Tara Brach

“The Compassionate Brain” free seven-part video series

For Sounds True, I’m hosting a free Seven-part video series with extraordinary guests – The Compassionate Brain – that will give you effective ways to change your brain and heart and life. So far over 25,000 people have signed up for this free series, and I hope you will join us – and help spread the word to others.

The series began October 8, 2012, and runs on seven consecutive Monday nights, 8-9 pm Eastern time, through November 19. You can go back and watch the archived videos from previous interviews.

Each week, I’m interviewing a world-class scholar/teacher (in order): Richie Davidson, Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Dachar Keltner, Kelly McGonigal, Kristin Neff, and Jean Houston – where they’ll discuss different ways to use the power of neuroplasticity – how the mind can change the brain to transform the mind – to open the heart, build courage, find compassion, forgive oneself and others, speak and act from both kindness and strength, and heal the world.

Here is a brief video in which I explain what this series is about:

You can watch live each Monday or see the archived videos anytime if you miss a session. These unique conversations with first-rate experts are freely offered – along with their practical tools for cooperation, empathy, and kindness. (The series is particularly timely in light of a U.S. Presidential election occurring right in the middle of it.)

Our world has needs at different levels (economic, environmental, cultural, etc.) but the common factor in all of these is the human brain, whose ancient fight-or-flight circuits are dragging humanity toward if not over the brink. If more people and more brains – and thus more hearts and hands – turned toward compassion, that could make a real difference.

So I would really appreciate your support for this series. You could sign up for it yourself at https://www.compassionatebrain.com/ and – please – spread the words and tell others about it. It’s interesting, solid, practical, convenient, and free. And, one brain at a time, it might help nudge things in a better direction.

Wishing you the best,


The Compassionate Brain Topics and Guests:

    • Session 1: How the Mind Changes the Brain
      Monday, October 8, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Richie Davidson, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin and co-editor of The Asymmetrical Brain
    • Session 2: Mindfulness of Oneself and Others
      Monday, October 15, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Daniel Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute and author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
    • Session 3: Cultivating a Forgiving Heart
      Monday, October 22, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
      With Dr. Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha


  • Session 4: The Evolution of Compassion: From Gene to Meme
    Monday, October 29, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –4)
    With Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
  • Session 5: Balancing Compassion and Assertiveness
    Monday, November 5, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Kelly McGonigal, senior teacher and consultant for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and author of The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It
  • Session 6: The Power of Self-Compassion
    Monday, November 12, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Kristin Neff, professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
  • Session 7: Compassion in the Wider World
    Monday, November 19, 2012, from 8–9 pm Eastern Time (GMT –5)
    With Dr. Jean Houston, co-founder of The Foundation for Mind Research and author of The Possible Human: A Course in Enhancing Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities
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Pain is not wrong

sparks flying up into darkness

Many years ago when I was pregnant with my son, I decided to have a home birth without drugs, assisted by a midwife. My hope was to be as wakeful and present as possible during the birth, and while I knew the pain would be intense, I trusted that my meditation and yoga practices would help me to “go with the flow.”

When labor began I was rested and ready. Knowing that resisting the pain of contractions only made them worse, I relaxed with them, breathing, making sounds without inhibition, letting go as my body’s intelligence took over. Like any animal, I was unthinkingly immersed, instinctively responding to the drama unfolding through me, riding the pain as a natural part of the process.

Then, suddenly, something shifted. When my son’s head started crowning, the pain level shot up. It was no longer something I could breathe into and let surge through me. This much pain has got to mean something is going wrong, I thought. My whole body tightened, and my deep slow breaths turned into the shallow, quick breathing of panic.

Like every aspect of our evolutionary design, the unpleasant sensations we call pain are an intelligent part of our survival equipment: Pain is our body’s call to pay attention, to take care of ourselves. Yet, intense pain, even when it’s part of a seemingly healthy process like birthing, is alarming. When I reacted with fear, I added onto the unpleasant sensations the feeling and belief that something was wrong. Rather than Radical Acceptance, the reaction of my body and mind was to resist and fight the pain.

See also

While fear of pain is a natural human reaction, it is particularly dominant in our culture where we consider pain as bad, or wrong. Mistrusting our bodies, we use “pain killers,” assuming that whatever removes pain is the right thing to do. In our society’s cultural trance, rather than a natural phenomenon, pain is regarded as the enemy. Pain is the messenger we try to kill, not something we allow and embrace.

At that point of intensity in childbirth, I was fully at war, pitted against the pain. My midwife, used to seeing fear and resistance in response to pain, immediately assured me. “Nothing’s wrong, honey… it’s all completely natural, it’s just painful.” She had to say this several times before I could let it begin to sink in and, in the midst of the burning pain, the explosive pressure, the tearing and exhaustion, remember again to breathe deeply and relax. It was just pain, not wrong, and I could open up and accept it.

Whenever we react to pain with fear and view it as “wrong,” we set in motion a waterfall of reactivity. Fear, itself made up of unpleasant sensations, only compounds the pain—now we not only want to get away from the original pain, but also from the pain of fear. In fact, the fear of pain is often the most unpleasant part of a painful experience. When we assess physical sensations as something to be feared, pain is not just pain. It is something wrong and bad that we must get away from.

Often, this fear of pain proliferates into a web of stories. Yet, when we are habitually immersed in our stories about pain, we prevent ourselves from experiencing it as the changing stream of sensations that it is. Instead, as our muscles contract around it and our stories identify it as the enemy, the pain solidifies into a self-perpetuating, immovable mass. Our resistance can end up creating new layers of symptoms and suffering, since when we abandon our body for our fear-driven stories about pain, we actually trap the pain in our body.

When, instead of Radical Acceptance, our initial response to physical pain is fear and resistance, the ensuing chain of reactivity can be consuming. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat our pain. This same process unfolds when our pain is emotional—we resist the unpleasant sensations of loneliness, sorrow, anger. Whether physical or emotional, when we react to pain with fear, we pull away from an embodied presence and go into the suffering of trance.

Yet, we need to realize that being alive includes feeling pain, sometimes intense pain. And, as the Buddha taught, we suffer only when we cling to or resist experience; when we want life different than it is. As the saying goes: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

When painful sensations arise and we can simply meet them with clarity and presence, we can see that pain is just pain. We can listen to pain’s message and respond appropriately—taking good care. If we are mindful of pain rather than reactive, we do not contract into the experience of a victimized, suffering self. We can meet whatever presents itself with Radical Acceptance, allowing the changing stream of sensations to simply flow through us without making any of it wrong.

From Radical Acceptance (2003)

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Who Let Buddha In? Infusing Therapy With the Eastern Spirit (Washington Post)

Gregory Mott, Washington Post: Tara Brach tells the story of a meditation student who came to her enraged after a class in which Brach had discussed forgiveness. “Her husband, she had found out, had been having numerous affairs. She said, ‘Tara, how can I forgive him? I want to kill him.’ The first thing I said was, ‘Don’t bother trying right now. This isn’t the time to try to forgive him.’ ”

Working with the woman over a period of months, Brach combined principles of Buddhism and psychotherapy to guide the client through a process in which she was able to “layer down” her anger to see the fear and shame underneath it. The marriage did not survive, but the woman was able to achieve a compassion for herself and for others that enabled her to end it “without bitterness and hatred and feeling like the wounded victim.”

Brach is a clinical psychologist based in the Washington area. She is also founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (www.imcw.org) and author of “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha” (Bantam, 2003).

Brach’s dual expertise made her an ideal choice to lead “Mindfulness in Therapy: From Psychological Healing to Spiritual Transformation,” a workshop on the psychotherapy community’s growing interest in using the Buddhist practices of mindfulness, concentration and compassion to help clients focus their attention and achieve a peaceful state of mind….

To explain the relationship between mindfulness and psychotherapy, Brach used an analogy of waves and oceans. Psychotherapists, she said, are trained to deal with the waves of emotion that clients bring to them in the form of problems. Mindfulness teachers, on the other hand, aim to get students to a profound understanding of themselves and their problems as but infinitesimal parts of the ocean of humanity.

“Both Western psychology and Buddhist psychology have a common denominator of understanding that healing and awakening come when we bring whatever is going on into the light of awareness,” Brach said. “Western psychology tends to focus on the waves of what’s going on — the stories, the individual feelings and thoughts. Whereas in mindfulness practice, the attention is really on the awareness that can hold what’s happening.”

Brach, who has been studying Buddhist meditation for more than three decades, finds herself straddling the realms of Western science and Eastern spiritualism at a particularly auspicious moment. A growing body of research in the West is finding therapeutic value in meditation and other forms of spiritual practice for illnesses ranging from psychological stress to some forms of cancer. Meanwhile, the world’s most famous Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, recently has sponsored a series of dialogues between Buddhist scholars and Western scientists, with the goal of finding common ground for common good.

Buddhism, Brach said, places great emphasis on forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others. This does not mean, she made clear, that therapists should teach patients to live like doormats. Patients instead have to be taught to “relax the clenched fist of the body” before healing can begin.

“The nature of trauma or any emotional stuck space is that we sometimes have this idea that if we really cry it out or open to our fear, we’re going to move through it,” Brach said. “Very often what happens is that we keep re-repeating the same emotions and thoughts, but it doesn’t seem like there’s real healing. What we need to do is re-experience that cluster of thoughts and feelings, but with an added resourcefulness, with an added sense of openness or tenderness” that can come from Buddhist practices.

Brach said in a telephone interview last week that she uses guided meditation and other mindfulness techniques in her psychotherapy practice because they are highly effective in helping clients focus their attention. She says clients need not be Buddhist or even have a particular interest in meditation to benefit.

“Therapists train clients to be mindful of their inner experience by guiding them to attend to emotions, feelings and physical sensations with a non-judging and clear presence,” she said. “In time, the ability to ‘stay present’ allows the client to respond, not react, to difficult experiences.”

Teaching meditation is essentially teaching the client to have the same relationship they’d have with a therapist with their own “inner life,” Brach said. “A relationship where they can see their own goodness, where they can find a sense of safety and power within themselves.”

Read the rest of the article…

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