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Showing posts from July, 2012

Lost in the Pursuit of Substitutes

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Ever since I was a teen, my drive to be productive has been a key strategy of what I often refer to as my “wanting self.” When I feel insecure, producing—whether it’s a finished article, a stack of paid bills or a clean kitchen—is my most readily accessible device for feeling worthwhile. This producing isn’t simply the natural urge to be creative and contribute to the mix of life, it’s energized by fears of inadequacy and the need to prove myself.
When I’m caught in this strategy, I turn to English Breakfast tea to give me the boost I think I need to remain productive throughout the day and often into the night. The price is that I become speedy, impatient and distant from those I love. I get disconnected from my body as I relentlessly urge myself onward to get yet another thing done. Feeling self-centered and bad about myself for workaholism doesn’t slow me down. “Getting one more thing out of the way” seems the most reliable way to get what I want—to feel better.
At a psychotherapy c…

Freedom Finds us When We Pause

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“Temporary nirvana.” 

This is how contemporary Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahan Buddhadasa describes the precious interludes between all our “doing;” those times when we pause, and are not grasping after our experience, or resisting it. He writes that without such moments of inner freedom, “… living things would either die or become insane. Instead, we survive because there are natural periods of coolness, of wholeness and ease. In fact, they last longer than the fires of our grasping and fear. It is this that sustains us.”
We incline ourselves toward this healing freedom by practicing to pause again and again. At the very moment when we’re about to lash out in verbal outrage, we can stop. When we feel anxious, instead of turning on the TV or making a phone call or mentally obsessing, we can sit still and feel our discomfort or restlessness. In this pause we can let go of thinking and doing, and we become intimate with what is happening in our body, heart and mind.
Pausing as a technique m…

Finding Your Querencia in the Pause

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In bullfighting there is an interesting parallel to what I call the art of pausing, as a place of refuge and renewal. It is believed that in the midst of a fight, a bull can find his own particular area of safety in the arena. There he can reclaim his strength and power. This place and inner state are called his querencia. As long as the bull remains enraged and reactive, the matador is in charge. Yet when he finds querencia, he gathers his strength and loses his fear. From the matador’s perspective, at this point the bull is truly dangerous, for he has tapped into his power.
The experience of one of my clients, Laura, provides a good example of how we can all learn to face our own matadors by courageously learning to pause in order to harness the strength of our querencia.
In the beginning of our therapy sessions, Laura had begun referring to her mother as “the dragon” because of the incinerating burn of her words. At one meeting we did a guided visualization, and Laura imagined herse…

Radical Acceptance of Desire

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When I was first introduced to Buddhism in a high school World Studies class, I dismissed it out-of-hand. This was during the hedonistic days of the late ‘60s, and this spiritual path seemed so grim with its concern about attachment and, apparently, anti-pleasure. Buddhism seemed to be telling me to stop seeking after romantic relationships, forego having good times with friends, avoid the highs of marijuana and give up my adventures in nature. In my mind, freedom from desire would take the fun out of life.
Years later I would realize that the Buddha never intended to make desire itself the problem. When he said craving causes suffering, he was referring not to our natural inclination as living beings to have wants and needs, but to our habit of clinging to experience that must, by nature, pass away, and that relating wisely to the powerful and pervasive energy of desire is a pathway into unconditional loving.
I first saw a glimpse of this possibility many years ago in what might be co…

Saying Yes To Life As It Is

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Zen teacher Ed Brown is a brilliant cook and founder of the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, famous for its natural foods cuisine. But during Ed’s early days as a cook at the Tassajara mountain retreat center, he had a problem. No matter what recipes or variations in ingredients he tried, he couldn’t get his biscuits to come out right. 
His unreachable standard, as he discovered, was set years earlier—growing up he had “made” and loved Pillsbury biscuits.
Finally one day came a shifting-into-place, an awakening: not “right” compared to what? Oh, my word, I’d been trying to make canned Pillsbury biscuits! Then came an exquisite moment of actually tasting my biscuits without comparing them to some (previously hidden) standard.They were wheaty, flakey, buttery, “sunny, earthy, real.” They were incomparably alive, present, vibrant—in fact much more satisfying than any memory.
These occasions can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realize your life is just fine as it i…