Monday, January 25, 2021

PRACTICING The Heart of Mindfulness

      In one of Tara Brach's fine guided meditations, she suggests: “… with the out-breath, let go of any unnecessary holdings in the heart.”

     What a wonderful suggestion!

     Of course we all have protective armor of varying thickness around our hearts due to all the traumas we've been exposed to, perhaps even before birth. Even the process of being born is traumatic to the child, no matter how smoothly it goes. 

     So what are unnecessary holdings in the heart? If we've become resilient, balanced, mature adults, and have forgiven those who may have harmed us, and have learned to consciously face & accept even life's harsh realities, we likely will still continue to carry some habitual armoring in our body, but especially around our heart. This is now completely unnecessary, and something best to intentionally work on releasing.

     A much greater challenge is if we're continually traumatized in some manner, be it racism, sexism, domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment, etc, etc, etc. Even here though, armoring the heart is - somewhat like the "freeze instinct" - a necessary survival tactic of the very young, and for those not yet able to respond more maturely & effectively to trauma. An armored, frozen heart is not capable of vibrantly engaging in life. So even here, it is best to adapt more effective adult responses to end & mitigate the damaging effects of trauma AND intentionally work on releasing these holdings in the heart.

     An armored heart becomes such a natural part of us, that the suggestion to release the armor to some will sound completely insane - as if being asked to immediately become a heart organ-donor! And even if you've reached a point in your life when the idea of shedding defenses around your heart sounds appealing, even urgent, in real life, it's actually a slow, cautious process, mostly out of your direct control. The heart is, after all, our most vital organ!

     So even though we're hard-wired for self-preservation & conditioned to fear, at the same time, our life feels whole & meaningful only when we have open-hearted connection to ourselves, others, the world. So how can we resolve this potent pull in opposite directions?

     A meditation PRACTICE I've found beneficial is holding a beloved baby in my heart. It can be your own baby or grandchild, baby Buddha, baby Jesus, a puppy, kitten, baby bird - whoever feels closest for you. The key is to feel directly sharing the nurturing warmth, peace & protection of your heart with a tiny, beloved, helpless little innocent being. We are holding this beloved innocent & our own innocence together, in nurturing safety & unconditional love, so both are thriving in real time. Allow yourself to rest in the physical feel of nurturing & being nurtured, embodying our true nature.


     Immediately after writing the above, I listened to an excellent interview in which Dorothy Hunt answered a question about desire - to have something or to get rid of something. "This awareness, this awake nature of ours, it’s moving from inside the thing that we’re trying to get rid of, rather than trying to get rid of it. We just let awareness come inside – it begins to liberate it from the inside. Whereas the mind tries to pry it open, or get rid of it. Awareness is like the sun that melts these frozen things. So much of what feels like a block is just some kind of frozen feeling, frozen experience that hasn’t been allowed to simply be. So when we allow our inner experience to be what it is – the Buddha once said, ‘Hold your anger as though it’s your only child’ – bringing that compassion, that embrace, that intimacy, bringing it close so we can see ‘What is this?’ instead of ‘How do I get rid of it?’ The mind wants to know, ‘How do I get rid of it?’ But this awake space, this awareness, has no judgment, it just shines the light on what is. And then we begin to see desire for what it is.”
        Dorothy Hunt interview:


“In this choiceless, never ending flow of life
There is an infinite array of choices.
One alone brings happiness -
To love what is.”                                           Dorothy Hunt

      “Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Jack Kornfield

     “When we stop tensing against life, we open to an awareness that is immeasurably large and suffused with love.” Tara Brach



Sunday, January 17, 2021

Restless Souls, Acorns and Wisdom

     First, a true story from Cynthia Bourgeault:

     “Long ago, back in Maine, I worked for a small marine publishing company, where I had the pleasure of editing A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast by a man named Hank Taft. When I met him, Hank was one of those exuberant, restless souls, sixty-one going on thirty, filled with life and passion. A member of the distinguished Taft clan that has contributed to American history a president and a pioneering educator, he bounced around in a variety of careers, from business executive to president of Outward Bound. He’d rowed the entire Maine coast in a twelve-foot Peapod and was now making a fine debut as an author and a cruising sailor.
     ‘Stunned’ was the response of virtually everyone who knew him when we learned that Hank had contracted pancreatic cancer. And Hank himself was no less stunned, but he quickly regrouped. Characteristically, his first response was to give it the ‘old Yale try,’ taking command of his treatment program with the same panache as if planning a transatlantic cruise. The pieces involved an eclectic blend of physical workouts, diet, light chemotherapy, and – new to a staunch rationalist like Hank – visualization meditation for an hour each morning.
     I remember the day very clearly: February 4, 1991. The sun was just rising over the islands of Penobscot Bay, and Hank’s wife, Jan, had cooked us a hearty lumberjack’s breakfast. As we sat overlooking the cold, brilliant ocean partly obscured in winter sea smoke, conversation came around to the topic of Hank’s plans for the upcoming sailing season. Somehow we got from there onto the subject of fog, and we all shared our uneasiness about making passages in zero-visibility conditions.
     ‘But there’s a lot of ways to keep busy so you don’t feel your fear,’ Hank observed cheerfully. ‘You can keep precise time checks and enter them in the log. You can stand out on the bow and every minute do a 360-degree scan of the waters. You can watch for changes in ripple patterns and identify passing lobster buoys …’
     ‘Yes, I said – and then, volunteering some of my own work-in-progress on the subject of fog passages, ‘or else you can just let the fear come up and fall through it to the other side….’
     He looked at me as if I’d just pierced him with a sword. How I wished those words had never been spoken!
     Over the next few weeks Hank became decidedly more inward. He quickly gave up the visualization and the lumberjack breakfasts, then the workouts and chemotherapy. He gathered his family, made his final reconciliations, settled his affairs, and waited. It did not prove to be a long wait. Within three weeks the rapidly spreading cancer had obstructed his lower intestine, and he faced the choice of eking out a few more weeks of life in a hospital or dying at home. Wholeheartedly he chose the latter.
     Hank had never been a religious man (in fact, he held religion primarily responsible for the bigotry and violence in the world), but in those final weeks a change so extraordinary came over him that none of us could fail to notice it. As his physical body withered, his soul grew large and luminous. Friends gathered by his bedside could feel the energy of love radiating from him almost as a force field. He faced his death with open heart, utterly trusting and utterly serene.
     Three days before the end, I went for what was to be my last visit. Hank was curled in bed, his body totally broken yet somehow radiantly powerful. We hugged each other and said farewell. And then his last words to me – so muffled and unexpected that I did not at first catch them: ‘Are you fearless yet?’
     ‘Not yet, Hank,’ I said. ‘I’m trying.’
     ‘Fall … fearless … into … love.’
     In those final mumbled words, Hank conveyed more to me of the essence of who he was and what life was than could have been done in a lifetime of spiritual teaching. … From a force greater than our own lives, we are made for this, and when we finally yield ourselves into it, we are born into a meaning that is never known as we struggle on the surface with our acorn reality.”

     Even if we sort of like Hank's final advice to Cynthia, without the 'help' of impending death, most of us cannot deeply understand it, because we live in "acorn reality" - our society's shallow, hyper-rational mental prison.
     Cynthia's story about "acorn reality":

     “Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were midlife, baby-boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called ‘Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.’ There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.
     One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped ‘out of the blue’ by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he said, ‘We … are … that!
     Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: ‘So tell us, how would we become that tree?’ ‘Well,’ said he, pointing downward, ‘it has something to do with going into the ground … and cracking open the shell.’ ‘Insane,’ they responded. ‘Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.’ ”

     Most of us are so armoured-up against life due to all sorts of traumas, that we're 'hard nuts to crack'. And yet ...

          "There is a crack in everything
           That's how the light gets in ..."          Leonard Cohen

     “Most important of all, do everything you can to nurture your spiritual intelligence. It is your only genuine source of hope, direction, meaning, and comfort.” Thomas Moore

      Cynthia Bourgeault. “The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart.” Jossey-Bass, 2003. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

     One of Tara Brach's fine guided meditations:

Monday, January 4, 2021

Fresh New Openings Await

     “To change is one of the great dreams of every heart – to change the limitations, the sameness, the banality, or the pain. So often we look back on patterns of behavior, the kind of decisions we make repeatedly and that have failed to serve us well, and we aim for a new and more successful path or way of living. But change is difficult for us. So often we opt to continue the old pattern, rather than risking the danger of difference. We are also often surprised by change that seems to arrive out of nowhere.
     We find ourselves crossing some new threshold we had never anticipated. Like spring secretly at work within the heart of winter, below the surface of our lives huge changes are in fermentation. We never suspect a thing.
     Then when the grip of some long-enduring winter mentality beings to loosen, we find ourselves vulnerable to a flourish of possibility and we are suddenly negotiating the challenge of a threshold.”
     John O’Donohue. “To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings.” Random House Canada, 2008.

For a New Beginning
by John O'Donohue

"In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you."