Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
The wisdom of the two truths-the relative and the transcendent, points to a way of being with our experience that acknowledges the beautiful qualities of the heart while opening to the freedom that is available here and now.
As we deepen our practice of mindfulness, we are able to see our experience more directly and clearly. Metta practice helps to bring a kind, accepting attitude to this process, allowing us to open to some of the difficult emotional experiences that can arise in intensive retreat practice.
Though the heart of our meditation practice is to understand and free the mind, much of our experience is known through the body, so our relationship to the body is extremely important. Learning how to work skillfully with both pleasant and painful experiences is essential in meditation, and developing a wise attitude to the body that appreciates it yet doesn’t identify with it as me or mine is a great support to the deepening of practice.
Many of us live our lives somewhat disconnected from our physical experience, or with a distorted view of our bodies. Mindfulness practice – the direct knowing of our experience in an unfiltered way - allows us to connect with our bodies in a way that is kind and accepting. Out of this deep connection, insight into the nature of our bodies and our minds, and how they affect each other, naturally develops.
The four Brahma Viharas are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. The foundation practice is metta, or loving-kindness, which cultivates a friendly and kind attitude towards ourselves, others and all experiences. When this caring heart meets suffering, it naturally responds with compassion. But the last Brahma Vihara, equanimity, the quality of calm acceptance, is necessary keep the heart in balance and open to all the joys and sorrows of our lives.
Metta, or loving-kindness, is the practice of cultivating a friendly and accepting attitude towards ourselves, our experience and all other beings. As we cultivate this quality through intensive practice, we can find that it can become our default response to life, rather than the conditioned habits of aversion, fear or grasping.