Summary of Radical Acceptance

Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha by Tara Brach

1. The Trance of Unworthiness

We live our world in a trance; inherent in this trance is the belief that no matter how hard we try we are always falling short. This belief of unworthiness goes hand in hand with the alienation we feel from others and life. The belief that we are unworthy makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved. We also assume that our physical sickness or emotional depression is our own fault.

As you go through your day, pause occasionally to ask yourself, “This moment, do I accept myself just as I am?” Without judging yourself, simply become aware of how you are relating to your body, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. As the trance of unworthiness becomes conscious, it begins to lose its power over our lives.

2. Awakening from the Trance

The first step to Radical Acceptance is to recognise when are caught in the habit of judging and constantly trying to control our pain and pleasure.

“How are you relating to the presence of desire?”

Facing the Anguish of Trance

Instead of turning away from the feeling of pain and suffering can you trying and accept yourself for the way you are - even if you believe something is wrong with you?

"May I love and accept myself just as I am."

The Suffering that Leads to Radical Acceptance

Sometimes, hitting a bottom where we have nothing more to lose opens us up.

Common Misunderstandings About Radical Acceptance

  • It's not the same as resignation. The first step to genuine lasting change is acceptance.

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change"

  • Carl Rogers
  • It's not an excuse for withdrawal. Radical Acceptance is drawing attention to both our capabilities and limitations

  • It's not self-indulgence. It doesn't mean we could do or act whatever we feel. Instead it's identifying the motivation behind it.

  • It does not make us passive. It seems to me that that author means to say we don't have to react impulsively but rather to first accept the situation for what it is and then devising a course of action.

  • It doesn't mean accepting a "self". It is accepting the immediate mental and sensory experiences we interpret as self but not the story about a good or bad self.

On the Path of the Buddha

Rather than avoiding the highs and lows of emotion and ridding ourselves of the impure self, we embrace life for what it is - broken, messy, mysterious and vibrantly alive.

3. The Sacred Pause

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal.

Running Away Deepens the Trance

As happens in any addiction, the behaviors we use to keep us from pain only fuel our suffering. Not only do our escape strategies amplify the feeling that something is wrong with us, they stop us from attending to the very parts of ourselves that most need our attention to heal. As Carl Jung states in one of his key insights, the unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering.

When We Stop Running

Like the Buddha, we too can pause and make ourselves available for whatever life is offering us in each moment.

"keep our appointment with life"

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Pausing in the face of Mara

Until we stop our mental busyness, stop our endless activities, we have no way of knowing our actual experience.

During times when our mind is agitated, stop all outward activity and simply pay attention to what we are experience inside us.

Fertile Ground for Wise Action

Pausing opens up a multitude of options to handle stressful situations - like, communicating how we feel to our partner or spouse - instead of reacting with anger.

Precious moments of Freedom

We learn Radical Acceptance by practicing pausing again and again. Natural or purposeful pausing is like a temporary nirvana

“… living things would either die or become insane. Instead, we survive because there are natural periods of coolness, of wholeness and ease. In fact, they last longer than the fires of our grasping and fear. It is this that sustains us.”

Ajahn Buddhadasa

It is in this rest under the bodhi tree that we realize the natural freedom of our heart and awareness.

Choose a time when you are involved in a goal-oriented activity — reading, working on the computer, cleaning, eating — and explore pausing for a moment or two. Begin by discontinuing what you are doing, sitting comfortably and allowing your eyes to close. Take a few deep breaths and with each exhale let go of any worries or thoughts about what you are going to do next; let go of any tightness in the body. Now, notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories? Do you feel pulled to resume your activity? Can you simply allow, for this moment, whatever is happening inside you?

4. Unconditional Friendliness: The Sprit of Radical Acceptance

Nothing is wrong -- whatever is happening is just "real life".

We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness. Instead of turning our jealous thoughts or angry feelings into the enemy, we pay attention in a way that enables us to recognize and touch any experience with care. Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just “real life.” Such unconditional friendliness is the spirit of Radical Acceptance.

Seeing what is true, we hold what is seen with kindness.

The Practices of Inquiry and Naming

I see you, Mara

When we inquire about our experience, our attentions gets engaged and with genuine interest and care, we listen to our heart, body and the mind. It's important to engage with not even the slightest aversion.

“What is asking for acceptance?”

“What wants my attention right now?”

“What is asking for acceptance?”

Naming or mental noting helps recognize the passing flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Naming is not about making the experience go away. Inquiry and Naming helps us wake to the fact that we are suffering.

The Practice of Saying Yes

Say yes to our experience instead of denying them and pushing them away. Saying yes is not the same of approving angry thoughts or harmful impules or external circumstances that can hurt us.

A tiny budy of smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously. ... your smile will bring happiness to you and to those around you.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Saying Yes to our Life

Refer Guided Meditation

5. Coming Home to Our Body

Bringing Radical Acceptance into our life starts at this most basic level—becoming aware of the sensations that are continually taking place in our physical being

Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.

  • Henry David Thoreau

Mindfulness of the body leads to happiness in this life, and the fullness of spiritual awakening.

  • Gautama Buddha

Learning to Inhabit our Bodies

The mind classifies all our experience as one of

a) pleasant b) unpleasant c) neutral

We try to hold on to experiences that are classified as pleasant by our body and try to avoid unpleasant ones.

“deep inside, a part of the mind keeps on reacting. Because with the thought, there’s also a sensation. You must not miss this root.”

  • S.N. Goenka

All our reactions to people, to situations, to thoughts in our mind—are actually reactions to the kind of sensations that are arising in our body. Buddha considered the physical sensations to be the first foundation of mindfulness because they are intrinsic to feelings and thoughts. A central part of our training is to recognize the arising of thoughts and returning to our immediate sensory experience.

Reacting to Pain with Fear

Something is Wrong

Pain is eessentially our body's call to attention; some need immediate attention; other times pain is a reminder to rest up or focus. Pain is neither bad nor wrong. In moments of pain, we believe something is wrong and our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat it.

Traumatic Fear - Dissoaciating from our Body

Neuropsychology tells us that traumatic abuse causes lasting changes by affecting our physiology, nervous system and brain chemistry. Under normal circumstances, we evaluation a situation for as it is. With trauma, this process is short-circuited due to the surge in pain. While there are times in our life we might have had no choice but to contract away from unbearable physical or emotional pain, our healing comes from reconnecting with those places in our body where that pain is stored.

Healing our Wounds

In both Buddhist psychology and Western experiential therapy, this process of experiencing and accepting the changing stream of sensations is central to the alchemy of transformation.While there are times in our life we might have had no choice but to contract away from unbearable physical or emotional pain, our healing comes from reconnecting with those places in our body where that pain is stored.

Letting Life Live Through Us

Experience everything including pain as they are and let it flow through your body.

6. Radical Acceptance of Desire

How are you relating to the presence of desire? It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we are relating to our experience.

the Buddha guided us to relate to desire without getting possessed by it and without resisting it.

What is Desire?

everyone wants to be happy, nobody wants to suffer. Our desire for happiness is, most fundamentally, the desire to exist.

As human beings our desire for happiness focuses on fulfilling our needs. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, our needs range in a hierarchy from basic biological drives to spiritual yearnings. We need security, food and sex; emotional recognition and bonding; mental engagement and creative activity; communion and self-realization. Meeting these needs of body, mind and spirit gives us satisfaction and pleasure; denying them leaves us feeling deprived, frustrated and incomplete. We seek out experiences that enable us to survive, thrive and be fulfilled. The catch is that no matter how gratifying any experience may be, it is bound to change.

Life is Suffering >Existence is inherently dissatisfying.

We are uncomfortable because everything in our life keeps changing—our inner moods, our bodies, our work, the people we love, the world we live in. We can’t hold on to anything—a beautiful sunset, a sweet taste, an intimate moment with a lover, our very existence as the body/mind we call self—because all things come and go. Lacking any permanent satisfaction, we continuously need another injection of fuel, stimulation, reassurance from loved ones, medicine, exercise, and meditation. We are continually driven to become something more, to experience something else.

Our gnawing everyday wants prevent us from relaxing and becoming aware of our deeper yearnings. We perpetually lean into the next moment, hoping it will offer the satisfaction that the present moment does not.

because our desires habitually narrow and fixate on what by nature passes away, we feel “away from our star,” away from the life, awareness and love that is the essence of who we are. Feeling apart from the source of our being, we identify ourselves with our wants and with the ways that we try to satisfy them.

The Emergence of a Wanting Self

We often try to satisfy our emotional needs with the more immediate pleasures of food, alcohol and drugs. When they “work,” these strategies provide immediate gratification through a temporary surge of pleasant sensations. They also numb or cover over the raw pain of shame and fear. But because they don’t genuinely address our needs, our suffering continues and with it our reliance on whatever provides pleasure or relief. Our most regularly used strategies to get what we want also become a defining part of our sense of self. The overeating, the c ompeting, the people pleasing, feel like me. As we immerse ourselves in the life-consuming pursuit of substitutes, we become increasingly alienated from our authentic desires, our deepest longings for love and belonging.

Lost in the Pursuit of Substitutes

Our efforts in pursuit of substitutes preoccupy and distract our attention enough to shield us for a time from the raw sensations of feeling unloved or unworthy. Accomplishing things does temporarily stave off my feelings of inadequacy. Yet underneath, my wanting self urges me on, fearful that without being productive I’ll lose everything

When Addictive Wanting Takes Over Our Life

When desire gets strong, mindfulness goes out the window. However, when we catch ourselves in the act of uncontrolled wanting we hate us even more. This could lead to self-destructive behaviour.

Rejecting the Wanting Self

“We have been raised to fear … our deepest cravings. And the fear of our deepest cravings keeps them suspect, keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, and leads us to settle for … many facets of our own oppression.”

While it is true that withdrawing attention from certain impulses can diminish their strength, the continued desire for simple pleasures — delicious foods, play, entertainment or sexual gratification — need not be embarrassing evidence of being trapped in lower impulses.

If we push away desire, we disconnect from our tenderness and we harden against life.

It's not my fault

Simply recognising that using an addiction to something as a substitute is usually not enough to break the pattern. Forgiving and accepting the wanting self makes it possible to be present by virtue of not focusing on the blame.

Awakening from the wanting self

We are not our wanting self. Pausing long enough to recognise that our identity is not our wanting self we can let go of the blame we place on ourselves for the existence of the wanting self and let it be. (While I can understand what these words mean, I don't exactly see how the wanting self is some version that's distinct from myself. I think I'm responsible for my wanting and desires. According to the Buddha, we are apparently supposed to learn to not identify with our wanting self.)

What we really want

7. Opening our Heart in the Face of Fear

What is Fear?

The basic function of fear is to assure survival. Only in mammals do cognition and memory interact with affect to create the emotion of fear. While is required for survival, sometimes we are also trapped in the trance of fear even when there's no immediate threat.

Caught in the trance of fear

We are caught in the trance of fear when the emotion of fear becomes a core part of our identity and constricts our capacity to live fully.

The safety of belonging with others

Reach out to the basic safety of relationship when we are feeling isolated and terrified.

Taking Refuge: Finding the inner source of safety and belonging

In Buddhism, the three fundamental refuges are

  1. the Buddha (our awakened nature)
  2. the dharma (the path of the way)
  3. the sangha (the community)

"I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the dharma, I take refuge in the sangha"

Meditation and medication

When fear is overwhelming, medication might be the best and the most compassionate response - like insulin for a diabetic.

Widening the lens of attention: making room for fear

Being genuinely awake in the midst of fear requires the willingness to actively contact the sensations of fear. This intentional way of engaging with fear I call “leaning into fear.”

Leaning into fear

Letting go into fear, accepting it, may seem counterintuitive. Yet because fear is an intrinsic part of being alive, resisting it means resisting life. The habit of avoidance seeps into every aspect of our life: It prevents us from loving well, from cherishing beauty within and around us, from being present to the moment. This is why Radical Acceptance of fear is right at the center of our spiritual awakening.

The gift of fear

8. Awakening Compassion For Ourselves: Becoming The Holder And The Held

Having compassion to ourselves is the first step to finding ways to make amends.

In the Buddhist tradition, one who has realized the fullness of compassion and lives from compassion is called a bodhisattva.

Holding ourselves with compassion

When we feel upset, often not until someone cares enough to listen or give us a hug are we able to melt down and cry. When someone says to us, as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, “Darling, I care about your suffering,” a deep healing begins.

Reaching out for compassion

When we feel held by a caring presence, by something larger than our small frightened self, we 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 awaken us to the sweetness of compassion.

Mindful Prayer

When we are suffering and turn to prayer, no matter what the apparent reasons for our pain, the basic cause is always the same: We feel separate and alone. We reach out to be relieved of this pain of isolation.

We are the holders and the held

When we understand our pain as an intrinsic gateway to compassion we begin to awaken from the imprisoning story of a suffering self

When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of the bitterness of resistance our hearts become an edgeless sea of compassion

“Darling I care about this suffering ”

9. Widening the circles of compassion: the Bodhisattva's path

“I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility.”

  • Mahatma Gandhi

Aversion arises because we are deeply conditioned to feel separate and different from others.

We are in this together

Our spiritual awakening is inextricably involved with others. It's important to realize that the needs of others are not very different than our own.

The trance of the unreal others

We are biologically programmed to think in terms of our tribe vs others. We can, however, enlarge our sense of tribe.

Enlarging our tribe: seeing behind appearances

Our aversion/attraction for others need not overrule the fact that, like us, they too suffer and long to be happy.

Living in a world where everyone is real

When the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness,” he is expressing his commitment to live with the unconditionally open and loving heart of compassion. Kindness is a facet of the jewel of compassion. It is the desire to help that arises when we remember that we are connected with every living being we meet. Each person is precious, each person is fragile, each person matters.

When we stop to attend and see others as real, we uncover the hidden bond that exists between all beings.

What do we do when our hearts shut down

Softening our hearts together opened up our circle of compassion—we were real and mattered to each other.

Seeing through each other's eyes

If we ask ourselves when meeting anyone—friend or stranger—“How can I be more kind?” inevitably we will recognize that every being needs to be listened to, loved and understood.

The circle of all beings

When the animals come to us,

Asking for our help,

Will we know what they are saying?

When the plants speak to us

In their delicate, beautiful language,

Will we be able to answer them?

When the planet herself

Sings to us in our dreams,

Will we be able to wake ourselves, and act?

  • Gary Lawless

This is a powerful one.

10. Recognizing Our Basic Goodness: The Gateway To A Forgiving And Loving Heart

This doesn’t mean we can do no wrong. But in sharp contrast to our cultural conditioning as heirs of Adam and Eve, the Buddhist perspective holds that there is no such thing as a sinful or evil person. When we harm ourselves or others, it is not because we are bad but because we are ignorant. To be ignorant is to ignore the truth that we are connected to all of life, and that grasping and hatred create more separation and suffering. To be ignorant is to ignore the purity of awareness and capacity for love that expresses our basic goodness.

When we embrace ourselves and others with Radical Acceptance, we are seeing past the roles, stories and behaviors that obscure our true nature. Seeing the goodness in others begins with seeing the goodness in ourselves. Even when we feel ashamed or depressed, resentful or insecure, we don’t give up on ourselves.

Forgiving Ourselves: Releasing The Blame That Binds Our Heart

I think one of the most powerful message I got from this book is to believe in the fundamental goodness of oneself. We all make mistakes but there's no point in blaming us over and over again. At least for me, I tend to replay over and over something I did - either an action I consider to be stupid or something I said that I shouldn't have. Yes, it's important to be mindful of what we say and do but there's no point in beating us over and over about it. It's my feeling of guilt and shame that makes me not open up to others. The fear that I might say or do something that'll hurt them. It's important to forgive ourselves. It's important to believe that in the fundamental goodness of ourselves.

I told her that some days I need to forgive myself over and over—twenty times, thirty times. I usually don’t use a formal meditation to do so; I simply recognize that I’m judging or disliking myself and bring compassion to the pain I’m feeling. I consciously hold the intention to let go of blame and try to be more kind to myself. Each night before going to sleep, I suggested, she might do a “forgiveness scan,” scanning to see if she was holding anything against herself from the day. She might have made a mistake at work or said something condescending to her husband. If she realized that she was down on herself, she could feel the pain of her self-blame, the fear or anger or shame, and send the message “forgiven, forgiven.” She might also gently remind herself that she was doing the best she could. Forgiving ourselves is a process that continues through our whole life. We are so used to replaying the story of what is wrong with ourselves and others that living with a resentful, tight heart can become our most familiar way of being. Thousands of times we might find ourselves caught in stories of what we are doing wrong. Thousands of times we might drop under our blame to where the deeper pain lives. With each round of freeing ourselves through forgiveness, we strengthen our recognition of our basic goodness. As Amy found, we begin to trust again that we care about life. With time, forgiving ourselves utterly transfigures our life. We all know stories of prisoners on death row who, through honestly facing the suffering they caused, were able to forgive themselves. By opening to the enormity of pain, their hearts became tender and awake. Other inmates, guards, prison chaplains and relatives could recognize the glow of their inner freedom. These prisoners were not letting themselves off the hook. While taking full responsibility for their actions, they were also able to recognize the truth of their basic goodness.

Learning to see our goodness

Every time we betray ourselves by not seeing our goodness, we break our heart.

The blessing of feeling forgiven

feeling forgiven by others can allow us to more deeply forgive ourselves. Another step in the traditional forgiveness practice is offering forgiveness to ourselves. When we have released the painful armor of self-blame by feeling forgiven by ourselves and others, we can then in our meditation sincerely offer forgiveness to others.

Forgiving Others: Not Pushing Anyone Out Of Our Heart

When we forgive, we stop rigidly identifying others by their undesirable behavior. Without denying anything, we open our heart and mind wide enough to see the deeper truth of who they are. We see their goodness. When we do, our hearts naturally open in love.

Seeing The Goodness In Others

While we can of course recognize patterns of behavior in ourselves and others, our collection of assumptions doesn’t define a person. When we stop and ask, “Who are you really?” we are led to a deeper understanding. As I found with Narayan, we see inherent goodness, we see Buddha nature, and invariably we respond with love.

Awakening The Heart Of Lovingkindness

“Lovingkindness, which is freedom of the heart, absorbs them all; it glows, it shines, it blazes forth.”

A Loving And Gentle Heart: The Radiance Of Our True Nature

true.” To me, the divine is the loving awareness that is our source and essence. When we pay careful attention, we see every person as an expression of the love and goodness we cherish. Every being becomes the Beloved. -Thomas Merton

11. Awakening Together: Practicing Radical Acceptance In Relationship

“There is sitting meditation. There is walking meditation. Why not listening and speaking meditation? Isn’t it sensible that one could practice mindfulness in relationship and so get better at it?” -Gregory Kramer

Greg calls his interpersonal meditation practice Insight Dialogue. While engaged in conversation, instead of immediately responding when someone speaks, we pause for a moment, relax our body and mind and mindfully notice what we are experiencing. We might inquire, “What really wants attention?” and notice the feelings and thoughts that are arising. Are we judging or interpreting or commenting on what another person is saying? What sensations are we experiencing in our body? By pausing and paying attention we become acutely aware of our patterns of reaction.

The Challenge And Blessing Of Vulnerability

When we expose our own hurt or fear, we actually give others permission to be more authentic. Fortunately for Anne this is what happened. It’s important to be sensitive to times when others, due to their own anger or confusion, might not be able to understand or respond in such an open way. In exposing vulnerability we are always taking a chance and sometimes might get hurt. What makes us willing is that the greater hurt, the real suffering, is in staying armored and isolated. While it takes courage to be vulnerable, the reward is sweet: We awaken compassion and genuine intimacy in our relationships with others.

The power of radical acceptance

People who join support groups immediately realize that while they are imperfect, they are still lovable.

It is as if Radical Acceptance opens the door of our cage and invites us to move freely in our world.

Walking The Path With Spiritual Friends

We use the word friend so casually that we forget its power and depth. Friendliness is one of the main translations of the Pali word metta or lovingkindness. The love and understanding of a friend, like a deep well of the purest water, refreshes the very source of our being. If all religions and great ideologies disappeared and our one pursuit was friendship—unconditional friendliness with each other, our inner life, all nature—ah, what a world!

Pain Is Not Personal

Just let go of every thought except ‘I am God … You are God.’ -Sri Nisargadatta

By relating to each other with Radical Acceptance, we affirm the truth of who we are.

12. Realizing Our True Nature

We are basically good. It's our true nature. While we may have a profound realization of this at time, we don't always realize this truth

Doubting Our Buddha Nature

Mara then issued his final and most difficult challenge: By what right did Siddhartha aspire to Buddhahood? In other words, “Who do you think you are?” This voice of Mara is the one that urges us to turn against ourselves, to give up the path, convincing us that we are going nowhere. In response to this challenge, Gautama reached down and touched the earth, calling on it to bear witness to his many lifetimes of compassion. In touching the earth, he was also touching the ground of wakeful presence—the heart of perfect wisdom from which all enlightened beings spring. He was calling on his true identity to dispel all the doubt that kept him from complete freedom. According to the legend, at the moment when he touched the ground, the earth trembled and the sky was filled with rumbling. Mara, seeing that he was facing not a man but the creative power of awareness itself, fearfully withdrew.

Seeing Beyond The Self And Letting Go Into Awareness

The Buddha taught that holding on to anything, including a sense of being the observer, obscures the full freedom of awareness.

In a classic Zen story, the disciple Hui-K’e asks his master, Bodhidharma, “Please help me to quiet my mind.” Bodhidharma responds by saying, “Bring me your mind so that I can quiet it.” After a long moment of silence Hui-K’e says, “But I can’t find my mind!” “There,” Bodhidharma replies with a smile. “I have now quieted your mind.”

when we look within, there is no entity, no mind-substance, no self, no thing we can identify. There is just awareness—open empty awareness. We can’t locate any center, nor can we find an edge to our experience. Unless we anchor ourselves again in thoughts, or grasp after desired sensations or feelings, we have nowhere to stand, no firm ground. This can be disconcerting, scary, incredibly mysterious. While there may be a profusion of activity—sounds, sensations, images—there is no thing to hold on to, no self behind the curtain managing things. This seeing of no thing is what the Tibetan teachers call “the supreme seeing.”

But this emptiness, this “no-thingness,” is not empty of life. Rather, empty awareness is full with presence, alive with knowing. The very nature of awareness is cognizance, a continuous knowing of the stream of experience. In this moment that you are reading, sounds are heard, vibration is felt, form and color are seen. This knowing happens instantaneously, spontaneously. Like a sunlit sky, awareness is radiant in cognizance and boundless enough to contain all life. As Jim found, to recognize this pure awareness, we need to relax the veil of stories, thoughts, wants and fears that cover over our natural being. Sri Nisargadatta writes, “The real world is beyond our thoughts and ideas; we see it through the net of our desires divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes.”

We look back into the emptiness that is the creative source of all stories and emotions, into the formless fertile space that gives rise to all of existence. There, we “see the universe as it is.”

Realizing Our Nature As Both Emptiness And Love

“Form is emptiness, emptiness is also form. Emptiness is not other than form, form is not other than emptiness.”

“Seeing pure awareness without engaging lovingly with our life is a daydream. Living in this relative world without vision is a nightmare.”

Yet as this heart-wrenching pain was happening, I also felt a soft presence, a compassionate “being with” my grief. These huge swellings of sadness were held in the space and kindness of awareness. When I asked who was aware, the stream of sore, aching, heavy sensations were appearing and unfolding in a vast and open awareness. As I let go into this wakeful openness, there was no self who owned the grieving and no friend to lose. I was seeing how this acutely vivid display was just happening, like the movement of the wind or the sudden darkening before a storm. Form is emptiness. There was only the tender field of awareness experiencing the arising and passing of life.

The Pathway Home: Stepping Into Unconditional Presence

“Remember these teachings, remember the clear light, the shining light of your own nature. No matter where or how far you wander, the light is only a split second, a half a breath, away. It is never too late to recognize the clear light of your pure awareness.”

Guided Meditations:

Recognizing the trance of unworthiness

Do I accept my body as it is? Do I blame myself when I get sick? Do I feel I am not attractive enough? Am I dissatisfied with how my hair looks? Am I embarrassed about how my face and body are aging? Do I judge myself for being too heavy? Underweight? Not physically fit? Do I accept my mind as it is? Do I judge myself for not being intelligent enough? Humorous? Interesting? Am I critical of myself for having obsessive thoughts? For having a repetitive, boring mind? Am I ashamed of myself for having bad thoughts — mean, judgmental or lusty thoughts? Do I consider myself a bad meditator because my mind is so busy? Do I accept my emotions and moods as they are? Is it okay for me to cry? To feel insecure and vulnerable? Do I condemn myself for getting depressed? Am I ashamed of feeling jealous? Am I critical of myself for being impatient? Irritable? Intolerant? Do I feel that my anger or anxiety is a sign that I am not progressing on the spiritual path? Do I feel I’m a bad person because of ways I behave? Do I hate myself when I act in a self - centered or hurtful way? Am I ashamed of my outbursts of anger? Do I feel disgusted with myself when I eat compulsively? When I smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol? Do I feel that because I am selfish and often do not put others first, I am not spiritually evolved? Do I feel as if I am always falling short in how I relate to my family and friends? Do I feel something is wrong with me because I am not capable of intimacy? Am I down on myself for not accomplishing enough — for not standing out or being special in my work?

Embracing Life With a Smile

Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and let the natural rhythm of the breath help you to relax. Take a few moments to let go of obvious places of tightness and tension. Now, listening to sounds and becoming aware of the space around you, allow the curved image of a smile to appear in your mind. Notice how gentleness, kindness, openness and ease arise with the idea of a smile. Sense the curved relaxed smile fill your mind and extend outward into space. Now imagine a smile at the corner of both eyes and feel the sensations that arise there. Allow your brow to be smooth, the flesh around your eyes to be soft and relaxed. You might sense your eyes floating gently as if in a pool of warm water. Continue to soften and let go through the whole area around the eyes. Can you perceive a relaxed brightness there? Now bring a small but real smile to your lips — the half - smile of the Buddha — and allow the feeling to relax the muscles of your face. Let the jaw be relaxed and loose, and let the tip of the tongue lightly touch the roof of the mouth. Feel now how the eyes are smiling … the mouth is smiling … Bring the image of a smile to your throat and notice what happens. There might be a relaxing and opening. If there is tightness allow it to be held in the sense of the smile. Feel again the corners of your eyes smiling, your mouth smiling, your throat smiling. Let the smile drift down into your chest. Imagine the shape and feeling of a smile spreading through the area of your heart . Whatever feelings might be there, allow them to float in the openness and kindness of a smile. Continuing to relax , sense the smile in your heart sending ripples of ease throughout your body — through the shoulders, along the arms and down into the torso and legs. Can you feel the openness and vibrancy of a smile at the navel, the genitals, the base of the spine? Allow yourself to rest in the spacious and kind awareness that is engendered by a smile. When thoughts, sensations or emotions arise, can you sense how they are held with unconditional friendliness? If your mind wanders or you find yourself tightening, you can gently reestablish the smile in your mind, eyes, mouth and heart

Developing an Embodied Presence

A mindful body scan is a valuable pathway to embodied presence. Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and take several long, deep breaths. Then rest in the natural flow of your breath and allow your body and mind to begin to settle. With a relaxed, open awareness, now begin a gradual and thorough scan of your entire body. Place your attention at the top of your head and without looking for anything in particular, feel the sensations there. Then letting your attention move down, feel the sensations on the back of your head, on either side of your head, through your ears. Notice the sensations through your forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, jaw and mouth. Be as slow and thorough as you like. As you continue the scan, be careful not to use your eyes to direct your attention. ( This will only create tension. ) Rather, connect directly with sensations by feeling the body from within the body. In certain parts of the body it is common to feel numbness or for there to be no noticeable sensations. Let your attention remain in those areas for a few moments in a relaxed and easeful way. You may find that as your attention deepens, when you revisit these places, you become increasingly aware of sensations. Images or thoughts will naturally arise. Notice them passing through and gently return your attention to the sensations. Let your intention be to release all ideas and experience your physical aliveness exactly as it is. Place your attention on the area of your neck and throat, noticing without any judgment whatever sensations you feel. Be aware of each of your shoulders from the inside. Then let your attention move slowly down your arms, feeling the sensations and aliveness there. Bring awareness to your hands, making sure they are resting in an easy and effortless way. Feel each finger from the inside, the palms, the backs of the hands — noticing tingling, pulsing, pressure, warmth or cold. Arrive in the life of your body. Now place your awareness on your chest, exploring the sensations in that whole area. Slowly allow your awareness to sink down into your stomach. With a soft, receptive awareness, take some moments to feel the sensations in your abdomen. Place your attention on your upper back, feeling the sensations in the area around your shoulder blades. Moving down, be aware of the mid - and lower back, and then the entire spinal column. Continuing to let awareness sweep down the body, feel the sensations that arise through the hips, buttocks, genitals. What are the actual sensations that are arising? Move slowly down through the legs, feeling them from within. Explore the sensations in your feet and toes. At the places where your body touches the chair, cushion or floor, feel the sensations of contact, pressure and temperature. Now open your attention to include your body in a comprehensive way. Be aware of the body as a field of changing sensations. Can you sense the subtle energy field that vitalizes and gives life to every cell, every organ in your body? Is there anything in your experience that is solid, unmoving? Is there any center or boundary to the field of sensation? Is there any solid self you can locate that possesses these sensations? What or who is aware of experience? As you rest in awareness of your whole body, if particular sensations call your attention, bring a soft and allowing attention to them. Don’t manage or manipulate your experience, don’t grasp or push anything away. Simply open to the changing dance of sensations, feeling your life from the inside out. If no particular sensations call your attention, remain open to feeling energy simultaneously in all parts of the body. If thoughts carry your attention away, gently note, “ Thinking, thinking, ” and then reconnect with the energetic field of aliveness. Rest in this awareness of your living being, letting life live through you

Radical Acceptance of Pain

We cultivate Radical Acceptance of pain by relaxing our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meeting them with nonreactive awareness. This exercise is especially useful if you are presently distressed by physical pain. Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down. Take a few moments to become still, relaxing with the natural rhythm of the breath. Gently scan through your body, relaxing your brow and jaw, dropping your shoulders and softening through your hands. Try not to create any unnecessary tension in your body. Where is the area of strong discomfort or pain that calls your attention? Bring a receptive attention directly to the unpleasant sensations in that part of your body . Notice what happens as you begin to be present with this pain. Is there an attempt, however subtle, to push the pain away? To cut it off, block it off, pull away? Is there fear? You might notice how the body and mind clench like a fist in an attempt to resist pain. Let your intention be to remain present, allowing the unpleasant sensations to be as they are. Soften any reaction against the pain, allowing the fist of resistance to unclench and open. The more you can connect with open and spacious awareness, the more you will be able to be present with sensations and allow them to unfold naturally. Experience your awareness as the soft space that surrounds the pain and allow the unpleasant sensations to float in this awareness. Resting in this openness, now bring a more precise attention to the changing sensations in the area of pain. What is the experience actually like? Do you feel burning, aching, twisting, throbbing, tearing, stabbing? Does the pain feel like a knot, a constricting band? Does the area feel as if it is being pressed down or crushed by a great weight? Are the unpleasant sensations diffuse or focused in their intensity? How do they change as you observe them? Investigate with a nonreactive, soft attention. Allow the sensations you may feel as a solid block of pain to unfold and move in their natural dance of change. When resistance arises, relax again, reestablishing a sense of openness. Be aware of your entire body, including the areas that aren’t painful. Let the body become like open space, with plenty of room for unpleasant sensations to arise and dissolve, fade and intensify, move and change. No holding, no tension. Inhabit the sea of awareness, and let any painful sensations float in an accepting openness.

Meeting fear

Find a comfortable place to sit where the view is not distracting or confined. You might look out a window or at a blank wall or an uncluttered space in your house. With your eyes open, rest your gaze on a point slightly above your line of sight. Soften your eyes so that they are unfocused and you are also receiving the images on the periphery of your vision. Relax the flesh around your eyes, letting your eyeballs float gently in their sockets. Take a few moments to do a quick scan through your body, releasing any tension, especially in the shoulders, hands and belly . Now with a receptive awareness, begin noticing the arising and disappearing of sounds in the space around you . Spend a minute or two simply listening. Be aware of nearby sounds, noticing their beginnings and endings. Notice the spaces between sounds. Become aware of more far - off sounds, then open to the most distant sounds you can detect . Relax and open into the awareness that includes even the most distant sounds you detect. Sense how everything you perceive — sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, moods — arises and passes away within boundless awareness. Continue with your eyes open, downcast or, if you prefer, closed. Let your attention rest softly on the out - breath, letting go into space with each exhale. Follow each breath as it dissolves outward into open space. Feel that your entire body and mind could follow the out - breath and dissolve into space. Sense that your awareness is mingling with endless space, absolutely open, boundless. As the breath comes in, simply rest in openness, listening and awake, doing nothing. Then again let go outward with the exhale. Inhaling, rest in receptive, spacious awareness . Exhaling, relax into openness. You can meditate with the breath in this way for as long as you like. Now resting in this natural openness, bring to mind a situation that evokes fear. Ask yourself : “ What is the worst part of this situation? What am I really afraid of? ” While your inquiry may arouse a story, if you stay alert to the sensations that arise in your body, the story becomes a gateway to accessing your feelings more fully. Paying particular attention to your throat, chest and stomach area, discover how fear expresses itself in you. You might kindly invite the fear : “ Be as much as you really are. ” Now, as you breathe in, let the breath directly touch the place of most pain and vulnerability. Bring your full attention to the sensations of fear. As you breathe out, sense the openness of space that holds your experience. Feel the fear as if floating and untwisting itself in this openness. What does the fear actually feel like? Where in your body do you feel it most strongly? Do the sensations change or move to different parts of your body? What is their shape? What color, if any? How do you experience fear in your mind? Does it feel contracted? Is your mind racing or confused? With each in - breath, feel your willingness to gently connect with the waves of life that are unpleasant and disturbing. Breathing out, let go and feel how the waves of fear belong to a larger world, an ocean of openness. You can surrender your fear into this vast and tender space of healing. Breathing in, you contact the immediate sensations with a kind and clear attention. Breathing out, you realize your belonging to the boundless awareness that has room for all of life’s fears. If you feel defended or numb , focus on your physical sensations and contact them fully with the in - breath. If you feel as if the fear is “ too much, ” emphasize breathing out — letting go into openness and safety. It can help to begin again by listening to sounds or opening your eyes. You might remember the spaciousness of the world or reflect with compassion on all those who at this moment are also feeling fear. You might bring to mind a person or spiritual figure or place in nature that conveys a sense of safety. Once you feel that you belong to a larger world, again attend to the way that fear expresses through your body and mind. With time, you will discover an artful balancing of touching fear and remembering openness.

Compassionate Prayer

We might begin our prayer by reaching out , and in that way remember the warmth and safety of connectedness. Yet we ground our prayer by reaching inward to the raw feelings of loneliness and fear Like a great tree mindful prayer sinks its roots into the dark depths in order to reach up fully to the light When the pain is deep the more fully we touch it the more fully we release ourselves into boundless compassionate presence

Becoming the holder of suffering

Compassion begins with the capacity to hold your own life with a loving heart. Whenever you’re aware that you are suffering, if you offer yourself care—through attention, words and touch—compassion will naturally awaken. This meditation is especially useful when you are feeling emotional pain. Even if you do not immediately feel compassion for yourself, your willingness alone can reconnect you to your loving heart. Because compassion is intrinsic to your nature, it inevitably flowers. Find a comfortable position and take a few moments to breathe naturally and relax. Turn your attention to the hurt or grief, shame or fear you may be feeling. You might use your breath to deepen your attention to this suffering—breathing in and directly touching the feelings of vulnerability; breathing out and sensing the space of awareness that holds your experience. Invite the painful feelings to express their fullness, allowing them to swell and intensify through your body and mind. Begin offering words of care to the place within you that feels most vulnerable. You might silently say, “May I be free from suffering,” or as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, say to yourself, “Darling, I care about this suffering.” Your prayer might be more specific: “May I be free from fear,” or, “May I feel safe and at peace.” As you continue to offer your caring prayers you might also place your hand on your cheek or your heart, letting the tenderness of your touch express compassion. Be aware of how your heart feels as you offer care to your suffering. Do you feel sincere, open or tender? Or do you feel mechanical, blocked or numb? If you feel distant and disconnected, without any judgment simply affirm your intention to be present and kind and continue offering these gestures of care. If your intention to be compassionate is genuine, with time your heart will naturally soften and open. As you extend care to yourself, notice how the sensations and feelings of emotional pain change. Do they become more intense? Do they begin to subside? Does the emotion you first felt transform into a different one? You may find that embracing yourself with kindness brings up a deep sadness. Whatever you are feeling, hold your pain with the same presence and tenderness you would offer to a beloved and frightened child.

Invoking the Presence of the Beloved

There are times we feel alone and afraid and wish we could curl up in the lap of the Buddha or some other manifestation of love and wisdom. When you long to be held in this way, allow yourself to reconnect with your own awakened heart by first reaching out to whatever you experience as the Beloved, the embodiment of compassion. Sitting comfortably and quietly, take a few full breaths. With a gentle and open attention, notice the fear or vulnerability you are feeling in your body and mind. Connect with your longing to be held in unconditional love. Bring to mind the image or sense of a person, a spiritual figure or a deity you associate with compassion. You may see the face of your grandmother or your dearest friend. You may see an image of the Buddha, Kwan Yin or Christ, or you may call to mind an all-merciful God. With a silent prayer, ask this being to be present with you. You may experience the being gazing at you with unconditional love. Look into the eyes that regard you with understanding and complete acceptance. Placing your attention on your heart and aware of your longing, experience this compassionate being as absolutely present and available, as wanting to be here with you. Now imagine this being’s presence as a radiant and boundless field of light. Visualize and feel that you are surrounded by this warm luminosity, held in this being’s loving embrace. See how fully you can surrender, letting your hurt and fear, pain and sorrow dissolve into this merciful presence. Allow your entire body, heart and mind to release into and merge with this loving awareness. If you contract again in doubt or fear, gently feel your suffering and reach out once more toward this compassionate presence.

Tonglen — Awakening the Heart of Compassion

The Tibetan practice of tonglen cultivates the all-embracing heart of compassion. Tonglen means “taking in and sending out.” Linked to the flow of the breath, this practice trains you to open directly to suffering—your own and that of all beings—and offer relief and care. The following meditation is a version of tonglen that can help you awaken compassion in the face of suffering. There are times when tonglen may be inappropriate. If you are struggling with the terror of having been abused, with unrelenting depression or severe emotional imbalance, tonglen may cause emotional flooding, or a deepened feeling of being stuck. In these situations, rather than practicing tonglen, seek guidance from a therapist, a teacher familiar with this practice, or a trusted spiritual guide.

Sit in a way that allows you to be relaxed and alert. Feeling the natural rhythm of your breath, let your body and mind settle. The traditional practice of tonglen begins with a flash of remembrance, recognizing the awakened heart and mind. With your eyes open, take a brief moment to sense the immensity of space and the natural openness and emptiness of awareness. Now bring to mind an experience of suffering. It might be your own pain or the suffering of someone close to you—a friend or family member, a pet or other living being. Let yourself feel this suffering in an immediate, vivid, close-in way. Let it be real to you—the loss, hurt or fear. As you breathe in, allow this pain to come fully into your body and heart. If it is another being’s pain, feel it as if it is your own. Open to the intensity of sensations, whatever they are. Now as you breathe out, let the pain you are experiencing be released. Let go into the openness of awareness, letting the pain be ventilated in the freshness of open space. With the exhale, offer whatever prayer or expression of care comes naturally for you. For instance, “May you be free of suffering; I care about your suffering; I wish you could be happy and peaceful.” You might find that at first you don’t actually feel connected to the suffering of hurt, fear or grief. If this is the case, for a few minutes you might let your primary focus be with the in-breath and the “taking in” of pain. Pay special attention to the sensations that arise in your body. Then, as you begin to experience the suffering more fully, resume a balanced practice of taking in suffering and sending out relief. Without any judgment, be aware of how you are relating to suffering. At times you may feel a courageous willingness to open to the intensity and rawness of pain. At other times you may feel fearful and your heart may be defended or numb. If you feel resistance, you can do tonglen with the sensations of resistance. (You can do tonglen with whatever experience arises.) Breathe in the feelings of fear or numbness, touching them fully. Breathe out forgiveness, offering the resistance into the spaciousness of awareness. Whether you are feeling willing or resistant, continue practicing with the breath, taking in the raw sensations of suffering and sending out relief, letting go into openness. Now bring to mind all the other beings in the world who experience the same kind of suffering that you have been reflecting on. Sense how, while stories may differ, our actual experience of physical pain and emotional distress is the same. If you are meditating on the pain of feeling inadequate and rejected, in this moment millions of other people are feeling the same pain. Sensing the realness of this suffering, begin to breathe in on behalf of all those who suffer in this way. Breathe in the insecurity, grief or hurt that all these beings are feeling, and experience the intensity and fullness of their pain in your heart. As you breathe out, release this enormity of suffering into boundless space. Let it be held in boundless awareness. As before, with the out-breath offer whatever prayer might alleviate the suffering. Continue breathing in and out, opening to the universal experience of this suffering and letting go into spaciousness with prayer. As your heart opens to the enormity of suffering, you become that openness. By offering your tenderness, your awareness becomes suffused with compassion. Continuing to breathe in suffering and breathe out care, sense your heart as a transformer of sorrows.

Asking for forgiveness

Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and allow yourself to become present and still. Rest your attention on the breath for a few moments, relaxing as you breathe in and relaxing as you breathe out. Bring to mind a situation in which you have caused harm to another person. You might have intentionally hurt someone with insulting words or by hanging up the phone in a fit of anger. Or you might have caused pain unintentionally in the way you ended a romantic relationship, or by being preoccupied and not realizing your child needed some special attention. Maybe you feel you have been causing harm to someone over and over again through the years, violating him or her with your flare-ups of temper or lack of care. Take some moments to remember the circumstances that highlight how you have caused harm to another, and sense the feelings of hurt, disappointment or betrayal that person might have felt. Now, holding this person in your awareness, begin asking for forgiveness. Mentally whisper his or her name and say, “I understand the hurt you have felt and I ask your forgiveness now. Please forgive me.” With a sincere heart, repeat several times your request for forgiveness. Then take some moments of silence and let yourself open to the possibility of being forgiven.

Forgiving Ourselves

Now bring to mind some aspect of yourself that feels unforgivable. Perhaps you can’t forgive yourself for being a judgmental and controlling person, or for how you have hurt others. You might hate yourself for being cowardly, for not taking the risks that might make your life more fulfilling. You might not be able to forgive how you are ruining your life with an addictive behavior. You might feel disgust for your mental obsessions or feelings of jealousy. Sense what feels so bad about your unforgivable behavior, emotion or way of thinking. How does it make you feel about yourself? How does it prevent you from being happy? Allow yourself to feel the pain that makes you want to push away the addictive, insecure or judgmental part of yourself. Now explore more deeply what is driving this unacceptable part of your being. If you have been addicted to food, nicotine or alcohol, what need are you trying to satisfy, what fear are you trying to soothe? When you are judging others, are you feeling fearful yourself? If you have wounded another person, did you act out of hurt and insecurity? Out of the need to feel power or safety? As you become aware of underlying wants and fears, allow yourself to feel them directly in your body, heart and mind. Begin to offer a sincere message of forgiveness to whatever feelings, thoughts or behaviors you are rejecting. You might mentally whisper the words: “I see how I’ve caused myself suffering and I forgive myself now.” Or you might simply offer yourself the words “Forgiven, forgiven.” Meet whatever arises—fear or judgment, shame or grief—with the message of forgiveness. Allow the hurt to untangle in the openness of a forgiving heart. As you practice you may feel as if you are going through the motions and are not actually capable of forgiving yourself. You might believe you don’t deserve to be forgiven. You might be afraid that if you forgive yourself you’ll just do the same thing again. Maybe you feel afraid that if you really open and forgive yourself, you’ll come face-to-face with an intolerable truth about yourself. If these doubts and fears arise, acknowledge and accept them with compassion. Then say to yourself, “It is my intention to forgive myself when I am able.” Your intention to forgive is the seed of forgiveness—this willingness will gradually relax and open your heart.

Forgiving Others

In the same way that each of us has hurt others, we each have been wounded in our relationships. Bring to mind an experience in which you were deeply disappointed or rejected, abused or betrayed. Without judging yourself, notice if you are still carrying feelings of anger and blame toward the person who hurt you. Have you shut this person out of your heart? Recall with some detail the specific situation that most fully reminds you of how you were wounded. You might remember an angry look on a parent’s face, harsh words from a friend, the moment of discovering that a trusted person had deceived you, your partner storming out of the house. Be aware of the feelings that arise, the grief or shame, anger or fear. With acceptance and gentleness, feel this pain as it expresses itself in your body, heart and mind. Now look more closely at this other person and sense the fear, hurt or neediness that might have caused him or her to behave in a hurtful way. Experience this being as an imperfect human, vulnerable and real. Feeling this person’s presence, mentally whisper his or her name and offer the message of forgiveness: “I feel the pain that has been caused and to the extent that I am ready, I forgive you now.” Or if you are unable at this moment to offer forgiveness: “I feel the pain that has been caused, and it is my intention to forgive you.” Remain connected with your own feelings of vulnerability, and repeat your message of forgiveness or intention for as long as you like.

Awakening Lovingkindness

Sit in a way that allows you to be comfortable and relaxed. Scan through your body and let go of whatever tension you can. Loosen through the shoulders, soften the hands and relax the belly. Take a few moments to sense the image and feeling of a smile (see “Embracing Life with a Smile,” this page). Allow this to connect you with a spirit of gentleness and ease. Now allow yourself to remember and open up to your basic goodness. You might bring to mind times you have been kind or generous. You might recall your natural desire to be happy and not to suffer. You might honor your essential wakefulness, honesty and love. If acknowledging your own goodness is difficult, then look at yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you. What does that person love about you? You might also bring to mind whoever to you embodies the Beloved—the Buddha, Kwan Yin, Divine Mother, Jesus, Shiva—and see yourself with this being’s wise and loving eyes. When you have connected with a sense of your essential goodness, rest in a tender appreciation for a few moments.

Now with a silent whisper begin offering yourself lovingkindness through prayers of care. As you repeat each phrase, sense the meaning of the words and let them arise from the sincerity of your heart. Choose four or five phrases that are meaningful to you. They might include:

May I be filled with lovingkindness; may I be held in lovingkindness.

May I accept myself just as I am. May I be happy. May I touch great and natural peace.

May I know the natural joy of being alive.

May my heart and mind awaken; may I be free.

You might find that you begin to feel agitated as you offer yourself prayers of lovingkindness. The words might seem discordant and artificial if you are feeling down on yourself. Sometimes the exercise of offering yourself care only highlights how undeserving and bad you feel about yourself. Without judgment, include this reactivity in the meditation: “May this too be held in lovingkindness.” Then resume offering the chosen phrases of care to yourself, remaining mindful and accepting of whatever thoughts or feelings may arise. If you find that you are reciting the words mechanically during this or any part of the meditation, don’t worry. As with the forgiveness practice, your heart has natural seasons of feeling open and closed. What most matters is your intention to awaken lovingkindness.

Guided Reflection: Communicating with Awareness

The way we speak with and listen to others can communicate love or hate, acceptance or rejection. The Buddha described wise speech, the speech that expresses reverence for life, as speaking only what is true and what is helpful.

Set your intention.

As a basic spiritual practice establish your intention to be present, honest and kind in relating to others in any circumstance. Remind yourself of your resolution at the start of each day, at the beginning of an interpersonal meditation or before any interaction with others.

Let your body be an anchor.

Choose two or three touch points, places in your body where you can reawaken a sense of presence. These might be the sensations of breathing, the sensations in your shoulders, hands, stomach or feet. Return to them as often as possible when you are communicating with others. The more you practice staying aware of these touch points during your sitting practice and throughout the day, the more readily you’ll sustain an embodied presence when you are with others.

Listen from the heart.

While others are speaking, try to let go of your own thoughts and pay attention to what they are saying. This means letting go of your agenda for the conversation. Stay aware of the feelings and sensations that occur throughout your body and especially in the heart area. Be particularly aware of your mind wandering off into judgments. If you find yourself criticizing, analyzing or interpreting, meet these thoughts with mindfulness, let them go and return to receptive listening. This doesn’t mean you are agreeing with whatever is being said, but rather you are honoring the other by offering your full presence and attention. Let your listening be wholehearted and deep, paying attention to the person’s tone, pitch, volume and words. In addition to content, allow yourself to receive the mood and spirit of what another is expressing.

Speak from the heart.

Try not to prepare and rehearse what you will say in advance, especially while another is speaking. Rather, in the present moment speak what feels true and meaningful. This might be a response to what you have just heard. Or as happens in meditative dialogue, it may not be necessary to respond. Rather, what you say arises from your immediate stream of experience. Speaking from the heart begins with inward listening. Speak slowly enough to stay mindfully connected with your body and heart.

Pause, relax and attend.

During your interactions pause repeatedly. Pause briefly before and after you speak. Pause as you are speaking to reconnect with your body and feelings. Pause when another is done speaking, giving some space for what they have said to settle. With each pause relax your body and mind. Rest in openness, paying full attention to this moment’s experience.

After pausing you might deepen your attention by using inquiry to check in with your own heart and mind. Ask yourself, “What is true now? What am I feeling?” Deepen your awareness of the other by asking yourself, “What might this person be experiencing?” This inquiry is both active and receptive—you are intentionally asking and investigating, and also opening to whatever is arising. Use pause-relax-attend whenever you remember as a sacred pathway into presence.

Practice Radical Acceptance.

The effort to be present and awake with each other is very humbling. The given is that we will forget our intention, forget to connect with our body, forget to listen without thinking, forget not to rehearse, forget, forget, forget. Hold the whole process with Radical Acceptance, forgiving yourself and others again and again for being perfectly imperfect. When Radical Acceptance is a container for our relationships, genuine intimacy becomes possible. Training ourselves to be present with each other is a way to integrate mindfulness and lovingkindness into our daily life. In the moments when we communicate with honesty and kindness, we begin to dissolve the trance of separation. Instead of being driven by wanting or fear, we feel increasingly spontaneous and real. As much as any meditation, these practices allow us to discover, through relating wakefully with each other, the sweetness of our connectedness and belonging.

Guided Meditation: Who Am I?

The fundamental question in most spiritual traditions is, who am I? The Tibetan Buddhist practice of dzogchen (“the great perfection”) is direct training in how to realize our true nature. Before exploring the following version of dzogchen, it is best to take some time relaxing and quieting the mind. You might do a body scan (see this page) or vipassana meditation (see this page). While thoughts and emotions will naturally continue to arise during dzogchen, this practice is best initiated when emotions are not intense. An ideal setting to try this in is one where you can look directly at the open sky or at a view that is not distracting. It is also fine to look out a window, at a blank wall or at the open space of a room.

Sit comfortably in a way that allows you to feel both alert and relaxed. With your eyes open, rest your gaze on a point slightly above your line of sight. Soften your eyes so that your gaze is unfocused and you are also receiving images on the periphery of your vision. Relax the flesh around your eyes and let your brow be smooth. Looking at the sky or imagining a clear blue sky, let your awareness mingle with that boundless space. Allow your mind to be wide-open—relaxed and spacious. Take some moments to listen to sounds, noticing how they are happening on their own. Rest in the awareness that includes even the most distant sounds. In the same way that sounds are appearing and disappearing, allow sensations and emotions to arise and dissolve. Let your breath move easily, like a gentle breeze. Be aware of thoughts drifting through like passing clouds. Rest in an open and undistracted awareness, noticing the changing display of sounds, sensations, feelings and thoughts. When you realize your mind inevitably fixates on a particular thought—on a judgment or mental comment, an image or story—gently look into awareness to recognize the source of thinking. Inquire: “Who is thinking?” Or you might ask, “What is thinking?” or, “Who is aware right now?” Glance back into awareness with a light touch—simply taking a look to see who is thinking. What do you notice? Is there any “thing” or “self” you perceive that is static, solid or enduring? Is there an entity that exists apart from the changing stream of feelings, sensations or thoughts? What actually do you see when you look into awareness? Is there any boundary or center to your experience? Are you aware of being aware? The entire net of thoughts, wants and fears is full of holes. As you look beyond it, you begin to see that all of life is arising from and dissolving into awareness. Let go and relax fully into the sea of wakefulness. Let go and let be, allowing life to unfold naturally in awareness. Rest in nondoing, in undistracted awareness. When the mind fixates again on thoughts, look back into awareness, to see the source of thinking. And then let go and let be. With each instance of releasing the grip of thoughts, be sure to relax completely. Discover the freedom of wakefully relaxing, of letting life be, as it is. Look and see, let go and be free. If sensations or emotions call your attention, look back into awareness in the same way, asking who is feeling hot or tired or afraid. However if they are in any way strong or compelling, instead of turning toward awareness, bring an accepting and kind attention directly to the experience. You might feel the grip of fear, for instance, and use the breath to reconnect with openness and tenderness. (See tonglen instructions on this page) When you are able again to relate to your experience with equanimity and compassion, resume the practice of dzogchen, resting in awareness. Often in the wake of these strong emotions, it is common to find that the impression of a “ghost self” remains—a self who is holding the fear or hurt with compassion. If you sense this, inquire, “Who is being compassionate?” and look into awareness. Then let go into what is seen. Let go into selfless awareness, into emptiness suffused with compassion. The natural arising of emotions is a profound opportunity to experience how the natural expression of awareness is love. Here the practice of dzogchen, looking into awareness and tonglen interweave.

It is important that we practice dzogchen in an easy and effortless way, not contracting the mind by striving to do it right. To avoid creating stress, it is best to limit practice to five- to ten-minute intervals. You might do short periods of formal practice a number of times a day. As an informal practice, take a few moments, whenever you remember, to look into awareness and see what is true. Then let go and let be.

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