Triggered by ‘Difficult People’? Step away from the Reactive Mind towards a Heart-Centered Mind

TGI’s perspective on cultivating a Whole New Heart-Centered Mind

A spiritual practice is an essential part of spiritual life. One example of practice would be cultivating presence and discernment between a reactive mind and an open mind.

Eckhart Tolle invites us to be grateful for the big egos around us, as they are a “wonderful spiritual practice.”  He says, “Ego cannot manipulate presence.” 

There is a story of a zen master who used mundane tasks around the monastery as a teaching tool. Students would be asked to dig holes or sort rocks as they practiced presence.

One extremely agitated man complained bitterly about the silly chores, making everyone feel on edge. Finally, when asked to dig up patches of grass, this student became enraged. He threw down his shovel and sped away in his car which left everyone elated. To their surprise, the zen master followed him, convincing him back to the class.  Later, when someone asked why he would want him there, the old monk replied simply, “because I pay him to be here.”

Difficult people are everywhere these days and it’s natural to think that getting rid of them is the best solution to the problem. (Which may or may not be possible at times.)

However, it is possible to learn how to stay present when things feel uncomfortable, a practice that can rewire the brain for equanimity and nonduality around difficult people.  It trains us to bring space into our reactive mind and invites a deeper relationship with life exactly as it is.

In his book, No Mud, No Lotus, The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

“Meditate on your perceptions. The Buddha observed that the person who suffers most in this world is the person who has many wrong perceptions, and most of our perceptions are erroneous.”

In my experience, difficult people are suffering in ways that aren’t always easy to see.  When triggered by someone’s behavior, I notice how my mind tends to reactively judge. They shouldn’t be acting like that!

These thoughts create suffering in me which creates more thoughts based on the perception that they shouldn’t be acting like that when they ARE acting like that. Accepting reality means allowing people to be as they are and not taking it personally. Asking myself, can I accept this, too? And if possible, offering compassion to the suffering arising in myself and the other.

The Coaching with Spirit program gave me spiritual practices to connect with my inner experience. Primarily, I discovered that my reactivity to other’s behavior can either be a call to battle (adding fuel to the fire) or an invitation to engage with self-care and grow.

By cultivating a greater capacity for self-compassion in those moments, it’s possible to keep an open heart in any relationship. 

The blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero.

Kimberly Ruggiero is a long-time meditator. She also works as a transformational coach and artist.  She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies, and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute.

She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI –  every Tuesday evening online – 


Mindfulness Teacher
If you like this blog learn more about Kim and her teachings by attenDing our Mindfulness Meditation group every Tuesday. This friendly, open-hearted group is for anyone interested in meditation and exploring awareness training. Newcomers are always welcome. The basic structure is guided meditation, conscious sharing and topic discussion. We go about 90 minutes, sometimes more or less but you are welcome to arrive and depart as your schedule allows.

Learn more:

Mindfulness Meditation Class with Kim 

@ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm EDT


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A better world arises out of the Awakened Consciousness

Are you experiencing post-pandemic stress or trying to calm anxiety about an uncertain future?

It’s believed that Apollo’s temple at Delphi in ancient Greece was a place where people would go over 500 BCE seeking answers from the transcendent; answers to questions like,  What should I do with my life? or How can I find happiness?

While these are important questions, the two words of wisdom carved into the stone entrance are “Know thyself”.

Socrates taught, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

According to spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, unless you know yourself from a larger perspective, the conditioned mind will continue to create the same dramas over and over. Knowing yourself at the deepest level shifts identity from the form to the formless, from ‘me’ to something more profound and authentic.

Left unchecked, old mind structures will unconsciously recreate the same things and the same kinds of relationships.

Tolle states, “We don’t need to think about how to create a better world, a better world arises out of the awakened consciousness.”

Mindfulness and meditation practice removes barriers to source, inviting a direct relationship with the transcendent. 

Tolle suggests identifying what is relatively important vs what is absolutely important… a connection with the Source.

Inviting moments of spaciousness and stillness into thinking quiets the monkey mind that is always trying to figure things out. From here it’s possible to bring a deeper knowing that isn’t as likely to get stuck on the level of duality, separation, and thinking.

This is also important in relationships with others. Recognizing the other in yourself is the realization of oneness and unconditional love where compassion and empathy can be felt.

You may like to read a similar article from our Blog written by the same author:

Blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero.

Kimberly Ruggiero is a long-time meditator. She also works as a transformational coach and artist.  She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute.

She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI –  every Tuesday evening online – 


Mindfulness Teacher

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PRIDE – Honoring Authenticity in a Rapidly Changing Culture


Pride – Welcoming Authenticity in a Rapidly Changing Culture

One hallmark of an education with The Graduate Institute is how students, cohorts, and faculty learn and grow together, including exploring and developing each of our authentic selves.
For more than twenty years, TGI has been about holistic and transformative education. None of us exists in a vacuum, we are all parts of communities, families, and tribes, and we all live in societies.
We honor all growth trajectories wherever we are in the journey and we want to make sure all members of our community feel welcomed and celebrated and acknowledged, whether they are in the majority or in a traditionally marginalized position in society.
We believe that it is important to honor and recognize all of our authentic expressions of ourselves.
This month we honor our LGBTQ+ siblings by writing about Pride.


Around the world, the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones — families, friends, coworkers — are hosting events, gathering together (virtually and in-person), and celebrating all expressions of community.

When folks gather they gather for many reasons. Pride is several things: a protest, a memorial, and a celebration.

Pride is Protest. When folks in the LGBTQ+ community express their authentic selves they live a life of protest — protesting the impact of societal norms that reinforce heteronormativity, harmful masculinity, and patriarchy. The lives of our LGBTQ+ siblings invite all of us to examine our own beliefs.

Pride is Memorial. We memorialize the past so we don’t forget what has happened to our siblings. We remember those lost in the violence of hate crimes, the silencing of transgender voices, the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on communities. We remember those who are not safe and are in harm’s way every day simply because they are living out a life they know and believe to be true and real.

Pride is Celebration. Together we celebrate the fullness of humanness in gender expression, romantic inclination and sexual orientation. It is both the grandeur of a parade and the simplicity of a rainbow patch on a jacket; it is that flag outside a church, and the ability to hold hands in public; all without fear, and all with joy.

All of us are on a journey of discovery, growth, and becoming.


Ubuntu is an African term that describes a new vision of humanity. Here is how Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

My humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong.
-Desmond Tutu

Let us live, feel and be together in Ubuntu.

Bruce Cryer, President  & Carrie E. Neal, Chief Operating Officer

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Part 2 Mindfulness Reset: Being more mindful in the New Year

Of all the 2021 New Year’s resolutions, being more mindful is probably high on many people’s lists. We all want the world to stop spinning and find peace in our own skin.  As Michael Franti  said, “It’s never too late to start the day over.” 

We tend to think mind wandering is due to the onslaught of technology and the stresses of external events. However, neuroscience has shown that the tendency to distraction is not due to something out there, but is an integral part of our wiring. Over the next few blog posts, we will explore the unhelpful tendencies of the mind or what the Buddha called the ‘monkey mind’.

Just this morning, I was on a quiet walk near the water and found myself zoning out to thoughts about an email I forgot to send and how forgetful I have been lately, as well as other signs of aging that I’m experiencing. By the time I realized I had exited the moment I was almost home.

Rather than a New Year’s resolution to be mindful, I suggest setting an intention to deliberately upgrade the brain’s software system. By simply bringing more curiosity and heart-centered kindness to all rigidity and resistance, a softening and rewiring happens in the hardware of the brain. The prefrontal cortex grows new connections, where equanimity can begin to calm the duality of the limbic/default brain.

Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert conducted a study of ‘stimulus-independent thought” (mind wandering) and found that we are distracted almost 50 percent of our waking hours and we don’t notice it because it happens in the default network of the brain.

In their research conclusion, published 2010, Science 330, 923, they write:

“A human mind is a wandering mind

and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

The ability to think about what is not happening

is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Mindfulness apps and classes are flooding the internet and after the challenges of 2020, it makes sense that we want to fix the problem of distraction but it can be confusing to know how to actually do that. John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center at UMass Medical Center says “an attitude of non-striving is essential for mindfulness”. I recently read someone promoting another mindfulness class with the slogan, ‘Join Us as We Strive for Mindfulness’.

Mindfulness is not a fad or a trend.

Taking a class or downloading an app to learn techniques can be helpful, but if there’s a goal or expectation that ‘doing’ mindfulness will fix something, then it may end up like all the resolutions that are forgotten by Valentine’s Day.

There is no place to get to or goal to be achieved. It is the simple yet profound realization that we are not our thoughts but the one who is aware of the thinking. With practice, we can learn to place attention wherever we like.

For example, mind wandering can sometimes be very helpful. When I write a story or create a new painting, letting my mind make fresh connections is often an important part of the creative process. You may have the experience of trying hard to solve a problem and then having the Aha! moment in the shower…as soon as you stop directly thinking about it. With a little mindfulness, ‘stimulus-independent thought’ can be intentional and beneficial. But when unconscious, thinking can crowd out life experiences and result in rumination and unhealthy behaviors.

The problem isn’t the thinking. Thoughts are important ways we create, invent, express, and learn. The challenge is asking the mind to willingly notice the distraction and tolerate the discomfort of not following every thought.

Conditioned to strive and push forward, it takes practice to tolerate the discomfort of not striving and to give the space between thought and opportunity to arise so we can discover what is actually happening instead of listening to thoughts about what is happening.

Mindfulness doesn’t deal with the content of experience (what happens), it works more with the velocity and depth (how deeply and authentically, we experience what happens).

Space for processing opens possibilities for different approaches to problems and a sense of life being lived through you instead of to you. Breaking the shell of the protective ego softens our rigidity to let real life in. Wholeness and authenticity begin to replace the false self.

In, The Book of Awakening, philosopher and poet, Mark Nepo writes, This is the ongoing purpose of full attention: to find a thousand ways to be pierced into wholeness.”

If your New Year Resolution includes living life more mindful, may we recommend the following tips for a Reset?


Tips for A Mindfulness Reset: 

-Invite stillness and notice what is happening inside and out. If there is resistance, meet it with self-compassion.

-If you find your mind wandering, bring attention to breathing in and out through the heart.

-When stressed, try surrendering to the living moment. Meet the situation with a ‘don’t know’ mind. (Like the Taoist farmer, ask yourself, “Is this good or bad? Who knows?”)

-Remind yourself that there is no past or future. Life only happens in this moment, and you can start the day (or your life) right now.


Feel free to offer any comments or share ways you reset yourself when feeling contracted. I also invite you to attend my virtual Mindfulness Meditation class every Tuesday evening, you can find more information here:

“Be crumbled.

So wild flowers will come up where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Surrender.”    -Rumi

Kim Ruggiero, MA

Blog is written by Kimberly Ruggiero.

Kimberly Ruggiero is a long time meditator. She works as a transformational coach and artist. She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute. She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI –  every Tuesday evening online –

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