Ken Mcleod on how to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five-Step Method of Emotional Releasing

Wake up to your life McLeodOne of the most skillful Buddhist teachers I know of and someone whose skillful teachings have brought immense healing into my life is Ken McLeod.  I can’t recommend enough his book:

Wake up to your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention

or  his wonderful Unfettered Mind website:

which has dozens and dozens of priceless dharma talks, retreats, and lectures in both Podcast and written form.

To introduce you to his teaching, I’d like to recommend the talks from his wonderful “Releasing Emotional Reactions,” retreat, which he gave in 2005.

Learning how to deal skillfully with emotional reactivity is a big step of progress, especially if one is dealing with emotional trauma, PTSD or if one feels overly sensitive and prone to emotional reactivity.

At this link, you can find both a Podcast and transcript for each lecture, and having the transcripts is a huge help for personal study:

I recommend listening to the entire retreat, and working right along with the activities — actually doing trying  out for yourself the skillful means Ken shares.  And I invite you to begin with Section 2 as wonderful way in to learning how to release emotional reactions.

Section 2 is Ken’s instruction using the five-step method of releasing from Thich Nhat Hanh, which is based on developing bare attention and the four foundations of mindfulness.  Here is the link to Section 2:

At this link, above, you can listen (or download) the Podcast and you can read along the transcript, as well.  Here is a description of what you will learn in Section 2:

Section 2 of Releasing Emotional Reactions

“In the practice we’re going to do now—and this is a very, very ancient method or approach in Buddhist practice—we use the breath as a basis on which to move into the union of knowing and experience. Now, as I said yesterday, this particular technique is based on the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra, which along with the Foundation of Mindfulness Sutra, are the two core sutras of the Theravadin tradition, and also the basis of the Zen tradition. And it’s well worth reading these, and neither of them are particularly long, They’re quite concise and compact. And there’s endless amount of commentary that can be given on them.

16 Thich Nhat HanhAnd Thich Nhat Hanh—and many of you I know have done retreats with him—is quite an amazingly skillful teacher. I’m very, very impressed in his ability to take what can be quite abstruse aspects of Buddhist practice and make them very alive and very, very accessible. In 1989 I was at a retreat with him that he was giving to mental health professionals. And he took these bits of Abidharma describing the emergence of experience, consciousness and subject-object frame work, which is really dry technical stuff. It was just beautiful, the way he expressed it and made it very, very alive.

And so he has taken the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra, which has actually sixteen steps in it, brought it down to five. Now, I say steps, but this is really to be understood as phases. So it’s not like you walk through this. But you work in one phase and it will mature into a second, and into a third, into the fourth, and into the fifth. And that’s very important is to allow that maturation to take place naturally, rather than trying to force it.

And the other element that Thich Nhat Hanh brings into this, which is so useful, is how to hold something in attention. And the image he uses, is that of holding your own newborn child. And the adjective that is probably most apt in English for this, is tenderly. The adverb. And tenderness is a very interesting word, because while it certainly carries the idea of gentleness, it’s not just soft. There has to be something behind that tenderness. So when you’re holding a baby, you can’t be completely relaxed. Because you actually have to support and hold it. And the same time if you’re holding with any kind of tension or something like that, then you just hurt the child.”

I can tell you that all these years later, after first hearing this lecture– and working with the skillful means in the rest of the retreat — I still use this basic method of my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, as so skillfully explained and elaborated upon by Ken McLeod.  It’s now just kind of “built-in” to me, through practice—and it just works!

I hope you find this emotional releasing practice as helpful and healing as I did.  If so, you might want to listen to rest of the talks in the Releasing Emotional Reactions Retreat:

Offered with endless gratitude to the Buddha, to my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, and to Ken McLeod, to all those with seeking liberation and healing!

Steven Goodheart
July 10, 2013

Boat and clouds reflecting on ocean, Bar Harbor, Maine


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

4 Responses to “Ken Mcleod on how to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five-Step Method of Emotional Releasing”

  1. Hi Steve, your posts are great! Extremely helpful.

  2. Hi Steve, you might also enjoy the Clips &. Quotes blog created by the group who do the transcripts of Ken’s talks:


  1. Ken McLeod on Dealing with Challenges of Loving-kindness Practice | Metta Refuge - 2015/04/26

    […] Ken Mcleod on how to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five-Step Method of Emotional Releasing […]

  2. Remaining Present During Meditation | Accidental Buddhism - 2013/07/10

    […] Ken Mcleod on how to use Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five-Step Method of Emotional Releasing ( […]

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