Meet Sue Cooper, Meditation Teacher

sue cooperSue will be offering a retreat at Dharmagiri at Dharmagiri from the 4 – 10 October, 2015. It is called An Integrated Awakening: Insight Meditation Retreat. We introduce you to Sue (below), who has responded to some questions about her love of Dharma, her practice background, and focus of the retreat. There are still a few places left on the retreat, (at the moment, mostly shared accommodation.) Dharmagiri is offering R500 reduction for each booking. This brings the cost to R1,900 single ensuite, and R1200 shared. Please do read Sue’s thoughtful response below, and below that you will find more information about the retreat. To book, please write to

Interview with Sue Cooper – August 2015.

I began meditating in the early 1980s, after I attended a Basic Buddhism weekend retreat with Louis Van Loon at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, KZN. I had gone there as a depressed and lost twenty-something year old and discovered a path that completely changed my life. Soon after that, I attended a 9-day silent retreat with Gavin Harrison, also at the BRC, and this resulted in me spending a year on a self-retreat at Gaia House in Devon, U.K. where I began a spiritual journey of self-discovery and healing, that has been a central part of my life.

sue and david

Sue and husband Dave, on top of Table Mountain

Instead of feeling a failure for struggling with life, Buddhism offers a different perspective, based on the understanding that one’s suffering is the gateway to freedom and therefore something to be valued and appreciated. This was a truly liberating insight! The Western medical model tends to pathologise our suffering, whilst the teachings of the Buddha provide insights and practices that offer a way of life that allows us to find freedom within our own body, heart and mind, if we learn to embrace our humanness with kind and compassionate awareness. This radical insight of the Buddha provides the starting point for my teaching and own practice.

After I qualified as a clinical psychologist in the early 1990s, I became aware during the many silent retreats which I attended, that retreats provide a unique opportunity for psychological and spiritual growth and healing. The silence allows one to access material that is not necessarily always available through conventional talking therapy, so I decided 5 years ago, to offer a group process which I called “Open the Heart and Still the Mind”, which is an integration of meditation and psychotherapy. It is a combination of what I call the “silent cure” and the “talking cure”.

Meditation provides us with many ways to find stillness and clarity within our busy and sometimes chaotic minds. We are so bombarded in our daily lives by a myriad of sensory impressions, and most people are longing for stillness and inner peace. It is a very paradoxical path, because we discover that when we learn to how to feel safe in the silence, training our minds through mindful and compassionate awareness, we begin to feel more grounded and connected with ourselves and this leads to a more secure and authentic sense of self. We begin to free ourselves of our destructive, habitual tendencies, and this leads to a greater self-confidence and increased ability to relate to others and to the world around us. In my experience, there is nothing that consolidates this process more effectively than a silent retreat.

A retreat offers an opportunity to step back from our daily lives and responsibilities, in order to develop a practice which can be life-saving and transformational. There is enormous depth of wisdom within the Buddhist teachings and they are extremely psychologically sophisticated. I have found in the groups and retreats which I facilitate, that this combination of meditation and Dharma teachings, within the context of my psychological background as a psychoanalytically-orientated psychotherapist, provides an extraordinarily powerful way of working with the heart and mind.

I consider the Buddha to be the first psychologist, who not only understood the significance of grappling with the tendencies and vulnerabilities of the human mind, but also understood the truth of our inter-connectedness with each other and the world in which we live. His teachings are timeless and totally relevant for us today, where the need for compassionate action is crucial, not only for our own survival, but also for the survival of our planet.

It is an enormous privilege, for which I am deeply grateful, that Kittisaro and Thanissara have offered me the opportunity to teach retreats at Dharmagiri. I have been extremely fortunate to have attended silent retreats regularly for 30 years with several wonderful teachers: Kittisaro and Thanissara, Ajahn Sucitto, the late Godwin Samararatne and Stephen and Martine  Batchelor; and at Gaia House in the mid-1980s with Christina Feldman, Christopher Titmuss, Guy Armstrong and others.  The lineage with which I identify is the Theravada tradition, particularly the teachings of Ajahn Chah from the Thai Forest tradition, as well as the Compassion teachings of Kuan Yin from the Mahayana tradition.

On my retreats, I hope to offer an experience that is nurturing, meaningful and inspiring and that will give people a sense of what this remarkable path of awareness can offer. We will learn how to calm and stabilise the heart and mind through various meditations and reflections, establishing an embodied awareness and an understanding of ourselves and life, with its challenges of change and loss, so that we can embrace life and death with compassionate awareness and wisdom.

Date: October 4 – October 10, 2015
Title: An Integrated Awakening: Insight Meditation Retreat
Teachers: Sue Cooper
This silent retreat, suitable for beginner and experienced meditators, focuses on the embodiment of wisdom and compassion. Through the cultivation of calm (the unification of heart, mind and body), we will deepen our understanding of ourselves, through connecting with the ground of our being. Through wise reflection and the development of insight in a nurturing atmosphere, we will discover that when we embrace and let go of the patterns within ourselves that cause suffering, we can experience a more expansive and peaceful body, heart and mind. This leads to a more authentic expression of who we are, so that we can act from a place of compassionate wisdom.

We will draw on the wisdom of Kuan Yin practice to deepen this process, for our own well-being and the well-being of others and the world in which we live. To enhance the integration of body, heart and mind, daily sessions of Qigong movement meditation will be offered, and there will be time for silent walks, individual sessions with Sue and the opportunity to relax and restore balance within ourselves.

Sue Cooper – Sue is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, working in private practice in Cape Town. She has a long-standing interest in the interface between psychological and spiritual approaches to self-discovery and inner healing, and has attended Buddhist meditation retreats since the early 1980s, both in South Africa and at Gaia House in the UK. Sue integrates Buddhist meditation and psychotherapy in her ‘Open the Heart and Still the Mind’ retreats which she offers throughout SA and in her 8 week courses, day retreats and on-going weekly groups in Cape Town. She has a particular interest in exploring how this practice enables us to embrace love and loss in our lives, so that we can live and die with compassionate awareness. Please see or email


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About Thanissara

Thanissara is Anglo-Irish and originally from London. She trained in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah for 12 years as a Buddhist nun. With Kittisaro, her husband and teaching partner, she has taught meditation retreats internationally since 1992. In 2000 they founded Dharmagiri Insight Meditation Centre on the border of South Africa and Lesotho - - and helped initiate, fund, and guide several AIDS response projects in KwaZulu Natal. Currently they support Thanissara has an MA in Mindfulness Psychotherapy Practice from the UK, and is a core teacher at Insight Meditation Society, MA, and a member of the Teacher Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA, USA. She is co-author with Kittisaro of Listening to the Heart, A Contemplative Guide to Engaged Buddhism, author of Time To Stand Up, A Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth, and of two poetry books, Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra, and Garden of the Midnight Rosary. With Kittisaro, she recently launched Sacred Mountain Sangha USA - - a California based Non Profit that hosts the Dharmapala Training, a two year, seven module training in the USA facilitated by Kittisaro & Thanissara. Thanissara lives in the Bay area and spends time each year in South Africa, teaching and supporting Dharmagiri. She also continues to teach in the UK.

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