“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
Compassion is the hearts response to pain. Without it pain can be overwhelming. And it is also true that the pain then transforms into suffering. To connect with compassion takes courage. It means we stop trying to control or manipulate experience and open to life as it is. It is a turning towards rather then away and for this shift compassion is essential. The more we meet experience with an open mind and heart the more we free ourselves from limited beliefs that keep us stuck in isolation, feelings of inadequacy, resentment and the list can go on and on. Instead we learn to open to what is present in our body, mind and heart and bring a feeling of kindness, understanding and compassion. Just as we would if we saw a loved one suffering, we respond in this way that heals and reconnects us to life.
Please take a moment to read the poem below and allow the words to land in the heart.
Opening the mind and awakening the heart...
Every moment is precious...
In moments of deep sadness
When we feel isolated and alone...
In moments of joy when our mind and hearts
are filled with the vibrant energy of being alive
Through joy, sorrow, loss, gain, praise, blame, fame, fortune
It’s important to remember
We all experience moments of pain
Moments of joy
Moments of grief
This is our common humanity
It’s what connects us heart to heart
In those moments
There is no me, mine or I
We are all interconnected
When we forget this there is deep suffering
So, it’s important to remember
you are not alone…
Just as you want to happy so do all living beings
Just like you suffer so do all
When we open our hearts to be with what is painful
We open to the healing power of compassion
We walk the path of wisdom together
knowing we are all drops in the ocean
that together we are the ocean
Pause...breathe...remember your true nature
"Make your mind as vast as the sky"
Last line by Matthieu Ricard
The Healing Power of Loving Kindness
“To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.” Sharon Salzberg
To listen to the original podcast on this topic please click here.
This past Sunday our Dharma talk and meditation practice focused on the healing power of Loving Kindness Meditation and how it helps to awaken our hearts and minds. In this practice we deliberately call on the power of the compassionate heart and the wisdom of an open mind to help us awaken to the preciousness of life. As we practice meditation we begin to wake up; we shift from auto pilot and come into direct contact with life as it's happening moment to moment. This practice calls on us to step out of our habitual reactive tendencies, meet life with an open heart/mind and while it is challenging it is a necessity in order to live a wise and compassionate life. So where do we start?
The Armored Heart: When we protect our vulnerability we imprison the healing and connecting power of the heart.
We live in a world where divisiveness exists, we can see it all around us; class discrimination, racism, domestic violence and child abuse to name a few. We have been conditioned to see life through the lens of how we want or don't want it to be and this creates suffering. We're usually relating to the world through the eyes of ego which is constantly seeking comfort, safety and connection. This is an impossible task as life is constantly in flux, so seeking permanence in an impermanent world is like trying to hold on to sand. It doesn't work! As we begin to recognize this we can begin to let go of trying to manipulate our external world to fit our idea about how life should be and instead we can learn to be present to the way life is. We turn our attention to what is happening in the moment and learn to respond to suffering with compassion and wisdom. We let go of trying to change ourselves, others or our external world and this is the beginning of awakening the heart. This is the beginning of meditation practice.
Our world is imperfect and an essential part of mindfulness practice is an acknowledgment of this. We are not practicing meditation to make life perfect, we are practicing to learn how to stay open and present to life just as it is. Whether we meditate on the cushion or move through life mindfully, we practice to:
This practice is one of purifying the heart mind so that we free ourselves of our habitual reactive ways of moving through the world. When we practice loving kindness, we are opening our hearts to suffering, both our own, others and the world. It's a practice of inclusion, so our circle is not limited to those we deem deserving of love. With an open heart/mind judgments and boundaries dissolve and with it, falls away ill will, delusion and greed. Metta practice begins to open us to compassion, kindness, generosity and wisdom.
It takes courage to do this practice as we are breaking down the barriers, defenses and with it our reactive ways of dealing with pain. We are actually stepping into the potential we spoke about 3 weeks ago. Were stepping into spaciousness, loving presence and wisdom. It's challenging and doesn't happen overnight. The good news is that it's our potential. The Buddha is a testament to this. He tried many different paths and gleaned wisdom from each but wasn't freed from suffering until the night of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. It was the connection with wisdom and compassion that led to his awakening.
Loving Kindness as a Meditation
"It is a meditation of care, concern, tenderness, loving kindness, friendship–a feeling of warmth for oneself and others. The practice is the softening of the mind and heart, an opening to deeper and deeper levels of the feeling of kindness, of pure love." Steven Smith
As we practice Loving Kindness, we begin to soften the armored heart. This practice is one of slowly softening, opening and letting go of the defenses that keep the heart armored and protected. Using the phrases below we begin the practice by first sending Loving Kindness to ourselves and slowly expand to include loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, difficult ones and then all beings. If you are practicing for the first time, it can feel robotic and awkward. For this reason it is important to find a sense of ease in the body and breath and then connect with a sense of good will, friendliness and kindness towards yourself. Notice any areas of stress in the body, mental chatter, judgment or self-hatred that arises. Then see if you can drop beneath that to connect with a sense of care and a genuine desire for your own well-being.
Continue to breathe in and out and chose from the following phrases repeating them silently to yourself
May I be free from inner and outer danger and harm.
May I be free from mental suffering or distress.
May I be able to live in this world with a sense of ease and peace.
May I be happy.
From yourself, expand the practice to the following categories
You can choose to use the same phrases you practiced with towards yourself. If it becomes too overwhelming when practicing with a difficult person, come back to loving kindness phrases towards yourself. End the practice by sending loving kindness to all beings.
Take your time developing a loving kindness practice it is truly an act of self love. As you begin to treat yourself with care and kindness you may find that your capacity to meet the suffering of others with patience, wisdom and compassion grows.
I have included a link to last weeks podcasts which includes a guided Loving Kindness Meditation here (please scroll till you see the title - Loving Kindness-Awakening the heart of compassion)
Please feel free to share this post with others or stop by and join our Sunday Sangha meetings.
For more information please explore our website or use our Contact form for questions or comments.
May all living beings everywhere, on all planes of existence, known and unknown, be happy, be peaceful, be free from suffering.
Limitless by Danna Faulds
Learn to be with life as it is... This frees you to finally let go of fighting and resisting life and instead meet it with an open mind and heart. It doesn't mean that all is well or that we close our eyes to the suffering that is within us, others and the world. It means that we see the suffering in all it's different forms (addictions, old age, sickness and death) and that we let go of the judgments around it and allow ourselves to feel and to meet suffering with compassion. This is something we learn to do slowly, with a different set of tools. Patience, kindness, compassion and gentleness. This is the path of Mindfulness of Compassion. Walk it one step at a time. May you be well
Our second retreat of the year!
This past weekend we were joined by 13 participants for our second retreat of the year. It was a wonderful, healing and growth experience for me and many of the participants have mirrored these feelings. Every retreat experience is different and this reflects every moment of life. It's not the same and this is both a blessing and at times challenging. Whether there is a challenge, a blessing or a neutral space, with this practice we are invited to notice what is happening both within the body, mind and heart and in our external world. How are we relating to experience as it happens? This was the topic of the retreat and we had many moments, space and different opportunities to practice.
The 7 Factors of Awakening - Investigation, Curiosity and Compassion
The topic of the retreat was the teachings on the 7 factors of awakening and how these seven factors can set the conditions for the awakening of spacious mind and a compassionate heart. It isn't that we are "driving the bus", in fact we it's the opposite! It's a letting go of controlling, manipulating, fixing or a whole host of ways we get busy trying to change what's happening to suit some idea we have about how life should be in order for us to be okay. So in retreat there is an invitation to let go of doing and become aware of what is happening in with a beginners mind. We invite curiosity into the space which helps us to see on a deeper level how different phenomena (sensations, thoughts, emotions, sounds, etc.) arise and pass away within this open spacious awareness. As we stop the doing we can begin to see the busyness of the mind and how energy follows attention. So, if we are stuck in some negative mindstate we can sense in real time how the body, mind and heart react to the thoughts. Perhaps there is an impulse to react that arises and that two is fertile ground for practice. So, instead of automatically reaction we notice what reactivity feels like in the body. If we are getting overwhelmed or lost in the story line, we can then shift our attention to the stability of the breath or to feeling our bodies in the present moment. In walking meditation we bring all of our attention to being embodies, to movement, to the sensation of the feet touching the earth. This is a living vibrant practice that takes us beyond the virtual world of thoughts, beliefs, opinions and into contact with the aliveness and vibrant life that is right here.
Sangha (Spritual Community) is also a very important part of retreat...
During our retreat we practice entering Noble Silence knowing this is what helps us to stop doing, avoiding or distracting ourselves and sometimes putting off living! While it is for a Noble cause it can bring up a lot of anxiety, fears and aversion. For me there is a sacredness about practicing in community. Even while sitting, walking and eating mindfully there is a feeling of support, care, kindness and connection. It is also the recognition that as we go about cooking, cleaning up or ringing the wake bell we are taking care of each other. That though we may not know each others stories, there is a feeling of connection and genuine compassion that arises as we shared this time together. These are some of the blessings of going on retreat.
Thank you to all that took the time to be here and give so generously of your time. Your willingness to set aside time and explore this healing practice with us was greatly appreciated. It was truly a heart opening experience for us as facilitators. We really feel blessed! We wish all of you the best and hope to see you at the next retreat!
Our last retreat of the year will take place at the lovely Casa San Carlos in Delray Beach, Florida on October 20th-22nd. You may register for it at 3 Day October 20th-22ndMindfulness Retreat-Delray Beach, Fl.
Life is precious. From the first breath we take to the last is truly a gift. I believe that children are more connected to this than adults. They are more open, curious and look at the world through the eyes of wonder and awe. There is a newness to everything they see and it's both wonderful and heartbreaking to see this.
We all were this way at some point. And the great news is, we can find ways to reconnect with this sense of wonder at how miraculous life is. It's how we're looking at life that makes a difference.
Some questions to help you shift from mindlessly moving through life to being living mindfully are:
Do we look at life through a lens of curiosity?
Do we look beyond the surface? Sometimes we label things and then dismiss them. Can we see the wonder of a tree, bird or flower?
Can we see the preciousness of every moment, every breath, every contact we have with life?
Can we do it with reverence, with forgiveness for the times we're caught up in reactivity, fighting and resisting the way life is?
Life is both joy, sorrow, gladness, generosity, compassion and more...
Sometimes we relate to life as if it's a commodity. Some people have material commodities some don't. I say that we sometimes tend to look at the world through the lens of material wealth, status, education and superficial beauty. It's nice to have things. It's great to be physically fit and have good looks. When we hang on to material things and build our identity around them we experience a limited version of life. There are so many moments that are priceless and yet when we are either climbing the ladder of success, accumulating more "things", trying to get somewhere else that's "easier, more comfortable, less painful" we miss out. What we are missing out on is huge! It's called LIFE!
Life isn't a Ladder of Success...
Life is an experience. Pausing to connect with the breath and body will bring you into direct contact with the truth of this. And this is what I am talking about. Watch a child or even animals and you will see the curiosity that is there. The moments where they pause to breathe, feel and take in the world through their senses. Or when something catches their attention and they explore it as if it is a priceless jewel or a fascinating gift. They experience true connection, know they have a body, feel their feelings and express the full gamut of emotions. To live is to experience all of this. As adults we get so caught up in thinking, pursuing and doing that we forget to live, to just be! There is good news! We make time to reconnect with the wonder and preciousness of life.
Some ways to practice mindfulness and connect with this precious life...
“I am sure it is everyone’s experience, as it has been mine, that any discovery we make about ourselves or the meaning of life is never, like a scientific discovery, a coming upon something entirely new and unsuspected; it is rather, the coming to conscious recognition of something, which we really knew all the time. WH Auden
When you're out in nature, stand still, feel your feet connected to the earth, feel the breeze on your skin. There are studies that show 20 minutes in nature can be restorative and healing. It's actually a healthy and necessary connection. We all need it for our physical, emotional and mental health!
Listen to the sounds around you, let go of doing and ground yourself in this moment by listening. If it's silent listen to the silence. Even then there is sound or vibration that comes and goes.
If you go for a walk engage in acts of generosity. Take bread crumbs to feed the ducks or birds. Look and smile at passerbys. It doesn't matter whether they smile back. Again, acts of generosity are done without expecting anything in return. It is compassion training for the heart.
If you see someone struggling, if possible give them a helping hand. That includes yourself! Sometimes we are the ones that are struggling and we don't even see it! So make sure to include yourself when doing acts of kindness. I say this refills your love tank!
Set aside time to put down all mobile devices and connect with loved ones. I have seen groups of people in restaurants that put their cell phones face down in the middle of the table and make it a point to focus on connecting with each other. It is heartwarming to see this! An intentional act to connect with others helps us make space for that heart to heart connection that is so much a part of life.
If you are tired rest, if you are hungry eat, if you are restless go for a walk. Tune into what is needed in the body. Sometimes we live in our heads for much of the day we forget we have a body and a heart. Intentionally pausing during your day to attune to what's needed is an act of self care and an act of love.
Until next time...be well
“The mind in its natural state can be compared to the sky, covered by layers of cloud which hide its true nature.” ~Kalu Rinpoche
I went away on a Mindfulness retreat at the Insight Meditation Society Retreat Center in Barre, Massachusetts last week. We had two main mediation teachers guiding us and the topic was on Establishing Presence. We were guided on the importance of establishing presence when practicing mindfulness. This makes so much sense, because when we are moving through the world reacting to it as if it is a commodity there for our convenience there is little to no awareness. It's not our fault! It is the result of years of conditioning. Of learning how to survive in this world. It was taught to us by the people around us, who learned it from the people around them and so on. And it isn't that we are all bad or good. It's more like we are asleep to the goodness that is within us. As if we forgot what it was like to be awake and alive. There are many different reasons why the wisdom within us and ability to be compassionate gets covered over. Sometimes it's a result of trauma, habit, addictive patterns, unskillful behaviors and many other causes.
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh,
So we begin with one breath followed by another. And it's not just breathing because most of us do this with no real effort or even awareness that we are breathing. It is much more about bringing an awake and alert presence to breathing and it's not limited to this. This is a starting point and an important one in the establishment of presence. The breath is usually a stable, safe place to rest our attention. It is also a place where we can venture out and explore sensations, emotions, thoughts. When emotions become overwhelming we come back to the stability of the breath. As we practice our connection to non judgmental awareness becomes stronger and stronger and this helps us to begin to connect with the wisdom that is always available to us. We also connect with the compassionate heart that helps us to stay present when challenging states of mind or emotions arise. And this definitely happened on retreat!
It is a blessing to practice mindfulness in community...
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Yes, we can practice meditation alone at home and it's an important part of developing this practice. After all it isn't always possible to practice with others. When the opportunity arises, as it did for me, it is truly a blessing. There we all sat in Noble Silence, not speaking to each other, very much aware of our connection to each other, of taking part in something that is a Noble endeavor and that is where the blessing part comes in.
As we sit in community, there is the knowledge that we are all walking this path together and and that we all suffer and we also all want to be happy. Instead of running away, avoiding or dismissing the moments of frustration, pain or loss, we commit to being there in an open hearted way. This is not an easy task, it is a Noble one. In a sense it is a statement of real love for ourselves and the world. We learn to let go of being in protective/defensive mode and we open to life. Sometimes even as we sit there is judgment arising and we notice it's arising instead of getting caught in it. This is where we begin to free the mind and open the heart. But more than words on a page this is a living practice that brings with it priceless gifts. What I've written here is just a glimpse of the freedom of mind and heart that are gifts of this practice.
I invite you to find out more about this practice. There are many free resources on the internet. Or if you live in Weston, why not join us for our Sunday Mindfulness Meetings. To learn more please visit the Join Our Sangha page.
May you be well....
We were fortunate to host our first 3 day retreat at Casa San Carlos in Delray Beach and it was a wonderful opportunity to deepen our spiritual practice; to calm the mind and open the heart to life just as it is. This is one of the many positive benefits of this practice as it allows us to let go of distractions and come into a quiet space where we can begin to connect with the mind, body and heart in a way that is healing and can often lead to transformational changes in our lives.
Please read the entire article at The Healing Power of Retreat.
Our Next Retreat in April 21st-23rd is at the lovely House of Prayer Retreat Center
Below are some picture from our upcoming retreat at The House of Prayer Retreat Center. This is a sacred space with beautiful lush surroundings, peaceful walking paths, a sundeck by the creek where we can come together to meditate. The retreat house is also very peaceful and lends offers a silent, sacred space in where you can let go and connect with life in a healing way. In this soothing space you can allow yourself to let go of doing and just be. Please pay and register at Eventbrite-April 21st-23rd Fl Mindfulness Retreat. We hope to see you there!
This weekend we were blessed to host a residential retreat at the lovely Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. This was a both a learning, inspiring and heart opening experience. The retreatants were so open and willing to enter this retreat and we were also blessed to have generous assistance of Suzanne Lang and Deepa along with Angel Raynor, who wisely suggested group photos and many others whose presence, openess and willingness to participate made this weekend possible. Thank you to all of you! We are finalizing the arrangements for the next retreat and will be posting the location, dates and time here on our blog and via social media...so stay tuned!
"Mindlessness is about living on automatic pilot. Your relying on the distinctions and categories that you drew in the past, so the past is determining the present. You're trapped in a single perspective... All the while you're oblivious to this, you're insensitive to context and perspective. You have rules and routine that are guiding you — governing what you're doing — that may not make any sense any longer. " Ellen Langer, Social Psychologist
Living Mindfully vs. Mindlessly
Living mindfully means that we move through life with a real and profound awareness of how we are responding to life. Instead of living life on auto pilot we begin to feel more connected to our internal experience (breathing, moving, feeling, seeing, etc.) and our external world (nature, people, sounds, etc.). Living mindfully means that we stop living in aworld of virtual thoughts and connect with the world around and within us.
When we live mindlessly we move through life in a world of thoughts, opinions and beliefs and we react to world based on what we are thinking. It's like living in a trance or being a hamster on the wheel of life. This constant doing creates stress, tension and has negative effects on our over all emotional, physical and mental health. We often don't even notice, until we end up in the doctor's office or find ourselves emotionally overwhelmed. Taking breaks throughout the day to check in is essential to our health! It isn't about being lazy or letting yourself off the hook it's about taking care of yourself so that you feel more balanced, clear-minded and approach life with wisdom and compassion.
Some examples of living mindlessly are:
Create opportunities to be mindful. Contemplate the following:
When we learn to connect mindfully to the life both within and outside of us, we lessen reactivity and move towards responding in ways that are healing and compassionate. We turn off the cruise control and connect with the energy, aliveness and compassion that is such an important part of living wholeheartedly. Our appreciation for all of life grows and we are able to face challenges with wisdom and compassion.
Until next time...May you live with ease and peace...
Cindy Ricardo is a compassionate and experienced Psychotherapist, Gentle Yoga Teacher and Mindfulness Meditation Guide. She facilitates a Dharma/Meditation Circle in Weston and Coral Springs alternatively, 3 times a month at 11am on Sundays. Her focus is on helping others learn about peaceful practices that help cultivate insight, connect with wisdom and awaken the compassionate heart. For more information about her please visit acaringcounselor.com, contact her at 954 793 6442 or email her at wbmindfulness.