Learning to stay…

“The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”
― Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened  

This is the practice of mindfulness, we learn to trust that we can find a different way of relating to life, one where we learn to meet our moment to moment experience, with kindness, compassion, joy and wisdom. This is what we explored this past weekend, during our first 5 day Mindfulness Retreat of the year. The theme of the retreat was the four limitless qualities of the heart and how they help us stay present for our moment to moment experience meeting what arises in a wise and compassionate way. As Tara Brach states, “Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”

During retreat, there were challenging times for all of us, the benefit of being in the container of the retreat space is that we explored how to sit through the challenges, learning to hold them with patience, kindness and compassion. And the gift was doing this in the presence of a warm, supportive environment. As Ram Dass says, ” we are all walking just walking each other home.”

Moving out of the trance of separation…

Retreats offer us the opportunity to break out of what Tara Brach calls the trance of separation. We open to the reality that we are all interconnected, we’re wired for connection and need each other; not just to survive but to thrive. Throughout the retreat, we (the facilitators and support team) kept inviting participants to slow down, be present, become aware of the mind; notice what it’s like to be present, inhabiting the body, mind and heart, Notice what it’s like when mind wanders off into thinking, planning, judging, worrying or some other state of mind. When the mind drifts off, the invitation was to come back over and over again. And this advice wasn’t just  for the participants, it was a kind reminder to all of us!

The first few days, were about slowing down the frenetic pace at which we move through life. An important part of this process, was the recognition that shifting from auto pilot to embodied awareness takes time, patience and a lot of kindness. So, the main instruction, was to meet whatever arose in the body, mind or heart with curiosity, kindness and compassion. This was a pivotal shift,; it was/is a movement away from reacting towards responding to life.

Meditation tames the reactive mind….

Retreat is a safe container in which to train the mind. As facilitators, there is much love and planning that goes into creating a

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash – Retreat is an opportunity to connect with our aliveness…

safe and stable environment, in which to sit with the reactive mind and heart. It is also a commitment, where we set aside all distractions and dedicate time to being with this distracted, reactive and complex mind/heart. We connect with the aliveness that is right here; contained within this body, mind and heart. This is a courageous and fearless act of love and one that takes a healthy dose of patience; coming back to the breath over and over again.

As Pema Chodron 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.”

When things become challenging, uncomfortable or painful, our tendency is 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 of trying to protect ourselves. The pattern is not who we are; it’s a way of trying to avoid pain, and that same avoidance often creates intense stress and strife. On retreat, we get to step out of this pattern and to see how the mind creates stories of that take us away from the present moment; we get to see the habitual patterned ways we have of disconnecting from our aliveness; from presence, kindness and compassion.

Attend and befriend what’s here…

Meditation is a training in learning how to stay present; whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. As Tara Brach, says, “we learn to attend and befriend the fear that keeps us in perpetual reactivity; running away from what’s unpleasant, seeking what is pleasant and tuning out when nothing is happening.”  This move towards the suffering is the first step towards freedom of mind and heart. And again,  it requires that we meet what arises with kindness and compassion.

Training with Kindness…

“Sitting meditation cultivates loving-kindness and compassion…. We move closer to our thoughts and emotions and get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.” Pema Chodron

At the beginning of retreat, we addressed this need to cultivate compassion, kindness and patience as we sat with our moment to moment experience. We spoke about and explored the need to stay with our direct experience, even when everything in our body and mind was saying the opposite. And how the most important companion we needed on this journey was/is kindness. As Pema says,  “…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.”

Love and Kindness

Seeing life as it is….

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. We remember that we are interconnected; we aren’t apart from nature, we are part of nature.

With much appreciation to all who made this retreat a heartfelt experience; the attendees, teachers and support staff. Thank you for making this a safe, compassionate and joyful space!

Our next retreat takes place at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. and is a 5 day Mindfulness retreat. This is a space limited event, so register soon to reserve your spot. Register at Eventbrite-August 23rd-27th Mindfulness Retreat or enroll in our 3 month installment plan here.

Until next time…

May you be well

 

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The Two Wings of the Bird; Mindfulness and Self Compassion

“The two parts of genuine acceptance — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion —are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.”

It is said that mindfulness is like a bird; it needs two wings to fly. The two wings are clear seeing or wisdom and compassion.

In our meditation circle, we spoke about this and why cultivating compassion is such an important part of the practice. It is like the image of the bird, both wings need to be in balance in order for the bird to soar. When compassion isn’t informed by wisdom, it turns to pity. Too much wisdom and it turns into intellectualization. So, there must be a balance between compassion and wisdom, to help us stay present with the challenges we face in life, and to learn from them. In this post I’d like to focus on the wing of compassion/self-compassion.

Why it’s important to begin with self-compassion…

As a therapist, I counsel clients, who are facing challenges in their lives. So compassion towards their suffering, is an important part of the healing process. It is also important to have self compassion, to be a compassionate witness to what is difficult to be with. Compassion and self-compassion, are healing antidotes to pain. It is indeed powerful medicine, when we are able to meet pain in this healing way. Meeting pain in this way helps us stay grounded and present. It also helps us slow the chain of reactivity and come into connection with the qualities of mind and heart that are able to open to, and hold what is difficult. We become aware, of our moment to moment experience, meeting it with curiosity and kindness.  With this present moment awareness, we can attend and befriend that which is in need of kind attention. This is the opposite of what we usually do when we are hurt, angry or grieving. Our habitual reactive response to these feelings, is to defend ourselves. This isn’t helpful, as it takes us further away from the healing power of the heart. And this is where self-compassion is needed.

Rumi speaks to this in the poem below:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.1 Buddha Relics
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

With mindfulness, we become aware of how we are paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. When we pause and slow down the reactive mind, wisdom can arise and with wisdom, a moment of choice. This moment is a pivotal choice point; continue down the road of reactivity/suffering or shift towards a more healing response.  This is the power of self compassion. We shift from needing to find the villian in the story (others, ourselves), to helping ourselves tend to what is tender and in need of acceptance and kindness. There isn’t a need to go after, or punish anyone. Instead, we turn towards the pain and recognize, that this is a moment of suffering. With that recognition, self compassion arises and we can then be with what’s happening, bringing kindness and compassion to it. So what does that look like?

Turning towards pain

Image result for self compassionIt’s not an easy practice, this turning towards pain. Especially when we’ve been conditioned to respond to pain with aversion, as if it’s not a part of life. So, as you are learning to practice self compassion it is important to be patient with yourself. What I’ve found to be most helpful, is to shift from the story about what happened/is happening to what is felt in the body. so I’ll experience anger as a burning feeling in my stomach, when I feel that, I place my hand on my stomach as a symbol of care and compassion. This instantly brings me into contact with what is happening in the present moment. I feel the pain that is beneath the anger and if I stay with it, breathing into the area of distress and softening around it, the hurt begins to soften. This didn’t happen when I practiced for the first, second or 20th time. It took time to really learn how to shift from feeding the anger with thoughts and stories, to be with the direct painful experience that was happening in the present. A resource that helped is Kristin Neff’s book Self Compassion; The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

It also helps to belong to a Mindfulness Meditation Circle that focuses on exploring the practices which help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. Our Sangha, has definitely helped me to deepen my own meditation practice and how these teachings help us cultivate wisdom and compassion. However, if you don’t have a local group, there online groups you may join, that practice on a regular basis.

With the state of the world today, there truly is a need, for all of us to learn how to be a healing presence for all living beings. This helps us and when we are more compassionate towards ourselves, we are able to be more compassionate towards others.

Want to learn more? Join us at our weekly meditation circle, RSVP at Meetup.com or at our upcoming 5 Day Residential Mindfulness Retreat at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center. To register go to our Event Registration page.

If you would like more information on this practice, please feel free to contact me here.

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Cherish This Very Moment…

“Cherish this very moment. Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Butterflies in the night

Every moment is precious…

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.

Please take a moment to read the poem…don’t rush through it. Receive the words as a blessing, let them touch the heart and as he says enjoy moments of happiness and offer it to everyone. Open to life in all it’s different forms and meet it mindfully and compassionately.
Our True Heritage
 
The cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.
 
It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flowers blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of your beloved.
 
You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.
 
This poem is from “Call Me By My True Names” The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh.

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Free the Mind, Awaken the Heart…

Waking up to life

Waking up out of our stories is one of the gifts of Mindfulness…

“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…

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

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

Stay Patient…trust the journey

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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Freedom Comes When We Shift Our Perspective…

shift your world view

Let go of limiting views…

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…

Love and Kindness

Seeing life through the eyes of love…. Photo by Andrea Reiman Upsplash

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

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