"There are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down." Pema Chodron
In Pema Chodron's book, The Places That Scare You, she compares seated meditation with training the puppy. She states, "The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say "Stay!" "Come!" "Roll over!" and "Sit up!" but he will also be neurotic and confused."
This is something most of us experience both in meditation and in life. When things become challenging, uncomfortable or painful, our tendency is usually to resist. This resistance is what creates suffering. The judgment, the self blame or blaming others and a whole host of other ways we react are habitual patterned ways we learned to protect ourselves. The pattern is not who we are; it's just a pattern meant to keep us safe but actually keeps us stuck.
Learning to Stay...
Meditation is a training in learning how to stay present, whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In this way, we stop running from what's difficult to seek what is pleasant. We learn to sit with life just as it is; putting down the need to do, change or fix life. And it isn't a passive approach, it is the couragious act of turning towards life. We soften our resistance; and when we do this we can respond from a place of wisdom, kindness and compassion.
Training with Kindness...
So how do we do this? I love the way Pema Chodron describes it. She encourages us to stay, when the tendency is to leave. She says, "By contrast, training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure. Whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to "stay" and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness."
And this ability to cultivate steadfastness, is what allows us to stay connected to life; to connect in a way that is both wise and compassionate. When we do this, we get to experience life, in all it's joys and sorrows. After all, we aren't apart from nature, we are part of nature.
Why wait for your awakening?
Do you value your reasons for staying small more than
The light shining through the open door?
Now it the only time you have to be whole.
Now is the sole moment that exists to live
In the light of your true nature.
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.
Please, oh please, don't continue to believe in
Your stories of deficiency and failure.
This is the day of your awakening.
Life is precious. In our rush to get things done, planning for the future, or taking care of daily needs, we tend to overlook this simple yet profound truth. So, it's not surprising that we lose sight of the importance of pausing to connect with this very life. We forget what it's like to breathe, to sense the breath coming into the body, or to check in with this body, heart and mind. It's so important to recognize the life that is right here, beyond the thinking and doing.
A Sacred Pause...
"What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls?" Tara Brach
Can you take some moments to pause and check in? What if this were your last moment? Your last breath? Would you want to spend it getting frustrated with your spouse, or children, or surfing the internet? Take a few moments to feel your feet on the ground, and the aliveness that is coursing through your body. Can you sense the preciousness of this very life?
This pausing to be with things as they are, is what Tara Brach calls the Sacred Pause. Sacred because of how precious this very moment is. It is also an opportunity to take a break from being on the treadmill of thinking and doing. To connect with the life that is around and inside us.
So what stops us? Sometimes it is that we are caught up in moving through life as if it something to do; another project to be managed. We interact with life as if it's something to be managed, manipulated and controlled. And here's the sad part, connecting with life in this way creates suffering. We suffer, because instead of taking in the good, pausing to connect with joy, with this wakeful presence that is always here, we relate to life through a lens of how it should be, rather than how it is. We get caught in "If only mind" or "If____then____." We hit the pause button on life and chase after some delusion about the way we want ourselves, others, or life to be. The sad part is that life doesn't have a pause button. It is a journey to be traveled and the only thing you need to bring along is the mind, body and heart. When we do this, we broaden the lens, we see beyond our list of things to do, beyond the way we want things to be and we connect with how life is in this moment. Doing this we connect with acceptance, wisdom and compassion. We connect with loved ones, we see the joy, the sadness, the sorrow and we respond with compassion towards ourselves and others.
This is the invitation to awaken and connect with the wisdom and compassion that is right here. The first step is letting go of striving, of trying to manage life and in doing so we come into direct contact with life as it is. We discover what it is to be fully alive. We leave stop chasing perfection and instead meet this moment with an open mind and an open heart. And in this letting go there is freedom to be just as you are. And when suffering arises we can shift from the story of how things would be different, if only____ to loving presence. To the aliveness in this body, mind and heart. So I invite you today to take a moment or moments. Hit the pause button on the story line that is going on in your mind. Shift your attention to the flow of life that is here in the body. Feel the breath as it enters, this is life flowing through you. What a miracle! Can you be present for it? As Mary Oliver invites us to reflect on, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Here's the full poem:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?—Mary Oliver
May you be well...
Healing is always available... all you need to do is pause....
Pause...rest in the stillness of silence. Listen to the quiet... So still, empty...yet so full. The possibility to connect with this moment, this body, this breath, this heart. To sense the energy....awareness...compassion...to feel into this moment. Can you sense the vibrant aliveness that is here? Beyond thoughts, beliefs and stories there is life.
We live so much of our moments lost in thought. Lost in fantasy; past memories or future stories. Mindfulness practice invites us to come home to the present. Silence supports us on this journey. When we go on retreat it helps us open to the potential of resting in this silence, where aliveness, compassion, and wisdom reside.
Silence is an essential part of this practice. Going on retreat supports this; both by providing the container of retreat as we turn the attention towards the inner world of heart/mind. So the silence is supported both by the practice and the environment. As one of our retreatants stated at the end of retreat, "I loved spending time in the meditation room...there was a feeling of being in a sacred space." Erika U.
"We allow the silence and the calmness to penetrate our flesh and bones. We allow the energy of the Sangha/spiritual community and its mindfulness to penetrate our body and mind. We go back to our activities slowly, aware of every step. " Thich Nhat Hanh
This is the invitation on retreat. As we set aside the busyness, distractions and demands of daily life and enter the container of retreat, we connect with life as it is. We allow the silence and calmness to penetrate deeply. And as we do, we move beyond concepts and ideas about the way life should/shouldn't be. We slow down the rhythmn and pace of thoughts, shifting from thinking mind; we connect with the alive sensation of the breath, the hum of the body, the healing power of the heart. The retreat is arranged in such a way that the conditions are set up for a journey that offers the possiblity of deep healing and transformation.
Stay Patient and Trust Your Journey...
In this secluded and sacred space there is an opportunity to see life beyond the conceptual world of thoughts, stories and beliefs. It's not that the thoughts and stories don't arise, it's that we get to see it in real time, to experience the effect it has on our mind/heart and the body. In shifting from living in our heads, to experiencing life as it happens, there is choice in how to relate to what is happening. When pain arises, whether it's emotional, physical or psychological, can we stay present for it? Can we feel it in our body and heart without adding to it? Or do we resist it through our thoughts. If we resist it, how does it affect our body, mind and heart? And when this happens can we meet this resistance with the compassionate power of the heart and the acceptance of the wise mind? This is the journey towards purifying the mind and awakening the heart of compassion.
Within the sacred space of retreat, surrounded by like minded travelers, you have the opportunity to go on this very special journey of freeing the mind and opening the heart to life, love and joy. Won't you join us? As Rumi so wisely asks "And you? when will you begin that long journey into yourself?"
Our next retreat is Jan 5th-7th, at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. To register go to 3 Day Mindfulness Retreat.
May you be well...
"Do everything with a mind that lets go... If you let go a little, you experience a little peace. If you let go a lot, you experience a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggle with the world will come to an end." Ajahn Chah
Our last retreat of the year took place the weekend of October 22nd-24th, at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. It was a wonderful and heart opening experience to come into community and explore this peaceful and heart opening practice together. Both as a practitioner and a guide, I am deeply moved and grateful for the opportunity to share this practice with others. In the sharing there isn't an expert in charge, there is a fellow traveler exploring the teachings of the Buddha that lead to the liberation of our hearts and minds. When we do this in a retreat setting, in a space of acceptance, support and compassion, there can be shifts in how we relate to our experience. This way of relating to experience is at the heart of retreat practice and the vehicle we use to explore and learn to be with life as it is, is the practice of meditation.
Let go and being with life as it is...
As you enter retreat the invitation is to let go of distractions, to do's and open to life just as it is. The retreat setting is one where all of your immediate needs for food, accommodations and even setting an alarm to get up are met. This is done for the purpose of keeping distractions to a minimum and it allows your mind to be free from the normal needing to do and meet other's needs that we experience in our daily lives. When we take accept that invitation and practice meditation, it can be the first time that we connect with and explore what we hold in our minds and how that deeply effects our bodies and our hearts. It is truly a gift you grant yourself when you make time to get intimate with the mind. It is also that we learn to call on the compassionate healing power of the heart to help us meet the thoughts, stories and views that bring up feelings of disappointment, fear and suffering. This is why we sit. To help us notice when we're reacting to thoughts as if the are 100% true and to see how the emotions often tag along and create suffering in body, mind and heart. This is a courageous journey and this is why doing it in a setting that warm, supportive and loving is a powerful foundation for this practice of liberating the mind and heart.
As we let go and are open to life there is more possiblity...
"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally." Jon Kabat-Zinn
When we connect with life in this way there is more space to meet challenges in ways that are wise, skillful and compassionate. This is a necessary shift as it is our emotional and physical well-being that is at stake. And when we awaken the power of the open mind and compassionate heart, life becomes more vibrant and we see the preciousness of each moment.
This practice helps us liberate ourselves from our habitual tendency to get caught up in reactivity and judgment, when life doesn't go according to plan. It is the journey of the spiritual warrior, so it requires a deep commitment and courage to stay present and open in the face of life's challenges.
This is a path that we all walk together. It is the path of spiritual friendship that helps us stay connected to this peaceful and healing practice. With that in mind we commend all who attended our retreat. Your openness and kindness in holding the space during Noble Silence and committing to practicing meditation together, is a true testimony to the power of this practice and what is possible when we are there for each other in mind and heart. We thank you deeply and invite you to join us on our next retreat, which will take place on January 5th-7th at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Florida. You may register here.
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May you be well....
By Kaveri Patel
You who always have
so many things to do
so many places to be
your mind spinning like
fan blades at high speed
each moment always a blur
because you’re never still.
I know you’re tired.
I also know it’s not your fault.
The constant brain-buzz is like
a swarm of bees threatening
to sting if you close your eyes.
You’ve forgotten something again.
You need to prepare for that or else.
You should have done that differently.
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you just watched and smiled.
The Middle Way - finding balance
What a beautiful way to invite us to reconnect with life. It's an invitation to unhook from the thinking mind as our tendency is to move through life with little awareness, a lot of judgment and a sense of an impending deadline. We live in a world of virtual thoughts and so it makes sense that as a society we are quite frequently stressed out, sad, discouraged and overwhelmed! The practice of mindfulness invites us to re-connect with life as it is instead of how we want/don't want it to be. This is the middle way the Buddha spoke of when he stated that freedom from suffering is possible.
Living in a world of virtual thoughts is exhausting...
As in the poem above, it often feels if thoughts come like a swarm of bees threatening to sting us if we pause. When we practice mindfulness the invitation is to stop, pause and come into contact with the direct experience of life in real time. Instead of thinking about what's next on the virtual to do list we shift our attention to the sensation of the breath, we feel, sense and open to what is is arising in the moment. As we do this, we come into direct contact with the aliveness, the vibrancy, the love, the sorrow, the pain, the joy. In taking moments to be present with what is arising, as it's happening, we see life beyond our thoughts about it. This is the freedom Buddha spoke of. It's challenging as the momentum of the mind is strong and our tendency to think is a conditioned way of moving through life. We may find that when there is a minute to pause we simply move on as our patterned tendency is to keep busy, get distracted and move on.
All aboard the thought train!
So this tendency to think is habit and it’s our conditioning. Gil Fronsdal compares this to getting on the thought train. A thought comes into your awareness and then you hop on the train and more thoughts follow. The sad part is that the train is taking you into the future or the past; into the territory of fear, anxiety, depression, sadness, catastrophic thinking and on and on. Thoughts and emotions merge and before you know it, the thoughts become a story and you’re reacting to a story that based on an illusion created by the mind!
Mindfulness is an invitation to reconnect with the aliveness all around us...
Instead of travelling down the habitual path of thinking, mindfulness invites us to step out of the thoughts and instead notice them as their happening in real time. We disengage from thinking and actually recognize the process of thinking. We watch with curiosity as thoughts unfold and we expand the awareness to notice what's happening in the body and heart as thoughts arise within the space of awareness. This breaking away from being lost in thoughts is like a reset button that allows us to come into balance with life as it really is. As we do this, we connect with wisdom which allows us to respond to what is happening in ways that are connecting, kind and compassionate.
An invitation to practice...
Take this opportunity right now to notice how your thoughts are? How are you relating to your thoughts? Is there curiosity or resistance? How is the body? Is it relaxed, contracted, numb? What emotion is present? How are you relating to the emotion? How is the heart? Are you able to respond with compassion, gratitude or kindness?
As we let go of living in our stories we come into direct contact with the aliveness that is all around us. It is an invitation to rejoin this vibrant, precious life.
A wise mindfulness teacher, Ajahn Chah invites us to," Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha."
May you be well...
“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)
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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.
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.