Home Go to Meditation
A Conversation With... Sarah McLean
Director of Sedona Meditation Training and Retreats
Interviewed by Eden Kozlowski, ATH Editor of Meditation and Meditation Forum Moderator
"I teach meditation because I know it works, and I see the results in myself and others... "
Sarah McLean is the director of Sedona Meditation Training and Retreats (www.SedonaMeditation.com). Often called the face of mainstream meditation, she has been teaching meditation and mind/body health programs since the early 1990's. She worked with Dr. Deepak Chopra for over eight years, first as an educator at the Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and later (when they relocated to Southern California) she was one of the founding directors of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Throughout her career she has studied and worked with many other prominent figures such as: Debbie Ford, author of The Secrets of the Shadow; Margot Anand, author of Everyday Ecstasy; and Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul (to name just a few). She also served as the director for Byron Katie's School for the Work. Sarah spent months in an ashram in India, taught English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns, lived in a Zen Buddhist Training Center, attended the Ayurvedic Program with Dr. Lad at Mount Madonna… and now she brings all of her talents, experience and relationships to her practice in Sedona.
Eden: Hey, Sarah. So fun to do this. Thank you again for connecting to us in this very personal way. Ok, so you shared this quote with us at All Things Healing. Tell me why it is "your favorite."
Sarah's favorite quote by Lao Tzu, a 6th Century BC Chinese philosopher:
Peace in the heart...
If there is to be peace in the world,
there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
there must be peace in the heart.
Sarah: I teach meditation because I know it works, and I see the results in myself and others – along with better health, a happier life, a sense of peace - it also awakens people’s compassion for all beings, as it has mine. I am first and foremost an activist - an activist for the protection of the environment, the welfare of animals and an activist for peace and equality.
For years I've been supporting environmental and animal welfare organizations, signing petitions, making calls, writing letters to the editor and even going to DC to lobby. Over time, I didn't like the way I felt. I was frustrated as it seemed I had no effect on decision makers about these concerns. It dawned on me, I was working from the outside in. I realized that if I can help people access their own inner peace, and awaken their sense of compassion, then their relationship and sense of interconnectedness with all beings could change, as well as their attitudes. This awareness could spread. That's when I started the Sedona Meditation Training Company.
I love to see the peace meditation brings to each one of my students. Each one of us has the responsibility to live in peace. And I found peace through meditation. This is my job, my purpose, to teach people to experience their own peace. If we each work for peace in our own way, we can make this world a sweeter place to live for all.
Eden: You have been called the "face of mainstream meditation." What does that mean to you exactly?
Sarah: I've been immersed in the studies of Sanskrit, Ayurveda, Buddhism (both Zen and Tibetan), Vedanta, Tantra, etc. and I know it's like learning a new language. Many of the techniques, their benefits and the approaches from these studies are universal and need to be shared. Not everyone is compelled as I was to spend 20 years studying these concepts and practices. I wanted to make them accessible to anyone, anywhere, without them having to change their religion, belief system or even learn new words! Mainstream means I can teach FBI agents, judges, lawyers, surgeons, CEOs, students, Republicans, Democrats, Atheists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, Quakers and Jews without offending anyone.
Eden: And, now that you are in Sedona - an area that can embrace that which is completely beyond mainstream - how did you know this was the place you needed to be?
"Spiraling red rocks against the bluest of skies."
Sarah: Yes, it's cliché to be a meditation teacher here in Sedona. I certainly didn't plan on this.
I am from the East Coast, and I ended up on the West Coast with all my studies and work with the various teachers and centers. In 2001, I was living in working in the Los Angeles area for Byron Katie, coordinating her events - including her ten-day schools - and traveling with her to Europe. I hadn't planned on living there either but was surrendered to it. I met a man, a good friend of Katie's, and we began dating - eventually getting engaged. He lived here in Sedona, so here I am with him, happily married! He's a meditator, too.
Arizona - in general - is pretty conservative, you know, we allow guns in bars! But though it's a conservative state, Sedona is like an island of awareness in the middle of it. And it really is, as we are surrounded by over 500,000 acres of national forest and wilderness. I love the silence, the vast empty spaces, the night sky with the brightest stars and milky way and the spiraling red rocks against the bluest of skies; though I still miss the flora and fauna living by the sea. I've been in Sedona for ten years. It took me a while to embrace Sedona, even with all its beauty. It's a very inward place, though of course I love that, and it can be a little small - there are about 10,000 people who live here full time. It's a friendly place for those of us with meditation, yoga, or a spiritual or creative focus in our lives. There is a palpable expanded consciousness here.
When I first moved here, I didn't want to be considered weird, or a crystal cruncher - as so many people refer to those of us who live in Sedona. I wanted to give being mainstream a chance. Though I continued my personal practices, and continued to teach for the Chopra Center, I got involved in the sustainability movement in Arizona, which was shockingly absent compared to my exposure to green living in California. I was on local and state boards of sustainability and conservation organizations. And I delved into working with politicians and elected officials trying to evoke some changes. It was very frustrating for me to be faced with people who weren't swayed by anything but corporate influence. People eventually heard that I taught meditation, and my focus naturally shifted back to that.
I still support the environmental organizations and efforts, though now I am able to maintain a sense of peace even with my involvement. I started the Sedona Meditation Training Company to share what I had learned and was practicing. Many of the people I teach come from outside of Sedona to experience the energy here or to find themselves. I am happy to offer them something that can transform their lives; a way to incorporate meditation into their daily lives.
Eden: If appropriate, can you please share one of your most memorable meditation experiences - whether it was something you experienced individually or with a student or colleague. (For our readers, the challenge in mediation and life is not to judge or elevate one meditation experience over the other. Hence my word "memorable" versus "favorite" or "best." This difference might seem subtle but it is really quite huge. And, yes, to pick something memorable - it may seem that one still has to judge an event, but I see it as something that just sticks with you.)
"My most memorable experiences are seeing the transformation that so many of my students go through."
Sarah: You see, I meditate for my experience in my life, not for the experiences in meditation. My most memorable experiences are seeing the transformation that so many of my students go through.
I get an intimate look at "successful" people's lives and help to alleviate the stress they face. It is an honor to see the benefits each one of these people found. One student, an overweight superior court judge who often presides over capital murder cases, was on the brink of a heart attack and was told by his doctor that more medication wouldn’t save his life. He came to me as a favor to a friend. We call him the accidental meditator - he's still a full-time judge - and he is healthy, happy. Last week he finished his training to be a meditation teacher and is committed to bringing meditation to the legal community.
There was the depressed NFL football player cut from the team after a serious injury who knew about peak experiences but didn't know how to access and cultivate them. He is now happy, teaching meditation and in graduate school exploring the correlation between peak experiences, meditation and present moment awareness.
There was the stressed-out brain surgeon from the Mayo Clinic whose obsessive mind put more pressure on him and his family than he already had, who discovered how to access the restful state of alertness in meditation and who is impressed by the power of meditation, and has a happier more relaxed demeanor at work and at home.
There was the Olympic ice skater who was left devastated and in constant pain from an injury who believed she would never enjoy her life again. She learned to meditate and the nerve pain which was her constant companion has been alleviated, and she is so happy.
I taught 20 women who survived warfare in their native Afghanistan. On a scholarship they came to America and when I taught them meditation, they found it helped them to overcome their stress, and get along better with their family and coworkers. One woman returned to Afghanistan and her doctor was so surprised at her lowered blood pressure, that he started recommending it to his patients.
There was a teen heroin addict who regained her sense of self and self love without drugs, a mother whose son recently had committed suicide who found peace in the silence of meditation, and a young business owner with three weeks to live who wanted to experience whatever time she had left with complete presence.
Each one of these people came to me with a serious concern and each one found their way to peace and a new way of living. Though I only meet with them once or twice, I am still in touch with so many of my students and love to hear how they walk through the world today.
Eden: Tell us about one of the most interesting people you've meet on your journey?
Sarah: I'd have to say my students, of course. And my teachers, including the Dalai Lama and Mata Amritanandamayi (the "hugging saint" from India), Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie, Debbie Ford, Vasant Lad - I am sure I am forgetting so many!
Eden: For those who are new to meditation, what is the simplest piece of advice you can give them?
"Turn your attention to the one reading this now. There's a presence there. That presence is the real you... you can do it"
Sarah: Turn your attention to the one reading this now. There's a presence there. That presence is the real you. Don't let your own wise presence get overshadowed by the activity of the world and its measures. Make the decision to connect with who you are, your awareness, everyday. There are so many ways to meditate. Check out a few - and I say the simpler the better. Be kind to yourself. Meditation is simple if you don't try too hard. The real benefits happen outside of meditation. So don't worry about having thoughts, they will always be a part of meditation. You can do it.
Eden: So, what's new for the rest of 2011 and beyond? You mentioned a new book?
Sarah: I facilitate meditation retreats which can include mindfulness, music, singing, writing, and yoga, along with regular beginner's meditation classes that I teach in Sedona and in Phoenix. *I love what I do, but I am going to take a bit of a teaching break through the summer so I can finish the manuscript for my new book coming next year, published by Hay House. I am excited! It will be a real treat to slow down a little bit and get more creative!
*ATH will bring you excerpts of Sarah McLean's upcoming book as she's writing and prior to publication. Be one of the first to read her compassionate and wise work here on the Meditation page.
Please "Add a Comment" at the bottom of this page or blog in our Forum here.
Please do not use apostrophes in your comments.
About Sarah McLean
She’s been featured in the New York Times, and Phoenix Woman magazine calls her "an inspirational and dynamic teacher." Sarah McLean has been teaching meditation and mind/body health programs since the early 90's. She served as the Education Director for the Chopra Center for Well Being in San Diego and is the founding director of the Sedona Meditation Training Company.
Sarah McLean is passionate about teaching and sharing what she’s discovered about the modalities of mind/body health, natural access to creativity and self awareness. Her mission is to support those who seek fulfilling lives, better health, inner peace and ways to manage their stress through the programs she has created for the Sedona Meditation Training Company.
Her interest in mind/body health began with her training as a medic and behavioral specialist in the U.S. Army in the 1980s where she treated post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers who had been affected.
Though she learned meditation in college, it wasn't until 1989 when she began her formal daily meditation practice and her work with mind/body health pioneer, Dr. Deepak Chopra. For over eight years, she was employed by him, first as an educator at the Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and later when they relocated to Southern California, she was one of the founding directors of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.
Dr. Chopra certified Sarah, one of his first educators, to teach mind/body health programs; among them Perfect Health, the Ayurvedic Lifestyle Course, and Primordial Sound Meditation - an ancient form of meditation.
As the Education Director at the Chopra Center, Sarah provided educational programs for the the center's guests and hosted guest presenters on holistic healing modalities from all over the world.
For more about Sarch click here.
Sarah is involved with Woman Arising, special events that are produced by a group of inspired women whose mission is to present a forum for conversations for women which include stories of power, self-discovery, spirituality, creativity and achievements.
These special weekend events nourish women by providing inspiration, dialogues and conversation where each woman can honor themselves and their journey. Having been so inspired by the many self-discovery events they have attended and produced over the years, the group of women who make up Woman Arising wanted to create something different, an extraordinary women’s event in Sedona. They'd love for you to join them.
The next Woman Arising Event is Oct. 9 & 10, 2011 in Sedona, Arizona. Click here for more information and to see speakers. Click the banner above to register.
About Sedona Meditation Training & Retreats
We're the leading meditation training company in Arizona. The meditation classes, personal retreats and private meditation instruction are held in beautiful Sedona, Arizona and in various venues in Paradise Valley, Phoenix and Scottsdale locations. Our meditation programs have been enjoyed by thousands of students from all walks of life. Read some of the comments students have made!
You'll find our programs also travel well – we’ll meet clients where they work and connect: You can hire us to bring programs to your corporate setting, present at special group gatherings, create curriculum for universities, and put together special events at health spas, health expos, and in private homes. Hire us to come and present programs proven to transform lives.