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.”


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

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.