Taking your hands off the controls

April 8, 2015

Faro Punta Nariga 1Finding True Refuge, by Tara Brach (3 CDs) As living organisms anxious about our existence, we’re all naturally rigged to want to manage our lives with the goal of creating more pleasure and less pain for ourselves. Yet so many things are completely out of our control—aging, sickness, dying, other people dying, other people acting in ways we don’t like, our own moods and emotions…it’s all out of our hands.

Even so, when this automatic habit of controlling takes over, when our whole identity is in the persona of The Controller, we become removed from the qualities of presence, freshness, and spontaneity; we lose the ability to respond from a wiser, more compassionate place.

You … Read more »

The art of self-forgiveness

October 10, 2014

self-forgivenessEveryone messes up. Me, you, the neighbors, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, King David, the Buddha, everybody.

It’s important to acknowledge mistakes, feel appropriate remorse, and learn from them so they don’t happen again. But most people keep beating themselves up way past the point of usefulness: they’re unfairly self-critical.

Inside the mind are many sub-personalities. For example, one part of me might set the alarm clock for 6 am to get up and exercise . . . and then when it goes off, another part of me could grumble: “Who set the darn clock?” More broadly, there is a kind of inner critic and inner protector inside each of us. For most people, that inner … Read more »

Mindfulness and the big picture

October 3, 2014

Gerbera in closeupSomeone asked me:

I keep hearing about mindfulness where ones needs to pay attention to everything. But I am a bit confused and hoping someone can explain it to me in details. Am I supposed to be mindful of everything all at the same time? For example, every time I talk, I automatically remember to be careful about what words I should use. But how can one be mindful of everything all at the same time?

Actually, it’s not necessary, and usually not possible or desirable, to pay attention to everything at once. Right now I’m typing these words, and so I’m not paying attention to the sounds coming from outside the house. I could … Read more »

Drop the load

July 8, 2013

Are you doing too much?

You may have seen the old Mickey Mouse movie in which he is working at a conveyor belt in a factory. More and more widgets come at him that he has to handle, and he gets increasingly frazzled as he struggles to keep up.

Do you ever feel the same way? Think about all the dishes, emails, meetings, reports, drives, calls returned, laundry folded, children tucked into bed, friends comforted, errands run, etc. etc. Most of a person’s tasks, even all of them, could be individually rewarding and done for a good purpose, but taken as a whole they’re often too much. It’s certainly gotten this way for me.

Doing … Read more »

Compassion and causing pain (Day 36)

May 17, 2013

100 Days of LovingkindnessThe other day I wrote about “Idiot Compassion,” which I described as ‘…avoiding conflict, letting people walk all over you, not giving people a harm time when actually they need to be given a hard time. It’s “being nice,” or “being good.”’

Idiot compassion, a term Chogyam Trungpa adapted from Gurdjieff, lacks both wisdom and courage. We don’t want to jeopardize being thought of as a “nice person” and so we’re unwilling to be direct with people when that’s needed. We’re afraid to say ‘no’ to our children, for example. This is the lack of courage.

And we lack the ability to see that our actions will only lead to more suffering. That’s … Read more »

Fourth reminder: the defects of samsara

March 4, 2013

Ocean wave

Is an ocean of suffering,
Unbearably intense.

Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

So what is Samsara? Most of us have heard of Nirvana. And assume Samsara is the exact opposite. Nirvana is more the juxtaposition of Samsara that can give a feeling of balance. Nirvana and Samsara are here, in this present moment. Both of them right here, right now. If we have suffered from an addiction we would have experienced a taste of what Samsara could be.

I’m not sure it is helpful to define either concept. Though of course Samsara is some of what I have alluded to before. Our lack of recognizing that we have had a precious birth, our denial … Read more »

Day 12 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

January 12, 2013

100 day meditation challenge 012Almost everyone is going around making judgments all the time, about others — and about themselves. It’s hard to remember to be compassionate, or to actually be compassionate if we remember. Here’s one perspective that helps me.

Behind every negative emotion, there’s a positive intent or valid need. So when we’re grumpy and unpleasant to people, for example, there’s a need and an intent to defend ourselves (our feelings being fragile and easily provoked at that time). When we crave something it’s because we’re short on happiness, and see the object of our craving as a source of the happiness we need. When we’re worrying about something we’re looking for a solution to something we … Read more »

The radiant awareness living through us

October 12, 2012

Sometimes you hear a voice through
the door calling you, as fish out of
water hear the waves, or a hunting
falcon hears the drum’s ‘Come Back, Come Back’.
This turning toward what you deeply love
saves you …

Soon after his enlightenment, the Buddha set out to share his teachings with others. People were struck by his extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. One man asked him who he was. “Are you a celestial being or a god?” “No,” responded the Buddha. “Are you a saint or sage?” Again the Buddha responded, “No.” “Are you some kind of magician or wizard?” “No,” said the Buddha. “Well then, what are you?” The Buddha replied, “I … Read more »

Feed the mouse: using appreciation to generate inner nourishment

September 7, 2011

As the nervous system evolved, your brain developed in three stages:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm
  • Mammal – Limbic system, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate – Cortex, focused on attaching to “us”

Since the brain is integrated, avoiding, approaching, and attaching are accomplished by its parts working together. Nonetheless, each of these functions is particularly served and shaped by the region of the brain that first evolved to handle it.

Petting your inner lizard was about how to soothe and calm the most ancient structures of the brain, the ones that manage the first emotion of all: fear. This article continues the series by focusing on how to help the early mammalian parts … Read more »

How to live without causing fear

August 8, 2011

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive … Read more »