There was a moment after my first cancer surgery when I experienced something extraordinary. I was sitting in a chair near a window in my hospital room that had a view of the East River. Sunshine was streaming in, and in front of me was a tray with cups of hot tea and red Jell-O. The sunshine was hitting the Jell-O in such a way that the dessert itself and the light around it looked to me like crushed red rubies. I was in a lot of pain, but as I ate the first spoonful of Jell-O, something in me relaxed, and I felt very calm. The other patient in my room was sleeping after having had a difficult night, and I remember feeling so happy that she was able to rest and breathe gently now.

As I ate Jell-O and drank tea, my heart opened to her and to the sunshine and to the river below flowing peacefully on this sunny morning. I thought of the patients on my floor, doing their daily walking required after surgery and then to all those on other floors of this hospital. Some were giving birth and some were in the active stages of dying. Some were here working as doctors, nurses, orderlies, and then there were volunteers who came to cheer the patients up. There were even therapy dogs—who made bedside visits to the patients, and I found myself looking forward to the sweet yellow lab who made his rounds each morning.

I found myself breathing in everybody’s situation—their suffering, healing, dying, working, struggling, laughing and crying, and breathing out to everyone the energy of the sunshine, the ruby light and sweet taste of the Jell-O. I also breathed out to everyone my own sudden happiness in that moment that seemed to open to infinity, and imagined all this happiness of sunshine and Jell-O and something more reaching everyone in the hospital and the world outside too with the energy of a warm embrace. I kept breathing in and out in a state of wonder. I felt connected in that moment in a way that seemed indescribable.

052615_Make-me-one_CoverNow having read Lama Surya Das’s wonderful new book, “Make Me One with Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken From the Illusion of Separation,” I have come to see that what I experienced that morning was something Surya calls inter-meditation, where meditation transcends the solitary and transforms into a sublime action of infinite connection.

American-born Surya Das, one of the most highly trained lamas in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition and a popular teacher internationally known for his humor and warmth has made inter-meditation the main subject of Make Me One With Everything, and his book is a wonderful guide for learning to meditate for and with others as a practice of connecting with the larger world. “If you’ve ever felt ‘at one’ with something—your beloved or your child, a wooded trail, a favorite song—then you’ve experienced inter-meditation…” says Surya in the introduction to the book.

Make Me One With Everything offers the reader a collection of useful meditations based on centuries of Tibetan practice including the meditation practice of tonglen and the study of the 59 Lojong aphorisms from the 7-point training in awakening the mind (bodhichitta) as taught by Atisha Dipankara in the 11th century—and these practices in Surya’s book are made accessible to all. In teaching us how to inter-meditate, Surya touches upon the most vital situations in our life including our personal relationships, sexuality, anger, conflict resolution, illness and job loss, death and dying, and problems specific to our digital age and notices that neuroscience has a lot to say about inter-meditation:


The Neuroscience of Inseparability

You don’t have to take my word for it; read the news. I love reading about the latest developments that move inter-meditation and spirituality out of the temple and into the university, the research laboratory, or the library. (If only so I can bring them all back again.) It’s exciting to understand how modern methods of quantification and observation can “prove” (or perhaps catch up with) what the mystics have been teaching us about inter-meditation for millennia.

Take for example, the recent studies of Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT)—essentially a secular version of Lojong—at Emory University. Scholars assert, “When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as ‘mindfulness,’ in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.” (footnote 3) There’s that word—relationships—again.

According to researcher Charles Raison, “These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others.” (footnote 4) Raison—whether he knows it or not—presents a sterling 21st century example of meditation going outward, not just inward—what we’d call inter-meditation or co-meditation.

Forbes magazine recently reported about similar research at the University of Virginia that teaches us about inter-meditation. In their study, “researchers had to get a bit medieval. They had participants undergo fMRI {functional magnetic resonance imaging} brain scans while threatening to give them electrical shocks, or to give shocks to a stranger or a friend. Results showed that regions of the brain responsible for threat response—the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus—became active under threat of shock to the self; that much was expected. When researches threatened to shock a stranger, those same brain regions showed activity nearly identical to that displayed when the participant was threatened.” (footnote 5) In other words, empathizing with a person one cares for—vibrating in tune with their feelings, their plight—instinctively helps us to feel for and treat them as we would want to be treated. And we can intentionally entrain and inculcate those feelings and emotions in us for our own benefit. This is the Lojong mode of mind training and attitude transformation.

The study shows what’s “gaining science-fueled momentum in recent years: the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that it experiences what they experience as if it’s happening to us.” (footnote 6) In other words, there’s a neural basis for empathy, the emotion of feeling-with (another) that’s at the essence of inter-meditation and the roots of compassion.

Neuroscience—or what I like to lovingly call neuroDharma—is fascinating stuff, but don’t get stuck looking outside yourself for the truth in any reductionist, hyper-rational formula or quantification. This can become what my Zen Buddhist friends call eating “painted cakes” —beautiful looking, but empty spiritual calories. We can share stories of inter-meditation, present fascinating data, and prove that it’s real, but just like riding a bicycle, making love, or giving birth: to understand inter-meditation you have to actually experience and do it.

So now let’s do as Lama Surya Das suggests, and experience a moment of inter-meditation:

One of the best techniques, and one I’ve seen work time and again, is what I call newness-awareness or presencing, in which awareness is a verb, attention is alive, and we become enlivened. It’s an integral way of bringing Tonglen into practice by intentionally opening our hearts to our selves while simultaneously and intentionally opening our hearts to others and to life.

If you’ve ever read the novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, you’ll know what I’m talking about. He coins the term grok. Grok became so well-used it ended up in Webster’s dictionary: to understand profoundly and intuitively. That’s what we need to practice doing first with ourselves, then with each other, and ultimately with our universe. This kind of focused attention is an extraordinary spiritual remedy; it alleviates all afflictions. It’s the essence of co-meditation, relational meditation – inter-meditation.


Here are the steps in newness awareness, the practice of presencing:

  • Start by becoming aware of the rising and falling of your breath: breathing in, breathing out, slowly and mindfully
  • Now apply that lucid awareness to everything you perceive and experience—sight, sound, smell, taste, sensation, and of course, thought
  • Just simply be lucidly aware, mindful rather than mindless
  • Recognize that each sensation suddenly arises and appears like a dream, a mirage, a story
  • Let it come
  • Now, let it go
  • And as you let it go, let it be
  • Become it, be it—no separation—as it is
  • Let go and let whatever your Higher (deepest) Power may be move through you

Do this a few minutes each day. You don’t need any props—incense, the ability to sit in lotus position, pictures of saints, stained-glass windows, or altars. Wherever you practice this will become a sacred space—in your kitchen while you’re cooking dinner, in line at the bank, or on the treadmill. The intentional use of lucid attention, incandescent presence of mind, applied to and in the present moment is the very heart of Buddhist meditation in general, and relational mediation practice in particular. But you have to do it—not just read about doing it, talk about doing it, think about doing it, just do it!



Lama Surya Das is one of the most learned and highly trained American-born lamas in the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition. Surya is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, MA and Austin, TX, and the author of many books, including the international bestseller, Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books, 1997) and Awakening to the Sacred (Harmony, 1999). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts. For more information, visit surya.org.

Reprinted from Make Me One with Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken From the Illusion of Separation. Copyright © 2015 by Lama Surya Das. Published by Sounds True

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