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

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.


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