Jack Kornfield – Making Difficulties Into The Path

Turning Straw Into Gold – from A Path With Heart

“To undertake a genuine spiritual path is not to avoid difficulties
but to learn the art of making mistakes wakefully,
to bring to them the transformative power of our heart.”

Sheep at Abbotsbury - great view of Chesil Beach.

Sheep at Abbotsbury – great view of Chesil Beach.

I’ve been going through my journal from my counselling course this week to write a summary of it and I came across some quotes from Jack Kornfield’s book A Path With Heart that a friend lent me in December last year. I love this book and had to buy my own copy to keep. The things I wrote then are always pertinent but it was great to have a reminder and it helped me to see how I’ve been able to achieve this at times since then.

JK talks about how every life will have its difficulties: that is just part of life – like change, it’s unavoidable. But these difficulties can be the source of stress and resistance or the source of our awakening, deepening wisdom, patience and compassion. “The basic principle of spiritual life is that our problems become the very place to discover wisdom and love”.

He quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears become our measure of life, and when circumstances don’t fit our  ideas, they become our difficulties”.

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So it’s about observing how we approach difficulties – do we try and avoid them and get to a place that feels safe or do we look at them and learn from them, be compassionate to ourselves and learn from our mistakes? Thereby transforming our relationship to our difficulties.

“Tibetan Buddhist tradition instructs all beginning students in Making Difficulties into the Path. ie consciously taking our unwanted sufferings, the sorrow of our life…and using them as a ground for the nourishment of our patience and compassion, the place to develop greater freedom and our true Buddha nature. Difficulties are considered of such great value that a Tibetan prayer recited before practice actually asks for them:

“Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.”

“When our body is sick, instead of fighting the disease we can listen to the information it tells us and use it to heal…When we have difficulty with some aspect of our partner/friend we might inquire how we treat that part in ourselves. Difficulties or weaknesses often lead us to the very thing we need to learn.” I have really seen this with my own health struggles: by trying to get well and suppress what was going on, it got worse. By really looking at my emotions and seeing where I was stuck in old, unhelpful patterns, I’ve been able to heal. Our minds and bodies are so much more sophisticated than we will ever really know. Maybe by looking at our patterns we can start to understand what they are trying to tell us?

JK talks of how we need to look at the things we struggle with: for example being busy all the time. What is the reason for this? What are we avoiding? Perhaps it’s a fear of quiet and looking at oneself; taking time to do this will open up new learning and help us see our old unhelpful habits.

“The place where we can most directly open to the mystery of life is in what we don’t do well, in the place of our struggles and vulnerability. When we let ourselves become vulnerable, new things can be born in us.”


Bronchial mudra – for asthma and inner strength

Bronchial mudra

I love mudras, as anyone who comes to my yoga class will know! These, put simply, are the hand gestures used in yoga and meditation. They can be used to focus the mind while meditating (most people are familiar with chin mudra, most often seen in people meditating – index finger and thumb touching, other 3 fingers straight – see pic below.)

chin mudra

The mudras work on similar pressure points to those found in the feet in reflexology. They can stimulate physical parts of the body, but also stimulate emotional/mental states. You usually have a visualisation and affirmation linked to the mudra.

Last night in class we did the bronchial mudra.

Both hands as above, little finger at base of thumb, ring finger on first joint, middle finger pressing pad of thumb, index finger straight. Do this for 5 minutes 5 times a day. In an acute attack of asthma, use this for 4-6 minutes, then the asthma mudra (can be found on line too).

Interestingly my book says people with respiratory problems often suffer from loneliness and isolation – too much detachment from the outer world or find it difficult to set boundaries. They find themselves plagued by other people’s duties and problems. This leads to stress so these poeple are pressed for time and out of breath. A general physical weakness is caused by this shallow breathing. When strength is reduced, weakness occurs on the mental-emotional level as well as the physical level.

Do any yoga breathing exercise to strengthen the lungs.

Visualisation

Do this while holding the mudra:
Direct your awareness to your pelvic floor.
Inhaling, count to 7 and take your awareness from your pelvic floor slowly to the crown of the head (you may visualise the chakras as you do so, if you wish
Hold your breath for 5 seconds at the top of the inhalation.
Exhaling, take your awareness back down the body, counting from 7 to 1. Pause before breathing in again.
The pauses are very important after each inhalation/exhalation.

Affirmation

Every breath gives me strength. It strengthens my body, mind and soul.

 

Enjoy and let me know if it helps!

 

(Thanks to Girtrud Hirschi and her amazing book of mudras!)

 

Pema Chodron: Joy

The Wisdom of No Escape

At the end of this week’s class I read an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s lovely book. It is from Chapter 6 and is about Joy.

The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.

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The whole chapter expands this theme and is well worth reading. She tells a story of a woman runnign away from tigers and she climbs down a cliff, and the tigers are above and below, waiting for her to fall. A mouse is nibbling away at the vine she is clinign on to. She also sees a bunch of strawberries near her. She takes a strawberry, eats it and enjoys it thoroughly. Pema Chodron says,

“Tigers above, tigers below. This is the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

This is the message we read over and over in different forms: enjoy each moment as if it were your last. You never know what is in the future. It is hard to put this into action. Yoga and meditation help, but modern life is always driving us forwards, to achieve more and more, and not just smell the roses. So today, think about what your strawberry moment is and savour it!

The Law of Karma – in brief!

Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

Hi there

I promised my yoga students this week that I would write up the short reading I did from Deepak Chopra’s book at the end of class, so they can refer to it.

3. The Law of Karma, or Cause and Effect

Every action generates a force of energy
that returns to us in like kind…
what we sow is what we reap
And when we choose actions that bring
happiness and success to others
the fruit of our karma is happiness and success

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p.49 I will put the Law of Karma into effect by making a commitment to take the following steps:

1. Today I will witness the choices I make in each moment. And in the mere witnessing of these choices, I will bring them to my conscious awareness. I will know that the best way to prepare for any moment in the future is to be fully conscious in the present.

2. Whenever I make a choice, I will ask myself two questions: What are the consequences of this choice that I’m making? and Will this choice bring fulfillment and happiness to me and also to those who are affected by this choice?

3. I will then ask my heart for guidance and be guided by its message of comfort or discomfort. If the choice feels comfortable, I will plunge ahead iwth abandon. If the choice feels uncomfortable, I will pause and see the consequences of my action with my inner vision. This guidance will enable me to make spontaneously correct choices for myself and for all those around me.

This is obviously easier said than done, but a good reminder nevertheless. Being 100% present in our decision making is very difficult, but if we can do this for even, say, 10% of the time, then we will see the benefits and it will encourage us to start a new habit. Remembering that how we feel is always a result of decisions that we have made and not because of what other people have done is hard. But we have a choice, if someone says or does something we don’t like, we can choose to respond in kind, and then maybe feel bad about it later and not even realise why we feel angry or resentful. Or we can choose to think: that is their stuff, it’s not about me, and feel compassionate and respond in a caring way. Then we have nothing to feel bad about.

 

Meditation on Kindness

Kindness

Following on from the end of my last post where I reminded about attempting to be kind in thought, word and deed all week, I thought I’d post a meditation on kindness today. It’s really simple and can be adapted to whatever quality you want to encourage into your life now.

The Meditation

Sit comfortably, cross legged, kneeling or on a chair, as long as you are comfortable. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand just below your belly button. Women can place their hand on their womb. Take some deep breaths, focusing your breath into your heart and womb/abdomen/hara. This brings the focus into the body and down from the mind. You may find that you become aware of how you feel emotionally. Sit with any emotions that come up – don’t suppress them, allow them to be there. You may find you want to cry – that’s fine, acknowledge the emotion and let it go. Don’t suppress it. You may also feel a warm sense of love. Whatever it is, embrace it don’t suppress it.

Visualisation of kindness

When you are ready, start to visualise kindness flowing into your heart. (If you wish, you can visualise it flowing from God, Mother Earth, The Universal Energy, whatever works for you.) Or just focus on kindness itself. You can imagine it any way you wish, or just imagine a sense of warmth. Stay with any emotions that arise. If your thoughts wander, gently bring your awareness back to the sense of kindness. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable.

This may be enough for you. If you are doing this meditation for the first time maybe leave it here. However, you could also have a sense of sending the kindness out from you. Imagine it flowing out into the world/universe every time you exhale. Or you may wish to send it out to particular people – friends, relatives, anyone you think might benefit from it. If you are ready, you could also send kindness to people that you are having difficulties with. (This is very much like the Buddhist Metta Bhavana meditation). But this might be difficult if you are new to meditating and it might be kinder to yourself (!) to just bring kindness to your own heart for now. As we all know, you can’t love anyone else until you really love yourself. In the same way you can’t really genuinely send kindness out without being able to be kind to yourself first.

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My own practice

Personally, I incorporate this into my daily meditation. I have a timer app on my phone which divides 20 minutes into 5 minute segments. One of these segments is always this meditation.

Live life to the fullest

Life Lessons

Like a lot of what I’m reading, “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler is about finding our true potential now, rather than realising on our death bed that we wish we’d done things differently. Something I read recently asked the question, “If you were dying, what would you wish you’d done more or less of?” It made me stop and think – actually, when you take away all the material things, the important thing is that you’ve shown love to people. Whether that is your family or friends, or strangers through voluntary work. Having an open heart. We will never wish we’d worked harder, or had more cars when we’re dying.

Lessons for now

So “Life Lessons” teaches us to think about this now: rather than wait until it’s too late to do anything about it. What is your passion? What would you really like to do if money/time/what people think was no issue? How much of what you do is because you think you ought to do it, or because you think your loved ones want you to do it?
“Once in a while give in to an urge you would usually suppress, try doing something “odd” or new.
By not doing the things that feed your soul, you are becoming someone who is squashed and won’t find their true potential. Life Lessons asks the questions:

“Ask yourself what you would do if no-one was looking?”
If you could do anything without consequences, what would it be?

EKR says your answer reveals a lot about who you are, or at least what is in your way. It may point to a negative belief or a lesson to work on before you can discover your essence.

“If you say you would steal, you probably fear that you do not have enough. If you say you would love someone who you are not loving now, you may fear love.”

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Next steps in finding your soul work

Maybe for you, starting to do the voluntary work you’ve always meant to do is one thing to initiate that will make you feel better – it will also make the world a whole lot better. Maybe ask yourself the question with things you choose to do now, “Will I be happy I did this when I’m dying?” I know myself that I would much rather look back and be able to say that I’d helped lots of people in my life than that I lived a very safe, boring life without much contact with society at large. Having been housebound has made me see how small our lives can become through illness and age and how much we need other people. So now I plan to give something back – I’ve volunteered to befriend a local elderly person through Linkage. I also plan to change my job when I am able to and do something which gives more back to my community. So watch this space! Let me know if you have any ideas.

And on that note, I’ve just seen this on Facebook

(Thanks to “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler for the quotes in green.)

 

Random acts of kindness

Pay it forward

Another theme I am trying to foster in my life is generosity. I know a few people who are always generous, mainly with time and energy rather than money, and never expect anything in return. For most of us, this is a challenging concept. I myself know that if I am generous and consistently don’t get recognition for it, I will then close down and say I’m not doing it again. So part of the learning is to keep my heart open and give without expectation. The ultimate is to carry out an act of generosity and not tell the person so it is entirely without recognition to you. However, you will still feel a warm glow when you think about it.

This sweet video on you Tube exemplifies this perfectly: The boy who has the least to give, gives everything:

Video

I once went to see the film Pay It Forward at the Buddhist centre. This takes this idea and moves it forward again. This is a clip from the film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pCtXRP1edo

It’s well worth watching, and has great actors in it – Kevin Spacey etc. It’s all about every time someone does you a favour you pass it on to someone else, then we start creating a huge chain of consciousness of giving. So if you carry out random acts of kindness, the idea is that the person doesn’t necessarily know who did it for them, but you could leave a note saying “Please carry out an act of kindness yourself”. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get the whole world doing this? Or at the very least, feeling more kindly towards other people. Then we don’t just keep our generosity for our nearest and dearest but for all of humanity.

Heart meditation #1

The Heart of the Universe

First of all, bring your focus to your heart. Imagine breathing deeply in and out of your heart. This takes the focus down from the mind/intellect, into the body. (If you have suppressed emotions you may find them coming to the surface as you do this – if so, stay with them and allow them to release with love, it might feel difficult at the time but you will feel better for it afterwards. I am often surprised at what emotions come up during these meditations)

Focus on whatever you see as the divine source – God, the Universe, divine energy. Visualise divine love flowing from the source to your heart, filling your heart with joy.

bliss yoga

I found a lovely image for this meditation recently on a website. After focusing on your heart, imagine the night sky, and take a leisurely tour around the heavens: the stars, other planets, comets etc. Use your imagination. Then imagine coming upon the Heart of the Universe – visualise this as you wish. Visualise love and healing energy flowing from the Heart of the Universe to you.

Ahh, bliss!