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, May 29, 2013

Rare and Precious Joy



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.”


Joy is an “obligation” because it is an expression of our full potential. Only if we commit ourselves to loving life, do we come fully into our wholeness. This commitment means we investigate our limiting beliefs about our own goodness and worth.  It means we bring mindfulness to our discursive thoughts and judgments. And it means we challenge the values of a culture that fixate on material growth, consumerism, and the domination of nature.

There is a story of a young monk who arrives at a monastery and he’s assigned to help the other monks copying the canons and the laws of the church by hand. He notices that the monks are copying from copies. He goes to the old abbot and he questions this. He points out that if there were even a small error earlier on, that it would never be picked up. In fact, it would be continued in all subsequent copies. The abbot says, “We’ve been copying from copies for centuries, but you have a good point.” So he goes down to the vaults, way down deep in the caves under the monastery where the original manuscripts have been sitting for ages, for hundreds of years. Hours go by. Nobody sees the old abbot. Finally, the young, new monk gets really worried so he goes downstairs. He finds the old abbot, who is banging his head against the wall and crying uncontrollably. Concerned he asks him, “Father, father, what’s wrong?” And in a choking voice, the old abbot replies, “The word was ‘celebrate!’ (not celibate)”

When we get lost in habitual behaviors—in living according to others expectations, in avoiding risks, in not questioning our beliefs—we bypass opportunities to celebrate life. Joy is only possible if you are living in your body, with your senses awake. One training that cultivates your capacity for joy is to purposefully stop when you even get the slightest little tendril of a sense of “Ah...happiness.” Whenever you start feeling some simple pleasure, a sense of something you appreciate, stop.  Be fully aware of your body, of sensation and aliveness. Be aware of your heart. Sense what it’s like to fully savor the beauty of a falling leaf, the warmth of a hug, the quietness at dawn. We’re not a culture of savoring. We grasp after our pleasures, but we don’t pause. We don’t spend much time with our senses awake.

See what happens if you commit yourself to loving life. Begin by remembering to pause and savor the simple pleasures. Have the intention to hold gently the difficulties. Open your heart to the life of this moment and discover that joy is never very far away. 

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)

Enjoy this talk on What Keeps Us From Joy




For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Compassion


Photo Credit: Andrés Meneses
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, lay 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 mood of compassion. Compassion can be described as letting ourselves be touched by the vulnerability and suffering that is within ourselves and all beings. The full flowering of compassion also includes action: Not only do we attune to the presence of suffering, we respond to it.

There is a wonderful expression that says:
“Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard.”

It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.

Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice.  It can be simple.  As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question.  “What is life like for this person?  What does this person most need?”    

If you deepen your attention, you’ll find that everyone you know is living with vulnerability. Everyone is living with fear, with loss, with uncertainty.  Everyone, on some level, needs to feel safe, loved and seen.

To be kind, we need to slow down and notice.

Enjoy this short video on: The Warmth of Compassion

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Heart That Is Ready for Anything


When the Buddha was dying, he gave a final message to his beloved attendant Ananda, and to generations to come: “Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge.”

In his last words, the Buddha was urging us to see this truth: although you may search the world over trying to find it, your ultimate refuge is none other than your own being.

There’s a bright light of awareness that shines through each of us and guides us home, and we’re never separated from this luminous awareness, any more than waves are separated from ocean. Even when we feel most ashamed or lonely, reactive or confused, we’re never actually apart from the awakened state of our heart-mind.

This is a powerful and beautiful teaching. The Buddha was essentially saying: I’m not the only one with this light; all ordinary humans have this essential wakefulness, too. In fact, this open, loving awareness is our deepest nature. We don’t need to get somewhere or change ourselves: our true refuge is what we are. Trusting this opens us to the blessings of freedom.

Buddhist monk Sayadaw U. Pandita describes these blessings in a wonderful way: A heart that is ready for anything. When we trust that we are the ocean, we are not afraid of the waves. We have confidence that whatever arises is workable. We don’t have to lose our life in preparation. We don’t have to defend against what’s next. We are free to live fully with what is here, and to respond wisely.

You might ask yourself: “Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?”

If our hearts are ready for anything, we can open to our inevitable losses, and to the depths of our sorrow. We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth, our lost health, our lost capacities. This is part of our humanness, part of the expression of our love for life. As we bring a courageous presence to the truth of loss, we stay available to the immeasurable ways that love springs forth in our life.

If our hearts are ready for anything, we will spontaneously reach out when others are hurting. Living in an ethical way can attune us to the pain and needs of others, but when our hearts are open and awake, we care instinctively. This caring is unconditional—it extends outward and inward wherever there is fear and suffering.

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, creativity and productivity. There’s room for spirit, for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’s roar.”

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.

When Munindraji, a vipassana meditation teacher, was asked why he practiced, his response was, “So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day.”

With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day. We can become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We can find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath.

Adapted from True Refuge (2013)

Enjoy this video on: The Whole World in Our Heart:


For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com


Friday, May 3, 2013

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?

Enjoy this talk on Surrender to the Monkeys:

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com