Over the years of teaching, I've found a growing need for profound lovingkindness and compassion--a transformation of the heart--to underlie the insights and understandings that come out of the practice. An opening of the mind needs to be supported by compassion from the heart if the practice is to be integrated, fulfilled, and lived in our lives.
The value of mindfulness practice is discovered in the freedom we find through awareness. Without awareness, we repeat the patterns of fear and conditioning that keep us entangled individually and collectively. Without awareness, we suffer. With awareness, we can see the contractions of the mind, how the mind gets caught and how we can learn to let go. With awareness we can reawaken to the purity of joy and freedom that is fundamental to our true nature.
As a Dharma teacher, I simply remind others how it is possible to live in this world and find freedom. I listen to practitioners and try to remind them that it is truly possible to be free.
Like the waves of the ocean, the breath rises and falls. Bring loving awareness to the breath.
Shift your attention from the breath to all the sensations in your body. With mindful loving awareness, notice the whole field of sensations. If there are areas of pain or stiffness, bow to them and hold them with kindness. Hold them as you would a child who is going through a hard time. Notice how this kind loving awareness allows for the tension and knots to soften in their own way.
Now as an expression of gratitude, say thank you to your own body for caring so much, for holding so much as you move through the days and nights. Tell your body, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”
Now bring your attention to your heart that carries so much. Notice all that your heart has been holding: longings, fear, love, worry, frustration, excitement, sadness, appreciation, doubt, deep love. Say thank you to your heart for caring so much, for trying to help and protect you. Tell your heart, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.” Let your heart be at ease.
Now bring your attention to your mind that produces a stream of thoughts, images, pictures, plans, memories, ideas. Feel the energy of the mind, creative, sometimes obsessed, analyzing, exploring, opening. Say thank you for working so hard to take care of you, to protect you. Tell your mind, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”
Notice that you’re not your body, feelings, thoughts. You are the loving witness, you are consciousness itself. You are the loving awareness that acknowledges the body, heart and mind. Relax into loving awareness. You are the silent, vast witness to it all.
Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small. Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life. Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of rain and sunlight, the care that supports every single life.
We live in a culture of denial and youth. How can we find a freedom of heart in this world of birth and death? We can start by acknowledging that everything is subject to change. Death is an advisor that can give us clarity about what really matters.
We can be the loving witness of this life, yet not cling to it. We can cherish life, yet in the end we will have to let go.
As Mary Oliver writes:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
If it’s helpful, you can whisper in the back of your mind “ease” or “calm,” as suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh. Try to meet every breath with lovingkindness and loving awareness. Wish calm and peace for beings everywhere, far and near. Rest in stillness and love.
There’s a truth and reality deeper than conflict. We are not the stories we tell ourselves. How do we touch our measure of suffering? With a forgiving heart. Step out of the tyranny of self-judgment. Forgive yourself for being a learner in this life.
Three principles of wise forgiveness of others:
1. Forgiveness is not weak, naïve. It’s not "forgive or forget." It takes real courage. Forgiveness does not condone what happened nor allow it to continue.
2. Forgiveness is not quick. It is often a long, difficult, tender process of the heart digesting the pain of what happened.
3. Forgiveness is not for them—it’s for you. It’s about our own heart not being chained to the past.
Sometimes it's your loving heart that opens your broken heart. We can let go. We can put down the burden of resentment. We can live with a gracious heart.
Notice as you feel the breath, that who you are is not this breath, or this body, but you are loving awareness, the loving witness. You are consciousness itself—open, spacious, letting the breath breathe itself. Experiences can rise and fall in a field of loving awareness. Notice how emotions, feelings and thoughts rise and fall like the waves of the ocean; you are the loving witness to them all.
In any moment you can become the loving witness—it’s why we sit in meditation. We learn to sit with both heartbreak and love—with whatever arises. We become the loving witness of it all. What channel do you turn to amidst the joy and sorrows? With mindful loving awareness we can see it all anew. When we see with amazement, with loving awareness, we also see with the heart.
As Mary Oliver writes:
“And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood….
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular….
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement….”
Direct mindful loving awareness to the mind. The mind secretes thoughts, stories and memories. You are the loving awareness that feels the stream of the mind, that knows it—all the busyness, hopes, and ideas. Listen now to the wisdom mind. It has a message for you. It has wisdom that you need just now. Now let the field of loving awareness open, so the heart knows you can listen to the world around you with tender care. By listening with a compassionate heart and a wisdom mind, your understanding can grow.
We are each other's bond. We are each other's community. We are each other's family. What we most want, perhaps, is to be listened to in the deepest way, to be met with the heart.
When we learn to rest in awareness, there’s both caring and silence. There is listening for what’s the next thing to do and awareness of all that’s happening, a big space and a connected feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both comprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we’re not caught in it.