Tag Archives: radical acceptance

Break Free From Fear and Enter the Wholeness of Being

There is always a beginning...All of us live with fear. Whenever fear takes over, we’re caught in what I call the trance of fear. As we tense in anticipation of what may go wrong, our heart and mind contract. We forget that there are people who care about us, and about our own ability to feel spacious and openhearted. Trapped in the trance, we can experience life through the filter of fear, and when we do, the emotion becomes the core of our identity, constricting our capacity to live fully.

This trance usually begins in childhood, when we experience fear in relating to our significant others. Perhaps as an infant our crying late at night may have frustrated our exhausted mother. When we saw her frowning face and heard her shrill tone, suddenly we felt unsafe with the person we most counted on for safety. Our arms and fists tightened, our throat contracted, our heartbeat raced.

This physical reaction of fear in response to disapproval may have happened repeatedly through our early years. We might have tried out something new—putting on our clothes all by ourselves and gotten them backwards. We might have poured a cup of grape juice—but spilled it on the living room carpet. Each time our mother’s disapproving look and tone of frustration were directed at us, we felt the same chain reaction of fear in our body.

While the bodies of young children are usually relaxed and flexible, if experiences of fear are continuous over the years, chronic tightening happens. Our shoulders may become permanently knotted and raised, our head thrust forward, our back hunched, our chest sunken.

Rather than a temporary reaction to danger, we develop a permanent suit of armor. We become, as Chogyam Trungpa puts it, “a bundle of tense muscles defending our existence.” We often don’t even recognize this armor because it feels like such a familiar part of who we are. But we can see it in others. And when we are meditating, we can feel it in ourselves—the tightness, the areas where we feel nothing.

This trance of fear not only creates habitual contraction in our body. Our mind too becomes trapped in rigid patterns. The one-pointedness that served us in responding to real threats becomes obsession. Our mind, making associations with past experiences, produces endless stories reminding us of what bad things might happen and strategizing how to avoid them.

Through I-ing and My-ing, the self takes center stage in these stories: Something terrible is about to happen to me; I am powerless; I am alone; I need to do something to save myself. Our mind urgently seeks to control the situation by finding the cause of the problem, and we either point the finger at others or at ourselves.

Feelings and stories of unworthiness and shame are perhaps the most binding element in the trance of fear. When we believe something is wrong with us, we’re convinced that we’re somehow in danger. Our shame fuels ongoing fear, and our fear fuels more shame. The very fact that we feel fear seems to prove that we are broken or incapable. When we’re trapped in trance, being fearful and bad seem to define who we are. The anxiety in our body, the stories, the ways we make excuses, withdraw or lash out—these become to us the self that is most real.

Whenever we’re in this trance, the rest of the world fades into the background. Like the lens on a camera, our attention narrows to focus exclusively on the foreground of our fearful stories and our efforts to feel more secure.

The key to transforming this trance is by becoming aware of it—mindful of all our strategies, stories, physical reactions and bodily sensations—and allowing ourselves to be present to all of it without added constriction and judgment. If we can stay honestly and courageously awake to our fear, it can enable us to recognize and fully experience whatever is arising in the present moment, and keep us from falling into the trance.

Especially with intense or traumatic fear, a full mindful presence is often not advised or even possible as a first step. Rather, we need to take some time to cultivate inner resources of safety, strength and loving connection. In time, these inner strengths will allow us to stay present when fear arises, and meet the experience with interest and care.

For all of us, whether traumatized or not, there is deep conditioning to reflexively pull away from contacting the rawness of fear. Yet this avoidance is exactly what solidifies trance. As we cultivate our willingness, mindfulness, and compassion, we can learn to face and transform our fear. We discover that we can awaken from the trance of fear even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances.

Whenever we can relate to fear rather than from fear, our sense of who we are begins to shift and enlarge. Instead of constructing a tense and embattled self, we can reconnect with our naturally spacious awareness. Instead of being trapped in and defined by our experiences, we can recognize them as a changing stream of thoughts and feelings. In these moments we have awakened from trance. We are inhabiting a wholeness of being that is peaceful and free.

Enjoy this video on: Attend and Befriend-Healing the Fear Body

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Cook Your Way to Total Self Love

Pink Summer Cherry LoveMost of our fears and inner conflicts arise from a lack of self love. The first thing I tackle with clients is identifying and eradicating the root causes of self-beat, shame, guilt and insecurity. I call it “radical acceptance”.

Ironically, one of the best ways to build self-esteem, confidence and a deep, inner sense of contentment and acceptance is incredibly simple and easy to overlook.

Cooking for yourself and practicing conscious eating are perhaps the most primal and important acts of self love. We build a deep sense of trust in ourselves and the world (and relieve stress) when we take time to nurture ourselves by making our own food, sitting down, practicing gratitude and enjoying it mindfully.

You can begin to improve your relationship with food and your physical body by enjoying healthy meals that have been prepared for you, but investing time and energy to plan and prepare your own meals allows for the opportunity to reap the benefits of the loving energy you put in.

A potent message of worth and value seeps into the unconscious mind when we nurture ourselves. Food and shelter are our most primitive, basic acts of survival. When you practice self-care by maintaining a clean (sattvic), safe, inviting home and cook for yourself, you send a powerful message to your psyche that you are worthy and important.

Love is an action verb. How do you love yourself? What do you do to show love? Actions speak louder than words. Affirmations are great…but how are you showing up for yourself on a daily, consistent basis.

Self love through food is connected to the root chakra, or first chakra, which governs the first stage of emotional and psychological development. The root chakra (mulhadhara) is connected to physical identity, physical body, grounding, our relationship to the mother and sense of feeling safe and secure in the world.

Eating disorders, food addictions or obsessive control over diet, the body and food often result from a child growing up in an unsafe environment (abuse, war zone, constant fighting, financial distress, physical illness) or having an insecure attachment to the mother (mother was depressed, alcoholic/addict, working all the time, emotionally unavailable or unsafe). Our unconscious tries to overcompensate, insulate or create an external sense of safety or control through our food choices and physical body.

Always eating out, rushing through or skipping meals, watching TV during meals or choosing unhealthy foods sends a message that you are not worth the time and effort to slow down, nourish, nurture and listen to your body and your deepest needs.

Focusing on your relationship with food builds a sense of safety, trust and connectedness. Your arms and hands are a horizontal extension of your heart center (chakra). When you prepare a meal for yourself, you literally infuse loving energy from your heart into the food you eat. Ayurvedic master Bri Maya Tiwari recommends massaging your food with your bare hands as much as possible and focusing on positive thoughts while you cook. Send loving thoughts, pray, chant or play pleasant music while you cook. These vibrations all end up on your plate, in your belly and healing your mind and heart.

Nourishing yourself by preparing your own food and eating consciously can lead to big shifts internally and externally. Start by making a couple of meals for yourself each week. Take time to eat each meal in a ritual space (clean environment, at a table, sitting down) and mindfully savor each bite. Celebrate quality time with family, friends or yourself.

Lovingly preparing food and cooking for yourself will increase feelings of self-worth, inner security, grounding and be a ritual to receive the love you give yourself – the most important love in the world.

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Ashley will be leading a retreat to Galapagos Islands in July 2013 and works with clients worldwide via SKYPE. Ashley is a member of Young Living Essential Oils, so if you’d like to sign up using her as a sponsor or want more info on oils, click here.

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

What is Your “Unlived Life?” It’s Time to Start Living Whole-Heartedly

like a record...The happiest people I know have something in common: they are whole-hearted in how they engage in their lives…whole-hearted in relating with others, in work, in meditation, and in play. They have a capacity to give themselves thoroughly to the present moment.

Yet for many, it’s challenging to engage with this quality of presence. Take this personal ad for example. It says:

Free to a good home, beautiful 6-month old male kitten, orange and caramel tabby, playful, friendly, very affectionate, ideal for family with kids. OR handsome 32-year old husband, personable, funny, good job, but doesn’t like cats. He or the cat goes. Call Jennifer and decide which one you’d like.

How often do we find that in our relationships, rather than loving presence, we have an agenda for someone to change, to be different? How often do we find that our insecurities prevent us from being spontaneous, or whole-heartedly engaged with friends? You might think of one important relationship and ask yourself: “What is between me and feeling fully present when I’m with this person?” Notice the fears creeping in about falling short, the urge to get your needs met, the sense of “not enough time,” the wanting for your experience together to unfold a certain way! This same conditioning plays out in all aspects of living, and it is well grounded in our evolutionary wiring. We need to manage things, to feel in control. We try to avoid disappointments, to prevent things from going wrong.

While we have this strong conditioning, if it runs our life, we miss out. Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence, psychologically, on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.” Unlived life happens in the moments when we’re not whole-hearted, the moments when we’re busy scrambling to get somewhere else, or holding back to avoid what might be painful. Unlived life is the relationships where we really don’t allow ourselves to be intimate with each other, the emotion that we don’t let ourselves acknowledge. Unlived life is that passion we didn’t follow, the adventures we didn’t let ourselves go on. Unlived life, while it happens in an attempt to avoid suffering, actually leads to suffering.

What I’ve noticed in myself, and when I talk with others, is that in order to be completely whole-hearted, there is a need for giving up of control. By letting go of our usual ways of holding back and protecting ourselves, we free ourselves to express our full aliveness, creativity, and love.

If we experiment with this letting go of control—if we engage wholeheartedly with each other and in our activities—our sense of being enlarges. More and more we discover the innate curiosity and care that leads to giving ourselves fully to this moment, and then this one, and again…this one. Rather than racing to the finish line, we choose, with all our heart, to be here for our life.

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)

Enjoy this talk on The Compass of our Hearts-Part1


For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com

Letting Life Live Through Us

Heart

Many years ago, after several years of experiencing a long chronic illness, I attended a six-week Vipassana meditation retreat. Given my struggles with sickness, I looked forward to this time entirely dedicated to sitting and walking
meditation.

I was out of my body and into my mind: “Whoa … I still really feel sick.” OnceThe first few days went smoothly. Yet, towards the end of the week, I started having stomach aches and felt so exhausted I could barely motivate myself to walk to the meditation hall. At this point it was a matter of making peace with discomfort. “Okay,” I figured a bit grudgingly, “I’m here to work with…unpleasant sensations.”

For the next twenty-four hours I noted the heat and cramping in my stomach, the
leaden feeling in my limbs, and tried with some success to experience them with
an accepting attention. But in the days that followed, when the symptoms didn’t
go away, I found myself caught in habitual stories and sinking into a funk of fear,
shame and depression. “Something’s wrong with me … with the way I’m living
my life. I’ll never get better.” And under that, the deep fear: “I’ll never be happy.”
The familiar trance threatened to take over, and I took that as a signal to deepen my
attention.

On a clear and brisk afternoon at the beginning of the second week of retreat, I
took off into the woods and walked until I found a patch of sun. Wrapping myself
in a warm blanket, I sat down and propped myself against a tree. The ground,
covered with leaves, offered a firm, gentle cushion. I suddenly felt at home in
the simplicity of earth, trees, wind, sky, and was resolved to attend to my own
nature—to the changing stream of sensations living through my body.

After taking some moments to release any obvious tension, I did a quick body
scan, and noticed aches and soreness, a sinking feeling of tiredness. In an instant
again I watched my mind contract with the idea that something really was wrong.
Taking a deep breath, I let go of these thoughts about sickness and just experienced
the sheer grip of fear, which felt like thick hard braids of rope, tightening around
my throat and chest. I decided that no matter what experience arose, I was going to
meet it with the attitude of “this too.” I was going to accept everything.

As the minutes passed, I found I was feeling sensations without wishing them
away. I was simply feeling the weight pressing on my throat and chest, feeling

the tight ache in my stomach. The discomfort didn’t disappear, but something

gradually began to shift. My mind no longer felt tight or dull but clearer, focused
and absolutely open. As my attention deepened, I began to perceive the sensations
throughout my body as moving energy—tingling, pulsing, vibrations. Pleasant or
not, it was all the same energy playing through me.

As I noticed feelings and thoughts appear and disappear, it became increasingly
clear that they were just coming and going on their own. Sensations were
appearing out of nowhere and vanishing back into the void. There was no sense
of a self owning them: no “me” feeling the vibrating, pulsing, tingling; no “me”
being oppressed by unpleasant sensations; no “me” generating thoughts or
trying to meditate. Life was just happening, a magical display of appearances.
As every passing experience was accepted with the openness of “this too,” any
sense of boundary or solidity in my body and mind dissolved. Like the weather,
sensations, emotions and thoughts were just moving through the open, empty sky
of awareness.

When I opened my eyes I was stunned by the beauty of the New England fall, the
trees rising tall out of the earth, yellows and reds set against a bright blue sky. The
colors felt like a vibrant sensational part of the life playing through my body. The
sound of the wind appeared and vanished, leaves fluttered towards the ground, a

bird took flight from a nearby branch. The whole world was moving—like the life
within me, nothing was fixed, solid, confined. I knew without a doubt that I was
part of the world.

When I next felt a cramping in my stomach, I could recognize it as simply another
part of the natural world. As I continued paying attention I could feel the arising
and passing aches and pressures inside me as no different from the firmness of
earth, the falling leaves. There was just pain … and it was the earth’s pain.

Each moment we wakefully “let be,” we are home. When we meet life through our bodies with Radical Acceptance, we are the Buddha—the awakened one—beholding the changing steam of sensations, feelings, and thoughts. Everything is alive, the whole world lives inside us. As we let life live through us, we experience the boundless openness of our true nature.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance

Enjoy this talk on Attend and Befriend

For more information visit www.tarabrach.com

Allowing Everything in Radical Acceptance

As I become more plugged into the Intent community and the Law of Attraction community as well, some thoughts and feelings are coming up for me.

It’s about fear. That fear is okay. That all feelings are okay. As a Zen Buddhist, I remember once after a Dharma talk at the SF Zen Center, a woman asked about dealing with her severe depression. The priest spoke to her and simply said, ‘when happiness arises, give it space to be as well’.

Here’s the thing. I speak plainly. Plainly put, I feel an almost oppressive lack of expression of pain, suffering and fear. From my perspective of non-attachment, it is just as uncomfortable for me to hear "happy talk" all the time as it is to hear the continual refrain of fear. The "trance of fear", to quote Tara Brach. We can experience any feeling in a "trance" state. I believe that if we stay aware of that grip of emotion, we can experience all emotions in this and any other forum in a productive and human manner. I cannot live in fear of my fears sending the planet into doom. There’s a favorite song of mine by Dar Williams: The world’s not falling apart (because of me). I find that song so freeing!

So, in our search for healing ourselves, each other and the planet, let’s give ourselves all a break here.

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