Danny Morris

Danny Morris

Trauma Informed Somatic Mindfulness Coach

My Story:

Growing up, I had an undeniable sense that I am here for a reason, and that one day the world would know my name. Being a sensitive child, I seemed to be aware of things that others were not. I could see multiple perspectives and possibilities, and how reality is subject to the views and beliefs we bring to it. Confused that others didn’t seem to operate that way, I felt like I was somehow different. Fixed perspectives were imposed on me from my family, my community and my education to conform into a way of being that wasn’t in alignment with who I really am.

Being gifted in the ways of math and science, I went on to study electrical engineering. I was confused about what I really wanted to do, and was influenced by the security that a career in technology would bring. I remember being totally overwhelmed, crying in panic the summer after I graduated college as I applied for jobs, going on interviews and entering into the corporate technology world. When the opportunity came up for an entry level job at IBM in Burlington VT, something inside of me said yes, and I started my career as a microelectronics engineer. At this point in my life, I had checked off most of the checkboxes for what I was led to believe was a happy and fulfilling life. A high paying job, resources to go on vacations and enjoy whatever I wanted, a beautiful house in a beautiful place to live, friends, a loving partner … From the outside I had everything needed for happiness. And yet on the inside I still felt lonely, unfulfilled, and a sense that there had to be more to life than this.  

What I did not expect was that moving to Vermont would introduce me yoga, meditation, nature and natural living. After snowboarding for the first time with a friend, we went back to her place and she asked if I wanted to practice some yoga to stretch. Afterwards she asked me to close my eyes, slow down and focus on my breath. In that moment something both very familiar and totally new awoke in me; it was a feeling of connectedness I had never had before. Something within me needed to know more. When I read my first book on buddhism and meditation, I felt like I was reading something that explained the way I’d felt my entire life. I felt a deep resonance that my way of being was in fact not different or strange, just something I hadn’t had any previous context for. 

I would go on to spend the next 6 years working at IBM by day, and consuming everything I could about yoga and meditation in my free time. I developed a daily Yoga asana and meditation practice, and frequented styles from gentle Kirpalu yoga to vigorous ashtanga and bikram yoga. I also participated in a 200hr yoga teacher training at Yoga Vermont and an immersion into Anusara yoga. For the first time I was starting to get out of my head and develop a relationship to my body that felt healthy and engaged. I was strong, flexible, present and transformed in almost all aspects of my life. I even started teaching yoga and mindfulness at IBM because I saw how stressed most people were and wanted to share what I was learning with others.  

After filling my brain with everything I could read about meditation, I knew I needed to find a teacher. Being scientifically oriented, I was lucky to find two great inspirations in my practice: Alan Wallace and Shinzen Young. They both held a very practical and scientific orientation around the practice of meditation, one that my engineering mind could wrap its head around. They focused on the mechanics of how meditation works, and emphasized direct experience rather than dogmatic beliefs. Alan influenced me greatly around the importance of sustained concentration (the kind you can really only gain in retreat environments) and a questioning of scientific materialism, opening my mind to new possibilities. Shinzen would go on to teach me a comprehensive map of all meditation techniques: how they relate to each other, when to choose which technique, and a scientific framework for understanding the basic skills trained by meditation. The more I studied and practiced, the more it became clear that teaching and sharing these practices was my true calling, and that living my life behind a computer desk in a cubicle was not for me. I remember going on my first 10 day vipassana course, where I got to see first hand that even after years of practicing yoga my awareness was still always in my head: thinking, analyzing, trying to understand and figure out. It was so hard to just stay present to the sensations in my body, but as I stayed with it, somewhere around the 7th day I had my first experience of my body completely dissolving into energy. I saw myself as an energetic being, something that was beyond what I thought. I could perceive the chakras directly; something that before was just a metaphor or an interesting concept was now being confirmed by my direct experience. I left that experience wondering, “If that is true, what else is actually true from all the claims I’ve been reading?” 

Eventually I was ready to leave my job at IBM. Not knowing what I really wanted to do, I made a plan to travel around the world engaging in service projects with my partner, who worked in international development. However, we broke up just before we were supposed to leave. Already planning to quit my job, I downsized everything I owned, and was totally free to consider what I really wanted to do with my life. I remembered that Alan Wallace led 2 month Shamatha (concentration) retreats in Thailand. I had always wanted to go to, listening to the previous 4 years in podcast form. I also knew he was teaching a 6 week Cultivating Emotional Balance teacher training that integrated a contemplative approach to emotional balance as well as a western psychological approach. So I packed my bags and headed out to dedicate myself to long periods of practice. I mapped out a year long journey, traveling through Thailand, Nepal and India going on back to back retreats, meetings with teachers and immersing myself into direct experience of practice.     

Right before the 2 month Shamatha retreat ~ the main reason I’d planned the trip ~ I got my foot caught between two rocks on the beach and tore a patch of flesh off of the back of my ankle. I proceeded to spend the first two nights of the retreat in the hospital, and the remainder of the two months with a healing open flesh wound. In that time I got to sit with the ridiculous stories my mind would create about losing my foot and the wound getting reinfected, while trying to achieve one pointed focus and allowing my mind to dissolve into its natural state. Despite ~ or perhaps because of ~ the circumstances, I experienced levels and depth of concentration, wholeness and well being that I never knew were possible. And I learned that given time, space and compassion, the body heals itself. I don’t need to understand how, it just happens. In the same way, when given time, space and compassion the mind also heals itself and settles down. Trying to understand it was the main thing getting in my way.    

After that I continued In Nepal attending “the november course” at the Kopan Monastery, a month+ long intensive exploring the stages of the path to enlightenment. I also spent over a month in a solitary retreat at a nunnery in the middle of a national forest in the mountains outside Kathmandu. During that time I fell severely ill, as my stomach attempted to navigate new bacterias and failed. I can recall many moments in the middle of those winter nights: without heat, freezing, my stomach in so much pain that I didn’t know If I would make it through the night. But my determination kept me going: I knew what I was there to do, and trusted that I would be OK.  

Eventually I got some antibiotics and made my way to India, where I continued to practice in several Tibetan Buddhist retreat centers. Finally starting to feel a real sense of confidence in my practice and how thing were unfolding, layers and layers of stuck energy would fall off my body. Tensions and pains that I had been holding on to for years were letting go. I was exploring my energetic body and learning how to have a relationship with it. When I was led to Swami Rama’s ashram outside of Rishikesh, I engaged in what was called the self transformation program. It was the one thing in my trip I didn’t plan out or know about in advance; it just came on my radar and things worked out for me to attend. There I met a teacher who I consider my Shinzen of yoga. He broke down the core practices of yoga and waking up the energetic body in a modern and scientific way. He also didn’t let me get caught on concepts, but gave me a direct experience in my body. We practiced a unique form of qigong that integrated practices from Kundalini yoga. One day, while practicing a unique form of yoga nidra, my awareness completely dissolved into the center of my heart and everything was gone. I emerged from what felt like eternity {likely only a few seconds} in total disbelief, full of wonder, crying tears of joy, not knowing how to explain what has just happened to me. I also started to answer long held question around the relationship between pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation, and found a fundamental understanding of how to move and allow energy to flow in the body. One evening towards the end of my stay the teacher gave me a subtle adjustment during my meditation practice, and energy started to flow through my body in a way I had never experienced. That night as I sat on my own, a powerful energy started to spiral and snake its way through the channels of my body. When it reached my heart, I was so full of fear and overwhelm that I needed to cut the practice short. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to fully understand what had happened and integrate that experience. 

Something inside of me was waking up, and I knew from my own experience that this practice was radically transforming me. At some point I was in Bodhgaya the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. During a retreat we went to visit the Bodhi Tree and as I sat under it, I made a commitment to myself and requested the strength to not give up, and to see where this journey would take me. Soon after that, I got an email inviting me to a residential 6 month mindfulness teacher training program back in Vermont, that both used Shinzen’s system of mindfulness and offered monastic like training conditions. It felt like the perfect way to reintegrate back home and continue my training; as wonderful as it was to connect with more traditional cultural roots of buddhism, it was clear to me that it wasn’t my culture and I had a hard time relating to the cultural aspects of the practice. I wanted an environment that felt like it was designed for me and where I come from.  

What I didn’t know at the time was that 6 month program would turn into me spending 3 years at the Center for Mindful Learning, where I would be asked to step up as the assistant director and help transform it into the Monastic Academy. There I spent 1 week a month in full time silent retreat, and the rest of my time in 4 – 6 hours of formal practice daily, along with training in leadership and figuring out how to run a nonprofit and monastic training environment. I also started my most intense relationship with a teacher, named Soryu Forall. Having almost daily interviews about my practice, receiving many teaching and working closely with him for 3 years to keep the ship afloat, I was challenged to the depth of my being. At one moment I would be challenged to let go of everything and find the end of self conscious awareness; the next I would need to be a leader and do what needed to be done, while maintaining mindfulness all the time. It was there that I learned that mindfulness / meditation / yoga wasn’t a practice that was somehow separate from life but in fact it was a way of being that never needed to stop. That there was no difference between sitting in deep concentration with my eyes closed, working on an accounting spreadsheet or eating a meal. Every moment was an opportunity for practice, and there was a quality of awareness that remained throughout. With that understanding came the energy and capacity to do things with ease and joy, feeling deeply connected to myself and the work that I was doing. Soryu was kind enough to help me see that I was still operating strongly from my ideas about meditation from the years of study and reading, and had a ways to go in the direct experience that is beyond conceptual understanding. He challenged me to let go of everything I thought I knew at that point and open up to yet greater depths of direct experience. It was there that my confidence grew from merely knowing about meditation to really living it. I found the balance between effort and non effort, concentration and equanimity, and what it meant to get out of my head and into the present immediate experience of the body.  

But while I was growing and deepening in levels of awareness that were open, free, and joyful, and found a kind of happiness independent of conditions, I still struggled with things on a human level. My family didn’t have much context for the choices I was making and the transformations I was going though. They had a hard time accepting me disengaging from standard society and not following through with the things that have brought them security like a house and a good paying job. I really wanted to have a deeper connection with them, and didn’t know how to meet them in this new place that I was in. Although my typical experience was now one of freedom and joy, there would still be moments where I would feel like there was trapped emotion inside of me. I would get frozen and not know how to express myself or advocate for my needs. It culminated in a moment when a retreat guest was having a hard time, sharing their experience with me, expressing their anger, and I couldn’t respond with compassion. I was frozen. Eventually she paused and said “What are you, a robot?” It was in that moment that I saw something inside of me was blocked from feeling really basic human emotions. I spent many years wondering if I just didn’t experience the same emotions as other people, or if I was just so naturally equanimous that I wasn’t impacted in the same way other people were. But then I saw that I was just frozen and scared, and although years of practice had helped me to find a deep sense of joy and openness with myself, when it came to human interaction and relationships I still had some things to heal. I started to get a sense that I needed to receive some deep nurturing and compassion. And although the monastic environment was great at developing certain skills, it wasn’t ideal for learning how to welcome and allow the full range of interpersonal emotional expression.     

As I continued to sit with this, not being sure what to do I stumbled across the teachings of Reggie Ray, who spoke about meditation, trauma and the body. Intrigued, I started to dig into the understanding how how trauma lives in the body and what the field of somatic psychology had to say about it. It gave me a new frame of reference of a lot of the somatic releases I’d had in meditation, and why it left me feeling a new energy of openness and joy. I also learned that traumas formed in interpersonal connection need to be healed in interpersonal connection; although I can go to great depths of joy and freedom on my own, if I want to bring that into my relationships, it would require a different kind of work I wasn’t getting at the monastery. I understood that when certain kinds of emotions came up what I really needed was to express them and to be cared for and loved by another human being ~ not just sit with them, bypass them, and find a happiness that transcended them. I became really good at transcending things that on a human level really needed love. I started to see while the monastic environment was really beneficial for learning how to transcend and connect deeply to myself, there were ways in which it wasn’t so skillful in handling trauma and offering people the support they needed to heal. As I began to see it in all the interactions around me, during one retreat I started to boil in rage ~ some of the most intense anger I have ever felt. It was directed at my teacher, for allowing these things to go unnoticed and allowing me to participate in actions that continued to hurt others. Eventually I saw that anger was not really about anyone else; no one was forcing me to do anything I did not willingly choose to do. The anger was really at myself, for knowing something was wrong but continuing to follow the same patterns. It was then that I knew I needed to leave the monastery and and follow the thread of healing my own developmental trauma, and finding ways to support others doing the same.

Once again, I needed to leave something I cared deeply about because I was called in a new direction. Having been in full time retreat for over 10,000 by this point, I left Vermont for Boulder CO, where I would be closer to Dharma Ocean, the teachings of Reggie Ray and the Integral Center, where the practices of authentic relating and circling were just what I needed. As I sat several retreats with Dharma Ocean, I learned yet another refinement in somatic meditation that had an awareness of the impact of past traumas on the body. Some of the things that had been missing in my practice were falling into place; on one retreat I experienced a opening in my heart that totally disoriented me for days. I started to feel a quality of love and connection with others that I had never felt before. I noticed that the subtle ways I judged others or got annoyed at their idiosyncrasies was gone. There was a way I could just love, even at times where I would have been annoyed. This somehow had a big effect on others that I didn’t understand at the time.

At the Integral Center, I learned the practice of Circling ~ an interpersonal meditation practice exploring what it is authentically like for people to be with each other in the present moment. I would often get the feedback that people felt really safe and grounded in my presence, but they couldn’t feel me. It was like nobody was there. They would ask me what I was feeling or what I was thinking, and I would just respond with “nothing.” My mind was blank, and my awareness was spacious; but I was just there, with not much more going on than that. This was hard for people to believe, and they would often challenge me to feel deeper into what was really there. What I discovered is that meditation did a great job of helping me to find a level awareness that is beyond human, but it disconnected me from my humanness and I didnt know how to operate as a regular vulnerable human being. As I learned how to be human again, reconnect to my emotions, and learn how to express them, I discovered many different parts of myself. Parts that still felt deeply lonely and unseen, parts that were scared and had a hard time trusting others, parts that just wanted to cry and be held, and don’t believe that anyone cared enough to be there with me in that. As I started to reveal and express these emotions, I got a different kind of response than I was used to getting. I got people who actually cared and were curious about my experience and willing to be with me in it. This finally created the safety to become human again, without losing the deeper sense of awareness of who I am beyond the emotions. It was finally OK for everything to be welcomed: my vulnerable human parts and the transcendent happiness beyond the human.  

During this time I also enrolled in a 9 month Trauma training called Bridging Soma and Soul. It was a training for somatic therapists that integrated an energy and soul based perspective on how to heal and resolve trauma. The training affirmed a lot of things I intuitively discovered in my own practice but gave me a frame to understand and explain it to others.  At this point I began a personal practice as a meditation coach, offering support to people along the path and sharing what I have learned along the way. I also became a senior coach for the Unified Mindfulness organization, supporting hundreds of people in learning and teaching Shinzen’s system of Mindfulness. While this was deeply fulfilling I felt a strong sense that mindfulness alone, without the integration of healing, has the potential for bypassing and leaving things unresolved. I could no longer ignore the things that I saw, and chose to leave that role behind to focus on what was most important to me.  I saw the importance of learning how to recognize and work with trauma that shows up in the practice, because in my experience that is actually one of the main causes of distraction when people try to sit down and meditate. They start to pay attention to their experience, feel a sense of safety in their bodies, and then the trauma starts to bubble to the surface to be healed. Until not too long ago when that would happen for me, it would either somehow mysteriously resolve itself or I would become skillful at bypassing it and just focusing elsewhere. That worked in the short term, but left those feelings still lingering in the depths. With the integration of the interpersonal work from circling and the trauma skills from BSS, I was able to offer something I thought was unique: the integration of awakening through meditation, healing through trauma, and opening to vulnerable human connection. I was creating a life doing the that which my life experience had prepared me for, helping others while continuing to heal myself.             

As with many things you think you uniquely stumbled upon, I discovered I am not the first one to put all of these things together. When I met Anna-Lisa of the Luminous Awareness Institute, she was able to instantly see that I had mastered a kind of spacious awareness and disidentified with my humanness. I was amazed that she could see so clearly the thing that I understood but no one else was able to name to clearly. I learned that she created a school that integrates at an even deeper level the things I have been exploring: the path of awakening and the energetic healing and transformation of the human. Beginning to study in the Luminous awareness school has given me an even deeper framework for understanding how healing and awakening happens, and how to use my own energetic gifts to support others in their process. It is the deepest integration of this kind of work that I have found in my years of searching. I began to unravel deep wounds that have been with me my own life, finally starting to feel held and safe enough to cry, to grieve and to let in the love that is always there.   

Doing all this work finally opened up the space for me to bring my practice into one of the most challenging spaces: partnership! After I took the Authentic Leadership Training in Boulder, I traveled to Austin TX to help staff the next one. There I made connections with a beautiful community, and also the person who would later become my partner. With them I have the opportunity to deeply learn how to love and be loved on all levels, even when things get hard and we’re both triggered as fuck. Our partnership led me to move to Austin TX, where I continue to support the authentic relating community, push my edge of vulnerability, allow myself to be loved, and support clients on the path of awakening: to what is beyond the human, and the healing needed so that they can be fully human.

 

Studied and Trained with: