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

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