Monday, July 29, 2013

Healing Body, Mind & Heart

I'm rereading Jack Kornfield's A Path with Heart and (yet again) finding it wise and helpful. I hope to be able to put some regular snippets here over the next month. 

Early in the book JK points us to the relationship between mindfulness and healing: healing of our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. Not surprisingly, he slows us down, taking the time to allow us to consider and begin to understand why this is so--and how mindfulness both invites and enables healing to happen. 

I first read A Path with Heart about 6 years ago. Seeing it on my shelf a couple of weeks ago, part of me was thinking, 'I've already read this 3 times; it will probably be boring to read it again.' 

Ha! It's just as stimulating and challenging as it was before. Though there is the difference of seeing how what I have been able to understand, take to heart, and practice has enriched my life over the past 5 years. 

As the banner of this blog declares, "Slow transformation is way better than no transformation." All spiritual practice is a kind of Path-ing: setting deep intentions and following them. Going where we hadn't yet been and gradually incarnating our deepest and truest desires.

Almost everyone who undertakes a true spiritual path will discover that a profound personal healing is a necessary part of his or her spiritual process. When this need is acknowledged, spiritual practice can be directed to bring such healing to the body, heart, and mind. This is not a new notion. Since ancient times, spiritual practice has been described as a process of healing. The Buddha and Jesus were both known as healers of the body, as well as great physicians of the spirit.

Wise spiritual practice requires that we actively address the pain and conflict of our life in order to come to inner integration and harmony. Through wise guidance, meditation can help bring to this healing. Without including the essential step of healing, students will find that they are blocked from deeper levels of meditation or are unable to integrate them into their lives.

Many people first come to spiritual practice hoping to skip over their sorrows and wounds, the difficult areas of their lives. They hope to rise above them and enter a spiritual realm full of divine grace, free from all conflict. Yet at some point we encounter all the unfinished business of the body and heart that we had hoped to leave behind.

True maturation on the spiritual path requires that we discover the depths of our wounds: our grief from the past, our ceaseless longing, the sorrow that we have stored up during the course of our lives. This healing is necessary if we are to embody spiritual life lovingly and wisely. Unhealed pain and rage, Unhealed traumas from childhood, abuse or abandonment, become powerful unconscious forces in our lives. Until we are able to bring awareness and understanding to our old wounds, we will find ourselves repeating patterns of unskilled desire, anger, and confusion over and over again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Home By Another Way

We have the ability to recognize home. But the complexities of human life cause us to forget. This forgetting feels like exile, and we make elaborate structures of habit, conviction, and strategy to defend ourselves against these feelings. But our condition isn't hopeless, it's possible to work wisely with these evolutionary, cultural, family and religious structures so we can turn and find our way home.

--based on a quote by Joan Sutherland

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting Somewhere

All the time I hear, "Oh, I can't do mindfulness--my mind just doesn't work that way." 

When you were a kid, did you learn how to ride a bike? Remember how discombobulating it was a first? OMG, the WOBBLES! 

But almost all of us really, really wanted to ride a bike. We kept at it. It didn't take nearly as long to learn to ride as we feared. Probably not a person reading this blog got good enough to do bike tricks. Probably everybody reading this got good enough to go places, to ride with friends, to occasionally experience the amazing freedom and joy that comes simply by being on bike. 

Mindfulness is like that. There's a learning curve. But within a week or two with a little regular practice and we begin to find that blessed sense of balance. 

And we go places. 

Below is our lectio from Monday Mindfulness. It's a piece from Jack Kornfield's A Path With Heart. He's writing not so much about how we initially find our balance. He's writing more about where we're able to go as we do begin to find that balance. 

Wise words follow... (If you're looking for simpler instruction on how to begin, try here)

We cannot easily change ourselves for the better through an act of will. This is like wanting the mind to get rid of itself or pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. When we struggle to change ourselves, we, in fact, only continue the patterns of self-judgment and aggression. We keep the war against ourselves alive.

The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, though understanding and gradual training. Ongoing spiritual practice can help us cultivate a new way of relating to life in which we let go of our battles.

When we step out of the battle, we see anew. We see how each of us creates conflict. We see our constant likes and dislikes, the fight to resist all that frightens us. Our prejudice, greed, and territoriality. All of this is hard to look at, but it is really there.

When we let go of our battles and open our heart to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice. When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again, but we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding. We must have the courage to face whatever it is. As we stop the war, each of us will find something from which we have been running.

You may have heard of "out-of-body" experiences" full of lights and visions. A true spiritual path demands something more challenging, what could be called an "in-the-body experience."

With wise understanding we allow ourselves to contain all things, both dark and light, and we come to a sense of peace. This is not the peace of denial or running away, but the peace we find in the heart that has rejected nothing, that touches all things with compassion.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Aging Wisely

What do you think of the number 62.5? How about strolling under a deep blue October sky and 62.5 is the temperature at 3:00 in the afternoon--jeans and sweater weather? That's many people's idea of a perfect Autumn day.

On the other hand, 62.5 is my age right now and I have mixed feelings about that number. When I shaved this morning, the face I saw in the mirror was very different from the face that had seemed perfectly familiar until about 10 years ago.

It was around that same time (10 years ago) that I went to my doctor with shoulder pain. Forgetting his bedside manner he casually observed, "Getting old is not for sissies." Recently, I returned the favor by casually saying the same thing when he was kvetching about his memory.

Mindfulness practice, since it's always about cultivating the ability to be fully alive now, has a whole bag of tricks to help us 'age' gracefully. Maybe I should say a whole bag of good medicine.

My doctor is right, growing old really isn't for sissies. Growing old is an adventure and so it's for adventurers--spelunkers, climbers, decathletes, mothers, fathers, pilgrims, magi.

Below is the lectio we used for this morning's meditation group. Like the last couple of posts, it's from Ron Siegel's The Mindfulness Solution.

Wise words follow...

As we age, most of us long for some aspect of the good old days. We envy those with younger bodies who have their whole life ahead of them. We don't realize that on average younger people aren't actually happier. Monitoring the moods of people ages 19-94, researchers found that older people experienced positive emotions longer and had negative emotions subside more quickly than younger people.

As long as our basic needs are met, much of our well-being or misery has more to do with how we interpret our situation than with the situation itself.

What we learn through mindfulness practice is that it's our attachment to how we see ourselves and our circumstances, rather than age-related changes themselves, that cause much of our difficulty with growing older. Once again, it is our wish to avoid unpleasant experience that's at the root of our unhappiness.

What we learn from mindfulness practice is that it is both possible and rewarding to face hard realities. In ancient texts, students are encouraged to meditate on the following points:

1. I am sure to become old. I cannot avoid aging.

2. I am sure to become sick. I cannot avoid sickness.

3. I am sure to die. I cannot avoid death.

4. All things dear and beloved to me are subject to change and loss.

5. I am the owner of my actions; I will become the heir of my actions.


I mentioned above that mindfulness practice has a whole bag of tricks. Committing to memory uncomfortable Reality-Bites is one of them. Oddly, and very counter-intuitively, regularly working with phrases like the above has the capacity to bring us to a very stable Happy Place. A place that doesn't argue with reality--but explores, affirms, navigates, and often celebrates it.