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.”


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.

Choose love not fear

Fear

This post follows a theme in a previous post about finding answers amidst our darkest fears rather than in the light, ie being courageous and going into the darkness in order to discover who we really are. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler address this theme in Life Lessons. “Our fears don’t stop death, they stop life”. More than we even know, our lives are devoted to dealing with fear and its effects. Most of what we fear will never happen, but insurance companies, the media, the news, all put us in a state where we are so afraid of dying that we don’t live. EKR and DK assert that what really lies beneath all fear is a fear of dying, if you peel the layers away.

Rejection

Ironically, when people are on the point of death they realise how much their fear has stopped them doing what they really wanted to do. Then it’s often too late to accomplish long dreamed-of adventures, but it’s never too late to tell people you love them. A lot of fear is around rejection and not being loved. Often it’s easier not to try rather than to be rejected or deal with the feelings underneath. “If we did the things we’re longing to do, we would still be old and ill one day but we would not be filled with regrets.”

The Choice Between Fear and Love

“At the core, there are only 2 emotions: Fear and Love. You cannot have both at the same time. So if you live in love, you will not be fearful. We must continually choose love in order to nourish our souls and drive away fear. All of our invented fears involve either the past or the future. Only love is in the present. Now is the only real moment we have and love is the only real emotion because it’s the only one in the present moment. Fear is always based on something that happened in the past and causes us to be afraid of something we think may happen in the future. To live in the present then is to live in love. We can work towards that goal by learning to love ourselves.”

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That’s all easily said, but I know from my own experience it’s not so easy to do. However, I often return to what I wrote in my earlier post quoting Jack Kornfield’s exercise about spending a week being kind in thought, speech and action to everyone. Kindness is a good starting point if the idea of loving everyone is a bit beyond you right now! Have a great week!

Reflections for this week 24th Feb

Positive energy

I’m keeping in mind one of the Buddhist precepts outlined in “Discovering the Heart of Meditation” by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield this week. JK puts them into a lovely accessible form. The precept is Refraining from killing: reverence for life. What he says is:

“Undertake for one week to purposefully bring no harm in thought, word or deed to any living creature. Particularly become aware of any living beings in your world (people, animals, even plants) whom you ignore and cultivate a sense of care and reverence for them too. “

I particularly like the “no harm in thought, word or deed”. It’s easy to congratulate ourselves for not having actively harmed anyone but in this sense even thinking negatively about someone or ignoring them is harmful. And more than that, it is harmful to ourselves – if we want to be at peace we must first create a peaceful, positive mental environment in our own minds which will then send out positive energy to others. Ever wondered why you constantly attract bad energy from others? Think about what thoughts are in your own mind.

This can be a living meditation: no need to sit and meditate on it, just have it in mind as you live your daily life and see how it opens your heart.