“. . . I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll
Through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
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I love this book. What I love most about it is that it’s not even a book, really—more the literary equivalent of yellowcake uranium, meant to blow the mind open to ultimate reality. This is book as verb, not noun—book as instigator of awareness. The Heart Sutra is a classic text of Mahayana Buddhism, recited daily in Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. Profound and pithy, it summarises the truth of emptiness in a few brief paragraphs. Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form, go its most famous lines. Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness.Author Ken McLeod takes
At first glance neither of the above emotions seems particularly attractive, but I’ve come to believe there’s a profound difference between the two. Namely: remorse is workable; guilt is not. We’re all familiar with guilt. Feeling bad about something we’ve done, we slide into self-recrimination. Often we try to distract ourselves from this unpleasantness with a favorite addiction. The situation just keeps getting worse from there. Guilt is a sticky, dense, unpleasant emotion — the essence of stuckness. Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche points out that guilt, like pride, is really just another way of reifying the self, making it solid and
Here’s Part I of a four-part online meditation retreat with Reggie Ray: http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/touching-enlightenment/touching-enlightenment-part-1 Listen to it for some really wonderful meditation instruction from a perspective that fully embraces embodiment. I highly recommend all of Ray’s work, including his most recent book, Touching Enlightenment. What I respect about his approach is the way it effortlessly encompasses and is in fact rooted in the body — rather than using meditation as a path to transcending ‘up and out.’ We have huge, huge misconceptions about meditation in this society, of which I will speak more soon. But briefly, meditation is not just a mental
Sometimes I ask a client: “What’s your relationship with depression?” (or anger, or anxiety — you name it). Often I get a funny look back, and a “What do you mean?” The way I see it, we have relationships with our emotions. Take anger, for example. Maybe we keep it at arm’s length (my anger makes me anxious, so I try to control it). Maybe we bury it so deep we don’t even know it exists (I never get angry). Maybe we are seduced by it, swept away by its force – we fall unconscious and it explodes (I lost my temper). Maybe
Here’s a really common misconception I regularly encounter in my work as a Buddhist-oriented psychotherapist: that meditation means stopping thoughts, entering a state of not feeling, not thinking (and probably not breathing, while you’re at it). While settling the mind is a basic meditative practice, it’s not attained by struggling to repress thoughts. At least in the approach I’ve trained in (the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dzogchen), this kind of struggle is utterly beside the point. The mind’s nature is to think. That’s simply how it is, just as water is wet, just as fire is hot. The glitch lies
I’ve been learning how to navigate with topographic map and compass. Despite trekking over what must have been several thousand miles in the Himalayas (not to mention the Western US), my knowledge of maps has been sketchy; of compasses, nil. So it adds a new dimension to an old passion. And it’s fascinating to watch the compass needle’s quivering ancient dance, a bit of magic lodged in a cheap plastic case. North is the universal orienting point, at least in this culture. I’m fascinated by the fact that there are two Norths: Magnetic North, where the compass needle points, and
How does therapy work? Putting aside all notions of theory, skill, and personality,one aspect is simply the biological magic activated by the face-to-face presence of two humans paying attention to one another. I have long marveled at how much more powerful it is to recount a dream or work with an image in the presence of another, as compared to on my own. As a therapist, I have a very full toolkit of ways to work with issues — and I happily use many of those tools on myself. There’s an unmistakable difference between the work I do alone and
A few popular myths I’ve encountered over the years that seem to inform the general perception of therapy: Pushing through things is the way to go: “If I can just talk about my problems enough, think about them enough, figure them out with my head, they’ll eventually be solved.” Endurance is the main virtue espoused by this perspective, and while there is something to be said for persistence, it’s a mistake to imagine that intellect alone can resolve everything. If it could, everyone in our exceedingly smart society would have become problem-free a long time ago. This myth ignores the power
A client sits down across from me. “How are you?” I ask — not the social “How ya doin’?” of casual interactions, but the “How are you, really?” of therapeutic inquiry. “I’m feeling stressed.” My internal radar flickers with interest. “Stressed” is a term that obscures far more than it reveals. Endocrinologist Hans Selye chose the word back in the early ’50s to describe the body’s response to any demand made upon it to adapt, and it has since entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for tension. (It’s amusing to note that “stress” has been adopted verbatim into many
It hits every one of us at some point in our lives. Loss, be it sudden or slow. Loss of job, partner, child, health, home, success, financial security. Sometimes all of these at once. And that external loss precipitates the loss of everything we navigated by, everything that gave our lives meaning. Pluto pulls Persephone down into the underworld, and we find ourselves in the dark night of the soul. We try desperately to find something to hang onto – our health, our savings account, our sole successful or least-floundering child. But even these betray us. “Everything I relied on
I’ve been reading this brilliant book by Iain McGilchrist. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World is as big as its lengthy title suggests. It’s about the right brain and the left, the different ways of seeing and being these two hemispheres have, and the relationship between them. McGilchrist quite eloquently demonstrates how this relationship has shaped not just individual human perceptions, but cultures, societies — indeed, all of life. He synthesises vast quantities of neuroscientific research to demonstrate how the right hemisphere’s approach of flexibility, integration and context contrasts vividly with the
A long time ago I read a poem called “remember to remember.” Remember to pull yourself out of blurred awareness to focus on the lovely fresh precision of that which is in front of you right now, was its message. Remember yourself into the present moment. I have forgotten the author and much of the poem itself, but the phrase, and the idea, have stuck with me. Remembering to remember is a key point of meditation training. In practice, we repeatedly bring our awareness back to the focal point, whether it’s an image, a sensation, an intention such as bodhicitta,
My intention here is to explore the interface between psychotherapy and Buddhism — more particularly, my personal take as a practitioner of each. I’ve been studying and practicing in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism since 1988. I was a Buddhist practitioner long before I become a therapist, so the first time I sat with a client, it seemed only natural to bring in what I’d practiced on the cushion. What could be a bigger or better way to meet another’s experience than from the pure natural presence of non-conceptual awareness? The practices of meditation and therapy naturally inform one