Tag Archives: Compassion

How to Get Back Your Personal Power

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by Deepak Chopra, MD

There are many ways in modern life to feel powerless, as the world seems increasingly dangerous. None of us can change the evening news, but we can regain the personal power that is undermined by stress, a sense of threat, and loss of control. In fact, without being in control, a person is more susceptible to depression and anxiety, two disorders that exist in epidemic numbers in this society. Unfortunately, the social trends that drain away personal power only grow stronger.  Therefore, it’s crucial to find a way to limit that feeling in your day-to-day life.

As a start, let’s clarify what power isn’t. It isn’t a force that you use like a weapon to get your own way. It isn’t suppressing what you don’t like about yourself and achieving a perfect ideal that doesn’t exist in the first place.  It isn’t money, status, possessions, or any other material surrogate. There are countless people sitting in the lap of luxury who feel even more powerless than the average person. This is so because the issues of power are all “in here,” where you relate to yourself.

Now we can address the five things that do limit—or even undo—that feeling of powerlessness. Continue reading

Teens Discover Context and Compassion

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I’m sitting at a café having miso-mushroom soup, processing my meeting with an inner city high school principal about expanding the Mindfulness and Cultural Development program next year. The pilot was so successful; she would like to see it reach the entire freshman class. “I want them to have a full 4 years of support from the pressures they are under!”

“I think they are heroes for just being able to pay attention to their teachers in this academically challenging program. Some of them are dealing with such intense problems at home and in their neighborhoods.” The sole school counselor, serving 550 students with everything from college applications to behavioral interventions, nods her assent.

An image flashes across my mind from earlier this month. A lanky sweet looking girl in a yellow and orange bikini roughly kneed and handcuffed by a burly Texan policeman. The infraction? Going to a pool party.

To be a teenager in an inner-city these days is to be faced with issues far more complicated than first loves or summer jobs at the ice cream shop.

There isn’t an easy answer to the complex social, cultural, economic, environmental, and physical problems that face this next generation. But, there is a potent and profound way to empower our young adults, a way to help them cultivate inner strength for outer stability.

That’s where this innovative program Mindfulness & Cultural Development comes in. With all the benefits of classical mindfulness training, students gain objectivity on the thought process and de-stress through focus and non-judgment. Then they cultivate one more skill, which may make all the difference. They look at their experience in a vast context of cultural and evolutionary development. It’s fun. It’s powerful. And it creates space for heart and compassion in spades.

How does “context” create compassion? Continue reading

Be the Presence of Compassion and Peace

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At the level of consciousness or spirit, we are all inextricably connected to everyone and everything.While our body may appear to be a solid physical structure, in reality it’s an ever-flowing river of energy and information, in constant dynamic exchange with the environment around us.

Our language reflects our innate understanding of our essential energetic nature. We say things like, “His words really resonated with me,” or “I got a bad vibe from that person,” or “My friend has such aradiant heart.” These aren’t just metaphors—we really do feel each other’s energy and are affected by it at a profound level. Think of all the qualities in another person you intuitively pick up at an energetic level. Besides telling if someone is happy or sad, you can sense whether they feel peaceful or perturbed. Looking into their eyes reveals alertness or dullness, tenderness, or indifference. It’s hard to think of any human quality that doesn’t have a kind of energy “signature.”

As energetic beings, our potential to affect others with our energy or state of being is both a great gift and a great responsibility. When we walk into a room, our energy emanates from us. Without saying a word, we communicate through our energetic signature, creating a ripple that can affect everyone we meet. If our state of being is centered in love and compassion, we communicate that energy to each other. In the same way, if we’re mired in judgment, hostility, or resentment, we communicate that too.

Through our energy or consciousness, we have an unlimited capacity to send out ripples that will help the planet and its inhabitants move in the most evolutionary direction—from fear, hostility, and unrest to love, compassion, peace, and joy. Continue reading

Tap Into Your Compassion to Push Out Negativity

carOur most negative encounters can sometimes offer us great spiritual guidance. For instance, I once had a blow-out fight with a woman at a car rental counter. She felt the need to flaunt her power and go out of her way to make things difficult for me. My reac
tion was no better than her outburst. I felt the need to respond with my own power play by threatening to call her manager and make a complaint. And I did just that.
Hours after stating my claim to her corporate office and regional manager, I felt no better. I thought that complaining about how poorly I was treated would help me get over the experience. Instead, it made me feel worse. I sat with this and explored what the lesson was for me. In stillness, I heard my inner voice recite one of Yogi Bhajan’s five sutras for the Aquarian age: “Recognize the other person is you.” I was floored by my inner guide—the message was so clear and resonant.
I went on to explore what it was about this angry customer service rep that reflected me. I came to realize that her behavior was merely mirroring a disowned part of my own shadow. In silent contemplation I was able to accept that deep down there was a part of me that wanted to control the situation and the outcome. This was the same quality the customer-service representative had. Her deep-rooted need to be in control came head-to-head with my need to be in control.

With Compassion: The Act of Loving the World

Compassion is a buzz word we’ve heard more and more in recent days. Is it a home run for marketing campaigns, or is it a real, important attribute that is finally getting the limelight it deserves?

These days, we are honestly in need of a deeper understanding of what it means to love, care, even notice one another. This is why it is so encouraging to see things like Deepak Chopra, Gabby Bernstein and friends leading a global meditation for compassion on July 11th. In honor of his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama is hosting the Global Compassion Summit to inspire compassionate acts in our global community. These are opportunities to join with others asking the question “what about me? how can I help?” Continue reading

The Health Benefits of Practicing Compassion

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Compassion is changing before our eyes. A religious concept associated with Jesus and Buddha (known as “the Compassionate One”) is being researched today through brain scans and positive psychology. In positive psychology your aim is to reach a state of well-being. The actions of a compassionate person, being kind and sympathetic, turn out to bring personal benefits as well. This is one way that a spiritual value acquires practical, everyday value.

As part of a compassionate lifestyle, a person: Continue reading

Reaching Out For Compassion

Rabindranath Tagore embarrassment of compassion fills your eyes rain on we lucky spaces between potential and the real take my hand and walk togetherAt a weekend workshop I led, one of the participants, Marian, shared her story about the shame and guilt that had tortured her. Marian’s daughter Christy, in recovery for alcoholism, had asked her mother to join her in therapy. As their sessions unfolded, Christy revealed that she’d been sexually abused throughout her teen years by her stepfather, Marian’s second husband.

The words and revelations Marian heard that day pierced her heart. “You just slept through my whole adolescence!” her daughter had shouted. “I was being violated and had nowhere to turn! No one was there to take care of me!” Christy’s face was red; her hands clenched tight. “I was afraid to tell you then, and now I know why. You can’t handle the truth. You can’t handle me. You never could. I hate you!”

As she watched her daughter dissolve into heaving sobs, Marian knew that what she’d heard was true. She hadn’t been able to handle her daughter’s involvement with drugs, her clashes with teachers, or her truancy and suspensions from school, because she couldn’t handle anything about her own life.

At this point, compassion for herself was not only impossible, Marian was convinced it would have been wrong: the horror that Christy endured was her fault; she deserved to suffer.

We’ve all harmed others and felt as if we were bad because of our actions. When we, like Marian, face the truth that we’ve hurt others, sometimes severely, the feelings of guilt and shame can tear us apart. Even when the damage isn’t so great, some of us still feel undeserving of compassion or redemption.

At times like these, the only way to find compassion for ourselves is by reaching out to something larger than the self that feels so small and miserable. We might for instance take refuge by calling on the Buddha, Divine Mother, God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Shiva, or Allah – reaching towards a loving awareness that is great enough to offer comfort and safety to our broken being.

As a Catholic, Marian had found moments of deep peace and communion with a loving God. But, in her despair, she now felt alone in the universe. Sure, God existed, but she felt too sinful and wretched to reach out to him.

Fearing she might harm herself, Marian sought counsel from an elderly Jesuit priest she had known in college. After she’d wept and told him her story, he gently took one of her hands and began drawing a circle in the center of her palm. “This,” he said, “is where you are living. It’s painful—a place of kicking and screaming and deep, deep hurt. This place cannot be avoided, let it be.”

Then he covered her whole hand with his. “But, if you can, try also to remember this: there is a greatness, a wholeness that is the kingdom of God, and in this merciful space, your immediate life can unfold. This pain is held always in God’s love. As you know both the pain and the love, your wounds will heal.

Marian felt as if a great wave of compassion was pouring through the hands of the priest and gently bathing her, inviting her to surrender into its caring embrace. As she gave her desperation to it, she knew she was giving herself to the mercy of God. The more she let go, the more she felt held. Yes, she’d been blind and ignorant; she’d caused irreparable damage, but she wasn’t worthless, she wasn’t evil. Being held in the infinite compassion of God, she could find her way to her own heart.

Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance. The priest wasn’t advising Marian to ignore the pain or to deny that she’d failed her daughter, but to open her heart to the love that could begin the healing.

Now, rather than being locked inside her tormenting thoughts, Marian could remember the possibility of compassion. When remorse or self-hatred would arise, she would mentally say, “Please hold this pain.” When she felt her anguish as being held by God, she could face it without being ripped apart or wanting to destroy herself.

Two weeks later, when she and her daughter met again in therapy, Marian admitted to Christy – still acting cold – that she knew she’d failed her terribly. Then, gently and carefully taking her daughter’s hand, Marian drew a soft circle in the center of her palm, and whispered the same words the priest had whispered to her.

Upon hearing these words, Christy allowed herself be held, wept, and surrendered into the unexpected strength and sureness of her mother’s love. There was no way either of them could bypass the raw pain of yet unhealed wounds, but now they could heal together. By reaching out and feeling held in God’s mercy, Marian had discovered the compassion that could hold them both.

Whenever we feel held by a caring presence, by something larger than our small frightened self, we too can begin to find room in our own heart for the fragments of our life, and for the lives of others. The suffering that might have seemed “too much” can now awaken us to the sweetness of compassion.

© Tara Brach

Enjoy this talk on Cultivating Compassion 

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photo by: Wonderlane

Gift to the Soul: The Space of Presence

Photo Credit: Kalliope Kokolis
Photo Credit: Kalliope Kokolis

For many of us this is a season when it feels that we are going faster and faster. Everything’s racing, through school semesters, wrapping up work commitments, entering the holidays; the currents of life are in full tilt.

Given the time of year, one student fell into a period of intense stress resulting from a cycle of classes, studying, working and little sleep. He didn’t realize how long he had neglected to write home until he received the following note:

 Dear Son,
Your mother and I enjoyed your last letter.
Of course, we were much younger then and more impressionable.
Love,
Dad

As you know, it’s not just students. Some months ago a friend described getting caught in this state busy-ness while trying to get her daughter to school. She was busy getting things ready while her daughter was trying to show her something. Every time her daughter would call her over she would say, “Just hang on a moment. I’ll be there in a second.” After several rounds of this, the little four-year old came out of her room tired of waiting. She said to her mother, hands on hips:

“Why are you always so busy? What’s your name? Is it President O’mama or something?”

Along with the speediness we have the sense that there is not enough time. It’s interesting to observe how often we are living with that perception. It is usually accompanied by a squeeze of anxiety:

“I’m not going to be prepared,” and a chain of insecurities. “There’s something around the corner that is going to be too much,” “I’m going to fall short,” “I won’t get something critical done.” There’s this sense that we’re on our way somewhere else and that what’s right here is not the time that matters. We’re trying to get to the point in the future when we’ve finally checked everything off our to-do list and we can rest. As long as this is our habit, we are racing toward the end of our life. We are skimming the surface, and unable to arrive in our life.

Thomas Merton describes the rush and pressure of modern life as a form of contemporary violence. He says:

“…to be surrendering to too many demands, too many concerns, is to succumb to the violence.”

When we’re speeding along, we violate our own natural rhythms in a way that prevents us from listening to our inner life and being in a resonant field with others. We get tight. We get small. We override our capacity to appreciate beauty, to celebrate, to serve from the heart.

Our mindfulness practice offers us the opportunity to pause and rediscover the space of presence. When we stop charging forward and open to what’s here, there’s a radical shift in our experience of being alive. As we touch into this space of Hereness, we access a wisdom, a love and a creativity that are not available when we’re on our way somewhere else.  We are home, in our aliveness and our spirit.

 © Tara Brach
Enjoy this video on: The Space of Presence

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Lessons from kayaking: Finding a Way to Be With Fear

Leaving the Marina with Morro Rock in the background and the MorMost of us spend a lot of our lives tensed up in fear, or pushing against fear.
The fear might be fear of:
  • Something going wrong
  • Not being good enough
  • Not being loved
  • Losing something or someone we hold dear
What fears do you live with?
The key to being with fear is in contacting what is here now, rather than trying to push it away. Here’s a story from the river that helps us understand that.  In kayaking, you learn about what is called a keeper hole. It’s a swirl in the river that catches a boat or a body and pulls it down under the water.  You can drown because you get stuck in that swirling current and you can’t get out of it.  If you get caught in a keeper hole, the only way out is actually to dive right into the center, down as far and deep as you can, toward the bottom, because if you get to the bottom you can swim out the side of the swirl.
So you do the opposite of what your instincts tell you to do.  Your instinct, of course, is to fight your way to the surface.  But it won’t work; you’ll keep getting pulled into the hole.  No, you have to dive down into the hole.
It’s like that with fear.  Our instincts are to pull away, to ignore the fear, or to distract ourselves.  We naturally want to escape the pull, the uncomfortable sensation, of fear.  But the skillful way of dealing with fear, just like the keeper hole, is to go into the center of it.
The training in facing fear is to directly contact it…to lean right in.  This is not something to do if your fear is from trauma.  It could be too overwhelming.  If you are dealing with trauma, you might need someone to work with you on that fear.  So you might try finding a thought that brings up fear,  a mild or moderate fear, and letting yourself feel the sensation.  Breathe right into the place you feel the fear, really letting yourself experience it for a moment.  On the out breath, let the fear disperse into the vastness of space around you, or the ocean you are part of.  See and feel the fear moving out into that larger space.
When you are kayaking on the ocean, or on a large lake, you can sense yourself as part of that spaciousness.  Allow the fear to disperse into the spaciousness.  You might find that it is possible to be with the fear, rather than push it away, when you are aware of your oceanness.
© Tara Brach
Enjoy this talk on Finding the Juice in Fear

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photos by: mikebaird & mikebaird

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

Mystic Poppies.The modern-day mystic and Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello once said: “Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable.” This statement struck a deep chord within me. It seems to me that what he meant was to be absolutely open to life as it is.

Think about the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean that flows from the tip of Florida up along the eastern seaboard. If you were to put a straw in the water, aligned with the Gulf Stream, it would move with the flow of water. The water moves through it and carries it along on the current. Everything is aligned; it’s total grace. Now, if it’s misaligned, and it’s not moving with the flow of water, it gets spun around and moves off course.

Aligning ourselves with the flow of aliveness is an essential part of our mindfulness practice. Like the straw, if we move out of alignment, we’re moving away, spinning about, in reaction…in some way unable to be one with the flow of grace. So we seek to stay aligned, letting the flow of life move through us.

What are some ways that we remove ourselves from the channel through which our life flows?

I noticed this happening the other day when I was driving home. I have my own accustomed speed, and the person in front of me was going much, much, much slower. You know what that is like, don’t you? Now, I wasn’t in a rush to get somewhere. I wasn’t on my way to the airport to catch a plane, but it didn’t matter. I was driving at a speed that felt really different from my preferred speed. I was experiencing impatience and anxiety, and it was building. Everything in me was leaning forward. I felt like I couldn’t be okay unless the situation changed.

So I paused, mentally. I recognized that I had a demand that something be different than it was at the moment, and I tried to let go of it. This example is a small thing, but this happens in many ways, some small and some much larger, in our human experience. We get caught in feeling that happiness is not possible unless things change. Consequently, we cause ourselves tremendous unhappiness, because we’re demanding that things be different.

It’s interesting to notice how this happens. I think it arises from our social conditioning about what brings happiness. We are led to believe that we need certain things to be happy: “If I can get this job,” “If I can earn this much money,” “If I can buy a house in that neighborhood,” then I will be happy. Or we might think, if only I were healthier, or thinner, or if my boss quit so I could have a different boss, or if I had a different spouse…and on and on.

We wait for things to be different in order to feel okay with life. As long as we keep attaching our happiness to the external events of our lives, which are ever changing, we’ll always be left waiting for it.

What if we were to pause and align ourselves with the current?
What if we moved with the flow of what is?
What would that mean for you in your life, right now?

Aligning with what is here is a way of practicing presence. It allows us to respond to our world with creativity and compassion.

What is actually happening is that we’re opening to the universal intelligence, the universal love that can flow through us when we’re aligned. When the straw is aligned with the current, the Gulf Stream flows through it. When we’re aligned with the flow of our lives, there’s a universal wisdom and love that flows through us, which is our true nature.

© Tara Brach

Adapted from Radical Acceptance  (2003)

Enjoy this talk on: Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

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