These words are from a lovely poem by Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. Listening with an open mind and heart allows the words to move you, to realize that each moment is a precious gift. That when we approach life with a real honoring of each moment, it allows us to shift from living in a mindless haze to being fully present; feeling our body, breath and the life energy moving through us. When we are truly present for life, aware, open in body, mind and heart, we stay open hearted and allow the suffering of the world to touch our hearts. This shifts us towards pausing, sensing what’s here, and what’s needed or how can we respond to suffering in a way that is both wise and compassionate . This is something that is desperately needed in our world. It is both a privilege and a honoring of life when we are present for it, when we respond to the need, when we cherish each moment, each person and every living being.
“It’s not life that causes suffering, it’s our story about life—our interpretation—that causes so much distress.” Pema Chodron
The practice of Mindfulness helps us wake up out of our stories about life. As Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist Nun, tells us, it’s not life/what is happening in life that creates suffering, it’s our interpretation about it. This is great news! It means that we can help ourselves by being willing to be embodied, vulnerable, present and open hearted. We learn to shift from reacting to curiosity, kindness and cultivate the ability to respond to life with compassion. This is something that is lacking when pain is present. Whether it is physical, emotional or mental pain, our tendency is to react with aversion, avoidance or rumination.
There is a saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” Easy to say and not always easy to do. And why is that? Because our tendency is to resist; we can get stuck in complaining, procrastinating or ruminating. All these ways of meeting pain, intensify it and transform it into suffering. But what if there were a way to shift towards a more healing and kind response? This is the potential that is offered by the practice of mindfulness.
The Buddha taught the four Noble Truths and implicit in this teaching is the potential and path to free ourselves from the many ways we create suffering. As Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in The Heart of The Buddha’s teaching, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
See Life as it Really is…
We begin by seeing, experiencing life as it is, rather than how we want/don’t want it to be. Much of the time we live in our rational minds, we use logic to navigate life or we live consumed and controlled by our emotions. To live from either of these places is to be out of balance with life. So it really is important to connect with what heals us. Here we aren’t talking about material things. Yes, we need them, but it’s not something that moves our heart and nourishes us. It is our connection to each other that helps us feel alive, our connection to the breath that brings us immediately into the present moment. And this is where practice comes in….
As we practice, we begin to see, sense and feel what’s happening in real time. We stop getting caught up in our desires and aversions and shift towards being present with life and experiencing it. And what are we staying connected to? Wisdom, kindness, understanding, generosity, compassion and joy, to name a few. We connect with our capacity to accept life as it is and with that acceptance comes the ability to respond to what’s happening in a way that is helpful and wise.
It’s not the Trigger that creates suffering…
The Triggers are the tip of the iceberg. 10% is about the trigger and the remaining 90% includes our experiences, trauma’s, hurts, needs, defenses, expectations, etc. It’s complicated and our mind works so quickly, that it’s difficult to parse out all the different causes and conditions that are arising in the moment. Pema Chodron, describes these tendencies as seeds that live in our unconscious. She says, “In the Buddhist texts, our tendencies with their habitual story lines are described as seeds in the unconscious. When the right causes and conditions come together, these preexisting propensities pop up like flowers in the springtime. It’s helpful to contemplate that it’s these propensities and not what triggers themselves that are the real cause of our suffering.”
How Mindfulness helps…
The practice of mindfulness, specifically meditation is one that helps us gather the scattered attention of
the mind. As we develop this capacity to gather the attention we begin to see beyond the conceptual mind, into experience in real time. For example, if I am sitting on the cushion and I start to have anxious thoughts, instead of following or feeding the thoughts, I can shift attention towards:
- What’s felt in the body (sensations, tightness, agitation, restlessness, etc.)
- Is the mind contracted, lethargic, open
- What emotions are felt in the body? Fear, worry, or some other emotion.
- We can then ask what is needed to help ourselves.
If I’m too overwhelmed by the feelings, I can shift the attention towards the sensation of the breath; actually feeling the sensations of breathing in and out. This shift of attention, towards a neutral object helps stabilize and regulate our emotions. It helps break up the momentum of reactivity. Like hitting the pause button, we get to regroup, connect, and meet whatever is arising with kindness and compassion. We learn to respond to what is happening in the moment, instead of the story about what’s happening. To do this we need to learn how to respond with head and heart together or wisdom and compassion. This is the path to freedom.
“Only within our body, with its heart and mind, can bondage and suffering be found, and only here can we find true liberation.” This is the potential offered by this path.
Come practice with us and learn more about this transformational practice. Join us at our October 5th-7th retreat as we explore and practice together at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach. There are still spaces in the shared and private rooms. Reserve your space today. Register here.
May you be well…
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Our planet is but a speck in the universe and within that speck, we are like a grain of sand. Yet, when we face challenges, it’s as if we are the universe and everything else is a grain of sand. This is not to dismiss the reality that all of us face challenges; gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and shame, and praise and blame. This is what the Buddha called the 8 worldly winds. We all experience this, we get caught in it, like the fly in a spider’s web; we’re drawn to the promise of pleasure and when it turns out not to meet our expectations or is unpleasant we struggle against it. And this can happen dozens of times a day, hour, minutes or seconds. We ride the roller-coaster of desire (climbing) and/or aversion (descending) and it’s exhausting!
Let go of the way you want things to be…
The Buddha’s words on this aspect of life was clear. We hear it, when we listen to his words on the 8 worldly winds: “When gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect: “Gain (etc.) has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.” She(or he) does not discern it as it actually is. She welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. She welcomes the status and rebels against the disgrace. She welcomes the praise and rebels against the censure. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.’
Whenever there is resistance to what’s happening in our lives, there’s a need to shift perspective. This is the gift of this practice; the opportunity to soften our grip on our views, stories and opinions. We all have them! This is how we learned about life and how to survive. But there is more to life than surviving and this is the gift we receive when we are mindful. A great source of suffering is wanting things to either stay the same or go away. Truthfully, nothing stays the same and this is as it should be. Impermanence is part of this experience of being alive. We are born, live for a short time and eventually die. The short time we have on earth is a gift and something to reflect on. When we learn to approach every moment with this deep wisdom and compassion, we are freed from our struggle to hold on. As Jack Kornfield says ” “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”
May you be well…
Please join us for our upcoming retreat. Come explore this healing practice together. Spaces are limited. To register go to October 2018 Mindfulness Retreat