Tag Archives: Suffering

The Secret of Life. Pray It Forward.

A photo by David Schap. unsplash.com/photos/W5TJpNKI9c4

All parents are looking for the silver bullet to parenting. We know we need to give our kids continual instruction on honor, truthfulness, integrity, kindness, patience and loving the unlovable. They need to be held accountable for their actions. Learn to restrain their impulses to throw temper tantrums. Be able to resist peer pressure to experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol. But the question remains, “What can we teach our kids that will prepare them for any crisis that is sure to impact them some time in their lives?”

Because there will be days, months even when everything seems lost. When they suffer the inevitable heartbreak. When they fail to make the team. When their friends have deserted them. When they’re rejected by their favorite college. When even God seems far away. And these are just the teen years.

We all know there will often be times in adulthood when money is tight. Jobs are lost. Marriages are rocky. Health is failing. Loved ones leave us. And loneliness collapses souls. Continue reading

Doing the Inner Work for the Outer Work in a Suffering World

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For the last 3 weeks, I participated in an intensive program at Teachers College (Columbia University) for my Masters in Psychology and Spirituality. During 9-hour days, we immersed ourselves in an academic understanding of the inherent spirituality in children, and how spirituality relates to personal healing, education, substance abuse and depression, and communication. The experiential learning included heart based connection, artistic expression, individual and planetary energy healing, Jungian symbol exploration and, of course, lots of meditation and intention setting.

I will be honest – at times I found the experiential exercises excruciatingly annoying. I have been meditating for 35 years, have attended conferences since my teens, and teach about intention and balance at conferences around the world! For me, returning to school at 45 was clear – my intent was to develop a lexicon of theories in spiritual psychology for my public speaking, and potentially future books and projects.

This endeavor was for my mind and my intellect, not my soul.

As we sat, day after day meditating, I found myself getting more irritable. Because, the world continued to happen…

Brexit, stirring fear and uncertainty

Terrorist attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia

The refugee crisis

My friend mourning her husband’s death to cancer

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling

Police shootings in Dallas

Accepting that we had to let go of Cleo, my brother’s dog Continue reading

Finding ‘True Refuge’ in the Face of Loss and Ego

true refugeKim, Seoku Jong, the reporter for the Kyungyang Shinmun, one of Korea’s major daily newspapers, recently interviewed me about my book True Refuge, which is now available in Korean. Since most of my readers won’t be able to read the article in Korean, I wanted to share the interview with you hear.

KSJ: How are you doing? Please tell us what interests you most these days.

TB: My mother, who lives with us, recently went into home hospice care. What interests me is that when we face the truth of mortality—that these lives can pass like a dream, that we will each lose those who are dear—what most matters is love. At the end of our lives, the question that will be central is, “Did I love well?” It’s clear that the more we remember to live this moment, here and now, in a loving, awake way, the more our lives will be truly aligned with our values and our heart.

I’m deeply saddened to be losing my mom – she is a wonderful being, filled with generosity, humor, and kindness. She meditates, as do my siblings, and by being together in the present moment, by loving without holding back, this time of sorrow is also a time of great beauty. This experience is, to me, possible throughout our lives. If we can remember what most matters to us, our lives will be vibrant, creative, loving, and beautiful.

KSJ: The world is full of suffering and it doesn’t seem to end. No one is free from suffering. Your book introduces to readers the moving stories of people who managed to heal themselves despite their wounds, and to a number of meditation methods that can be applied for the liberation from suffering. If you can briefly summarize the essence of True Refuge, what it would be?

TB:While the pain and loss that is part of life will continue, we each have the capacity to free ourselves from the suffering of feeling threatened, separate, or deficient. This becomes possible when we can see past our story of egoic self and contact the deeper truth and fullness of who we really are. The essence of each of us is loving presence – an awareness that is pure, wakeful, and boundless. This is our True Refuge. Those who have healed themselves with meditation have learned to pay attention in a way that has carried them home to loving presence, our true nature.

A key part of finding this True Refuge of loving presence is bringing a kind and mindful attention to all the expressions of our egoic self. We don’t find True Refuge by eliminating the ego; we come home when, like the ocean, we embrace all the waves that arise from our Being. In a very real way, this means embracing the aggression and defensiveness, the insecurities and hurts. What we don’t love controls us. Yet, as we enfold more and more of our experience in acceptance and love, we realize the freedom and vastness of our awakened heart.

KSJ: What is false refuge, and how is it different from True Refuge? And why is it so important to have True Refuge?

Being human is challenging. We’re aware of the dangers we face—rejection, failure, disease, loss, death—and our habit is to try to control whatever we can. A false refuge is a control strategy that might give temporary relief, but in the long run does not serve us. For example, we might overeat to soothe our anxiety or to feel some gratification, but we then feel ashamed or gain unhealthy weight. We might work very hard to prove ourselves worthy, but become overly busy and neglect our loved ones. We might brag or exaggerate to get others approval, but inwardly feel like a fake. All these false refuges actually take us farther from the experience of being at home with ourselves, secure in the essential goodness of who we are.

To be continued…

 

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photo by: DarkAura

The Whale Song: Ancient Healing for Primal Pain

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Sometimes your pain is primal.

Like a a spectrum of dark light that wants to fall on every aspect your being. Wordless turmoil churning inside you, threatening to explode into your life if you can’t contain it, or don’t escape it, or if you fail at keeping it far, far away. At times like this there’s a need for healing. But who can heal a darkness like this?

Who can reach into a darkness so intense that it is winning in those moments – holding you in a space impenetrable to light? In ancient wisdom traditions, for this there is whale song.

Not all saviors of the human condition come in human form. A darkness as primal and as ancient as ours can be met only with a force equally as primal and ancient. For this, there is whale song.

Listen.

They are communicators. Their song is a song of healing. It will dissolve darkness with its perfect frequencies of ancient knowing. You will cry. You will feel a gentle light washing over you. You will feel a restoration happening in your cells.

Gradually, you will feel saved. They are our ancient safe keepers. They are our primal guardians. They come to heal us. They sing for us to remember. For us to rest. For our love to be restored.

They hold the light in the most ancient of dark places. They will release you back to the light.

* * *

Resources:

1. Modern researchers have successfully recorded whale song the world over.

The whale song is constant. We sometimes record song samples twenty four hours a day. The song rarely ceases. Do the whales create this soundscape to give solace to the newborn in the hours of darkness? In the dark of night, in the deep ocean, only the stars and the song bring hope for the dawn.The Ocean Project

2. Click here to play a recording of whale song shared by Sacred Swims & Communication with Humpback Whales on Soundcloud.

3. Try playing whalesong when anxiety surfaces in you. Have a hot shower or bath. Put on relaxing clothes. Light a candle. And lay still. Let the whale song play. Let it wash over you. If you can, let it play as you fall asleep overnight.

Repeat at least 3-4 times a week.

 

Photo credit: Facebook

Originally published on my website, The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spirituality

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.

Brave Teenager’s Manifesto on Depression and Why We Need to Talk About It

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Kevin Breel has been living two lives for years. In one, he’s a smart, accomplished young man with friends and family who love him. In the other, he is someone who suffers from depression, and has for the better part of six years.

This may come as a shock, Kevin says, to the people who know him. After all, on the surface his life is great. Everything is fine; everything is going well. But underneath the surface, he “struggles intensely” with a condition that many of us know all to well and yet no one wants to talk about. Why is this?

Depression is stigmatized in our culture, Kevin says, and yet it is a massive issue. According to the World Health Organization, one person in the world dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Worldwide suicide rates have increased 60% in the last 45 years, and it is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24. On top of that, suicide attempts are 20 times more frequent than actual suicides, which means there is a staggering number of people in the world who are hurting, suffering, and desperately needing help.

Kevin uses a powerful analogy: When you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast. When you say you’re depressed, everyone runs in the other direction. This has created a world in which we don’t understand mental health, we don’t understand our emotions, and we certainly don’t understand depression. Watch Kevin’s poignant TEDx talk:

In order to heal our hearts and our communities, Kevin entreats that we speak up, speak out, and learn to love ourselves. In the spirit of Suicide Prevention week, let’s not waste a minute to reach out to our fellow humans and spread the love.

Have you or someone you know suffered from depression? We would be honored for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Don’t give your power away.

take-responsibility

 When I say: “pain offers understanding, suffering happens when we lose ourselves in pain” do you think I am blaming suffering on people’s attitude towards pain?

Some do.

I don’t.

 I do not blame anyone for suffering, but – and this is a very big “but” – I do believe everyone is responsible for it. Everyone who suffers. Everyone who is in pain.

Why do I say that? Is it because I am a cold-hearted, apodictic bitch devoid of empathy and without an ounce of compassion? Possibly, but even if that’s the case, still there is more. There is that it is by taking full responsibility for the pain, the suffering, that we achieve the power and the freedom to heal it.

As long as the pain is something that happens to us, that has been done to us by others (whether other humans, faith, destiny, God) there is little we can do to change it.

And yes, sometimes the pain is overwhelming and sometimes it is excruciating and sometimes it is unbearable and even so – what’s so is what’s so. I can only heal and transform that which is mine to heal and transform.

Before I can affect it – I have to claim it. As mine.

Deepak Chopra: How Do We Relieve Existential Suffering?

We’ve all experienced the fear and pain that can come from considering our own demise. What is the meaning of life, and how do we rise above the uncertainty of it all? In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra discusses suffering related to our sense of identity in relation to the world – also known as existential suffering.

Does existential suffering arise from awareness of our mortality? What are the causes and how can we remedy this type of suffering? Looking at Vedantic traditions, Deepak’s list of five reasons that lead to existential suffering can be overcome by understanding that our fear is largely a projection of consciousness. True consciousness is an infinite field of creativity, much grander than the confines of our projected reality.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Find Out What You Want – Step #9

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 “Why does God allow children to suffer and die?” read the question.

To which I answered:

“Because God sees death as a beautiful transition, not a horrific disaster.”

And he responded: “Every torturer sees someone else’s torture and death as beautiful.”

And what did I say to that? I said this:

“What if death is actually quite beautiful, and the habitual terror of it blinds humans to that fact?”

You did, I am sure, notice that I did not speak to the suffering. Though maybe I should have … maybe I should have said that suffering is when we deny, refuse, and resist that which we are: nature, god, life, death…

Isn’t it?

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

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