‘Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion’ by Tara Brach

Discovering the Gold: Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion

I remember when I was on a book tour for Radical Acceptance, one of the places I stopped was the Buddhist university, Naropa. They had a big poster with a big picture of me and, underneath the photo, the caption was: Something is wrong with me.

The Trance of Unworthiness: Forgetting Who We Are

I wrote about the Trance of Unworthiness in Radical Acceptance 14 years ago, and I’ve found, over the years, that it is still pretty much the most pervasive expression of emotional pain that I encounter in myself and in those I’ve worked with. It comes out as fear or shame —  a feeling of being flawed, unacceptable, not enough. Who I am is not okay.

A core teaching of the Buddha is that we suffer because we forget who we really are. We forget the essence — the awareness and the love that’s here — and we become caught in an identity that’s less than who we are.

When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. We can never really relax. Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.

Space Suit Strategies: How We Manage in a World of Severed Belonging

Entering this world is difficult. Due to their own wounds and fears, a lack of attunement from caregivers is common. Depending on severity, this can create a core wounding of severed belonging: if I am not enough or if I fail, I won’t belong anymore. It starts early, and we internalize the messages relayed through our families: Here is how you need to be to be respected and/or loved.

In order to navigate this difficult environment, we don spacesuits — our ego survival strategies — to make it through. The suffering is that we become identified with the spacesuit and forget who is looking through the mask. We forget the tender heart that longs to love without holding back.

The sense of unworthiness gets dramatically amplified depending on our culture. Western culture is very individualistic and there’s not an innate sense of belonging. Fear of failure is really big. Every step of the way, we have to compete and prove ourselves and we have a profound fear of falling short. Messages of being inferior are particularly toxic for non-dominant populations. In different degrees, for those that don’t fit the dominant culture’s standards, there is an accentuated sense of not being enough.

So, we all develop our “space suit” strategies to manage ourselves so that we will “belong.” You probably know the ways you go about getting other people to pay attention, or to love you, or to respect you. For many of us it’s striving and accomplishing and proving ourselves. For some, there’s a habitual busyness. For others, there are addictive behaviors that numb and soothe the feelings.

The Golden Buddha: Remembering Our True Nature

One of the stories I’ve always loved took place in Asia. There’s a huge statue of the Buddha. It was a plaster and clay statue, not a handsome statue, but people loved it for its staying power. A number of years ago, there was a long dry period and a crack appeared in the statue. So the monks brought their little pen flashlights to look inside the crack — just thought they might find out something about the infrastructure. When they shined the light in, what shined out was a flash of gold — and every crack they looked into, they saw that same shining. So they dismantled the plaster and clay, which turned out to be just a covering, and found that it was the largest pure solid gold statue of the Buddha in all of southeast Asia.

The monks believed that the statue had been covered with plaster and clay to protect it through difficult years, much in the same way that we put on that space suit to protect ourselves from injury and hurt. What’s sad is that we forget the gold and we start believing we’re the covering — the egoic, defensive, managing self. We forget who is here. So you might think of the essence of the spiritual path as a remembering — reconnecting with the gold . . . the essential mystery of awareness.

Radical Acceptance: Awakening from the Trance of Unworthiness

The practice of meditation, or coming into presence, is described as having two wings. The wing of mindfulness allows us to see what is actually happening in the present moment without judgement. The other wing is heartfulness or love — holding what we see with tenderness and compassion. You might think of it as two questions: What is happening right now? and Can I be with this and regard it with kindness? These are the two wings that we cultivate to be able to wake up out of the trance of unworthiness — out of the spacesuit self — and sense that gold that’s shining through.

I’d like to invite you to take a moment to check in and just to feel into the inquiry: Is there anything, right this moment, between me and feeling at home in myself, at home in who I am? What is here, right now? Can I be with this? Can I regard this with kindness?


Adapted from: Radical Acceptance Revisited – a talk given by Tara Brach on August 12, 2015


“Without Explanation” by Mark Nepo

I’ve been poked and prodded for years:

to explain, to defend, to leave another piece

of me at your altar. And while what I’ve torn

off has grown back, I looked at my scars which

said today, no more. And when I honored them

by saying I was done, you flared and tried to

shame me into more. But I have outgrown

giving myself away. And so, saying nothing,

I walked into the rest of my life. You

demanded I come back, explain, apologize.

But the part of me that waits on others to

verify my worth had died in my arms. And

so, I stopped trying to catch every slight

and judgment that came my way. I turned

finally to life itself and felt the sun welcome

me into the unrehearsed spark of the day.


A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe the part of you that waits on others to verify your worth. How might you affirm your own worth?

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/fieldnotesonliving/2017/10/24/without-explanation/#249P1Ak1uAPQJ5lY.99

Smile at Fear by Pema Chodron

Smile at Fear: Pema Chodron on Bravery, Open Heart & Basic Goodness

If you want to pitch in and help solve the world’s problems, says Pema Chödron, you’ve got to start with yourself. Here’s her advice for making friends with the fear that can hold us back.

Despite what we might think much of the time and what the
news programs imply, we all wish to be sane and open-
hearted people. We could take our wish to be more sane and
kind and put it in a very large context. We could expand it
into a desire to help all other people, to help the whole world.
But we need a place to start. We can’t simply begin with the
whole world. We need to begin by reaching out to the people
who come into our own lives our family members, our
neighbors, our coworkers. Perhaps we are inspired to enter a
profession where we can spend our time and energy trying to
help at a global or national level. But even if we express our
wish to be open-hearted by working for global peace or justice or environmental well-being, even on that grand scale, we need to work on what is immediate to us all the time. We need to work on ourselves.

When we do this work on ourselves, however, we can still think of it in the wider context of our community, our nation, and our world. Viewing the work we do on ourselves in this larger context is very important. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I have to say that a lot of people who do so- called spiritual work can be somewhat selfish. Their spiritual path is all about taking care of themselves, and they may not notice that what makes them feel comfortable and secure is actually at the expense of other people. We all know other people like this, don’t we?

The news we hear is mostly bad news, and that makes us afraid. It can be quite discouraging. Yet we could actually derive inspiration for our warriorship, for our bodhisattva path, from

these dire circumstances. We could recognize the fact, and proclaim the fact, that we are needed.

If we’re hurting enough, and we really start looking for the source of our pain and what we can do about it, it goes beyond just wanting to feel better ourselves. In Buddhism, this is called the bodhisattva ideal. In the Shambhala teachings, we talk about it as warriorship, or, you might say, spiritual warriorship. At its most basic, it means working on ourselves, developing courage and fearlessness and cultivating our capacity to love and care about other people. It involves taking good care of ourselves, but whatever we do, it’s all in the bigger context of helping.

When we look at the world around us — our immediate world and the bigger world beyond — we see a lot of difficulty and dysfunction. The news we hear is mostly bad news, and that makes us afraid. It can be quite discouraging. Yet we could actually derive inspiration for our warriorship, for our bodhisattva path, from these dire circumstances. We could recognize the fact, and proclaim the fact, that we are needed.

Who are “we”? You and me and every one of us—each of us on this earth is needed at this time. Why are we needed and in what way are we needed? We’re needed because there are hundreds of thousands of billions of beings who are suffering. If even one small segment of us, one sub-community, took it upon themselves to live their life in a way that helped their families, their neighborhoods, their towns, and indeed the earth itself, something good would begin to happen.

If we come to the understanding that we are needed and commit ourselves to doing something about our own pain and the pain around us, we will find that we are on a journey. A warrior is always on a journey, and a main feature of that journey is fear. This fear is not simply something to be lamented, avoided, or vanquished. It is something to be examined, something to make a relationship with.

Fear is a very timely topic now, because fear these days seems so palpable, so atmospheric. You can almost smell the fear around you. The polarization, fundamentalism, aggression, violence, and unkindness that are happening everywhere on the planet—these bring out our fear and nervousness and make us feel that we are on shaky ground.

The truth is that the ground has always been shaky, forever. But in times when fear is prevalent, that truth is more obvious. All this fear surrounding us may sound like the bad news, but in fact it’s the good news. Fear is like a dot that emerges in the space in front of us and captures our attention. It is like a doorway we could go through, but where that doorway leads is not predetermined. It is up to us. Usually when we’re afraid, it sets off a chain reaction. We go inward and start to armor ourselves, trying to protect ourselves from whatever we think is going to hurt us. But our attempts to protect ourselves do not lessen the fear. Quite the opposite—the fear is actually escalating. Rather than becoming free from

fear, we become hardened. As our fear spreads within, it makes us harder and more set in our ways.

A warrior is always on a journey, and a main feature of that journey is fear. This fear is not simply something to be lamented, avoided, or vanquished.

A lot of the most painful conditions in the world are initially motivated by fear. Fundamentalism, for example, comes about when we feel we need something definite and solid to protect ourselves from those who are different from us. That arises from the fear of losing control. Likewise, our addictions come fr om trying to assuage the discomfort we feel inside, the fear that things are out of our control and we have no secure ground under our feet. Whatever form fear hardens into, it continues to escalate and results in actions that can do great damage. It escalates into wars and riots. It escalates into violence and cruelty. It creates an ugly world, which breeds more fear.

Yet the raw fear initially emerges as a dot in space, as a doorway that can go either way. If we choose to take notice of the actual experience of fear, whether it’s just a queasy feeling in our stomach or actual terror, whether it’s a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it, believe it or not. It could be a literal smile or a metaphor for coming to know fear, turning toward fear, touching fear. In that case, rather than fear setting off a chain reaction where you’re trying to protect yourself from it, it becomes a source of tenderness. We experience our vulnerability, but we don’t feel we have to harden ourselves in response. This makes it possible for us to help ourselves and to help others.

We’re all very familiar with the experience of fear escalating, or the experience of running away from fear. But have we ever taken the time to truly touch our fear, to be present with it and experience it fully? Do we know what it might mean to smile at fear?

About a year ago, I was traveling on an airplane and the man who was sitting next to me had just finished his copy of Timemagazine and he asked me if I wanted to read it. I started leafing through it and stumbled upon an article on fear. It said that scientific tests have proved that people are more afraid of uncertainty than they are of physical pain. Wow, I thought, that gets right to what I’ve being saying about the basic queasiness that leads us to all kinds of self-destructive and other-destructive habits; about the whole chain of events that emerges from our fear of uncertainty, of not knowing what in the world is happening or what is going to happen. All this emerges from wanting to get it safe and secure and comfortable.

I’ve done a lot of observing of myself, my friends, and other people, trying to see how this nervousness about uncertainty happens to us and what it leads to. It’s interesting to explore what happens with our bodies, our speech, and our mind. I’ve come up with a very nice,

little, secure, comfortable answer. I figured it all out and now I don’t have to be scared any more. That’s not how it works, of course. Noticing is not necessarily about finding security.

What I’ve noticed is that there are two main ways that fear of uncertainty affects us, at least initially. One is that we speed up and the other is that we get very lazy.

Once in my small retreat cabin, when I was feeling uncertain and anxious, I looked at the experience. I was like a ping-pong ball bouncing around. There are only two rooms in this cabin, but there I was bouncing around from one room to the other, starting something and then not even halfway through it, bouncing over to something else. I was all by myself in the wilderness and yet I was filling the space with all of this frantic activity. As I’ve talked about this experience with people, many of them share their experiences of how a basic level of nervousness causes them to speed around even in their own homes, bouncing from room to room and task to task and never quite finishing anything. People talk about going back and forth between one thing and another, emailing and calling people on the phone. They start projects that get half done at best, and they rush all over the place, complaining the whole time about how much they have to do. But, in fact, the most threatening thing would be having nothing to do.

The very first step, and perhaps the hardest, is developing an unconditional friendship with oneself.

Lazy is the other way to go. It is the opposite of speed, and yet these two seeming opposites are both about the same thing: avoiding being present with our fear of uncertainty. In the case of laziness, you become completely paralyzed. You can’t get yourself to do anything because the underlying uncertainty and nervousness is so great. You procrastinate. You feel unworthy. The laziness has a frozen quality. You don’t move. You become a couch potato, or you spend hour after hour on the computer, not as a form of speediness but just distracting yourself, trying not to feel what’s underneath what you’re feeling, trying to avoid touching the uncertainty and uneasiness. And yet in the background, it dominates your life.

What Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught about the underlying, fundamental uncertainty— which scientific tests now prove is more frightening to us than physical pain—is that the very basis of the fear itself is doubting ourselves, not trusting ourselves. You could also say it is not loving ourselves, not respecting ourselves. In a nutshell, you feel bad about who you are.

So the very first step, and perhaps the hardest, is developing an unconditional friendship with oneself.

Developing unconditional friendship means taking the very scary step of getting to know yourself. It means being willing to look at yourself clearly and to stay with yourself when

you want to shut down. It means keeping your heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful.

The hallmark of this training in spiritual warriorship, in the bodhisattva path, is cultivating bravery. With such bravery you could go anywhere on the earth and be of help to other people because you wouldn’t shut down on them. You would be right there with them for whatever they were going through. But the first step along this path is looking at yourself with a feeling of gentleness and kindness, and it takes a lot of guts to do this. If you’ve tried it, you know how difficult it can be to stay present when you begin to fear what you see.

If you do stay present with what you see when you look at yourself again and again, you begin to develop a deeper friendship with yourself. Ifs a complete friendship, because you are not leaving out the parts that are painful to be with. Ifs the same way you would develop a complete friendship with another person. You include all that they are. When you develop this complete friendship with yourself, the parts you’re embarrassed about—as well as the parts you’re proud of—manifest as genuineness. A genuine person is a person who is not hiding anything, who is not conning themselves. A genuine person doesn’t put up masks and shields.

You might think becoming a spiritual warrior means going to the most hellish parts of the Earth and helping people. And it is true that a spiritual warrior would do that if it was called for. But becoming a spiritual warrior does not start there.

We know what ifs like to look at someone and feel we are just seeing their mask, that we’re not really seeing their genuine heart, their genuine mind. Their speed or their laziness, their fear, takes the form of a mask. They hide behind their roadrunner or couch potato persona. But when someone is present for all of their uncertainties, for the scary places within, they become genuine, and the mask, the persona, drops away. You feel you can trust them because they’re not conning themselves, and they’re not going to con you. Their genuineness manifests because they have seen all there is to see about themselves. It doesn’t mean that they’re not still embarrassed or uncomfortable about things they see, but they don’t run away. They don’t avoid experiencing what they are feeling through some form of suppressing, like drinking, drugs, or another addiction. They don’t become fundamentalist to avoid feeling what they feel about themselves. They do not strap on the armor.

When we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, Trungpa Rinpoche said that we develop an “iron heart.” When someone develops a true friendship with themselves, the iron heart softens into something else. It becomes a vulnerable heart, a tender heart. It becomes a genuine heart of sadness, because it is a heart that is willing to be touched by pain and remain present.

You might think becoming a spiritual warrior means going to the most hellish parts of the Earth and helping people. And it is true that a spiritual warrior would do that if it was called for.

But becoming a spiritual warrior does not start there. It must begin with the determination that you want to really know yourself completely and utterly, so that you don’t have any private rooms and nooks and crannies that you’re concealing. You can’t become a warrior who helps others to find themselves if you are not making that journey yourself. The journey needn’t be completed, but you must have started down the road of encountering your fear.

Once I was staying in close quarters with a friend who was really angry at me. It was the equivalent of being trapped on a Greyhound bus for a couple of months together—me, my friend, her anger, and my feelings of inadequacy. I tried everything to get her to like me again, but she just became angrier and angrier until she refused to talk altogether. That’s one of the most uncomfortable places to end up in with someone you are trying to get to like you again, because you’re getting nothing back. This situation intensified to the point where I realized that my whole personality, everything I did, the whole way I related to people, was based entirely on avoiding feeling bad about myself. I strove to five behind a mask that others would love and would therefore cause me to love myself. That plan did not work.

It was a powerful revelation to see that all my habits and approaches to life were coming from this deep hiding and avoidance. It was exhilarating in some way, but then I realized that my friend and I were still on the bus together, and work remained to be done. Life is like that. You have your insights, but the challenge remains.

What produces a genuine person is being open to not feeling okay.

I had heard the phrases “unconditional friendship” and “genuine heart of sadness” before, but at that point they began to make real sense to me. What produces a genuine person, I realized, is being open to not feeling okay. It means to be open to everything — to all the honors as well as the beauties of life, to the whole extraordinary variety of life. I began to realize that this whole mess the human race is in—the fact that we don’t take care of the planet and we don’t take care of each other, the wars, the hatred, the fundamentalism — all actually come from running away. Individually, collectively, we are frying to avoid feeling bad about ourselves.

Once you start to look at it this way, to smile a bit about this fear instead of letting it escalate, you realize that going about things this way is a bunch of bullshit. Wait a minute here, you might think, what’s going on? Seemingly, it’s just me. But me seems to be being pretty hard on me. What’s up with that? When I was stuck with my friend, I started to see

behind it all. A smile crossed my face. If I allow myself to look at what hurts, I find a genuine, open heart. The business of avoiding who we are is a game that never needed to begin in the first place. That’s worth a smile. It was a very fortunate bus ride.

My companion never did really like me, but in that situation she became my teacher. When none of my cute words and jokes and compliments worked, I had to deal with what was under all of that—someone being harsh with themselves for no good reason. It takes guts to get to that place. I can’t say that I did it willingly, and I’m not sure that anyone would do it willingly, but situations like that can help us to see why we need to look into our fear.

It’s not so easy to do, but fortunately we have a method that can help us discover the courage to smile at fear. Meditation practice is a method for being with ourselves fully and completely, allowing the time and space to see it all with gentleness, kindness, and dead honesty. It is the safest environment within which to undertake this mission impossible. And when meditation practice has helped us to be honest and courageous enough to know ourselves in a deep way, we can begin to extend out and help others, because the things outside of us that appear threatening seem that way because of the fear within, the fear we have been reluctant to look at. The things that unnerve us, that trigger feelings of inadequacy, that make us feel that we can’t handle it, that we are not good enough, lose their power over us when we learn to smile at fear.

It’s not a one-shot deal, as Trungpa Rinpoche was fond of saying. There are many reruns. We go through it again and again. We feel uncertain, we busy ourselves, we become frozen, we are lazy, our fear escalates. But our practice also makes it possible for us to notice it happening again and again, and to allow fearlessness and genuineness to emerge from the very act of going into our fear.

While fearlessness may be our goal, so to speak, the basis of fearlessness is knowing fear, and that knowing takes place over and over again. Fearlessness and the compassion that arises from it are not solid and permanent. They emerge when your fears are triggered. I’m sure that if I had to go on the bus with that same lady tomorrow, it would be a very different experience, yet I would still be uncomfortable. But when my fear was inevitably triggered, warriorship would be triggered as well. And a smile might more easily cross my face.

If you touch the fear instead of running from it, you find tenderness, vulnerability, and sometimes a sense of sadness. This tender-heartedness happens naturally when you start to be brave enough to stay present, because instead of armoring yourself, instead of turning to anger, self-denigration, and iron-heartedness, you keep your eyes open and you begin, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, to see the blueness of an iris, the wetness of water, the movement of the wind. Becoming more in touch with ourselves gives birth to enormous appreciation for the world and for other people. It can sound corny, but you feel grateful for the beauty of the world. It’s a very special way to live. Your heart is filled with gratitude, appreciation, compassion, and caring for other people. And it all comes from touching that shakiness within and being willing to be present with it.

This article is adapted from talks Pema Chödron gave in the Bay Area in October 2010.


teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrul, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and the late Chögyam Trungpa. For more, visit pemachodronfoundation.org.


With her powerful teachings, bestselling books, and retreats attended by thousands, Pema Chödrön is today’s most popular American-born teacher of Buddhism. In The Wisdom of No Escape, The Places that Scare You, and other important books, she has helped us discover how difficulty and uncertainty can be opportunities for awakening. She serves as resident

Love Beyond Expectations by Jack Kornfield

Romantic love can deepen when we let it. At first it is a kind of idol worship. It can come with idealism, possessiveness, jealousy, and need. Our songs and movies and dreams are full of idealistic, romantic love, the eros of sexual desire.  You see another person who matches enough of your inner image of “the desired one” and your heartstrings resonate and you are intoxicated, not only by his or her looks and wit and charm and strengths, but by how the person fits your own template of the one you want to love.

The other person becomes, like Beatrice was for Dante, the ideal that awakens your own loving heart. You transfer onto the other person your longings, so he or she represents and carries beauty, strength, courage, intelligence, and steadiness. These qualities are also in you, but you don’t always know it. They are unconscious, so your beloved becomes the carrier of your own golden qualities, and being with her or him helps you feel lovable, complete, whole.

You know the rest of the story. Placing your beloved on a pedestal works for a time, but slowly you look down from the golden glow and encounter the clay feet. They burp, belch, pout, get irritated, withdraw or cling, are too messy or too controlling. They become human. Of course then you might discard the fallen lover and look for a better one, but this would be never-ending. Instead, when your idealistic love has been disappointed, a deeper, freer love is available. If you and the other person are a good-enough match, you can stay with the relationship and let it deepen and lead you to fuller, truer love. This is an invitation to love beyond expectations, clinging, or attachment.

Still, attachment, clinging and expectations will arise along with love, and there will be times when your love is mixed with need and fear. Here is what you learn. When you cling to how your partner (or your children or anyone) should be, you create the circumstances of long-term suffering. Your partner does not want to be controlled; he or she wants to be loved, seen, accepted, held in your heart and honored and respected and blessed by your love.

You might ask, if our love is not based on attachment, what holds us together? Care, commitment, and dedication. Commitment isn’t about loving another person only when he does what you want, meets your needs, or when she fulfills your ideas for her life. You commit to love them as they are and dedicate yourself to their flowering. They will change and grow and explore, and sometimes they will do what you want and sometimes they won’t. This is the paradox of love, that it does not grasp. Love is generous, spacious and free to bless. We love best when we let go of expectations, just as we pray best when we don’t expect a certain outcome. As T.S. Eliot instructs, “teach us to care, and not to care.” “To have loved one soul is like adding its life to your own,” said Meher Baba. True love, given freely, blesses the one you love and frees you at the same time. This is love that is open-hearted, spontaneously offered, and caring no matter what. Your commitment is to love, and your dedication is to honor the heart’s connection.

Step out of the limitations that stop your love. Start where you are. Honor every form of love as a movement toward connection. Love mixed with desire is still seeking wholeness. Romantic love opens your heart to gaze upon another without fear or judgment. With love you see the beauty of the one before you, and shine upon them. Then you can learn to shine the light of love back to yourself as well, not in a narcissistic, self-centered way, but treasuring yourself with respect and abiding appreciation. Love yourself.

This excerpt is taken from No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are

Living from Pairs of Opposites by Adyashanti

Most human beings are living their whole lives from the pairs of opposites because it’s the only way they know. But when you discover that there is within you this place that is beyond the pairs of opposites, and that place, that state of awareness, is actually what you are, you start to realize you can live from that place.

To live from that place, self-grasping must be let go of more and more fully, because the only thing that keeps anybody from living from that place is holding onto thoughts, ideas, judgments, regrets — all those things that cause you to hold onto yourself. They literally create your self, and as soon as they are let go of, that self is not there anymore.

Living from that place, you start to choose to be simple, to give your attention to the simplicity, to what’s awake in you, to what lies beyond the pairs of opposites: your inherent nature as awareness or consciousness itself. It’s a very simple thing. Through this, it introduces you to the fundamental nature of yourself, the fundamental nature of reality.

You’ll know when you get there, because you stop asking, “Have I gotten there yet?” It’s an exquisite place to get to. It’s very liberating when you discover yourself as you truly are. It’s that place within you that is free, within and from the pairs of opposites. The exquisiteness is the sense of freedom. It’s what brings rest.

~ Adyashanti

Beyond Opposites

Time for Truth and Reconciliation by Jack Kornfield

I imagine that one of the reasons that people cling to their hate and prejudice so stubbornly is because they sense that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.—James Baldwin

Like many, I am heartbroken with sadness over the events in Charlottesville, Va., and the rising wave of hate and violence in our culture. While this is part of a long painful history, I want to understand the current tide of white nationalism and racism so the fear and anger it promotes does not take over my own heart. For with understanding I can respond with courage, wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all.

In the breakup of Yugoslavia, after the fall of the communist government, hate mongers took over many radio stations and local media. In this insecure time, fearing uncertainty, loss of power or privilege, politicians and others promoted stories about “them”—the dangerous others. Fearful stories were spread about the past and how the “other”—the Serbs, the Bosnians, the Croats, the Muslims, or the Christians—were dangerous. They will take your job, your houses, your women and children, your lives. And thus a civil war between these groups and their new states was ignited that killed and destroyed hundreds of thousands.

It is not hard to stoke fears in a time of change. Our brains are wired to first scan for danger, and it is easy to trigger the amygdala and the primitive response of fear. It is always pointed to the dangerous “other”—the communists, the blacks, the Asians, the gays, the Muslims, the Jews, the Mexicans, the immigrants.

Fortunately, we human beings possess other capacities beyond our reptilian brains—capacities of wisdom, love, connection and understanding that can override our primitive and easily provoked fears. This is one the great gifts of our meditations and dharma practice. It gives us straightforward and powerful trainings to balance our mind and open our hearts amidst all difficulties, using mindfulness, loving-kindness, equanimity and compassion.

The dharma also points to timeless truths and reminds us of the best of human possibilities. I remember my friend and teacher Maha Ghosananda, the Gandhi of Cambodia, chanting this Buddhist verse to thousands of traumatized refugees in UN camps, fleeing the terrors of genocide:

Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.

In his chant and his years of work leading refugees home with this same chant of love across the jungles and killing fields, he showed the Cambodians another way to live.

We need these now.

In many ways we Americans are still fighting the Civil War. It was not so long ago. My great-grandparents, several of whom I knew well, fled the pogroms of Russia to come to the United States in the 1880s and 1890s. This was only 20 years after the end of the Civil War!

2019 will mark 400 years since the first of millions of African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va., in 1619. On June 19, 1865, General Grainger freed the last slaves in the United States across the state of Texas. At that time there were 250,000 slaves in Texas alone—more than a third of the population was enslaved! And since that time, the years have been marked by lynchings, apartheid/segregation, racism, economic and social oppression and a modern prison system that perpetuates another form of enslavement in spite of Lincoln’s great victory.

This story is a huge and agonizing part of our national history, in which we are still mostly in denial. In this same way we are in denial about the deliberate genocide of Native Americans across this continent. Native Americans were also enslaved at times, but mostly slaughtered by the millions. Native lands and children were stolen and Native cultures systematically destroyed—all in the name of white expansion and white superiority, white economics.

Unfortunately as a nation, we have not genuinely come to terms with our past. And it haunts us. It haunts us through our fears and our guilt and our insecurity. It haunts us whenever there are times of national challenges and uncertainty. Our fears are activated and the most primitive forces among us are empowered and unleashed. Our denial of the pain and exploitation in our history feeds the distorted and toxic myths of exceptionalism and white supremacy.

There is another way. It is based on the movement of Restorative Justice. South Africa provides a model. With the inspiration of elders like Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission panels were set up across the country for the nation to watch. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record, and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations, as well as foster reparation and rehabilitation. The panels confirmed what had happened during the apartheid regime, bringing out the painful truth. And in doing so they began to lead the nation from trauma and polarization to a greater collective understanding of the suffering they had passed through. While there is still much healing needed in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Councils promoted a national soul-searching honesty, and started the basis for genuine reconciliation.

Truth and reconciliation first begin in ourselves. In these polarized and deeply troubled times, we are called upon to deepen our own practice of steadiness, courage, mindfulness and love. It is at just these times that we must become the steady hearts the society needs, the ones who remember who are, who are unafraid to tell the truth and who do so embodying the human possibility of compassion, understanding and reconciliation.

Quieting your mind, opening your heart with loving awareness, these are the critical steps to begin. For without doing so, you will only add to the chaos and fear. You must bear witness to your own measure of fears and pain, and honorably see and feel your place in our shared, troubled history. With a wise and caring heart you can understand the systems of privilege and oppression and your own place in them.

And then, like the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world, you can rise up from your seat of mindfulness and compassion and extend your good hands to touch and mend the sorrows around you. Trust your good hearts. You know how to do this. You have been training for times like this over many years.

For some your response may be reaching out to connect with those threatened, across lines of religion, race, class, sexual orientation. For some it may mean reaching out to the individuals and groups who are promoting hate and prejudice. For some it may mean educating others. For some it may mean political organizing, or activism, or standing up in peaceful ways in the midst of heated demonstrations. And for some among us it may mean working to support a Truth and Reconciliation process in our communities and across the country.

This has been explored in over 30 countries, and in small ways has already begun in the United States. There is a Truth and Reconciliation process in Greensborough, N.C. And this article by Fania Davis is a call written last year for such a commission in Ferguson, Mo.

Since ancient times, Buddhist councils of elders have incorporated elements of a Truth and Reconciliation process in their communities. We can do this in many places.

Now is the time for us to do so in our own troubled land. Perhaps this article will spark your imagination. Or inspire you to start a Truth and Reconciliation group in your community. Or simply remind you that we humans have lived through troubled times before, and that there are ways to steady our hearts and move courageously and compassionately through them.

In spite of the surfacing of so much conflict and pain, I am still hopeful.

There is a magnificence to the human spirit as well as a dangerous and destructive side. Difficult times can ennoble us, and call forth new levels of dedication and care for our lives, our families, our communities, and this precious globe.

May it be so.

And for those creating suffering at every level….

I send metta which includes you as well….

May you be free from hate.
May you be free from fear.
May you be free from ignorance.

May all beings be safe and protected.

With blessings,

Jack Kornfield
Spirit Rock Center
August 2017


The Fine Art of Not Being Offended by Shemsi Prinzivalli

By Shemsi Prinzivalli / shemsi-prinzivalli.blogspot.gr Aug 1, 2017

There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely talk about it, but they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended.

In order to truly be a master of this art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words, the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of fears, conclusions, defenses and attempts to survive. Most of it, even when aimed directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar situation, usually when they were young.

Yes, this is psychodynamic. But let’s face it, we live in a world where psychodynamics are what make the world go around. An individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word psychology literally means the study of the soul.

All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in reactions. This is not to dehumanize life or take away the intimacy from our relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding. A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right place at the right psychodynamic time for someone to say or do what they are doing—we don’t have to take life personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else.

This frees us to be a little more detached from the reactions of people around us. How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering—even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface. All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism, is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing. People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place.

This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our lives. Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the other is saying. When we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us. When we know that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or believes, we can take the world a little less seriously. And if necessary, we can just walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other person that we are good and worthy people.

The great challenge of our world is to live a life of contentment, regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. The fine art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic. Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets for living a happy life.

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