutions to them with sensitivity and intelligence.

I have no doubt that readers, whether they wish to address their own every day problems or seek to help others deal with theirs, will find a great deal in this book to delight and inspire them.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama


Tara Bennett-Goleman

Tara Bennett-Goleman is a psychotherapist, teacher and the bestselling author of Emotional Alchemy. She completed her postgraduate training at the Cognitive Therapy Centre in New York and has studied for more than two decades with Buddhist masters from Tibet, Nepal and Burma. She is married to Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman. They travel all over the world giving talks, leading workshops and conflict resolution programmes.  www.tarabennettgoleman.com


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