Jean Vitrano has extensive experience working with the body and mind through years of training in contemporary dance, therapeutic massage, movement awareness, and meditation. She has practiced mindfulness meditation for over 20 years and enjoys sharing the practice by leading weekly mindfulness groups and workshops where she reaches over 50 people a week. You can listen to her guided meditations on her website or, most recently, on the Insight Timer. Her primary teaching influences have been Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and Insight Meditation Teachers Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg. She holds a BA from NYU, has been a Licensed Massage Therapist since 2002, and graduated from the Feldenkrais Method Training Program in 2011. In addition to her groups, she is currently working on creating online workshops.
I had been hearing rumors of Jean Vitrano's meditation gatherings for a couple of years but had dismissed it as ‘not for me’. It was sort of like what i said to myself in high school about being gay. In both cases my skepticism was demolished by my need. I landed at one of Jean's open meditations after one of the toughest years of my life and it almost felt like I had been blown in by the cold. I closed my eyes and just followed her voice, her words, her simple guided thoughts. It felt calm, powerful, and lead me to sign up for her "mindful life" group. I haven’t looked back since.
I got a chance to talk to Jean after one of our group sessions and here are some of her thoughts on meditation, life, and happiness. - Sarah Klein for Holding Space
Hi Jean - I hope this process isn’t too painful (smile).
Jean: Ha! I’m ready.
Could you give me a brief introduction to your practice?
Jean: Of course. I lead and facilitate mindfulness groups and workshops. I use the word facilitator because I feel that in general I’m there to guide people and bear witness to the work they do in my sessions. I lead a series of classes and meditations over the week.
How did you get started on this path?
Jean: I came to the practice of meditation in my early twenties kind of accidentally. But I wouldn't say that I was a spiritual person before that. I think it was having teachers or mentors along the way that woke me up. I began to connect with that part of myself.
“There’s this idea that there's something we need to get to, or buy, or a way that we need to be in order to be happy. And so it's always about something in the future we are longing for.”
And what about the practice spoke to you?
Jean: We move at such a fast pace and there's so much turmoil in the world. There’s this idea that there's something we need to get to, or buy, or a way that we need to be in order to be happy. And so it's always about something in the future we are longing for. I think I was struggling with all of that. And this allowed me to stop and come in and really just see what's right here that's already so full.
I love that. What are your hopes and intentions with the work you do?
Jean: I think what I'm really after is creating a space where people can be curious about themselves and investigate what's present in them. They can come into kind of greater awareness of themselves and in that way also of others. I create a space to just slow down and to be quiet and reflect. I bring together a bunch of tools that I have found over the years that have helped me connect to myself and to others more deeply. So we practice meditation first to come into our bodies and to be present, to slow down. And then I ask some deeper questions and then share from that place of connection. And then we also tend to practice something around gratitude to be in touch with what's good to really take a moment to pause and be with it.
“…people find the group when they're ready to find a group. People tend to stay for a while because it is one of the few moments in the week where they can be with themselves.”
How do people respond?
Jean: My experience so far is when people come, people tend to stay. So I do think that people find the group when they're ready to find a group. What I've seen is that many people say it's the highlight of their week, that they really look forward to coming and having that time for themselves. There’s an energy that comes out of that that's really beautiful to witness. Unexpected. Sometimes I don't know that it's going to be there, which I think is why there's a real need for it too, for people to connect on a deeper level over subjects that we might not normally do in our day to day.
“…happiness for me would be to be at peace with whatever is going on. So that even means being at peace when things are unsettled in the sense that I can allow it to be, that I'm not pushing it away”
The class is definitely one of the highlights of my week - so I agree. Okay, maybe this feels like a huge question - but what does happiness look like to you?
Jean: Happiness. Well, happiness for me would be to be at peace with whatever is going on. So that even means being at peace when things are unsettled in the sense that I can allow it to be, that I'm not pushing it away. Then happiness is there. So that's one piece. I would also say happiness is being able to take in beauty all around us in the simplest forms. The feel of water on my skin, the sun, anything at all. So actually presence, I guess is happiness. The more present I can be, I can find happiness.
I just want to say thank you for creating this space because I think many people just bear it alone. So the fact that you've created a space where we don't have to is, it's pretty amazing.
Jean: Thank you. Thank you for telling me. It’s always a surprise to hear, even though I feel it, when someone actually says it there’s still, in me, a feeling of ….wow.