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Showing posts from 2011

Gift to the Soul: The Space of Presence

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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.
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 ca…

Rare and Precious Joy

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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.”
J…

Living Whole-Heartedly

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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 y…

Compassion

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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 mo…

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

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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 throu…

Lessons from kayaking: Finding a way to be with fear

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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 wrongnot being good enoughnot being lovedlosing something or someone we hold dear
What fears do you live with?
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 …

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

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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.…

Pause and deepen your attention

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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 …

The mystery of who we are

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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 r…

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

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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 e…

Learning to Respond, Not React

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If we are to wake up out of our patterning, a key element of that is to be able to pause, recognize and open toa larger space than the cocoon that our mindis 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. N…

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 dis…

Flow and Presence

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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 intim…

Riding the Waves

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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 wi…

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, d…

The Sacred Art of Listening - Nourishing Loving Relationships

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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, …

Coming Home

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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.

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 th…