Tag Archives: presence

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

Committing to Presence for the Sake of Love

 Romantic Heart from Love SeedsJeff was convinced he’d fallen out of love with his wife, Arlene, and that nothing could salvage their twenty-six-year marriage. He wanted relief from the oppressiveness of feeling continually judged and found wanting. Arlene, for her part, was hurt and angry because she felt Jeff avoided any real communication or emotional intimacy. As a last-ditch effort, she convinced him to attend a weekend workshop for couples sponsored by their church. Much to their surprise, they both left with a glimmer of hope for their future together. The message they took away was “Love is a decision.” Their guides at the workshop had insisted that while we don’t always feel loving, love is here should we choose to awaken it.

Yet, back at home, when their old styles of attacking and defending were triggered, deciding on love seemed like an ineffectual mental maneuver. Discouraged, Jeff sought me out for a counseling session. “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B,” he declared. “Like when we were together yesterday . . . my mind told me to decide on love, but that didn’t make a difference . . . my heart was in lockdown. Arlene was blaming me for something, and all I wanted to do was get away from her!”

“Let’s take another look at what happened yesterday,” I suggested, then invited him to close his eyes, put himself back into the situation, and let go of his notions of who was right or wrong. “Just let yourself experience what it’s like in your body to feel blamed and want to get away.” Jeff sat still, his face tightening into a grimace. “Keep allowing the feelings to be there,” I said, “and find out what unfolds.”

Gradually, his face softened. “Now I’m feeling stuck and sad,” he said. “We spend so much time caught in this. I withdraw, often without knowing it . . . that hurts her . . . she gets upset . . . then I very consciously want to get away. It’s sad to be so trapped.”

He looked up at me. I nodded with understanding. “What would it be like, Jeff, if instead of pulling away during this kind of encounter, you were able to let her know exactly what you were experiencing?” Then I added, “And if she, too, without accusing you of anything, were able to report on her feelings?”

“We’d have to know what we were feeling!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re usually too busy reacting.”

“Exactly!” I said. “You’d both have to be paying attention to what’s going on inside you. And that runs counter to our conditioning. When we’re emotionally stirred up, we’re lost in our stories about what’s happening, and caught in reflexive behaviors—like blaming the other person or finding a way to leave. That’s why we need to train ourselves to pay attention, so that we’re not at the mercy of our conditioning.”

I went on to explain how the practice of meditation cultivates our capacity for presence, for directly contacting our real, moment-to-moment experience. This gives us more inner space and creativity in responding—rather than reacting—to our circumstances. When I suggested that he and Arlene might consider coming to my weekly meditation class, he readily agreed. They were both there the following Wednesday night, and a month later, they attended a weekend meditation retreat I was leading.

Some weeks after the retreat, the three of us spoke briefly after class. Arlene said that thanks to their meditation practice, they were learning how to decide on love: “We have to choose presence with each other, over and over and over,” she told me. “We have to choose presence when we’re angry, presence when we aren’t in the mood to listen, presence when we’re alone and running the same old stories about how the other is wrong. Choosing presence is our way of opening our hearts.”

Jeff nodded his agreement. “I realized that it’s not about getting from point A to point B,” he said with a smile. “It’s about bringing a full presence to point A, to the life of this moment, no matter what’s going on. The rest unfolds from there.”

Taking refuge in presence—choosing presence—requires training. When “point A” is unpleasant, the last thing we want to do is to stay and feel our experience. Rather than entrusting ourselves to the waves of experience, we want to get away, lash out, numb ourselves, do anything but touch what’s real. Yet, as Jeff and Arlene were realizing, these types of false refuges keep us feeling small and defended.

As I explore in my upcoming course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships, only by deepening our attention and letting life be just as it is can we find real intimacy with ourselves and others. In more than thirty-five years of teaching meditation, I’ve seen it help countless people to deepen their capacity for loving, because if we are able to stay present, we can decide on love, and give it the space and attention it needs to ignite fully. When you are next in a conflict with a dear one, your might inquire, “What would it mean to decide on love? Can I commit to deepening presence for the sake of love?” Just the inquiry will draw you closer to your heart.

© Tara Brach

Note: Coming soon  – an online course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships.

Enjoy this talk on: The Dance of Relational Trance 

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photo by: epSos.de

The Past Is Always Present, So Make It Work For You

Letting Go - Creative Commons by gnuckxMany self-help teachers will urge you to live in the moment:  “The past is over and done with. The present is a present.”  Of course, it is great to fully experience the present and not dilute it with invasive thoughts of the past or even future worries – the way animals live moment to moment; however, humans are far more complex. And when someone tells you not to think about something or do something, that’s all you think about. Ask any unsuccessful dieter!

Let your past work for you

Memories are powerful teachers, lessons of the past making you wiser. Also, they can be comforting like a favorite old story to be retold or an old movie to be seen again. Ultimately, when you reflect on the past, you might finally unlock a pattern which has undermined your true potential and change what no longer works.  A great byproduct is that you can recall the former self you have lost touch with throughout the years to be what you aspire to be.

7 Steps to understand where you’ve been to get where you want to go

* Find a place to withdraw from all the nervous energy and demands around you and create the time to breathe and reflect.

* Take stock of your hidden dreams. Recall the people from the past who inspired and fueled you to be the best that you can be. Process what they said and hear their voices again. What did they say that you were good at doing? Find it.

* If you feel stressed and anxious, take a closer look at the roots of your daily unhappiness. What old words of criticism from parents, educators or friends still upset you? Do you use these same words in your own negative self-talk: “Fat,” “Stupid,”  “Ugly,” “Never amount to anything?” It’s time to silence your inner critic and speak to yourself with compassion and respect.

* Identify the life pattern which is holding you back. Introspect on your past emotional programming – things you feel you ought to do. What will you do differently today to accomplish for yourself? Make sure you know why you want to achieve your new goals.

* Forgive yourself today for past failures. Create a ritual of forgiveness which is meaningful to you like reciting a prayer, or flushing away a piece of paper with your failure written on it. When you forgive yourself, you will be emotionally available to forgive others. What tends to bother people most is not that someone hurt them, but that they allowed themselves to be hurt.

* Do you idealize the past to escape your present – the good old days, or the one that got away? Try tuning into your daily reality and investing it with the same energetic imagination.

* Get into a state of flow and become one with whatever you are doing – where past and present merge into a single unit of time. For example, a golf swing or a dance you have practiced many times where you go from past rehearsal to present accomplishment automatically and effortlessly.

Note: Those of you who have suffered past trauma should consult a psychiatrist about revisiting the past – as some memories need a medical guide or should remain undisturbed.
 

Originally posted in 2011 

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness

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The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.

 

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

5 Ways to Be Present and Start Living Your Real Life

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 12.29.21 PMBy Levi Newman

We live in an age of distraction. Technology, around every corner and in almost every pocket, clogs life’s airwaves and makes it difficult to be mindful of the moment. Even as I type this (on a computer, no less) I can hear a television blaring a movie in the other room. My son, I’m quite sure, is on his Xbox 360 ,and my wife has checked her phone no less than 35 times in the last 10 seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to take a trip without bringing along my iPad, but there has to be boundaries. That boundary should begin when we start to miss life as it unfolds in the present.

This idea has been running through my mind because of the 4th of July. I was sitting in the park watching fireworks with my family, equally enjoying the colorful explosions overhead and the look of excitement on my children’s faces, when I took a moment to glance at the crowd in hopes that I’d find the same delight amongst the masses. But what I found closest to me was disheartening—a man was watching every second of the event through the viewfinder of a large camera, never once bothering to look up and observe the beauty with his own eyes.

It was in this moment that I realized that we often squander the precious seconds of our lives because we are not mindful of the moment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t capture important events, but how often are we trying so hard to record something for posterity that we miss out on the importance of the memory for our own brain?

This is why living in the moment, or mindfulness, is so important. We should embrace life, letting our thoughts and feelings surround us until we’ve given active, open attention to the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

This way of thinking should apply to every moment, not just the bright and shiny ones. When we’re at work, we should fantasize less about clocking out at five and more about the task at hand. Not only would this make you a better worker, which has its own benefits for you and your employer, it would help you appreciate those around you.

When we’re living in the moment it also keeps us from dwelling on intrusive memories, such as past problems or uncertainty about the future. This decision to take active control of each moment isn’t an easy undertaking. Most of us allow our thoughts to control us, not the other way around. Because this sense of balance often eludes us, we need to stop concentrating on doing and focus more on just being.

The true reason to be mindful is simple: mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic and more secure in their relationships. This allows for reduced stress, an improved immune system, lower blood pressure and often alleviates chronic pains. Not to mention that being accepting of who you are and what you’re doing allows for a higher self-esteem and the ability to acknowledge and improve upon one’s weaknesses.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started on the right track.

1. Reduce your self-consciousness. In other words, dance as if no one is watching. Being able to be comfortable in your own skin is difficult, but allowing yourself that freedom is important.

2. Avoid worrying about the future by focusing on the present. If you’re so wrapped up in what’s going to happen tomorrow, you’re not concerning yourself with what is happening around you, which may ultimately prove to be more important.

3. Improve your relationships with others by taking control of your emotions and avoiding action and impulse. There are going to be times when you may feel like lashing out or losing control, but taking a few moments to collect yourself and be mindful of your responses can make all the difference in the world.

4. Make the most of time by losing the watch. Time often dictates every second (no pun intended) of our lives, so much that we may cut off the enjoyment of an event just to stick to a set schedule. Planning is important in life, but so is spontaneity. Take time to enjoy both.

5. Avoidance isn’t a solution. If you have a problem, the only way to improve your life is to tackle it head on. If you allow things to fester without addressing them you run the risk of things getting much worse before they get better. It’s OK to fear not having the answer, but being mindful of needed actions will help you through the toughest times.

* * *

Levi Newman, a 10-year Army veteran and graduate of the University of Missouri. Levi currently serves as the senior author for the Veterans United Network. He also works as the Director of Outreach for Veterans United Home Loans, where he builds and maintains relationships with businesses, organizations and individuals. To keep up with Levi, follow him on Google+!

You Create

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It began with tension. Tension contrasted with the utter peacefulness of a summer evening. It was when I noticed it first.

It was such a beautiful evening, balmy and fresh after a hot, summer day, pink and blue with golden highlights, and filled to bursting with the forest scents and grassy aromas. It was so quiet, so peaceful — but I wasn’t. That was when I noticed it. That was why I noticed it. The tension, the … tightness.

And I thought I was doing so well! I was pulling myself up from my traumas and dramas, I was getting back to my art and to my work, I was making an effort, I was doing stuff again, I even made a list and created a schedule (a tentative one), I was doing, I was doing, I was busy … and it all seemed so silly suddenly. The busyness, the schedule, the doing. It was supposed to be a remedy for not-doing anything, which was bad but … it seemed so silly.

Because it was never the problem, I realized. Doing nothing was never the problem. Reading books all day or hanging out on Facebook, avoiding my art and abandoning my projects — that was never a problem. Doing, doing, doing would never be a solution.

I lost my presence. That was the problem.

I allowed myself to become unconscious, I allowed my life to slip out of focus, I allowed my vision to become fuzzy. Doing things, schedules, plans, objectives and accomplishments were supposed to fix that problem for me, but they did not bring presence with them. They only brought busyness. They brought movement, bustle, hustle, doing. Lots of doing. And tension. There was no presence in all this activity. There was no presence in tension.

Presence was in the peacefulness of last night. As I walked my dogs in the midst of gathering dusk, through the splendid silence of nature around me, there was presence there and I became clear, yet again, that it is lack of presence that is the problem, and it is presence that is the solution.

Presence.

Not doing, making, bustling and hustling, but presence. Presence as what I am, as my life, right now. Presence that transcends doing. Presence that renders doing obsolete because it, by the virtue of simply being, creates. Creates reality. Creates life. Spontaneously and effortlessly creates — everything.

That is one thing worth doing, I thought to myself last night, working on being present.

Better Breathing for a Better Life (VIDEO)

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.33.10 PMWhen you find yourself in a situation where you get stressed, frightened or caught off guard, what’s the best thing to do?

Scream? Sometimes. : )

But seriously, what did mom or grandma or your loved one tell you to do?

Breathe.

Yes, it’s as simple as that.

But time and time again, while walking around the streets of San Francisco (and while being in the car with certain eh hem, friends with road rage) I witness screaming and feel their blood boiling. What good does that do?

I try to make it a practice to breathe deeply every morning.

Here’s how:

I love filling up my lungs and expunging all the air and imagining my lungs deflating like a balloon. I do this almost every morning with a 20-30 minute yoga routine.

I’m an early riser, so I like to take in the stillness of the morning silence with a meditation practice. People may get freaked out and discouraged about “not knowing how to meditate.” The truth is, there isn’t a “right way” to meditate. Simple focus on your breath, deep breath in…deep breath out.

Other times when I’m running and gunning, I just take three quick deep breaths. If you’re over-programmed like me and have a busy schedule, set a reminder on your phone to go off three times a day to remind you to breathe.

Here’s a video I made for you that will help you focus on your breathing. This is what I usually see on my morning run at Aquatic Park in San Francisco. Breathe in when the waves come toward the shore. Breathe all the way out when the waves recede. It’s only a minute long, but the effects are long lasting.

Enjoy!

Feel better?

According to Men’s Journal, here are some stats about how deep breathing can be aaah-so-good for your health:

Relax: Breathing is an “accurate and honest barometer” of a person’s emotional state. Train your breathing to maintain your calm and lower stress levels.

Maximize Potential: The average person uses just 50 to 60 percent of his lung capacity. Breath training expands the lungs, and better oxygen intake means higher athletic performance.

Improve Health: Research suggests that developing proper breathing habits can play a role in treating conditions like asthma, acute bronchitis, ADHD and sleep apnea.

Don’t we all feel better after taking a few deep breaths? The next time you feel your panties or boxer briefs getting in a bunch, smile and relax (those butt cheeks). Namaste!

What other breathing exercises help you get through your day? If you follow our @goinspirego Instagram feed, you’ll notice that I often post pictures of beautiful cityscapes and snapshots of nature. Surprisingly, many people tell me the pictures remind them to slow down, be present and breathe. I’d love to hear/see what inspires you to breathe. Please share in the comments below.

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Elephant in the Room: How Do I Find the Right Man to Marry

Beneath the veil lies my darknessDear Cora,

I just celebrated my 27th birthday in April. I’m finally at a point in my life where I have a great job and can help support my mom and our family. (We’re Guyanese and staying close to family is very important). I’m really happy except for one thing – I want to get married. I want to start raising a family of my own, but I have the worst luck with men. My last serious relationship was years ago when I was still in college. I’ve dated a few guys since then but nothing has panned out. I’ve even had my mother try to arrange a marriage for me, but there was no spark and I couldn’t do it. When I do find a man I’m interested in long-term he doesn’t seem serious about dating. Sometimes I worry that I am too picky so I’ll give guys a shot who I don’t think I have chemistry with, but it’ll turn out my gut instinct is right and they aren’t the guy for me. I’m worried that if I don’t find a good guy to settle down with soon that I am never going to have the chance to start the family I want. What’s your advice?

Thanks,
Single gal

~

Dear Single Gal,

Oh, honey. The first thing we need to address is that 27 is way too young to start practicing your spinster routine! In my eyes you are a baby adult, only just beginning to get serious about long-term plans and taking complete responsibility for yourself. It sounds to me you are quite the capable young woman (key word: YOUNG) with a kind and compassionate heart. Guyanese or not – supporting your mother and family is a noble task and I tip my trunk to you, lady.

As for the husband, I think your trouble finding one comes from the fact you’re looking for one in the first place. We often feel compelled to find a life partner by a certain time in our lives so when women hit 25 and are still single they go into rabid husband-hunting mode. The problem with that is when you are only looking for a husband you stop being present. You look at every man that comes into your life through a lens of “Can I marry this person? Would he be a good dad? Would he remember to take out the trash? How serious is he about settling down?” and you forget to look at them as a whole person. If they don’t fit the mold you have prematurely set for the rest of your life then you move on without really taking stock of who you’re dealing with as a person and you don’t ask the much more important questions – Is he kind? Does he respect me? Does he make me laugh? Is this someone I can be best friends with and love for the rest of my days?

You won’t find that person with a checklist of “husband” attributes. You find that person by paying attention, being present, and allowing yourself the chance to get to know someone without the pressure of your entire future bearing down on the situation. Even if you don’t say it on a first date, most people can feel the wedding hungry vibes radiating off of you and it’s a clear signal to them to run. It’s the same thing with “the spark” you’re looking for. Is that a real thing? While the movie “He’s Just Not Into You” is pretty problematic with its message to women – one of my favorite parts is when Alex (Justin Long) explains to Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin) that “the spark” is made up.

(Warning: Some language, NSFW)

I don’t really think it’s a man-made conspiracy as an excuse not to call a girl, but it speaks to our obsession with fairy tale scenarios. If you’re expecting the perfect guy to walk in and say the perfect things then whisk you away to your dream life – you’re going to be waiting for a really long time. Life isn’t that clean and simple, relationships definitely aren’t. They are complicated and messy and never perfect, which is what makes them enriching and powerful.

So my advice, Single Gal, is to stop looking. Relieve the pressure. Open your eyes and be present. I have a feeling when you let up on yourself – and the guys you meet – it’ll be much easier to see the guy who probably isn’t perfect, but who is perfect for you.

Best wishes,
Cora

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avatar-NO-BKCGRNDSubmit your questions, troubles, and predicaments to Cora via editor [at] intent [dot] com or in the comments section below. The Elephant in the Room advice column will be published every Friday – a blend of humor, compassion, and wisdom specially tailored for our Intent audience.

photo by: AMELIA SPEED

Why Awareness Will Free Your Mind and Transform Your Heart

Sunset & the ThinkerAwareness is a quality of being awake and present to the moment. All great athletic performances are an example of how awareness fuels high level performance.

How does this apply to our more mundane lives? How can we tap into that quality of awareness to enhance our lives?

Once we can identify and understand what this quality of awareness is, we have the key to self-mastery in virtually every area of our lives.

According to great masters like Lao Tzu or Buddha, most of us move through our lives like sleepwalkers. Never really present in what we are doing, never fully alert to our environment, and not even aware of what motivates us to do and say the things we do. A lack of awareness can allow us to be completely taken over by negative emotions.

The Difference Awareness Makes

With awareness, when we become irritated or angry, sad or depressed, there’s an awake quality that this is happening in us. We have the observing presence in the background that’s more who we are rather than the emotion. We are still present as the emotions happen. We then have more mastery of ourselves and the situation.

Awareness is the key to being self-directed, centered, and free in every aspect of our lives. You can learn  how to live life more attentively, mindfully, and meditatively, with love, caring and consciousness. You can examine and break free of the conditioned belief systems and prejudices that limit your capacity to live life in all its richness.

Cultivate A Clear Mind

To fuel our highest level performance we need  a clear mind. If the mind is filled with fear, self-sabotaging beliefs, and self-doubt, we are impeded, a bit like driving a car with the brake on. Emotional turmoil clouds our view and we cannot perform well. A practice of becoming aware of the mind, and learning to witness the thoughts so they pass by, and don’t affect us, is key.

A man came to the Japanese Zen master Ikkyo and asked him for some words of wisdom to guide him in life. Ikkyo nodded agreeably and wrote on a piece of paper the word “attention.” The man said he could not understand and asked for something more. Ikkyo wrote, “attention, attention.”After a further request for an explanation, Ikkyo wrote his final statement for the man. “Attention, attention, attention means attention. ”

The special knack of meditation is to develop the one who pays attention, the watcher. When we do a simple sitting meditation, we sit comfortably with our eyes closed and just begin to watch the energies that move within us all the time: thoughts, sensations, emotions. We develop the knack of simply watching these distractions go by with a feeling of acceptance. How do we acquire this knack? We begin by being a witness to the mind, by becoming dis-identified from the mind.

If you watch a dog, you are clearly not the dog; if you look at a tree, you are separate from the tree. The same applies to the mind. Watching is the key. Watch the mind, without repressing, without preventing, without judging, and slowly you will begin to dis-identify, realizing that you are not your thoughts, sensations, and emotions.

Don’t Fight, Just Watch

When you try to meditate, and especially at first, thoughts will come, they will surround you from everywhere. They will be like clouds; even the little bit of blue sky will be lost. They will buzz like a swarm of bees stopping us from seeing clearly. And when there are too many thoughts, the natural instinct is to fight with them.

Try fighting with your own shadow. Thoughts are shadows. If you try to fight them you will be defeated.

You have to remain a watcher, a witness. Just watch the thoughts, absolutely calm and quiet, watch. Let them come, let them go, let them arise, let them disappear. Simply take note, the thought is arising, the thought is there, the thought is gone — and some day you start to notice the gap of silence in between the thoughts. Over time the thoughts become smaller, the gap of silence becomes bigger.

The liberation you feel once you realize that you are not the mind can be extraordinary. There is no more anxiety, you are at ease, in a deep let-go. You know you can drop down beyond the mind to your inner haven of peace, calm, and clarity. The mind becomes  clean and clear, and you are more productive, focused, and relaxed.

30-SECOND STOP TECHNIQUE

Benefits:

This technique can almost instantly bring you to awareness and help you relax. By practicing this technique regularly, by and by a subtle relaxed alertness will begin to weave itself into your day. Just knowing that you can access this state of relaxation at any time helps you feel more in control of your life, more in touch with yourself.

You can do this technique while walking along the street, folding laundry, or sorting files at the office. While you are engaged in one of these activities, stop. Freeze. For 30 seconds just be present with whatever is happening. Are you breathing? How is your body? Where is the mind? Where are you? In the present? The past? The future? Watch, observe, notice yourself, without judgment. Then start moving again.

You can do this technique by yourself or with a friend. You might ask your friend to surprise you with a 30-second stop when you’re walking down the street. Or you can try it yourself anytime — at work, on the bus, in the grocery store, in an elevator, doing the dishes. But remember it must be done suddenly.

I look forward to your comments.

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photo by: Esparta

Free Yourself From the Cycle of Stress to Live More Fully Than Ever

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.

Enjoy this talk on: The Space of Presence

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)
For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com
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