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Showing posts from June, 2012

Pain Is Not Wrong

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Many years ago when I was pregnant with my son, I decided to have a home birth without drugs, assisted by a midwife. My hope was to be as wakeful and present as possible during the birth, and while I knew the pain would be intense, I trusted that my meditation and yoga practices would help me to “go with the flow.”
When labor began I was rested and ready. Knowing that resisting the pain of contractions only made them worse, I relaxed with them, breathing, making sounds without inhibition, letting go as my body’s intelligence took over. Like any animal, I was unthinkingly immersed, instinctively responding to the drama unfolding through me, riding the pain as a natural part of the process.
Then, suddenly, something shifted. When my son’s head started crowning, the pain level shot up. It was no longer something I could breathe into and let surge through me. This much pain has got to mean something is going wrong, I thought. My whole body tightened, and my deep slow breaths turned into t…

Stories that teach about freedom

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I was stunned by the news that Jesse was in critical condition with pneumonia and heart failure. We had just talked the week before about his passion—bringing mindfulness to teens. He was in his early thirties and one of the most bright, vibrant people I knew. How could Jesse be on a life support machine?  How could this happen? On Mothers Day the doctors met with Jesse’s parents to tell them they should begin to prepare themselves for his death. But in the weeks that followed, they managed to stabilize him sufficiently to perform the most complex, risky heart transplant this expert team at the University of Virginia had ever attempted. Jesse survived, and was with us the following April at our spring meditation retreat. Recently, in a videotaped interview, we asked him what had helped him make it through such a harrowing experience. Jesse’s response—his story about finding unconditional love in the face of his own mortality—is one of many videotaped stories that are now available throu…

Inviting Mara to Tea

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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!...

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi
One of my favorite stories of the Buddha shows the power of a wakeful and friendly heart. The night before his enlightenment, the Buddha fought a great battle with the Demon God Mara, who attacked the then bodhisattva Siddhartha Guatama with everything he had: lust, greed, anger, doubt, etc. Having failed, Mara left in disarray on the morning of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Yet, it seems Mara was only temporarily discouraged. Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come t…

Inquiry and Naming: Practices to Dispel the Trance

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Sometimes, when our carefully constructed lives seem to be falling apart – when we get a divorce, lose a business, or are laid off, for example – we can torture and berate ourselves with stories about how we’re failures, what we could have done better, how no one cares about us. Yet, this response of course only digs us deeper into what I call “the trance of unworthiness.”
Distracted by our judgments, we are unable to recognize the raw pain of our emotions. In order to begin the process of waking up, we need to deepen our attention and touch our real experience.
One tool of mindfulness that can cut through our numbing trance is inquiry. As we ask ourselves questions about our experience, our attention gets engaged. We might begin by scanning our body, noticing what we are feeling, especially in the throat, chest, abdomen and stomach, and then asking “What wants my attention right now?” or “What is asking for acceptance?” Then we attend with genuine interest and care, listening to our h…