Category Archives: Compassion-Self-Others

Blog: Discovering the Gold – Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion



Discovering the Gold: Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion

I remember when I was on a book tour for Radical Acceptance, one of the places I stopped was the Buddhist university, Naropa. They had a big poster with a big picture of me and, underneath the photo, the caption was: Something is wrong with me.

The Trance of Unworthiness: Forgetting Who We Are

I wrote about the Trance of Unworthiness in Radical Acceptance 14 years ago, and I’ve found, over the years, that it is still pretty much the most pervasive expression of emotional pain that I encounter in myself and in those I’ve worked with. It comes out as fear or shame —  a feeling of being flawed, unacceptable, not enough. Who I am is not okay.

A core teaching of the Buddha is that we suffer because we forget who we really are. We forget the essence — the awareness and the love that’s here — and we become caught in an identity that’s less than who we are.

When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. We can never really relax. Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.

Space Suit Strategies: How We Manage in a World of Severed Belonging

Entering this world is difficult. Due to their own wounds and fears, a lack of attunement from caregivers is common. Depending on severity, this can create a core wounding of severed belonging: if I am not enough or if I fail, I won’t belong anymore. It starts early, and we internalize the messages relayed through our families: Here is how you need to be to be respected and/or loved.

In order to navigate this difficult environment, we don spacesuits — our ego survival strategies — to make it through. The suffering is that we become identified with the spacesuit and forget who is looking through the mask. We forget the tender heart that longs to love without holding back.

The sense of unworthiness gets dramatically amplified depending on our culture. Western culture is very individualistic and there’s not an innate sense of belonging. Fear of failure is really big. Every step of the way, we have to compete and prove ourselves and we have a profound fear of falling short. Messages of being inferior are particularly toxic for non-dominant populations. In different degrees, for those that don’t fit the dominant culture’s standards, there is an accentuated sense of not being enough.

So, we all develop our “space suit” strategies to manage ourselves so that we will “belong.” You probably know the ways you go about getting other people to pay attention, or to love you, or to respect you. For many of us it’s striving and accomplishing and proving ourselves. For some, there’s a habitual busyness. For others, there are addictive behaviors that numb and soothe the feelings.

The Golden Buddha: Remembering Our True Nature

One of the stories I’ve always loved took place in Asia. There’s a huge statue of the Buddha. It was a plaster and clay statue, not a handsome statue, but people loved it for its staying power. A number of years ago, there was a long dry period and a crack appeared in the statue. So the monks brought their little pen flashlights to look inside the crack — just thought they might find out something about the infrastructure. When they shined the light in, what shined out was a flash of gold — and every crack they looked into, they saw that same shining. So they dismantled the plaster and clay, which turned out to be just a covering, and found that it was the largest pure solid gold statue of the Buddha in all of southeast Asia.

The monks believed that the statue had been covered with plaster and clay to protect it through difficult years, much in the same way that we put on that space suit to protect ourselves from injury and hurt. What’s sad is that we forget the gold and we start believing we’re the covering — the egoic, defensive, managing self. We forget who is here. So you might think of the essence of the spiritual path as a remembering — reconnecting with the gold . . . the essential mystery of awareness.

Radical Acceptance: Awakening from the Trance of Unworthiness

The practice of meditation, or coming into presence, is described as having two wings. The wing of mindfulness allows us to see what is actually happening in the present moment without judgement. The other wing is heartfulness or love — holding what we see with tenderness and compassion. You might think of it as two questions: What is happening right now? and Can I be with this and regard it with kindness? These are the two wings that we cultivate to be able to wake up out of the trance of unworthiness — out of the spacesuit self — and sense that gold that’s shining through.

I’d like to invite you to take a moment to check in and just to feel into the inquiry: Is there anything, right this moment, between me and feeling at home in myself, at home in who I am? What is here, right now? Can I be with this? Can I regard this with kindness?

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Adapted from: Radical Acceptance Revisited – a talk given by Tara Brach on August 12, 2015



Radical Compassion – Part 2 ~


Radical Compassion – Part 2 –

Compassion is the medicine we most need as individuals and a species to heal suffering and free our spirits. The essence of compassion for ourselves and others – what I call Radical Compassion – has three key elements: it is an embodied experience (a felt sense of tenderness), it is inclusive all beings, and it naturally moves us to act from a caring heart. This two-part talk explores the alchemy of Radical Compassion and guides us in awakening this intrinsic expression of our evolutionary potential.

image: Sonnenstrahl/Pixabay.com


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Radical Compassion – Part 1 (retreat talk)



Radical Compassion – Part 1 –

  CC   ~ Compassion is the medicine we most need as individuals and a species to heal suffering and free our spirits. The essence of compassion for ourselves and others – what I call Radical Compassion – has three key elements: it is an embodied experience (a felt sense of tenderness), it is inclusive all beings, and it naturally moves us to act from a caring heart. This two-part talk explores the alchemy of Radical Compassion and guides us in awakening this intrinsic expression of our evolutionary potential.

  • talk given on 4/30/2017 at the IMCW Spring Retreat

image: pexels.com


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Your Awake Heart Is Calling You


Your Awake Heart Is Calling You ~

As individuals and societies, we are pulled by both the insecurity of our evolutionary past, and by our awake heart, our capacity for mindfulness and compassion. This talk explores the ways we can listen to and respond to the call of our awake heart, by training ourselves to open to vulnerability (our own and others) and widen the circles of compassion.


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Meditation: The RAIN of Compassion (34:54 min) (from retreat)



This new version of the acronym RAIN is a powerful way of bringing compassion to the life within you, and to attuning and deepening compassion for others.  Given at the 2015 IMCW New Year’s retreat, it is a “guided heart” practice and includes instruction.

photo: Jon McRay – Facebook.com/nikographer


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The RAIN of Self-Compassion



This talk explores three key features of the trance of unworthiness and introduces a guided meditation based on the acronym RAIN that awakens self-compassion and de-conditions the suffering of being at war with ourselves.

Listen to Meditation: The RAIN of Self-Compassion included at the end of this talk.

Please visit www.tarabrach.com/selfcompassion1/ for a written description of the RAIN practice.

Note: poem, “She Dreamed of Cows” is by Norah Pollard.


More Resources on RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture

 

photo credit: Jon McRay


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Freeing Ourselves by Loving Ourselves (retreat talk)



In this human realm, healing and spiritual realization are rooted in awakening a love for the life that is here. This talk looks at our habit of feeling we should be different than we are, and the ways that mindfulness and self-compassion help enable us to not only embrace our inner life, but bring genuine healing to others.


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Loving Yourself into Freedom (Retreat Talk)



The most basic truths we forget, and one is this: if we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love life. In the most basic way, attending to and embracing our inner life reveals the nature of reality. This talk looks at the genesis of self-aversions and several pathways that open us to the loving presence that is our source. (from 2015 IMCW Spring Retreat)


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Blog: Reaching Out For Compassion



At 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.

Photo by: Wonderlane
© Tara Brach

Enjoy this talk on Cultivating Compassion 

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Blog: From Self-judgment to Compassion



We were three days into a weeklong meditation retreat when one of my students, Daniel, came in to see me for his first interview. He plopped down in the chair across from me, and immediately pronounced himself The Most Judgmental Person In The World.

“Whatever I’m thinking or feeling when I meditate … I end up finding something wrong with it. During walking practice or eating, I start thinking I should be doing it better, more mindfully. When I’m doing the loving-kindness meditation, my heart feels like a cold stone.” Whenever Daniel’s back hurt while he was sitting, or whenever he got lost in thought, he’d rail at himself for being a hopeless meditator.

He confessed that he even felt awkward coming in for our interview, afraid he’d be wasting my time. While others weren’t exempt from his barrage of hostility, most of it was directed at himself. “I know that Buddhist teachings are based on being compassionate” he said bitterly, “but it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever rub off on me.”

Like Daniel, being hard on ourselves is familiar to many of us. We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment. Yet, when we push away parts of ourselves, we only dig ourselves deeper into the trance of unworthiness.

Whenever we’re trapped in self-judgment, like Daniel, our first and wisest step towards freedom is to develop compassion for ourselves. If we’ve injured someone and are embroiled in guilt and self-recrimination, compassion for ourselves allows us to find a wise and healing way to make amends. If we’re drowning in grief or sorrow, arousing compassion helps us remember the love and connection in our life. Rather than pushing them away, we free ourselves by holding our hurting places with the unconditional tenderness of compassion.

When I asked Daniel how long he’d been so harsh on himself, he paused for several moments. “For as long as I can remember,” he said. From an early age, he’d joined his mother in relentlessly badgering himself, ignoring the hurt in his heart. As an adult, he’d treated his heart and body with impatience and irritation. Even in the face of a tormenting divorce and a long bout of chronic back pain, Daniel hadn’t been able to acknowledge the intensity of his suffering. Instead, he’d criticized himself for having screwed up the marriage, for not having the sense to take proper care of himself.

I asked Daniel to tell me what happened in his body when he was judging himself so harshly, and he immediately pointed to his heart, saying it felt bound by tight metal cords. I asked if he could feel that right in this moment. To his surprise, Daniel heard himself saying, “You know, this really hurts.” I then gently asked him how he felt about this aching. “Sad,” he responded softly, his eyes welling up with tears.  “It’s hard to believe I’ve been carrying this much pain for so long.”

I suggested he put his hand on his heart, on the place where he most felt the most discomfort, then asked if he might send a message to the pain: “How would it feel for you to say, ‘I care about this suffering’?” Daniel glanced at me, then looked down again: “Strange, I think.” I encouraged him to give it a try by whispering the words softly. As he did, repeating the phrase slowly two more times, Daniel’s shoulders began to shake with quiet sobbing.

Like Daniel, offering ourselves such care might feel strange and unfamiliar—or even downright embarrassing—at first. It might trigger a sense of shame about being needy, undeserving, or self-indulgent. But the truth is that this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.

Over the next few days, whenever Daniel became aware of judging himself or others, he’d check in with his body to see where he was feeling pain. Usually he’d find his throat, heart, and stomach tightened in fear, his chest heavy and sore. With a very gentle touch, Daniel would place his hand on his heart and say, “I care about this suffering.” Because he was sitting in the front of the meditation hall, I noticed his hand was almost permanently resting there.

One afternoon, Daniel came to tell me about something that had happened earlier that day. During meditation, a scene had arisen in his mind of being at his mother’s house, engaged in an angry exchange with her. As he tried to explain why it wasn’t irresponsible for him to take a week off to meditate, he could hear her disdainful reply: “You lazy bum, why don’t you do something worthwhile with yourself.”

This was the same sort of demeaning message that in his youth had made him want to shrivel up and disappear. He felt his chest filling with the heat and pressure of rage, and in his mind heard himself shouting, “You bitch, you don’t understand! You’ve never understood. Can’t you just shut up for one minute and see who I am!!”

The pain of anger and frustration was like a knife stabbing his heart, and he was about to launch into a familiar diatribe at himself for being such a wimp, for not standing up to her, for being a meditator filled with such hatred. Instead, he placed both hands on his heart and whispered over and over, “I care about this suffering. May I be free from suffering.”

After a few minutes, the stabbing anger subsided. In its place, he could feel warmth spreading through his chest, a softening and opening around his heart. Feeling as if the vulnerable part of him was listening and taking comfort, Daniel said, “I’m not leaving you. I’m here, and I care.” Throughout the rest of the retreat, Daniel practiced like this, and some of the most painful knots—the wounds of his young, anguished self—slowly began to release.

When he came in for his final interview, Daniel’s whole countenance was transformed. His edges had softened, his body was relaxed, his eyes bright. In contrast to his former awkwardness, Daniel seemed glad to be with me, and told me that while the judgments and self-blame had continued some, they were not so unrelentingly cruel.

No longer imprisoned by constantly feeling like something was wrong with him, Daniel was beginning to notice the world in new ways—other students seemed more friendly; the acres of forest were an inviting, magical sanctuary; the dharma talks stirred up a childlike fascination and wonder. He felt energized and somewhat bewildered by the fresh sense of possibility in his life. By holding himself with a compassionate presence, Daniel was becoming free to participate more fully in his world.

Like Daniel, whenever we’ve become addicted to judging and mistrusting ourselves, any sincere gesture of care to the wounded places can bring about radical transformation. Our suffering then becomes a gateway to the compassion that can free our heart. When we become the holder of our own sorrows, our old roles as judge, adversary, or victim are no longer being fueled. In their place we find not a new role, but a courageous openness, and a capacity for genuine tenderness—not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003)

Enjoy this talk on: Cultivating Compassion

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