Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame Within Us. It is possible to live your life with the wise and tender heart of a Buddha. Prologue: “Something is wrong with me“. My guiding assumption was “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,“ and I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self. I avoided pain (and created more) with an addiction to food and a preoccupation with achievement. My pursuit of pleasure was sometimes wholesome but it also included an impulsive kind of thrill-seeking through recreational drugs, sex, and other adventures. In the eyes of the world, I was highly functional. Internally, I was anxious, driven and often depressed. I didn't feel at peace with any part of my life. I lived with fear of letting someone down or being rejected myself. By facing this pain I was entering a path of healing. I longed to be kinder to myself. I longed to befriend my inner experience and to feel more intimacy and ease with the people in my life. “Feeling that something is wrong with me is the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing“. We don't have to wait until we are on our deathbed to realize what a waste of our previous lives it is to carry the belief that something is wrong with us. Recognize what is true in the present moment and embrace whatever we see with an open heart. Radical Acceptance is the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion. It is the necessary antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of judging and treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment's experience. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. “Make love of your self perfect.“ - Sri Nisargadatta. As we free ourselves from the suffering of “something is wrong with me,“ we trust and express the fullness of who we are. May our loving awareness embrace all beings everywhere. Chapter 1: The trance of unworthiness. We have a belief that no matter how hard we try, we are always, in some way, falling short. Feeling unworthy goes hand in hand with feeling separate from others, separate from life. We fear that if they realize we are boring or stupid, selfish, or insecure, they'll reject us. “I'm skimming over life and racing to the finish line—death“. “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality“ - Chögyam Trungpa. The quest for perfection is based in the assumption that we must change ourselves to belong. “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.“ - Mother Teresa. The Buddha taught that human birth is a precious gift because it gives us the opportunity to realize the love and awareness that are our tru nature. “We all have Buddha nature.“ - Dalai Lama. Spiritual awakening is the process of recognizing our essential goodness, our natural wisdom and compassion. Our imperfect parents had imperfect parents of their own. Fears, insecurities and desires get passed along for generations. We do whatever we can to avoid the raw pain of feeling unworthy. Each time our deficiencies are exposed, we react, anxiously trying to cover our nakedness. Rather than relaxing and enjoying who we are and what we're doing, we are comparing ourselves with an ideal and trying to make up for the difference. We hold back and play it safe rather than risking failure. We keep busy. Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain. If we make war on ourselves or each other, we generate more fear, reactivity and suffering. Freeing ourselves from this trance of fear and alienation becomes possible only as we respond to our vulnerability with a wise heart. Going to the root of our suffering and seeing it clearly was the beginning of freedom. Suffering or discontent is universal, and fully recognizing its existence is the first step on the path of awakening. All suffering or dissatisfaction arises from a mistaken understanding that we are a separate and distinct self. This perception of “selfness” imprisons us in endless rounds of craving and aversion. When our sense of being is confined in this way, we have forgotten the loving awareness that is our essence and that connects us with all of life. We interpret everything we think and feel, and everything that happens to us, as in some way belonging to or caused by a self. Wanting and fearing are natural energies, part of evolution’s design to protect us and help us to thrive. But when they become the core of our identity, we lose sight of the fullness of our being. If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring. We forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience in being alive. “True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection.“ - Seng-tsan. Imperfection is not our personal problem—it is a natural part of existing. We free ourselves from the prison of trance as we stop the war against ourselves and, instead, learn to relate to our lives with a wise and compassionate heart. Guided reflection: recognizing the trance of unworthiness. Chapter 2: Awakening from the trance: The path of radical acceptance. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.“ - Carl Rogers. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness and dissatisfaction. As long as we feel not good enough, we won't be able to enjoy the possibilities before us. Be aware of what is happening within our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away. Feel sorrow and pain without resisting. Feel desire or dislike for someone or something without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. Radical acceptance is clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart. Two parts of genuine acceptance: seeing clearly and genuine acceptance. We can't honestly accept an experience unless we see clearly what we are accepting. Mindfulness allows us to see life “as it is“. Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child. Rather than judging or indulging our desire for attention or chocolate or sex, we regard our grasping with gentleness and care. Instead of pushing away or judging our anger or despondency, compassion enables us to be softly and kindly present with our open wounds. Mindfulness enables us to see the trap we're falling into. We become more aware of the intentions that motivate our behavior. We also become aware of the consequences of our actions, as they affect both ourselves and others. It can give us confidence to remember that the Buddha nature that is our essence remains intact, no matter how lost we may be. The very nature of our awareness is to know what is happening. The very nature of our heart is to care. Recognize when we are caught in the habit of judging, resisting and grasping, and how we constantly try to control our levels of pain and pleasure. “May I love and accept myself just as I am“. Bring clear seeing and compassion to the craving and tension we feel when we “have to have another smoke.“ We notice the stories that convince us we need a break from the stress we're under. By cultivating an unconditional and accepting presence, we are no longer battling against ourselves, keeping our wild and imperfect self in a cage of judgment and mistrust. Instead, we are discovering the freedom of becoming authentic and fully alive. The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom. What would it be like if I could accept life—accept this moment—exactly as it is? We are all capable of learning Radical Acceptance—the two wings of clear recognition and compassionate presence are expressions of who we intrinsically are. Yet because we quite naturally get lost in trance, we need both a sincere resolve and effective practices in order to awaken our heart and mind. The Buddhist practice for developing mindfulness is called vipassana, which means “to see clearly” or “insight” in Pali, the language of the Buddha. Guided Meditation: The Practice of Vipassana (Mindfulness). Find a sitting position that allows you to be alert—spine erect but not rigid—and also relaxed. Close your eyes and rest your hands in an easy, effortless way. Allow your awareness to scan through your body and, wherever possible, soften and release obvious areas of physical tension. Using the breath as a primary anchor of mindfulness helps quiet the mind so that you can be awake to the changing stream of life that moves through you. Take a few very full breaths, and then allow your breath to be natural. There is no need to control the breath, to grasp or fixate on it. There is no “right” way of breathing. With a relaxed awareness, discover what the breath is really like as a changing experience of sensations. You will find that the mind naturally drifts off in thoughts. Thoughts are not the enemy, and you do not need to clear your mind of thoughts. Rather, you are developing the capacity to recognize when thoughts are happening without getting lost in the story line. When you become aware of thinking, you might use a soft and friendly mental note: “Thinking, thinking.” Then, without any judgment, gently return to the immediacy of the breath. Let the breath be home base, a place of full presence. You can bring mindfulness to strong emotions—fear, sadness, happiness, excitement, grief Meet each experience with a kind and clear presence, neither clinging to nor resisting what is happening. What does this emotion feel like as sensations in your body? Where do you feel it most strongly? Is it static or moving? How big is it? Are your thoughts agitated and vivid? Are they repetitive and dull? Does your mind feel contracted or open? As you pay attention, notice how the emotion changes. Does it become more intense or weaken? Does it change into a different state? Anger to grief? Happiness to peace? When the emotion is no longer compelling, turn your attention back to the breath. If the emotion feels overwhelming for you, or if you are confused about where to place your attention, relax and come home to your breath. Chapter 3: The Sacred Pause: Resting Under The Bodhi Tree. “Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here. This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now. Until now.“ - David Whyte. What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls? What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience? 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 toward any goal. We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space—we have no idea of what will happen. We fear we might be engulfed by the rawness of our rage or grief or desire. Yet without opening to the actual experience of the moment, Radical Acceptance is not possible. By running from what we fear, we feed the inner darkness. Any of us, when our particular place of insecurity or woundedness is touched, easily regress into the fullness of trance. At these times there seems to be no choice as to what we feel, think, say or do. Rather, we “go on automatic,” reacting in our most habitual way to defend ourselves, to cover over the rawness of our hurt. “The unfaced and unfelt parts of our psyche are the source of all neurosis and suffering.“ - Carl Jung. Perhaps he could awaken by stopping the struggle and, as he had done as a child, meeting all of life with a tender and open presence. By paying attention instead of reacting, he saw beyond the delusion of separate self that imprisons us in suffering. We too can pause and make ourselves available to whatever life is offering us in each moment. “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” - Rainer Maria Rilke. Pausing interrupts entrenched patterns of interaction. When the downward spiral of judging and misunderstanding is stopped, even for a brief time, it becomes possible to recognize the unconscious beliefs and feelings that lie behind the problem. Such insight naturally leads to making wiser choices. We touch the freedom that is possible in any moment when we are not grasping after our experience or resisting it. Chapter 4: Unconditional Friendliness: The Spirit of Radical Acceptance. Name what you are aware of and bow to your experience. What's happening? What wants my attention right now? What is asking for acceptance? While inquiry may expose judgments and thoughts about what we feel is wrong, it focuses on our immedate feelings and sensations. I am not so caught in my assumed identity as a stressed, striving and potentially deficient person. It is important to approach inquiry with a genuine attitude of unconditional friendliness. If I were to ask myself what wants attention with even the slightest aversion, I would only deepen my self-judgment. The practices of inquiry and noting are actually ways to wake us up to the fact that we are suffering. Caught up in our stories, we can effectively deny the truth of our experience. I sometimes spend days being impatient and judgmental toward myself before I stop and pay attention to the feelings and beliefs that have been disconnecting me from my heart. When I do pause and look at what’s happening, I realize that I’ve been caught up in the suffering of anxiety and self-doubt. We bring alive the spirit of Radical Acceptance when, instead of resisting emotional pain, we are able to say yes to our experience. “So walk with your heaviness, saying yes. Yes to the sadness, yes to the whispered longing. Yes to the fear. Love means setting aside walls, fences, and unlocking doors, and saying yes . . . one can be in paradise by simply saying yes to this moment.” - Pat Rodegast. Saying yes does not mean approving of angry thoughts or sinking into any of our feelings. We are not saying yes to acting on our harmful impulses. Nor are we saying yes to external circumstances that can hurt us: If someone is treating us abusively, certainly we must strongly say no and create intelligent boundaries to protect ourselves in the future. Even in that instance, however, we can still say yes to the experience of fear, anger or hurt that is arising inside us. Yes is an inner practice of acceptance in which we willingly allow our thoughts and feelings to naturally arise and pass away. “A tiny bud of a 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. When we stop comparing ourselves to some assumed standard of perfection, this very life we are living right now, can be tasted and explored, honored and appreciated fully. When we put down idea of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is. Agree to the experience with yes. Let the feelings float, help in the environment of yes. Yes to the pain. Yes to the parts of us that want the pain to go away. Yes to whatever thoughts or feelings arise. Mental noting deepens our attention so we are better able to meet painful emotions and intense sensations with a wakeful and healing presence. Ask yourself “How am I feeling about this?” and bring a receptive presence to your body. The compassionate Buddha is often seen in statues and pictures with a slight smile as he embraces the ten thousand joys and sorrows. When we meditate with the spirit of a smile, we awaken our natural capacity for unconditional friendliness. Simply assume the half-smile of the Buddha whenever you remember. Chapter 5: Coming Home to Our Body: The Ground of Radical Acceptance. “There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.” - The Buddha. The Buddha’s promise: Mindfulness of the body leads to happiness in this life, and the fullness of spiritual awakening. The basic characteristic of being in a trance is that we are only partially present to our experience of the moment. As we quickly discover when we close our eyes to meditate, this inner world is often covered over by waves of emotions—excitement or anxiety, restlessness or anger—and an endless stream of comments and judgments, memories and stories of the future, worries and plans. Because our pleasant or unpleasant sensations so quickly trigger a chain reaction of emotions and mental stories, a central part of our training is to recognize the arising of thoughts and return over and over to our immediate sensory experience. The basic meditation instructions given by the Buddha were to be mindful of the changing stream of sensations without trying to hold on to any of them, change them or resist them. Only when we realize we can’t hold on to anything can we begin to relax our efforts to control our experience. The Buddha taught that we suffer when we cling to or resist experience, when we want life different than it is. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat our pain. This same process unfolds when our pain is emotional—we resist the unpleasant sensations of loneliness, sorrow and anger. Whether physical or emotional, when we react to pain with fear, we pull away from an embodied presence and go into the suffering of trance. We cultivate Radical Acceptance of pain by relaxing our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meeting them with non-reactive awareness. This exercise is especially useful if you are presently distressed by physical pain. Over time if you practice mindful presence of pain for even a few moments at a time, equanimity will increase. You will be able to more readily let go of resistance and open to unpleasant sensations. Chapter 6: Radical Acceptance Desire: Awakening to the Source of Longing. “Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes. And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving.” - D. H. Lawrence. The essence of mindfulness practice: 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. When we can’t meet our emotional needs directly, the wanting self develops strategies for satisfying them with substitutes. Like all strategies underlying the trance of unworthiness, those aimed at winning love and respect absorb and fixate our attention. 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. Ever since I was a teen, my drive to be productive has been a key strategy of my wanting self. When I feel insecure, producing—whether it is a finished article, a stack of paid bills or a clean kitchen—is my most readily accessible device for feeling worthwhile. This producing is not simply the natural urge to be creative and contribute to the mix of life, it is energized by fears of inadequacy and the need to prove myself. When I’m caught in the strategy, I turn to English Breakfast tea to give me the boost I think I need to remain productive throughout the day and often into the night. The price is that I become speedy, impatient and distant from those I love. I get disconnected from my body as I relentlessly urge myself onward to get yet another thing done. Feeling self-centered and bad about myself for workaholism doesn’t slow me down. “Getting one more thing out of the way” seems the most reliable way to get what I want—to feel better. Two homeless men are sitting on a park bench. One says to the other, “I used to have a private jet, condo in Aspen and be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company . . . then I switched to decaf.” It’s not hard to understand why our substitutes are so attractive. Even if they don’t address our deepest needs, they prop us up and for a time keep getting us the goods that give us those momentary pleasant sensations. 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, like the executive who switched to decaf. Most of us rely on work to help us make up for fears of unworthiness. This strategy delivers the goods through money or power, through the strokes we get for our diligence and competence, through the satisfaction of “getting something done.” But we can get lost in these substitutes, overlooking the fact that they will never satisfy our deepest longings. “Even when we are engaged in activities that are meaningful to us, that are creatively and spiritually gratifying, they can be “co-opted” and used to satisfy the unmet needs of the wanting self. This happens to me most often when I’m preparing talks or workshops for meditation groups or writing articles on Buddhist practice. When I remain aware that the Buddhist teachings are precious to me and I love sharing them with others, I can throw myself into what I’m doing with enormous passion. When anxiety or frustration arises, I am able to meet it with acceptance. But sometimes that voice of insecurity and unworthiness arises, and I listen to it. Suddenly writing or preparing a presentation is linked to winning or losing love and respect and my entire experience of working shifts. The wanting self takes over. While I always intend to give a wholehearted effort, now that effort is wrapped in fear. I’m anxiously striving to be “good enough” and to reap the rewards. My love for what I do is clouded over when working becomes a strategy to prove my worth. We are unable to give ourselves freely and joyfully to any activity if the wanting self is in charge. D. H. Lawrence wrote: “Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.” When we are motivated by immediate gratification to do “just what we like,” we will feel continuously driven: No amount of productivity or consuming or recognition can break through the trance of unworthiness and put us in touch with the “deepest self.” As Lawrence points out, to do what the deepest self likes “takes some diving.” To listen and respond to the longing of our heart requires a committed and genuine presence. The more completely we’re caught in the surface world of pursuing substitutes, the harder it is to dive. “There is only one big thing—desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.“ - Willa Cather. When desire gets strong, mindfulness goes out the window. Food, sex, affection, shelter, and clothing can become a life force causing us suffereing when it takes over our life. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes. If we are taken over by craving, no matter who or what is before us, all we can see is how it might satisfy our needs. This kind of thirst contracts our body and mind into a profound trance. We move through the world with a kind of tunnel vision that prevents us from enjoying what is in front of us. “I can resist anything but temptation.“ - Oscar Wilde. Temptation is an emotional promise that we will experience the pleasure we so intensely crave. Anyone who has struggled with smoking, compulsive overeating, or drug or relationship addictions knows the compelling force of these physical and mental urges. My wanting self is my worst enemy.” When we hate ourselves for wanting, it is because the wanting self has taken over our entire life. We are encouraged by our culture to keep ourselves comfortable, to be right, to possess things, to be better than others, to look good, to be admired. We are also told that we should feel ashamed of our selfishness, that we are flawed for being so self-centered, sinful when we are indulgent. If we push away desire, we disconnect from our tenderness and we harden against life. We become like a “rock in winter.” When we reject desire, we reject the very source of our love and aliveness. She was living in a culture that promised satisfaction through consuming. And most fundamental, like all living beings she was biologically primed to grasp after pleasure and avoid pain. In bringing a clear and comprehensive awareness to our situation, we begin to accept our wanting self with compassion. This frees us to move forward, to break out of old patterns. As Sarah was discovering in meditation, she could experience even the most intense craving without pushing it away or acting on it. Instead of hating her experience or losing herself in a swirl of mental activity, Sarah was saying yes to the feelings of urgency and tension and fear. Instead of trying to satisfy her craving, she was simply letting it express itself and move through her. It's not my fault. It's never been my fault. The sensations of anxiety and wanting may be unpleasant, but as we saw with pain, the suffering can be optional. We suffer when our experience of desire or craving defines and confines our experience of who we are. If we meet the sensations, emotions and thoughts of wanting with Radical Acceptance, we begin to awaken from the identity of a wanting self and to reconnect with the fullness of our being. Suffering only comes from being seduced by the demons or from trying to fight them. “When resistance is gone, the demons are gone.“ - Pema Chödrön. While grasping on to what we desire is part of our conditioning, it blinds us to our deeper longings and keeps us trapped in craving. Freedom begins when we pause and pay close attention to our experience. When you pause, become physically still and pay close attention to the nature of wanting. What does your body feel like when wanting is strong? Where do you experience the sensations of wanting most fully? You might ask yourself, “What is missing right now?” and listen with your heart. If, following the pause, you move into the behavior, do so slowly and mindfully. Do you feel tension or excitement, self-judgment or fear? Notice with a clear and compassionate attention the sensations, emotions and thoughts that may arise. Because all experience keeps changing, with time even cravings that have felt irresistible can eventually dissolve. While desire naturally arises again, the wisdom of seeing that everything passes is liberating. Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose how we live. What does your heart long for? At any moment throughout the day, if you find yourself driven by wanting, the question, what does my heart really long for? will help you reconnect to the purity of spiritual yearning. By pausing and asking yourself at any moment, “What really matters? What do I most care about?” you awaken your naturally caring heart. Chapter 7: Opening Our Heart in the Face of Fear. “We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.“ - Charlotte Joko Beck. When fear takes over in this way, we are caught in what I call the trance of fear. As we tense in anticipation of what may go wrong, our heart and mind contract. We forget that there are people who care about us, and we forget our own ability to feel spacious and open-hearted. Trapped in the trance, we experience life through the filter of fear. Fear is the jittery feeling in our stomach, the soreness and pressure around our heart, the strangling tightness in our throat. Fear is the loud pounding of our heart, the racing of our pulse. Fear constricts our breathing, making it rapid and shallow. Fear tells us we are in danger, and then urgently drives our mind to make sense of what is happening and figure out what to do. Fear takes over our mind with stories about what will go wrong. Fear tells us we will lose our body, lose our mind, lose our friends, our family, the earth itself. Fear is the anticipation of future pain. The ultimate loss—the one underlying all those smaller losses I’m afraid of—is loss of life itself. The root of all our fear is our basic craving for existence and aversion to deterioration and death. We are always facing death in some form or other. I know my parents are getting older, and one day the call will come to let me know the end is near. The emotion of fear often works overtime. Even when there is no immediate threat, our body may remain tight and on guard, our mind narrowed to focus on what might go wrong. When this happens, fear is no longer functioning to secure our survival. We are caught in the trance of fear and our moment-to-moment experience becomes bound in reactivity. We spend our time and energy defending our life rather than living it fully. When we believe something is wrong with us, we are convinced we are in danger. Our shame fuels ongoing fear, and our fear fuels more shame. The very fact that we feel fear seems to prove that we are broken or incapable. When we are trapped in trance, being fearful and bad seems to define who we are. The anxiety in our body, the stories, the ways we make excuses, withdraw or lash out—these become to us the self that is most real. When we are in the trance of fear, the rest of the world fades into the background. Like the lens on a camera, our attention narrows to focus exclusively on the foreground of our fearful stories and our efforts to feel more secure. Because the trance of fear arises from feeling cut off in relationships, we continue to feel fundamentally unsafe until we begin to experience with others some of the love and understanding we needed as children. The first step in finding a basic sense of safety is to discover our connectedness with others. As we begin to trust the reality of belonging, the stranglehold of fear loosens its grip. Remember that thoughts are not the truth. In facing intense fear, we need to be reminded that we are part of something larger than our own frightened self. While our connectedness with others is essential on the spiritual path, genuine freedom arises as our experience of belonging finds its roots deep within us. In Buddhism, the three fundamental refuges are the Buddha (our awakened nature), the dharma (the path or the way) and the sangha (the community of spiritual aspirants). In these refuges we find genuine safety and peace. We discover a place to rest our human vulnerability, and a sanctuary for our awakening heart and mind. In their shelter we can face and awaken from the trance of fear. In order to embark on a spiritual path we need faith that our own heart and mind have the potential to awaken. Taking refuge in the dharma is taking refuge in the truth that everything within and around us is subject to change; the truth that if we try to hold on to or resist the stream of experience, we deepen the trance of fear. Our fear is great, but greater still is the truth of our connectedness. To free ourselves from the trance of fear we must let go of the tree limb and fall into the fear, opening to the sensations and the wild play of feelings in our body. We must agree to feel what our mind tells us is “too much.” We must agree to the pain of dying, to the inevitable loss of all that we hold dear. 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. What is happening right now? What is asking for attention? What is asking for acceptance? The key to awakening from the bonds of fear is to move from our mental stories into immediate contact with the sensations of fear—the squeezing, pressing, burning, trembling, quaking, jittering life in our body. When we are no longer trying to control fear and cling to life, our armor drops away and we experience a deep and pure freedom. Our deepest nature is awareness, and when we fully inhabit that, we love freely and are whole. Chapter 8: Awakening Compassion for Ourselves: Becoming the Holder and the Held. “All you need is already within you, only you must approach yourself with reverence and love. Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors . . . all I plead with you is this: make love of your self perfect.” - Sri Nisargadatta. 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. Chapter 9: Widening the Circles of Compassion: The Bodhisattva's Path. Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged. Feeling loved and loving matters to us beyond all else. We feel most “who we are” when we feel connected to each other and the world around us, when our hearts are open, generous and filled with love. Compassion for ourselves naturally leads to compassion for others. May my life be of benefit to all beings. When we are caught in our own self-centered drama, everyone else becomes “other” to us, different and unreal. The world becomes a backdrop to our own special experience and everyone in it serves as supporting cast, some as adversaries, some as allies, most as simply irrelevant. “My religion is kindness.“ - Dalai Lama. When we stop to attend and see others as real, we uncover the hidden bond that exists between all beings. The more fully we offer our attention, the more deeply we realize that what matters most in life is being kind. “We can do no great things—only small things with great love.“ - Mother Teresa. Chapter 10: Recognizing Our Basic Goodness: The Gateway To A Forgiving And Loving Heart. “Like a caring mother holding a guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart hold yourself and all beings.“ - Buddha. “I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness.“ - Walt Whitman. 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. “There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it.“ - Romaine Rolland. Whether our anger and resentment is directed at another or at ourselves, the result is the same—it removes us from the deeper pain of our hurt and shame. As long as we avoid these feelings, we remain trapped in our armor, locked away from love for ourselves and others. Whether we are angry with ourselves or others, we forgive by letting go of blame and opening to the pain we have tried to push away. Ultimately blaming and hating ourselves only leads to further harmful actions. We can’t punish ourselves into being a good person. Only by holding ourselves with the compassion of forgiveness do we experience our goodness and respond to our circumstances with wisdom and care. Reflecting on our own goodness is considered a skillful means in Buddhist practice, because it opens our hearts and invigorates our faith in our spiritual unfolding. If we’re caught up in considering ourselves bad, we contract and hide. In contrast, if we trust our goodness, we open up to others, we feel inspired to help others, we move forward on our spiritual path with dedication and joy. When we can regard our mistakes and transgressions with the eyes of compassion, we release the ignorance that keeps us bound in hating and blaming ourselves. We see that our imperfections don’t taint our basic goodness. This is what it means to feel forgiven. Aware of our true nature, we know nothing is wrong. Not forgiving hardens and imprisons our heart. If we feel hatred toward anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart. We forget that every person, including ourselves, is new every moment. As we practice sending wishes for happiness and peace to ourselves and to others, we touch the beauty and purity of our true nature. The practice of seeing goodness awakens lovingkindness, and the practice of lovingkindness enables us to move through life more awake to the goodness within and around us. Everybody just wants to be loved. “When you say something like [I love you] . . . with your whole being, not just with your mouth or your intellect, it can transform the world.” - Thich Nhat Hanh. “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable. This is true.” - Thomas Merton. As our trust in our basic goodness deepens, we are able to express our love and creativity more fully in the world. Rather than second-guessing ourselves, rather than being paralyzed by self-doubt, we can honor and respond to the promptings that arise from that goodness. In a similar way, when we trust the goodness in others, we become a mirror to help them trust themselves. When we are not consumed by blaming and turning on ourselves or others, we are free to cultivate our talents and gifts together, to contribute them to the world in service. We are free to love each other, and the whole of life, without holding back. Chapter 11: Awakening Together: Practicing Radical Acceptance in Relationship. No matter how much we meditate or pray, we still need others to help us dismantle the walls of our isolation and remind us of our belonging. Remembering that we are connected to others and our world is the essence of healing. What really wants attention? 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. “Just let go of every thought except ‘I am God . . . You are God.’” - Sri Nisargadatta. Chapter 12: Realizing Our True Nature. When we are trapped in the trance of feeling separate and unworthy, Buddha nature appears to be outside of us. Distracted, we spend our life on our way to somewhere else. As we spiritually mature, our yearning to see truth and live with an open heart becomes more compelling than our reflex to avoid pain and chase after pleasure. Who am I taking myself to be? The question proved to be a very useful tool in revealing how fully and how often I slipped into the trance. I could see that whenever I took myself to be some version of a small self, I wasn't recognizing or trusting the wakeful presence that is my deepest nature. At first I felt restless and had to resist the urge to dash inside and check my e-mail and phone messages. Instead I waited, feeling my body and sensing what most wanted attention. The Buddha taught that holding on to anything, including a sense of being the observer, obscures the full freedom of awareness. At these times, we can pull the curtain on this faint aura of self-ness by asking, “Who is aware?” We might also ask, “What is aware?” or, “Who am I?” or, “Who is thinking?” We bring mindfulness to awareness itself. We look into awareness. By inquiring and then looking into awareness, we can cut through and dispel the deepest illusions of self that have held us separate and bound. In looking into awareness, if we are anxious and trying to have a particular experience, our attention, rather than being unbiased and allowing, fixates on thoughts, sounds or sensations. Rather than recognizing and accepting the changing stream of phenomena, we feel compelled to grasp hold of something, anything. To try to orient ourselves, we take a mental snapshot of our experience and add a commentary. While we might initially look into awareness without ideas or expectations, within moments we are back into our conceptual mind trying to make sense of what is happening. The most basic way we do this is by holding on to the concept of a stable and enduring self. We try to secure our identity by nailing down our experience. Empty awareness is full with presence. To recognize this pure awareness, we need to relax the veil of stories, thoughts, wants and fears that cover over our natural being. “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.” - Sri Nisargadatta. When thoughts arise, where do they come from, where do they go to? As you explore looking into the space between thoughts, through the holes in the net, you are looking into awareness itself. You might sit quietly and simply listen for a few moments. Notice how sounds arise and dissolve back into formless awareness. Can you notice the beginnings of sounds, the ends of sounds? The spaces between? It is all happening in awareness, known by awareness. To “Look and see . . . Let go and be free” is revolutionary and counterintuitive. Rather than trying to control or interpret our experience, we train to relax our grip. By wakefully letting go into what is right here, we are carried home into the mystery and beauty that is our deepest nature. “Happiness cannot be found through great effort and will power, But is already there, in relaxation and letting-go. Don’t strain yourself, there is nothing to do . . . Only our search for happiness prevents us from seeing it . . . Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences; They are like rainbows. Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you relax this grasping, space is there—open, inviting, and comfortable. So, make use of it. All is yours already. Don’t search any further . . . Nothing to do. Nothing to force, Nothing to want, —and everything happens by itself.” - Lama Gendun Rinpoche. The path of awakening is simply a process of wakeful, profound relaxing. We see what is here right now and we let go into life exactly as it is. How liberating! Rather than climbing up a hill to get a view, we are learning the art of relaxing back and wakefully inhabiting the whole vista. We look back into awareness and then simply let go into what is seen. We become more at home in awareness than in any story of a self who is falling short or on our way somewhere else. We are at home because we have seen and experienced firsthand the vast and shining presence that is the very source of our being. If we immerse ourselves in the mental dramas and changing emotions of our lives without remembering the empty, wakeful awareness that is our original nature, we get lost in the nightmare of identifying as a separate, suffering self. Walk on through all the fears and pain in this life. Walk on, following your heart and trusting in the power of awareness. Walk on, one step at a time, and you will know a freedom and peace beyond all imagining. When we get lost we need only pause, look at what is true, relax our heart and arrive again. This is the essence of Radical Acceptance. Take a few moments, whenever you remember, to look into awareness and see what is true. Then let go and let be.