Tag Archives: true refuge

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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Tara Brach: Loosening the Grip of Core and Limiting Beliefs

I’ve gotten free of that ignorant fist that was pinching and twisting my secret self.
The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
— Rumi

Our core beliefs are often based on our earliest and most potent fears—we construct our strongest assumptions and conclusions about life from them. This conditioning is in service of survival. Our brains are designed to anticipate the future based on the past; if something bad happened once, it can happen again.

Our brains are also biased to encode most strongly the memories of experiences that are accompanied by feelings of endangerment. This is why even a few failures can instill feelings of helplessness and deficiency, which many later successes may not be able to undo. As the saying goes, “Our memories are Velcro for painful experiences and Teflon for pleasant ones!” We are very inclined toward building our core beliefs out of experiences of hurt and fear, and holding on to them (and the underlying fears) for dear life.

Imagine that you are a child trying to get your mother’s attention: You want her to look at your drawing, to get you a drink, to play a game with you. While she sometimes responds to your needs, at other times she explodes in anger at being disturbed. She yells at you to leave her alone and threatens to spank you.

Years later, you may not remember most of these incidents, but your brain registered her anger and rejection, and your hurt and fear. Over time, these encoded memories may constellate into negative beliefs about yourself and what you can expect from others: “I’m too needy . . . people won’t love me”; “If I bother someone, I’ll get punished”; or “Nobody really wants to spend time with me.”

The greater the degree of early life stress or trauma, the greater the conditioning, and the greater the likelihood of deeply entrenched fear-based beliefs. If you grew up in a war zone, your survival fears would ensure that you automatically distinguish between “us” and “them,” and you would easily classify “them” as bad and dangerous. If you were sexually abused as a child, any intimacy might seem dangerous, a setup for abuse. Alternately, you might be drawn to aggressive and domineering people, because the connection feels so familiar or even “safe.”

If you are an African American male, you might believe that you will be seen as inferior, held back no matter how hard you try, or unfairly targeted as a criminal. If you were poor and went hungry, you might believe that there will never be enough, that you will never be secure, no matter how rich you become.

Although they’re rooted in the past, our core beliefs feel current and true. The thoughts and feelings associated with them filter our experience of what is happening right now, and they prime us to respond in a certain way.

The Buddha taught that if your mind is captured by the fear and misunderstanding of limiting beliefs, “trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.” Traditional translations of Buddhist texts speak of the mind as “impure,” but this can be understood as “distorted,” “colored,” or “tainted.” As the Buddha put it, “With our thoughts we make the world.”

If we pay close attention, we can see how our beliefs about ourselves and the world give rise to the very behaviors and events that confirm them. If you believe that nobody will like you, you’ll behave in ways that broadcast your insecurities. When people pull away, your sense of rejection will confirm your belief. If you believe that others are waiting to attack or criticize you, you’ll probably act defensive or aggressive. Then when people push back, your fears will be justified.

We loosen the grip of these beliefs by training ourselves to recognize the fear-thinking in our minds.  In the moments of mindfully noting fear thoughts (you can mentally whisper “fear-thinking”) there is a little space between us and our beliefs. This space gives us the opportunity to discover that the thoughts and underlying beliefs are “real but not true.”  They are real- they are appearing, they come with a very real and painful experience of fear or hurt or shame in our bodies.  But they are interpretations of reality, mental images and sound-bites we have produced that represent the world and entrap us in a confining trance. They are not truth itself.

If, rather than subscribing to beliefs as truth we can connect with the actuality of our present moment experience, we directly weaken this trance. We take refuge in presence by moving our attention from thoughts to the felt sense of our body’s experience. As we rest our attention in our moment to moment experience, our aliveness, intelligence and innate compassion naturally shine through.  Each time we move in this way from fear thoughts to our embodied experience, we are increasingly able to see past the confining stories we tell ourselves about our own unworthiness, badness, unlovableness.  They are real but not true.  With practice, the veil of beliefs that has confined our lives dissolves and our trust in our true nature guides us in living and loving fully.

Adapted from True Refuge (on sale January 2013)

For more information: www.tarabrach.com

Tara Brach: The Radiant Awareness Living Through Us

Sometimes you hear a voice through
the door calling you, as fish out of
water hear the waves, or a hunting
falcon hears the drum’s come back.
This turning toward what you deeply love
saves you …
—Rumi

Soon after his enlightenment, the Buddha set out to share his teachings with others. People were struck by his extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. One man asked him who he was. “Are you a celestial being or a god?” “No,” responded the Buddha. “Are you a saint or sage?” Again the Buddha responded, “No.” “Are you some kind of magician or wizard?” “No,” said the Buddha. “Well then, what are you?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

I often share this story because it is a reminder that what might seem like an extraordinary occurrence—spiritual awakening—is a built-in human capacity. Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha’s birth name) was a human being, not a deity. When Buddhists take refuge in the historical Buddha, whose name literally means “one who is awake,” they are drawing on the inspiration of a fellow human who was able to realize his inner freedom.

Like us, Siddhartha experienced bodily pain and disease, and, like us, he encountered inner distress and conflict. For those who follow the Buddha, reflecting on his courageous investigation of reality, and his awakening to a timeless and compassionate presence, brings confidence that this same potential lies within each of us.

In a similar way we might reflect on Jesus or on teachers and healers from other traditions. Any spiritually mature, openhearted human being helps us trust that we too can awaken. You may have already touched upon this outer refuge with a caring and wise teacher or mentor.

My eighty-six-year-old aunt, a specialist in childhood blood diseases, traces her love of nature and her determination to be a doctor to a science class in junior high school. Very few women entered medical school at that time, but her teacher, a woman of passionate intellect,conveyed a pivotal message: “Trust your intelligence and let your curiosity shine!”

An African American friend who leads corporate diversity trainings found refuge and inspiration in his minister, a leader in the civil rights movement and an exemplar of generosity, humor, and wisdom.

I found refuge in my first meditation teacher, Stephen: His great love of meditating, and his own unfolding clarity and kindness, helped awaken my devotion to the spiritual path.

We respond to our mentors because they speak to qualities of heart and mind, qualities of awareness, that are already within us. Their gift is that they remind us of what is possible and call it forth. Much in the same way, we are drawn to spiritual figures that help connect us with our inner goodness.

About ten years ago I began experimenting with a simple self-guided meditation. I would call on the presence of the divine mother (the sacred feminine) and over the next minute or so, I would begin to sense a radiant openness surrounding me. As I imagined the mind of this awakened being, I could sense vastness and lucidity.

Then, as I imagined the heart of the divine mother, that openness filled with warmth and sensitivity. Finally, I’d direct my attention inward, to see how that tender, radiant, all-inclusive awareness was living inside me. I’d feel my body, heart, and mind light up as if the sunlit sky was suffusing every cell of my body and shining through the spaces between the cells.

I’ve come to see that through thismeditation, I was exploring the movement from outer refuge to inner refuge.By regularly contacting these facets of sacred presence within me, I was deepening my faith in my own essential being.

Realizing who we are fulfills our human potential. We intuit that we are more mysterious and vast than the small self we experience through our stories and changing emotions. As we learn to attend directly to our own awareness, we discover the timeless and wakeful space of our true nature.

This is the great gift of following a spiritual path: coming to trust that you can find a way to the true refuge of your own loving awareness, your own perfect Buddha nature. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you already are.

Adapted from Tara’s upcoming book, True Refuge – Finding Peace and Freedom in your Own Awakened Heart (Bantam, Feb, 2013)

For more information on Tara Brach go to: www.tarabrach.com
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