Tag Archives: compassion

‘Basic Elements of Meditation Practice,’ More Incredible AudioDharma Teachings from Tara Brach

                                                                                                                                                   Tara Brach

Yes, I am writing about Tara Brach again.  Her teachings have been having a huge impact on me.  I started this blog as a place to share things that I believe have the power to change the quality of peoples’ lives, specifically in the arena of health.  From a holistic perspective our mental and physical health are inseparable, both spheres affecting one another.  When something like Mindfulness Meditation begins to have a positive effect on one’s life they can’t help but want to share it with as many people as possible.

One of the biggest things stopping people from receiving the benefits of meditation is a misunderstanding of the goal.  The idea isn’t to clear your mind or completely stop thought, but to accept what is happening in your mind at the given moment, without judgement, attachment, or aversion.  The ups and downs of life are inevitable and this ability to accept can greatly improve the way we face these undulations.  Few can explain the subtleties of this to a Western audience better than Tara Brach.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

In February she released a two-part series on her podcast called ‘Basic Elements of Meditation Practice.’  The teachings are nice for people who want to start meditating, but have had trouble getting started, while at the same time they are useful for those looking to go deeper into their own understanding.  The lectures show us that meditation doesn’t have to be complicated and should never be difficult.  Often times the quality of intention is what counts, viewing it as something you look forward too, rather than a chore or another thing we should be doing. She expounds on the importance of consistency over length of session, especially when getting started.  She beautifully relates this to the cycles of nature and how coming back each and every day creates a rhythm, even if it’s just sitting on the cushion for a few minutes when we wake up or before we go to bed.  I can’t recommend this series enough to anyone interested in simple, easy-to-follow guidance.  I will close with a poem Brach shares at the end of Part 2.  Namaste.

Peace is This Moment Without Judgment

“Do you think peace requires an end to war?
Or tigers eating only vegetables?
Does peace require an absence from
your boss, your spouse, yourself? …
Do you think peace will come some other place than here?
Some other time than Now?
In some other heart than yours?

Peace is this moment without judgment.
That is all. This moment in the Heart-space
where everything that is is welcome.
Peace is this moment without thinking
that it should be some other way,
that you should feel some other thing,
that your life should unfold according to your plans.

Peace is this moment without judgment,
this moment in the heart-space where
everything that is is welcome. ”
-Dorothy Hunt

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Compassion, Forgiveness, and a Case for the Usefulness of Scripture When Viewed as Metaphor

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Although I don’t adhere to a particular religion, I deeply appreciate lessons gleaned from the study of religious texts and their application to modern life. Without this formation, I am not sure how I would have dealt with an unfortunate scene I witnessed one day last month. After seeing a mob-sized crowd belittle a small group of gypsy beggars I found myself feeling angry and helpless at the same time, full of disgust for what humans are capable of at times. It was the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha that helped bring me back to center, back to homeostasis and balance.

Joseph Campbell approached each religion as if he were studying mythology, rather than fact. It allowed him to view the teachings as metaphors he could apply to his own life and teach others how to use in their own, rather than a set of rules imposed upon us as an inescapable obligation. In The Power of Myth he states:

“In the study of comparative mythology, we compare the images in one system with the images in another, and both become illuminated because one will accent and give clear expression to one aspect of meaning, and another to another. They clarify each other.

When I started teaching comparative mythology, I was afraid I might destroy my students’ religious beliefs, but what I found was just the opposite. Religious traditions, which didn’t mean very much to them, but which were the ones their parents had given them, suddenly became illuminated in a new way when we compared them with other tradition, where similar images had been given a more inward or spiritual interpretation.

I had Christian students, Jewish students, Buddhist students, a couple of Zoroastrian students – they all had this experience. There’s no danger in interpreting the symbols of a religious system and calling them metaphors instead of facts. What that does is to turn them into messages for your own inward experience and life. The system suddenly becomes a personal experience.”

Liverpool football club was in town to play against Real Madrid. As I walked home through the historic center I heard groups singing football songs and smiled, as I always enjoy the camaraderie the fans share amongst themselves. My smile and feelings of good cheer faded as I made my way into Plaza Mayor. The scene reminded me of a medieval hanging, but rather than gathering around the gallows the jeering crowd had encircled a group of gypsy woman. They laughed and hollered as they threw coins at the woman and watched them scramble to collect them, sometimes falling over one another in an attempt to get the coin first. They threw empty beer cans at the women and sprayed beer and one fellow even circled around them swinging a towel over his head as if he were herding farm animals.

The British tourist were treating these women like subhumans, while in my eyes of the moment they were the ones who looked like pigs. I grew more upset once I noticed how many people were filming the “spectacle” as if it were something they could share and laugh about later, boosting their own egos. To make matters worse, there were fathers with their children joining in. When I could no longer contain my anger I entered the circle and turned towards the section of the crowd closest to me. I shouted, asking how they could be filming such a thing and that the whole thing was a disgrace. I was met with furious stares and told to “shut the fuck up.” Where does that kind of hate come from?

Seething with negative emotions, I walked home. I thought about everything I had ever learned about Jesus and his limitless capacity for forgiveness as I struggled to forgive this mob. I considered how even Buddhist teachers often turn to Jesus as an example for compassion, recalling S. Goenka’s lectures from a Vipassana course I had attended. As I began to calm down a little bit I looked for forgiveness in my heart and found some, but it certainly wasn’t limitless. How could Jesus forgive those who crucified him even as they committed the act? It was clear I had to dive deep into my heart and search for some morsel of understanding before I could forgive and move on with peace of mind.

Luckily, that very afternoon I came across an article from an old issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. The article was “The Four Aspects of Love,” by Thicht Nhat Hanh, but what stuck with me was a story about the author from Karen Bouris’s introduction:

Twenty years ago, the Rodney King riots had just exploded in Los Angeles, and the image of a fallen man being beaten by police replayed itself over and over on television sets everywhere. That same week, I went to a talk at the Berkeley Community Theatre featuring Thich Nhat Hanh.

The auditorium filled with thousands of people as this small man in robes, little known to me at the time, took the stage. He immediately started talking about the newsthe beating, the riots, the events in Los Angeles that were triggering anger around the world. He spoke about his sadness for the beaten man. And then he spoke about his even greater sadness for the men doing the beatingthe rage they must have had inside and the deep suffering that would cause them to act out in this way. You could hear a pin drop as the audience took in his words, his understanding, and his compassion for every person in this struggle.” See more at: http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/four-aspects-love#sthash.2TAYAhaE.dpuf

Suddenly it clicked and I had a deeper understanding of where the hate I watched unfold that afternoon has come from. It was the same hate that stemmed from the “deep suffering” of the men dealing the beatings in the Rodney King riots, the same hate that always seems to grow from an inner wound only to express itself in some heartless way. In my own heart I felt some piece of the boundless forgiveness Jesus bestowed upon the world and the compassion that Buddha’s dharma teaches. The forgiveness archetype that runs through all of the world’s myths and religions in various shapes in forms. In appreciation for the peace it brought me I radiated that love to the young man who looked the angriest and shouted with the most rage, the voice and the image that had affected me the most.