Our suffering arises from fear-based stories that are often outside our awareness. These include stories of our deficiency or importance, of being a victim, of being unseen or unloved, of facing failure or rejection. This is true collectively too. We have shared stories of bad “others” that fuel wars, shared stories of the value of continued growth in consumption and production that destroy our earth, shared stories of our human right to enslave and violate other animals. We have the capacity to bring the stories that separate and imprison us into the light of awareness, and with great compassion, loosen their grip. These two talks look at the ways fear-based stories create suffering, and how awakening from them reveals the freedom of our true, and universal, belonging.
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?
Happiness Is Possible: De-conditioning the Negativity Bias – Part 2 ~
There is an inner freedom that expresses as happiness and peace, and it is accessible when we arrive in openhearted presence. As the Buddha said, “If it were not possible to find liberation, I would not teach about it.” In this two part talk, we will look at the conditioning that blocks happiness and two primary pathways of practice that evolve our consciousness and free our hearts.
“We rarely pause when we see something that’s delicious or beautiful or that brings up wonder. We barely pause and just take it in. We really don’t pause much, which is really the essence of savoring…”
The Reality of Change: Embracing this Living Dying World ~
“What is it that allows us to open our hearts to every moment of our life? It’s the remembrance that it’s passing and it’s precious.”
Our true refuge is reality – only by opening to “things as they are” do we find true peace and freedom. This talk explores impermanence – a key feature of reality. We look at our habits of resisting change – including loss and death, the practices that awaken and open us, and the gifts of letting go into the ever-changing river of experience.
The pathway to our awakened heart includes deep recognition of our barriers to love, and as we open, the courage to express our love. This talk includes a reflection and practice that can support us in inhabiting our full capacity for loving presence.
CC ~ Most of us have encountered trauma either in our own direct experience or with someone in our immediate circle. This talk examines the shame and suffering that arise from trauma and how meditation practices can support a path to full spiritual healing. We focus on practices that help us access a sense of love and safety, and then increase our capacity to bring presence to the unprocessed, unlived life in the body. (Note: For many who suffer from PTSD, therapy is invaluable and these practices are not considered as a substitute.)
Listening is more than a communications skill, it is a capacity that awakens our awareness. As we learn to listen inwardly, we begin to understand and care for the life that is here. And as we listen to others, that same intimacy emerges. In this two-part series we examine the blocks to listening and the practices that cultivate this essential domain of human potential. Our focus is both on the transformational power of listening in our personal lives, and also the necessity for deep listening if we are to bring healing to our wider society.
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.
A blessing is whatever reminds us of the sacred loving presence that shines through all of us. This meditation is a transformational practice in receiving and offering blessings. First we connect with the vulnerable tender place within us that longs to feel loved, and call on loving presence to bless us. By imagining and allowing ourselves to receive love, our hearts become open and filled with light. We then bring that inner loving presence fully alive as we offer blessings to other beings. The image of receiving a kiss on the brow, and offering one, is suggested as a powerful channel for the blessings that awaken our heart. (from the end of Bodhichitta – the Awakened Heart – Part 1 talk on same evening)
“…being loved into being more who we are is a moment of blessing. What is a blessing? A blessing is a reminder or homecoming into more realness – more love. We’re blessed when we remember.”
“Part of what keeps us from realness – in that small self identity – is the avoiding of what’s here.”