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.”


Gestalt theory of polarities

Opposites/Polarities

Hi, I’ve just finished my counselling course, apart from a few bits of written work to hand in, so I now have time to write on my blog again! It’s been a long time. I wanted to share something I read in one of my Gestalt counselling books – I love Gestalt as it fits in so well with what I do in yoga and meditation – it’s all about being aware in the moment of what we are doing – how we are breathing, speaking, moving, what images are in our head and where our energy is stuck. By looking at these we can learn to change our unhelpful patterns.

I’ve just finished a book by Joseph Zinker, written in 1978, about Gestalt. He has some interesting things to say about polarities. He says:

My theory of polarities dictates that if I do not allow myself to be unkind, I will never be genuinely kind. If I am in touch with my own unkindness and stretch that part of myself, when my kindness emerges it will be richer, fuller, more complete.

He also talks about it in the context of creating art: to stop putting pressure on yourself to make a perfect piece of art, give yourself permission to do the opposite and make something ugly, do it freely or do it badly. We all feel under too much pressure to say the perfect thing, be the perfect person, only create beautiful things. What a relief it would be to let ourselves do the opposite. And then out of that opposite you might create something beautiful.

Tulips in my garden - spring!

Tulips in my garden – spring!

Fritz Perls also talks about opposites in Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality – he suggests you turn all of your normal thinking on its head. If for example you always want people to like you, imagine wanting the opposite – how would that feel? Sometimes just challenging our usual thoughts allows us to totally change our perspective. It’s simple but so effective.

Aah – this is my new favourite yin yoga posture – so lovely. Try it with a brick under your shoulder blades.

Have a great week!

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.

 

Equanimity

Seeking the heart of wisdom

This is the book by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield about insight meditation that I’ve only really dipped into, but I was re-reading a chapter about equanimity which seems quite apt at the moment for me. JK describes equanimity as a mountain that remains unwavering despite snow, lightning, rain. He says equanimity is being able to remain centered and unmoved no matter what happens.

“Equanimity is developed as we learn to keep our heart open through the changing circumstances of our life… A profound equanimity arises as we release our identification with this body-mind process.” Rather than greeting challenging experiences with fear or anxiety we accept that these are only temporary states. He says shamans call it Shamanic Equilibrium, which allows the shaman to travel to even the extreme realms of pain and death without fear of difficulty.

This echoes a quote that I have as my wallpaper on my laptop:

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, the discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.” Anne Lamott.

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This has helped me through many difficult times this year. At the moment, I feel as if I’ve gone backwards: the back problems that have prevented me from doing so much the last 2 years and kept me housebound, seem to be finally dissipating, but at the same time the problems with my jaw and skull that make me feel like a zombie and unable to concentrate have got worse. I’ve been feeling exhausted and stressed and this week my head felt like it was going to explode. The vicious circle is that I know that to ease the pressure I need to see an osteopath, but every time I’ve seen an osteopath in the last 2 years I’ve ended up housebound.. In the meantime, I have to accept that this state is only temporary: One day I will be able to read and see clearly, I will be able to ride my bike and go abroad, but for now, I have to rest and accept that this is part of the journey to finding a new way of living, a new me. I often think of someone once saying to me that it is unrealistic of me to think the path of healing will be an easy one, anything worth having has to be worked for. That comforts me when I’m struggling.

p 76 “Equanimity is a quality of mind and heart…that allows one to meet every experience with both strength and a softness or fluidity that doesn’t get caught by circumstances. To discover its great power within is one of the great joys of practice.” J Kornfield

Your body is the manifestation of your own spirit

Caroline Myss – Anatomy of the Spirit

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written – work getting in the way!

This quote above is from Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, which I’ve just started reading after I was recommended it and since I’ve mentioned it to lots of people I’ve realised how many of them are familiar with her work. Like lots of the other books I’ve been reading, it talks about how our emotional state affects our physical health. However this book goes even deeper and approaches things from a much more spiritual point of view. It makes a link between the traditional spirituality of the 7 chakras in Hinduism, the 7 sacraments of Christianity and the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah and our own health and spirituality.

Caroline Myss is a medical intuitive who can intuit what is physically wrong with a person, even without meeting them. But she will then be able to tell them what they need to do in their life emotionally or spiritually to heal the physical problems. She gives the power back to the individual though, as all good healers do, and does not heal people but just gives them advice. it is then up to that person whether they are willing to change their lifestyle/diet/job/relationship etc. She also says that she can teach people to be intuitive about their own health and energy in this way. I’ll let you know more when I’ve read more! Hopefully I can find out what’s going on with my back!

For me though, it’s one of the clearest and easiest to understand descriptions of how the chakras function in our lives and the problems they cause if they are not functioning well and what we can do to remedy that. I find that that is the beauty of Caroline Myss – she approaches what is very esoteric work in a down-to-earth practical way that anyone can understand and doesn’t couch it in lots of floaty, hippy language.

garden tulip

I love the way that she says that our biography becomes our biology – that makes so much sense. I.e every thought we have, every action we take affects our physical and emotional make-up by causing a chemical reaction. If you are trapped in a situation that makes you feel stressed or unhappy and you don’t get out of it, you will become physically ill eventually.

“Illnesses develop as a consequence of behavioural patterns and attitudes that we do not realise are biologically toxic until they have already become so. Only when illness forces us to review our attitudes do we come close to comprehending that our day-to-day fearful or bitter attitudes are, in fact, biologically negative substances.” …”To create disease, negative emotions have to be dominant, and what accelerates the process is knowing the negative thought to be toxic but giving it permission to thrive in your consciousness anyway.”

So she is not saying that we consciously create our illness but we do participate in the process somewhat.

I could quote endlessly from this amazing book, but I won’t – read it for yourself! Have a great day.

 

 

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt

Love is Letting Go of Fear

This  is a great little book that has been sitting on my book shelf unread for years. It’s by Gerald G Jampolsky MD. (Great name!)

It’s another of the many books that seem to have flourished in the 1980s around the theme of healing and being happy. Others of this era, who I’ve previously mentioned, include Bernie Siegel, Louise Hay and Elizabeth Kubler Ross. This book apparently follows the themes of the Course in Miracles but massively simplified (fortunately, as it is a huge bible of a book that I’ve only managed to read 2 pages of so far!) For anyone with a short attention span, it has very short chapters and lots of cartoons! Bite sized chunks of wisdom.

Buddha in my garden!

Buddha in my garden!

I wanted to share one of the chapters I’ve just read:

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt

“That free will and choice are inherent attributes of the mind is something that most of us tend to forget. We have all had the experience of feeling trapped in a situation where there seemed to be no escape.

Here is a suggestion that may prove helpful under such circumstances. You can use active imagination to find a way out. Picture a wall and let it represent your problem. On this wall paint a door and hang a red exit sign above it. Imagine yourself opening the door, walking through it and shutting it firmly behind you. Your problem is no longer with you since you have left it behind. Experience your new found freedom by imagining yourself in a place where you have no worries and there is nothing to do other than what you would enjoy. When you are ready to leave your happy retreat, bring with you this newly found sense of  release from past problem-solving attempts. In the freshness of your new perception, solutions previously unavailable to you will now occur.”

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!