Tara Brach

Every week, I hope these simple words may help you find some peace and happiness in your life. Whether it means embracing your fears, releasing some stress and anxiety or "radically accepting" yourself, may this blog invite you to find some moments to pause, breathe and nourish your heart and spirit. If you enjoy this Blog, please subscribe and share with others.
With loving blessings, Tara

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gift to the Soul: The Space of Presence

For many of us this is a season when it feels that we are going faster and faster. Everything’s racing, through school semesters, wrapping up work commitments, entering the holidays; the currents of life are in full tilt.

Given the time of year, one student fell into a period of intense stress resulting from a cycle of classes, studying, working and little sleep. He didn’t realize how long he had neglected to write home until he received the following note:

 Dear Son,
 Your mother and I enjoyed your last letter. 
 Of course, we were much younger then and more impressionable.
 Love,
 Dad.

Photo Credit: Kalliope Kokolis
As you know, it’s not just students. Some months ago a friend described getting caught in this state busy-ness while trying to get her daughter to school. She was busy getting things ready while her daughter was trying to show her something. Every time her daughter would call her over she would say, “Just hang on a moment. I’ll be there in a second.” After several rounds of this, the little four-year old came out of her room tired of waiting. She said to her mother, hands on hips, “Why are you always so busy? What’s your name? Is it President O’mama or something?”

Along with the speediness we have the sense that there is not enough time. It’s interesting to observe how often we are living with that perception. It is usually accompanied by a squeeze of anxiety: “I’m not going to be prepared,” and a chain of insecurities. “There’s something around the corner that is going to be too much,” “I’m going to fall short,” “I won’t get something critical done.” There’s this sense that we’re on our way somewhere else and that what’s right here is not the time that matters. We’re trying to get to the point in the future when we’ve finally checked everything off our to-do list and we can rest. As long as this is our habit, we are racing toward the end of our life. We are skimming the surface, and unable to arrive in our life.

Thomas Merton describes the rush and pressure of modern life as a form of contemporary violence. He says: “…to be surrendering to too many demands, too many concerns, is to succumb to the violence.”  When we’re speeding along, we violate our own natural rhythms in a way that prevents us from listening to our inner life and being in a resonant field with others. We get tight. We get small. We override our capacity to appreciate beauty, to celebrate, to serve from the heart.

Our mindfulness practice offers us the opportunity to pause and rediscover the space of presence. When we stop charging forward and open to what’s here, there’s a radical shift in our experience of being alive. As we touch into this space of Hereness, we access a wisdom, a love and a creativity that are not available when we’re on our way somewhere else.  We are home, in our aliveness and our spirit.

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rare and Precious Joy


 When I talk to people about how much they experience joy, most say, “Not so much.” Joy is not a frequent visitor, and when it does appear, it’s fleeting.

Joy arises when we are open to both the beauty and suffering inherent in living. Like a great sky that includes all different types of weather, joy is an expansive quality of presence. It says “Yes to life, no matter what!”  Yet it’s infrequency lets us know our more habitual posture: resisting what’s happening, saying “No” to the life that is here and now.  We tend to override our innate capacity for joy with our incessant inner dialogue, our chronic attempts to avoid unpleasantness and to hold on to pleasure. Rather than joy in the present moment, we are trying to get somewhere else, to experience something that is better, different.

The great French writer, André Gide, said:
“Know that joy is rarer, more difficult and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.”

Joy is an “obligation” because it is an expression of our full potential. Only if we commit ourselves to loving life, do we come fully into our wholeness. This commitment means we investigate our limiting beliefs about our own goodness and worth.  It means we bring mindfulness to our discursive thoughts and judgments. And it means we challenge the values of a culture that fixate on material growth, consumerism, and the domination of nature.

There is a story of a young monk who arrives at a monastery and he’s assigned to help the other monks copying the canons and the laws of the church by hand. He notices that the monks are copying from copies. He goes to the old abbot and he questions this. He points out that if there were even a small error earlier on, that it would never be picked up. In fact, it would be continued in all subsequent copies. The abbot says, “We’ve been copying from copies for centuries, but you have a good point.” So he goes down to the vaults, way down deep in the caves under the monastery where the original manuscripts have been sitting for ages, for hundreds of years. Hours go by. Nobody sees the old abbot. Finally, the young, new monk gets really worried so he goes downstairs. He finds the old abbot, who is banging his head against the wall and crying uncontrollably. Concerned he asks him, “Father, father, what’s wrong?” And in a choking voice, the old abbot replies, “The word was ‘celebrate!’ (not celibate)”

When we get lost in habitual behaviors—in living according to others expectations, in avoiding risks, in not questioning our beliefs—we bypass opportunities to celebrate life. Joy is only possible if you are living in your body, with your senses awake. One training that cultivates your capacity for joy is to purposefully stop when you even get the slightest little tendril of a sense of “Ah...happiness.” Whenever you start feeling some simple pleasure, a sense of something you appreciate, stop.  Be fully aware of your body, of sensation and aliveness. Be aware of your heart. Sense what it’s like to fully savor the beauty of a falling leaf, the warmth of a hug, the quietness at dawn. We’re not a culture of savoring. We grasp after our pleasures, but we don’t pause. We don’t spend much time with our senses awake.

See what happens if you commit yourself to loving life. Begin by remembering to pause and savor the simple pleasures. Have the intention to hold gently the difficulties. Open your heart to the life of this moment and discover that joy is never very far away. 

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living Whole-Heartedly


The happiest people I know have something in common: they are whole-hearted in how they engage in their lives...whole-hearted in relating with others, in work, in meditation, and in play. They have a capacity to give themselves thoroughly to the present moment.
Yet for many, it's challenging to engage with this quality of presence. Take this personal ad  for example. It says:
Free to a good home, beautiful 6-month old male kitten, orange and caramel tabby, playful, friendly, very affectionate, ideal for family with kids.  OR handsome 32-year old husband, personable, funny, good job, but doesn't like cats.  He or the cat goes.  Call Jennifer and decide which one you'd like.
How often do we find that in our relationships, rather than loving presence, we have an agenda for someone to change, to be different? How often do we find that our insecurities prevent us from being spontaneous, or whole-heartedly engaged with friends? You might think of one important relationship and ask yourself: "What is between me and feeling fully present when I'm with this person?" Notice the fears creeping in about falling short, the urge to get your needs met, the sense of "not enough time," the wanting for your experience together to unfold a certain way!
This same conditioning plays out in all aspects of living, and it is well grounded in our evolutionary wiring. We need to manage things, to feel in control. We try to avoid disappointments, to prevent things from going wrong. 
While we have this strong conditioning, if it runs our life, we miss out. Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence, psychologically, on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.” Unlived life happens in the moments when we're not whole-hearted, the moments when we're busy scrambling to get somewhere else, or holding back to avoid what might be painful. Unlived life is the relationships where we really don't allow ourselves to be intimate with each other, the emotion that we don't let ourselves acknowledge. Unlived life is that passion we didn't follow, the adventures we didn't let ourselves go on. Unlived life, while it happens in an attempt to avoid suffering, actually leads to suffering.
What I've noticed in myself, and when I talk with others, is that in order to be completely whole-hearted, there is a need for giving up of control. By letting go of our usual ways of holding back and protecting ourselves, we free ourselves to express our full aliveness, creativity and love. 
If we experiment with this letting go of control—if we engage wholeheartedly with each other and in our activities—our sense of being enlarges. More and more we discover the innate curiosity and care that leads to giving ourselves fully to this moment, and then this one, and again...this one. Rather than racing to the finish line, we choose, with all our heart, to be here for our life.
For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com


Monday, October 31, 2011

Compassion

This is one of my favorite little stories:

One afternoon, a tired-looking dog wandered into my yard and followed me through the door into the house. He went down the hall, laid down on the couch and slept there for an hour.

Since my dogs didn’t seem to mind his presence, and he seemed like a good dog, I was okay with him being there, so I let him nap.  An hour later he went to the door motioned for me to let him out and off he went.

The next day, much to my surprise, he was back.  He resumed his position on the couch and slept for another hour.

This continued for several weeks. Finally, curious, I pinned a note to his collar, and on that note I wrote, “Every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap. I don’t mind, but I want to make sure it’s okay with you.”

The next day he arrived with a different note pinned to his collar. “He lives in a home with three children in it.  He’s trying to catch up on his sleep. May I come with him tomorrow?”

While lighthearted, this points toward the mood of compassion. Compassion can be described as letting ourselves be touched by the vulnerability and suffering that is within ourselves and all beings. The full flowering of compassion also includes action: Not only do we attune to the presence of suffering, we respond to it.

There is a wonderful expression that says:
 “Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard.” 

It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.

Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice.  It can be simple.  As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question.  “What is life like for this person?  What does this person most need?”    If you deepen your attention, you’ll find that everyone you know is living with vulnerability. Everyone is living with fear, with loss, with uncertainty.  Everyone, on some level, needs to feel safe, loved and seen.

To be kind, we need to slow down and notice. 

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Friday, October 14, 2011

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable


The modern-day mystic and Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello once said: “Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable.” This statement struck a deep chord within me. It seems to me that what he meant was  to be absolutely open to life as it is.

Think about the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean that flows from the tip of Florida up along the eastern seaboard. If you were to put a straw in the water, aligned with the Gulf Stream, it would move with the flow of water. The water moves through it and carries it along on the current. Everything is aligned; it’s total grace. Now, if it’s misaligned, and it’s not moving with the flow of water, it gets spun around and moves off course.

Aligning ourselves with the flow of aliveness is an essential part of our mindfulness practice. Like the straw, if we move out of alignment, we’re moving away, spinning about, in reaction…in some way unable to be one with the flow of grace.  So we seek to stay aligned, letting the flow of life move through us. 

What are some ways that we remove ourselves from the channel through which our life flows?

I noticed this happening the other day when I was driving home. I have my own accustomed speed, and the person in front of me was going much, much, much slower.  You know what that is like, don’t you? Now, I wasn’t in a rush to get somewhere. I wasn’t on my way to the airport to catch a plane, but it didn’t matter. I was driving at a speed that felt really different from my preferred speed. I was experiencing impatience and anxiety, and it was building. Everything in me was leaning forward. I felt like I couldn’t be okay unless the situation changed.

So I paused, mentally. I recognized that I had a demand that something be different than it was at the moment, and I tried to let go of it. This example is a small thing, but this happens in many ways, some small and some much larger, in our human experience. We get caught in feeling that happiness is not possible unless things change. Consequently, we cause ourselves tremendous unhappiness, because we’re demanding that things be different. 

It’s interesting to notice how this happens. I think it arises from our social conditioning about what brings happiness. We are led to believe that we need certain things to be happy: “If I can get this job,”  “If I can earn this much money,”  “If I can buy a house in that neighborhood,” then I will be happy. Or we might think, if only I were healthier, or thinner, or if my boss quit so I could have a different boss, or if I had a different spouse…and on and on.

We wait for things to be different in order to feel okay with life. As long as we keep attaching our happiness to the external events of our lives, which are ever changing, we’ll always be left waiting for it.

What if we were to pause and align ourselves with the current? 
What if we moved with the flow of what is? 
What would that mean for you in your life, right now?

Aligning with what is here is a way of practicing presence. It allows us to respond to our world with creativity and compassion.

What is actually happening is that we’re opening to the universal intelligence, the universal love that can flow through us when we’re aligned. When the straw is aligned with the current, the Gulf Stream flows through it.  When we’re aligned with the flow of our lives, there’s a universal wisdom and love that flows through us, which is our true nature.

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lessons from kayaking: Finding a way to be with fear


Most of us spend a lot of our lives tensed up in fear, or pushing against fear.  
The fear might be fear of: 
  • something going wrong
  • not being good enough
  • not being loved
  • losing something or someone we hold dear

What fears do you live with?

Me Kayaking
The key to being with fear is in contacting what is here now, rather than trying to push it away. Here's a story from the river that helps us understand that.  In kayaking, you learn about what is called a keeper hole. It's a swirl in the river that catches a boat or a body and pulls it down under the water.  You can drown because you get stuck in that swirling current and you can't get out of it.  If you get caught in a keeper hole, the only way out is actually to dive right into the center, down as far and deep as you can, toward the bottom, because if you get to the bottom you can swim out the side of the swirl. 

So you do the opposite of what your instincts tell you to do.  Your instinct, of course, is to fight your way to the surface.  But it won't work; you'll keep getting pulled into the hole.  No, you have to dive down into the hole.

It's like that with fear.  Our instincts are to pull away, to ignore the fear, or to distract ourselves.  We naturally want to escape the pull, the uncomfortable sensation, of fear.  But the skillful way of dealing with fear, just like the keeper hole, is to go into the center of it.

The training in facing fear is to directly contact it...to lean right in.  This is not something to do if your fear is from trauma.  It could be too overwhelming.  If you are dealing with trauma, you might need someone to work with you on that fear.  So you might try finding a thought that brings up fear,  a mild or moderate fear, and letting yourself feel the sensation.  Breathe right into the place you feel the fear, really letting yourself experience it for a moment.  On the out breath, let the fear disperse into the vastness of space around you, or the ocean you are part of.  See and feel the fear moving out into that larger space. 

When you are kayaking on the ocean, or on a large lake, you can sense yourself as part of that spaciousness.  Allow the fear to disperse into the spaciousness.  You might find that it is possible to be with the fear, rather than push it away, when you are aware of your oceanness.

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

“I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts.”

Our mindfulness practice is not about vanquishing our thoughts. It’s about becoming aware of the process of thinking so that we are not in a trance—lost inside our thoughts. That’s the big difference. To train in becoming mindful of thoughts can help us to notice when your mind is actively thinking, either using the label “thinking, thinking,” or identifying the kind of thought—“worrying, worrying,” “planning, planning.” Then, becoming interested in what’s really happening right here. Coming home to the sensations in your body, your breath, the sounds around you, the life of the moment.

As our mindfulness practice deepens we become more aware of our thoughts. This offers us the opportunity to assess them and notice that much of the time our thoughts are not really serving us.  Many thoughts are driven by fear and lock us into insecurity. During our residential meditation retreats, one of the biggest breakthroughs people share with us is:

“I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts.”

Training in mindfulness allows our minds to have a choice. At the moment in which you pause and realize that these thoughts are not really serving me, you have the option to come back to presence. This process of choosing becomes more powerful as you realize how thoughts can create suffering and separation. They create an “us” and a “them.” They create judgment and end up making us feel bad about ourselves.

In those moments when you’re lost in thought, what if you could pause and say, “OK, it is just a thought” That is revolutionary.  That can change your life! 

Now, the key is that we approach this with a gentleness and kindness. Each time we recognize thinking and come back into the present moment with gentleness and kindness, we are planting a seed of mindfulness.  We are creating a new habit—a new way of being in the world.  We quiet down the incessant buzz of thoughts in our mind. We take refuge in what is true—the aliveness and tenderness and mystery of the present moment—rather than in the story line of our thoughts. 



“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.”— Wu Men

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pause and deepen your attention




This is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago:

William C. Moyers, a recovery advocate (and the son of the journalist Bill Moyers) who for 12 years has been free of crack and alcohol, was invited to speak at the M.I.T. conference. In a room full of scientists and addiction researchers obsessed with the intricacies of the human brain, Moyers read a lecture that reminded them that treating addiction might be even more complicated than they thought.

"I have an illness with origins in the brain...but I also suffered with the other component of this illness," he told the gathered researchers and scientists, some of whom dutifully took notes. "I was born with what I like to call a hole in my soul...A pain that came from the reality that I just wasn't good enough. That I wasn't deserving enough. That you weren't paying attention to me all the time. That maybe you didn't like me enough."
The conference room was as quiet as it had been all day. "For us addicts," he continued, "recovery is more than just taking a pill or maybe getting a shot...recovery is also about the spirit, about dealing with that hole in the soul."

What is the hole in the soul? It is an unmet longing for connection with others, for communion, for oneness...a longing to realize who we are. It is a longing to know we are loved, to find ourselves lovable. It isn’t only addicts who experience the hole in the soul.

So how do we deal with a hole in the soul? We have this deep longing for love, for freedom, for creativity, for happiness, but what happens is we fixate on substitutes that take us away from what we really long for, away from the very moment that could be the source of freedom.

What is it we fixate on? What do we try to use as a substitute for the real longing?


It could be approval. We might think,“If I just get this praise or recognition, then I’ll know I’m good enough. Or it might be money, or things that money can buy. If I have this house, or this kind of car, or a particular brand of clothing, then I will be acceptable. Food is a very common substitute. Have you ever found yourself feeling lonely or sad, and searching the refrigerator for the remedy? Other substitutions might be sex, or drugs, or alcohol.

We sometimes describe this fixation as “if-only mind.” We believe that, “if only this would fall into place, then I would be happy.” Does that sound familiar? “If only I’d get my health back.” “If only I’d get that partner.” Or, “if only that partner and I could really have it work out right.” Or, “if only I’d lose the 20 pounds.” The list is endless. We fall into believing that these things can make us happy.

But we cannot deal with the hole in the soul as long as we’re pursuing substitute gratifications. When we do that, we are taking ourselves away from the moment where it would be possible to find that which we truly long for. Only in the present moment can we experience aliveness, love, understanding, freedom.

How do we move from pursuing substitutes to coming home to presence? Start by identifying when you are trying to fill the hole in your soul. Where are you thinking, “if only...” If only I had this thing. If only I could be like this. When you notice your thoughts or behaviors moving you towards substitutes—pause. Just stop. Mindfully recognize what is happening, you might just label it “wanting, wanting,” and with gentleness and interest, become aware of the force of wanting.

Just this pause and deepening of attention will start to open you to more freedom. You might first bring awareness to layers of hurt or fear. You might, if you stay, finds some real healing, some compassion and a flow of aliveness. Or you might move into the behavior, but with more awareness than before. Either way, the pause puts you on the path of healing unmet needs and discovering the source of your deepest longings.

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The mystery of who we are


I heard a story when my son was in a local Waldorf school, and I loved it.
The children were in art class seated in different tables, working hard at their projects. One little girl was particularly diligent, so the teacher stood behind her and watched for a while. Then she bent over to ask her what she was drawing. 

Very matter-of-fact the little girl said, "I’m drawing God”.

The teacher chuckled and said, “But you know hon, no one knows what God looks like.”

Without skipping a beat, without even looking up, the little girl responded, “They will in a moment!” 

This made me wonder, what happened to our wildness? The wildness of God, of Spirit as John O’Donahue calls it. It’s as if we forget or disconnect from the spontaneity and joy that expresses our essential spirit.
  
Probably the deepest inquiry in any of the spiritual traditions, is the question, who am I? If we look behind the roles and images that our culture gives us, behind the ideas that we internalize from our family, who’s really here? Who is reading right now? Who is looking through these eyes?  Who is listening to sounds?

The Buddha said we suffer because we don’t know who we are, we’ve forgotten. We suffer because we are identified with a self that is narrower than the truth, less than the wholeness of what we are. We often live inside a role—parent, helper, boss, patient, victim, judge. We become hitched to our sense of appearance, to our body. We become hitched to our personality, our intelligence. We become hitched to our achievements. These facets constellate into the shape of our identity, of who we take ourselves to be. And that constellation is smaller than the truth. It is less than the awareness and love that is here, less than the sacred essence of what we are.

A friend of mine, a minister, told me about an interfaith gathering which began with the inquiry: What should we call Spirit or the Divine, what’s the name we should use? Right away there’s a question:

“Should we call it, God?”

“No way” responds a female Wiccan. What about Goddess?” she says.  

“Hah,” remarked a Baptist minister and suggested instead, “Spirit.”  

“Nope,” declares an atheist. 

The discussion goes on like this for a while. Finally a Native American, suggested the Great Mystery and they all agreed. They all agreed because, regardless of the knowledge or the concepts of their faith, each of them could acknowledge it’s a mystery.

In the moments that we move through life realizing that we belong to this mystery, that this mystery is living through us, we are awake, alive and free.

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's not what's happening...it's how you respond


One of my favorite stories took place a number of decades ago when the English had colonized India and they wanted to set up a golf course in Calcutta. Besides the fact that the English shouldn’t have been there in the first place, the golf course was not a particularly good idea. The biggest challenge was that the area was populated with monkeys. 
 
The monkeys apparently were interested in golf too, and their way of joining the game was to go onto the course and take the balls that the golfers were hitting and toss them around in all directions. Of course the golfers didn’t like this at all, so they tried to control the monkeys. First they built high fences around the fairway; they went to a lot of trouble to do this. Now, monkeys climb...so, they would climb over the fences and onto the course . . . that solution just didn’t work at all. The next thing they tried was to lure them away from the course. I don’t know how they tried to lure them—maybe waving bananas or something—but for every monkey that would go for the bananas, all their relatives would come into the golf course to join the fun. In desperation, they started trapping them and relocating them, but that didn’t work, either. The monkeys just had too many relatives who liked to play with golf balls! Finally, they established a novel rule for this particular golf course: the golfers in Calcutta had to play the ball wherever the monkey dropped it.

                                         Those golfers were onto something!  

We all want life to be a certain way. We want the conditions to be just so, and life doesn’t always cooperate. Maybe it does for awhile, which makes us want to hold on tight to how things are, but then things change. So sometimes it’s like the monkeys are dropping the balls where we don’t want them, and what can we do? 

Often we react by blaming...ourselves, or others or the situation.  We might become aggressive. Or perhaps we feel victimized and resign. Or sometimes we soothe ourselves with extra food or drink. But clearly, none of these reactions are helpful. 

If we are to find any peace, if we are to find freedom, what we need to do is learn to pause and say, “Okay. This is where the monkeys dropped the ball. I’ll play it from here, as well as I’m able.” 

                       So how do we do that? 

What if you pause right now, and take a moment to be quiet. Can you think of a place in your life where things are not cooperating with how you would like them to be?  Whatever unfortunate place the monkeys have dropped a ball in your life, bring your focus to that. It could be something that happens in a relationship with another person, where you get reactive. What would it mean to "play the ball" here? If you could tap into your deepest wisdom, your true compassion, how would you like to respond to these circumstances?


One of the great teachings in spiritual life is this: It doesn't matter what is happening.  What matters is how we respond. How we respond is what determines our happiness and peace of mind.
So how might you respond with presence, when you find the monkeys have dropped the ball in a difficult spot?

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com
 


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Learning to Respond, Not React

If we are to wake up out of our patterning, a key element of that is to be able to pause, recognize and open to a larger space than the cocoon that our mind is creating in thought. Our tendency is to get lost in a cycle of reactivity. In order to be able to step out of that cycle, we need to cultivate the ability to pause, recognize and open.

I often use the metaphor of the second arrow because I find it just so helpful. The Buddha told a parable and the teaching was:  

“If you get struck by an arrow, do you then shoot another arrow into yourself?”

If we look at the way we move through the day, when something happens, when we have pain in our body, when somebody treats us in a way that feels disrespectful, when something goes wrong for someone we love, that’s the first arrow. Our mind and body go into a reactivity that does not help to bring healing. We blame others, we blame ourselves. That’s the second arrow.

Healing and Freedom come from non-proliferation of our thoughts. Non-proliferation means we have the wisdom in our lives to pause and re-arrive in the present moment. In that manner we can tap the wisdom and the kindness that is intrinsic to our nature. We then can respond with intelligence instead of a kind of fear-based reaction.

This is similar to what we do in our meditation practice, we begin to pause, recognize and open to the space that’s here. Let’s say you’re beating yourself up about a mistake you made, and you say to yourself:

“Okay, let me just sit and be, let me pause.  Can I recognize what is going on? Can I recognize what is actually here—the larger space of sound, sensation and feelings?  Can I open to the presence that is here?”

When we start paying attention to what is in the moment, we come home to our naturally wise heart. From presence we can respond to the situation that’s been created rather than react.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”
— Tao Te Ching



For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Integration of Buddhist Meditation and Psychotherapy


When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two.  After we set up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks and talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be "her own best friend." A huge wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the farthest thing from my own best friend.  I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, relentless, nit-picking, driving, often invisible but always on the job. In the eyes of the world, I was highly functional. Internally, I was anxious, driven and often depressed. I didn’t feel at peace with any part of my life. I longed to be kinder to myself. I longed to befriend my inner experience and to feel more intimacy and ease with the people in my life.

These longings drew me to psychotherapy—as a client and then clinician—and to the Buddhist path. In the weaving of these traditions I discovered what I now call “Radical Acceptance,” which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion. Carl Rogers wrote:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” 
In my own inner work, and in working with my psychotherapy clients and meditation students, I see over and over that Radical Acceptance is the gateway to healing wounds and spiritual transformation. When we can meet our experience with Radical Acceptance, we discover the wholeness, wisdom and love that are our deepest nature.


video

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Friday, August 12, 2011

Flow and Presence


What gets between us and happiness?

This is an important inquiry in our lives. When you’re really happy ask yourself, what’s going on? What’s going on inside you when you’re really happy?

You’ll find that there are two dimensions. One dimension is that there is presence. When you’re really happy there is a quality of “you are here” for what’s really going on. The second dimension is aliveness. And they’re entirely intertwined. When you’re happy there’s a sense of life flowing through you. If you bring your attention in an embodied way to the life that’s here, you’ll find the sense of presence or the space of presence that’s aware. If you’re really occupying presence, you feel the flow of aliveness.

Let’s explore this intertwined dynamic. What is it really that lets us enter the flow? What is it that allows us not to be mere bystanders? So that we don’t get to the end of our lives and realize, “I didn’t really feel the life flowing through this body, heart and mind. I didn’t engage intimately in the energy flow of aliveness and love with others.” This is where meditation plays a pivotal role in our lives. We’re intuitively drawn to it because in cultivating a mindfulness practice we are training ourselves to come back here to the one place where happiness, love and peace are possible. In other words, meditation constitutes a training in presence.

These two facets to being present require on our part a willingness to stop doing. It doesn’t mean we stop being engaged in the world. What is means is to stop tumbling forward in our minds and be here. When we’re here in this moment we open ourselves to the life that is here. Those two things: being here and opening to the life that is here don’t happen that often because we tend to leave the moment and go into our minds. 

People wonder, “How come I don’t experience more living joy?” The reason is because we’re not in that “being” state. So the training is to come back here.

One way that we pull ourselves out of alignment, that we leave the flow, comes out of a desire to control. This is universal. Being an organism that’s anxious about its existence, we are rigged to try to manage things so that we feel better. In most moments, there is movement towards trying to have more pleasure and less pain. Often it is in a reactionary mode. Just check it out in your relationships with others. When you’re with another person and if you’re feeling somewhat anxious, you’ll notice the controller in you is trying to manage what happens in a way compatible with your expectations. Consequently, the more insecure you feel, the more the controller is in action. 


Now, in our meditation training, when we notice that we have left presence and we notice we’re off in some controlling, worrying space, the practice is to pause. To notice what is happening, and ask ourselves “what is this like?” This allows us to come back to our bodies, back to the flow of aliveness. That is our practice, time and time again, to come back.

I share this with you because when we wake up out of the trance that keeps us separate and come back again and again into this flow of aliveness, we’re coming back into the presence that knows a timeless love. A love that will keep on emerging in different forms. Again and again taking refuge in this aliveness and in the stillness that is its source, allows our natural loving to unfold.

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Riding the Waves

We can't stop the waves, but we can learn to surf.

We can't CONTROL what life throws at us; the fact that other people don't like our ideas all the time; or that we get sick or that our emotions get the best of us. But, we can learn to go with the flow, in other words...ride the waves.

Some people surf. Me? I learned to boogie board. In fact, I became quite a fanatical boogie boarder. Every summer, I would be out there for hours and hours riding the waves. There are moments when you catch the wave, when there's no sense of being in control. There's no focus on self.  You and the wave become "one". There is a presence, a flow and a grace to it.

When athletes are in the zone, it doesn't happen because of controlling. It's a quality of presence, of full attention that allows them to tap into a flow. When we are truly empowered, all self consciousness or notions of a self in charge have vanished. We're tapping into the flow of the universe's wisdom, love, strength and power.

Meditation is the training to tap into this presence and empowerment.

It teaches us how to surf...how to ride whatever waves come our way.

For more information, visit http://www.tarabrach.com

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creating an Unreal Other

It is easy to be untouched by stories we read in the newspaper, on the Internet or watch on the news about people suffering from unemployment, loss of loved ones, war or natural disasters. More and more, in our world, we have a sense of "unreal others." Unless we are really awake, we don't see the person we're reading about as a real subjective being. We don't have a sense of "the one who is looking out through those eyes or feeling with that heart." The other is not real to us, and our hearts don't respond with authentic compassion.

Only when someone is real to us and we recognize what they are living through, do we open to our natural caring and generosity.  How do "unreal others" become "real" to us? One practice that really helps us awaken is to talk with people who are different from us. We start recognizing that behind our varied masks, the one who is looking at us experiences the same fears and yearnings, the same deep, deep longing to love and to be loved. Our vehicle in recognizing this is deep listening. What happens when there’s a listening presence? When we’re fully in that listening presence, when there’s that pure quality of receptivity, we become loving presence itself. And whether you call that God or pure awareness or true nature, the boundary of inner and outer dissolves. In that open presence, the other is part of our heart, the other becomes "real". 


For more information, visit http://tarabrach.com

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sacred Art of Listening - Nourishing Loving Relationships

To listen is to lean in softly
With a willingness to be changed
By what we hear         
                        Mark Nepo – Poet


What happens when there’s a listening presence? When we’re fully in that listening presence, when there’s that pure quality of receptivity, we become presence itself. And whether you call that God or pure awareness or our true nature, the boundary of inner and outer dissolves and we become a luminous field of awakeness.   When we’re in that open presence we can really respond to the life that’s here. We fall in love.

This state of listening is the precursor or the prerequisite to loving relatedness. The more you understand the state of listening-- of being able to have the sounds of rain wash through you, of receiving the sound and tone of another's voice-- the more you know about nurturing a loving relationship.

In a way it's an extremely vulnerable position. As soon as you stop planning what you’re going to say or managing what the other person’s saying, all of a sudden, there’s no control. You’re open to your own sadness, your own anger and discomfort. Listening means putting down control. It's not a small thing to do.

We spend most of our moments when someone is speaking, planning what we’re going to say, evaluating it, trying to come up with our presentation of our self, or controlling the situation.

Pure listening is a letting go of control. It's not easy and takes training. And yet it's only when we can let go of that controlling that we open up to the real purity of loving. We can’t see or understand someone in the moments that we are trying to control what they are saying or trying to impress them with what we are saying. There’s no space for that person to just unfold and be who they are. Listening and unconditionally receiving what another expresses, is an expression of love.

The bottom line is when we are listened to, we feel connected. When we’re not listened to, we feel separate. So whether it's the communicating between different tribes or religions, ethnicities, racial groups or different generations, we need to listen. The more we understand, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we trust and the more we trust, the more love can flow.
 

Isn’t it true to that to get to know the beauty and majesty of a tree
You have to be quiet and rest in the shade of the tree?
Don’t you have to stand under the tree?
To understand anyone, you need to stand under them for a little while
What does that mean?
Its mean you have to listen to them and be quiet and take in who they are
As if from under, as if from inside out.


For more information, visit tarabrach.com.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Coming Home



The Buddha considered investigation to be a crucial capacity on the spiritual path.

What is this?

There’s something inside us that wants to know, truly, what’s the nature of things...
really, what am I?

What’s happening right now?

What’s that empty, silent, listening presence that’s aware?

What happens when we begin to ask questions? We become more present. In the moment that I say, “What’s going on inside of me right now?” there’s more presence.

That is the purpose of investigation. It shines the light of presence on the present moment and it allows us to become that presence...to come home.

For more information, visit http://tarabrach.com.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stress & Meditation

This is the story of the magician Harry Houdini who traveled through Europe to small towns challenging local jailers to bind him in a straight jacket and lock him in a cell to see if he could escape. Over and over again, he would amaze and astonish his audiences with how he could break out of his straight jacket and cell.

But one day, he went to a small Irish village and ran into trouble because in front of a whole flock of people, be broke free of the straight jacket, but no matter what he did, he could not open the lock. Finally disappointed, the towns people left. Houdini asked the jailer about the lock trying to understand why he couldn't open it.  The jailer told him, "it was just an ordinary lock, I figured you could open anything, so I didn't bother locking it".

In other words, Houdini had been locking himself in the whole time. His assumption had been that he was locked in.

And so it is with us. We move through our day with an assumption of a problem, that there is something wrong that we have to figure out. We narrow our focus; we tense up; we get busy; we get stressed.

The Buddha said that whatever a person frequently thinks or reflects on, that will become the inclination of his or her mind. Our bodies follow right along. If we're thinking worried thoughts, our body is probably getting a steady stream of adrenaline and cortisol, keeping us physically agitated or restless.  Consider: Are your thoughts arousing a sense of kindness? of interest? of possibility? Or are your thoughts arousing a sense of tightness? separation? or discontent? In science now they say neurons that fire together, wire together, so the more frequently we have certain kinds of thoughts, the more we're going to have that inclination.
 

Meditation training, is completely radical because it gives us the potential of stepping out of this stressing trance.  We can start noticing the thoughts and have some choice as to where we want to pay attention. The message is don’t believe your thoughts!

Otherwise, we're just like Houdini fiddling with that lock and locking ourselves in our cell over and over again.


For more information, visit http://tarabrach.com.