The “Shape of Meditation”: Down and in, Not up and out

By Steven Libowitz   |   June 14, 2018
Hill of a time: Therapist Timothy Tillman and Somatic teacher Laura Towne unite for "Shape of Meditation" workshop

Meditation is much more than mindfulness, and a deeper state a more readily available through the body, says Timothy Tillman, M.A., CHT, a now Santa Barbara-based Somatic and Hakomi therapist who also leads weekly meditation gatherings at both a yurt at his Mission Canyon home and at Yoga Soup. Tillman – who is also a dharma teacher, somatic educator, and group facilitator who founded and runs Fire Tenders, ongoing men’s circles, and trainings – is leading “The Shape of Meditation”, a half-day workshop that explores meditation as an everyday, easily accessible experience. He’ll be assisted by Somatic teacher and yoga instructor Laura Towne at the gathering slated for 12:30 to 5:30 pm on Saturday, June 16, at Yoga Soup, 28 Parker Way. Admission is $65 in advance, or $85 on Saturday. Call 965-8811 or visit

Q. Most people don’t think of mediation as a body experience but rather one where we transcend the physical plane. But somatic mediation takes a different approach. Can you elaborate?

A. Meditation as staying in a mindful space is a misnomer for what meditation really is. It’s important to achieve spaciousness as a way to witness what’s happening, but that’s just one step on the journey. In somatic meditation, it’s the whole being experiencing. We’re being in the body, not merely witnessing it from a removed space. We’re bringing our awareness into the body, and from that place becoming present to what is happening in a very physical and emotional real-life plane. So, rather than viewing mediation as ascending and removing ourselves from our regular existence, we’re going deeper in and becoming more intimate with our everyday experience of life, the sensations and emotions included.

That seems almost diametrically opposed to the concept of connecting to a higher consciousness, the universal energy or spirit, and achieving a state of almost mental emptiness. How are that compatible with the somatic approach?

It’s a common misconception. People are looking for a sense of peace where the mind becomes quiet, so the intention is to rise above or go beyond into a state of spiritual awareness, while the body is perceived as something lower. From my perspective, the body is not only an expression of awareness, it is your awareness. But layered on top is what is almost a false body that’s laden with the reactions of the mind: the conceptual left brain that creates stories about who I am and who you are and works on a basis of separation. Moving into the right brain, it becomes of the body and the experiences without the fixation on time and ego. We’re then connected to each other and the universe. To get there, instead of going up and out, we go down and in and connect deeper to the body itself. The body is already awake and aware; how do I bring myself into that space and make it more accessible?

Have you created these techniques on your own or are you working with an existing field?

Yes to both. I’ve developed quite a bit, having been a student of Buddhism and Taoism over many years, as well as through my own body experiences and experience as a somatic therapist. Over time, I’ve learned how to be in the body. What I have found is that there is also a somatic (thread) in Tibetan lineage that dates way back, and much of what I bring comes through that lineage that from the lay tradition, not the monastery, so it’s about being in society, not in the cave or mountain top. We practice this way so that we can actually be in the world. The workshop combines those experiences with my 20 years of work as a somatic therapist.

It’s a meditation class – how does therapy show up in a training like this?

It gives me a sensitivity to be aware of how people show up and what they may need to settle into meditation. The workshop will also have some therapeutic exercises to see what’s in the way to relaxing and finding your way in meditation, seeing what we’re resisting, and working with it directly.

To play Devil’s advocate for a moment, what happens in a live workshop like this that might not be available from videos or talks online?

No doubt the Internet is a great resource. But direct experience in our bodies is the best way to learn, especially in group. We’re pack animals, so when we get together we learn through each other through our limbic systems. During our guided somatic meditation, you get to ride on my experience as a long-term meditator, piggy back on it, and maybe experience something you wouldn’t on your own. The presence of being with others really matters. When I sit with teachers, that download is pretty tangible for me.

It’s Miller Time for Medicine

With How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, the new book from Michael Pollan – who previously tackled the implications in our eating habits in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules – racing up the bestseller charts, scientific and medical investigation into the potential of psilocybin and other psychedelics for spiritual, psychological, and emotional transformation is currently all the rage. This weekend, EntheoMedicine Santa Barbara taps into a source with even deeper and longer-standing credentials for the third event in its debut speaker program, which eagerly embraces the revival of psychedelic research and the discovery of new therapeutic uses for the medicines.

Dr. Richard Miller has been a clinical psychologist for more than 50 years, as well as a faculty member at Stanford University and University of Michigan, an advisor on the President’s Commission on Mental Health, and a member of the National Board of Directors for the Marijuana Policy Project. He is also the author of Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca.

Miller, who is also a nationally syndicated host of the NPR program Mind, Body, Health & Politics and the founder of Cokenders Alcohol & Drug Program, will talk about how micro-dosing can boost creativity and cognitive ability, how psilocybin potentially powerfully relieves anxiety and depression, how MDMA may open the heart and enhances deep connection with others, and how ayahuasca can help heal old traumas and enhance spiritual development. The talk will be followed by a Q&A session and book signing.

Miller time begins at 6 pm Saturday, June 16, at Unity of Santa Barbara, 227 East Arrellaga St. Admission is $30. Visit

Games are Going, Going, Gone

Authentic Relating Games (ARG) has been holding regular gatherings to deepen relationships of any kind at Yoga Soup for a couple of years following a first year at private homes and smaller spaces. But after this Friday, it’s all coming to a close, at least for the present time. But first, co-founder Simon D’Arcy is joined by Deneen Elizabeth for a final event with the theme “The Art of Connection” slated for 7 to 9:30 pm on June 15. The aim, as with all of the ARG events, is to activate aliveness. The evening of connecting through games and exercises that facilitate remarkable moments elicits the marvelous feeling when “the present moment is hot with truth.” The space is turned into a communal field offering the opportunity to lean in, stretch out, and find the edges of yourself. The invitation is to bring you – all of you, as you are right now. Admission is $18 in advance, or $25 on Friday.

Sangha at All Saints

Hansavedas Sangha’s Self Enquiry Life Fellowship moves off-site from its regular gathering space near the Bird Regue for an evening of “Discourse, Singing, Chanting & Meditation” with His Holiness Swami Vidyadhishananda at All Saints by the Sea Church Parish Hall here in Montecito at 6 pm Saturday, June 16. A teaching based on Patañjali Yogasutra will be followed by a guided meditation with the Himalayan monk, who will discourse on other methods besides breathing to calm the mind, and how to make the mind contemplative and reflective based on routine experiences, helpful for deepening a meditation practice. Participants will experience authentic yoga-sutra teachings, pranayama breathwork, mantra chanting, devotional singing, blessing line (darshan), and blissful meditation. All Saints is located at 83 Eucalyptus Lane. Entrance is free, pre-registration is encouraged, love donations appreciated. Call (909) 543-6003 or visit

Phillips Back from Pilgrimage

Bodhi Path Santa Barbara resident teacher Dawa Tarchin Phillips, back from leading the 30-day “Pilgrimage Around the World to the 7 Chakras of our Planet”, returns to the 102 W. Mission St. center for a special one-off teaching titled “Meditation: The Why, The What and The How” this Thursday, June 14, from 7 to 9 pm. Phillips will hold a personalized guidance session to help with daily practice. On June 21, local sangha members and guests who joined Phillips on the pilgrimage will share their stories of the adventure. Between the two Thursdays, Book Club members will continue studying, discussing, and putting into practice the mind training instructions from “The Path to Awakening” by Shamar Rinpoche, from 12:30 to 2 pm on Sunday, June 17, after the weekly Joy of Practice, and at 7 pm Tuesday, June 20. Admission to all events by donation. Refreshments served during the break on Thursdays. More info at 284-2704 or

Getting Free with (and a New Book from) Ms Brenner

Veteran practicing psychologist Gail Brenner’s Living in Truth, Peace, and Happiness/Santa Barbara Advaita, Non-Duality, Satsang Meetup gathers at her home (11 La Cumbre Circle) for the first time in a couple of months at 6:30 pm Thursday, June 14. With the aim of discovering true happiness, and based on nondual teachings, Dr. Brenner leads the group through meditation and conversation to see through the false identities that limit us in many painful ways and wake up to our true nature – infinite peace, overflowing with love. New members always welcome. Free admission; donations accepted. Info: Brenner’s new book, Suffering Is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-Judgment and Feelings of Inadequacy, was just published on June 1 and is available locally or on, as well as her comprehensive website,, that features weekly blogposts, online meditations, and more.


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