Tara Brach’s True Refuge – a Review
[My last installment now on Tara Brach’s new book True Refuge: a review of the entire book after posting the exercise “Remember the Most Important Thing” and weekly quotes.
Several times in the last year I’ve offered reflections and exercises from books offering cutting-edge paths and practices that strengthen our resilience and heal and awaken us into aliveness and wholeness: Positivity (July 2012) The How of Happiness (August 2012) Self-Compassion (September 2012) The Now Effect (October 2102) and The Compassionate Mind (January 2013).
This newsletter offers reflections and exercises from Tara Brach’s new book True Refuge. When we’re faced with life threatening illness, family conflict, failing relationships, unresolved trauma, obsessive thinking, overwhelming emotions, and inevitable loss, True Refuge offers a remarkably practical guide to find an inner sanctuary: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.
Rather than a “how to,” this book reads more like experiencing the potential transformation of a meditation retreat. It’s not a book “about” but a moment-by-moment journey through mindful awareness, gentle openheartedness, and empathic inquiry into a living practice of presence that “beholds and enfolds” all of who we are.
Tara is both an experienced clinical psychologist and a revered Buddhist meditation teacher. Her first book, the award-winning Radical Acceptance, helped thousands of readers break the “trance of unworthiness,” coming out of shame and “not good enough” into their own innate intelligence and goodness again. True Refuge addresses as skillfully the pain and suffering of fear, anger, shame, grief, acknowledging the compelling lure of false refuges, and leads the reader through the gateways of truth, love, and awareness to a loving presence and awakened heart that can hold anything at all.
May these reflections and exercises be useful to you and yours.
REFLECTIONS on True Refuge
It was being diagnosed with a debilitating and incurable disease that set Tara on the search for a place of inner peace that would offer a true refuge from pain and suffering, no matter what was happening in her body or in her larger world. No matter what the stress, dissatisfaction, anxiety, sorrow or unease in our lives, we all long for such a refuge, the inner trust and contentment that will allow us to go on with our lives, even embrace our lives, no matter what.
Presence is the umbrella term Tara uses for an embodied sense of aliveness that is both aware and loving, that allows us to know we are “home” in our bodies, minds and hearts, at home on the earth and with all beings. Qualities of knowing wakefulness, an openness to experience, tender kindness, and a compassionate saying yes that evoke an inner and embodied sense of wholeness and “home.” Tara offers access to this presence, the sense that nothing is missing, nothing is wrong, through three gateways common to all healing and spiritual traditions: truth of the present moment, love, and awareness: Truth that arises through the lucidity of presence, love that flows through the receptivity of presence, aliveness and creativity that flows from the openness and awareness of presence.
The three gateways can be taught as outer refuges: we learn truth from wisdom teachings and wise teachers/role models. We are nourished by the generous love of good friends and family. We can be awakened into awareness by paying attention to any experience. Tara focuses in True Refuge on the rediscovering the inner refuges of living in the flow of truth, boundless love, loving presence, and luminous awareness that are intrinsic to who we truly are.
Coming home to truth in the present moment
Tara reminds us of the insecurity inherent in this impermanent world. “We have no sway over the bedrock realities of change, loss, mortality” inherent in a human life. And we can start right where we are, in the midst of our lives, to find peace in any circumstance.
There is recognition of, and compassion for, our habitual false refuges that we developed to protect the hurts and fears of our smaller self: we stay busy to avoid loneliness and emptiness; we pursue wealth to prove ourselves worthy and lovable; we avoid risks to avoid failure; we over-please others to avoid disappointment. And sometimes, when jolted by a crisis, we wake up to our heart’s deepest longing, coming home to a refuge vast enough to hold – and transform – even our most overwhelming experiences of pain and suffering.
We find a refuge of presence by de-commissioning our attempts to control our experience, letting go of ignoring our experience, or resisting it, or judging it, or trying to control it or fix it too quickly. We pay mindful and compassionate attention to the reactivity of the body, our reactions to our experience, even when intense, and simply be with them. Allowing is intrinsic to healing; knowing this helps us let it be: this is what is happening; this is what I’m experiencing in reaction to my experience. Compassion helps bring lucidity to our awareness; physical relaxing releases tension; saying yes to our experience opens our mind and heart to the living reality: this is what is; and it’s okay; I consent. Which leads to: I can handle this, not figuring out how to handle it (though insight into handling it can come to consciousness quite spontaneously) but deepening the trust that with enough loving awareness and unconditional presence, I can cope.
“Even when the ground shakes terribly beneath you, when your life is changed forever, you can still trust that you can touch the timeless love and awareness, intrinsic to who you are, that will bring you home.”
Tara uses the popular mindfulness technique of RAIN:
Recognize the truth of the moment Allow experience to be what it is
Investigate or Inquire into causes and conditions of experience (rather than identify with the experience)
Non-identify or release the experience and return your attention to awareness of presence as intrinsically who you are.
Tara illustrates ways to apply RAIN to physical pain, emotional difficulties, and obsessive thoughts. RAIN allows us to undo our reactivity – any aggressive behavior, including the self aggression of the inner critic. We can address being lost in thought, our limiting beliefs, our doubts and shoulds, our defensive armoring, ultimately becoming mindful of a thought as a thought and an identity as an identity, our over-identification with a small and threatened self. We come to an invigorated realization of the naturally skillful and loving beings we most truly are, and find the refuge of our own awakened heart and mind.
Tara cites the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche: that what we are experiencing is real, but it isn’t true. Lost in thought, we can believe our mental constructs to be who we are, cut off from perceptiveness and receptivity that underlie our natural intelligence and kindness. Like the Buddha’s parable of the six blind men and the elephant, any single view of our experience is only partial. It’s not the vastness and aliveness of the being we know as true.
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
Widening rings of being.
Coming Home to Love
Almost half the entire book True Refuge is devoted to practices that help us feel a felt sense of care and relatedness: attunement, kindness, love, self-compassion, compassion for others, forgiveness for self and for others, communion in relationship, speaking the difficult truths in a safe, conscious and loving container.
Tara suggests that conscious relationship shines a direct light on layered feelings of unworthiness and loneliness, and on the truth of our belonging. When we becoming conscious of caring and a felt sense of connectedness and oneness of all life, the toughness around the heart begins to soften. The sense of “me” becomes looser and more permeable. We know ourselves to be part of something larger, no longer contracted by the pain and fear of separation. We can move from “other” to “us” and “me” to “we”.
As one example of practice, Tara expands the traditional loving kindness meditation to create an inner refuge of safety and connectedness:
From present experience, memory from the past, or imagination:
* bring a sense of safety and love to the essence of your being;
* visualize being held by a love one or a circle of loved ones;
* use a gentle self touch, hand on the heart, on the cheek, a hug, as part of the practice.
* who helps you feel safe and secure?
* with whom do you feel connection and belonging? (This could be a friend, family, a therapist, a spiritual teacher, a spiritual figure, a pet. This could be in nature or any other safe place, even activities like gardening, playing music.)
* what does this warmth and safety feel like in your body? Let it relax into the places that need it most.
* when and where do you feel most at home, safe and secure, relaxed and strong?
* what memories remind you of your strength, courage, potential?
* what about yourself helps you trust your goodness?
* when you are caught in fear or shame or grief, what do you most want to feel?
* as you sense this healing energy, what words might be most comforting to hear and remember? (Including traditional phrases for loving kindness practice: May I feel safe and at ease; may I feel loved and cherished; may I accept myself exactly as I am.)
When will power is no match for primal energies of fear, anger, shame, grief, or the secondary reactions of a harsh and unforgiving self-blame, and the gateway of love allows us to recognize we are at war with ourselves, we can stop attacking ourselves, deepen our self-compassion and open to presence, allowing, forgiving and to the flowing aliveness that is our source.
Self-compassion helps us understand that the compelling emotions that shape our behaviors and our sense of self are actually impersonal. Genetic tendencies, stressors in our family of origin, cultural messages about comparison and competition, even environmental pollutants that affect our nervous system, all powerfully shape us in our all-too-human imperfection. We can shift our perceptions from being a “bad” human being to being a vulnerable and suffering human being. As we shift from fault and self-blame to understanding-compassion-forgiveness and a mature responsibility, we can stop condemning our human imperfections and reconnect with the radiant luminosity of our true nature. Tara paraphrases the compassion researcher Kristin Neff: “This is suffering. Suffering is part of being alive, being human. May I be kind to myself. May I give myself the compassion I need.” And adds: “Sense whatever message most resonates for you and send it to the place that holds the fear or anger or shame or grief. Allow the energy of the message to sooth and comfort all the places in your being that need to hear it. Be kind to your own hurting heart.”
When we hold ourselves with compassion, we begin our liberation from suffering and can grieve the unlived life, the opportunities missed for love, creativity, wholeness.
Chapter 11, “The Courage to Forgive,” is the most beautiful and helpful chapter on forgiveness I have ever read. Healthy remorse is a signal that we have strayed from our deepest life values; it draws attention to a contracted, diminished sense of self. It can energize us to realign with our hearts.
Tara presents practices of forgiveness in a context of wise discernment of who might still betray our confidence, take our money, misunderstand our intentions, abuse us physically or mentally. If someone threatens our own or others well being, we find effective ways to communicate our concerns, set boundaries, and determine consequences for harmful actions.
I very much appreciate that Tara acknowledges that, if a person is experiencing unresolved trauma, practices to open to pure awareness without a steady anchoring in a sense of loving presence, of being in the compassionate company of others (fellow meditators, trusted, teachers, skillful therapist) can be overwhelming, even harmful.
She tells the story of Ram Dass “flunking the test” when the pain of his stroke and the fear while lying on the gurney in the hospital overwhelmed his 30 years of skillful practice and teaching meditation practices from the Hindu, Buddhist, Advaita and other traditions. No mindfulness, no self-compassion available to draw on, he fell into despair, feeling helpless and alone, until he called on the love of his teacher Neem Karoli Baba and experienced the grace of the loving presence of his beloved teacher and came home to being held in love.
It’s the compassionate company of a caring and secure relationship that is essential to healing trauma. Trauma comes from any experience of extreme stress, physical or psychology, which overwhelms our normal capacities to process and cope.
Our brains are hardwired to build our core beliefs out of experiences of hurt and fear and, when deeply embedded in our neural circuitry, hold onto them for dear life. The greater the degree of early life stress or trauma, the greater the conditioning, the stronger the defenses against memories of pain and suffering. Core beliefs are rooted in the past, but they feel current and true. They filter our experiences and prime us to respond in habitual ways.
We default to primitive survival strategies, we may even dissociate, we become cut off from inner wisdom and resources. People with unresolved trauma could be flooded by emotions and overwhelmed with helplessness, feeling unreal, with no sense of presence. To re-experience these traumas reinforces a sense of feeling threatened and powerless rather than peaceful and at ease.
Tara devotes Chapter 9 to helping readers work with the felt sense of pain re-experienced in a larger richer context of safe, loving relationships. People who can provide the safety to reconnect with some degree of presence and wellbeing. When we can feel or imagine being held by a loved one, that is the bridge to a trustworthy meditation on our own inner refuge of love and care sourced in our own being.
* anchoring awareness in places in the body or in visual images that are not traumatized or traumatizing and toggling back and forth between a memory of trauma and the present experience of not-trauma;
* unpacking trauma memories into smaller and smaller workable chunks;
* widening attention to a larger perspective;
* switching to a concentration practice like loving kindness or even a different activity altogether like walking in nature, soaking in a warm bath, sipping a cup of tea.
This larger context of working with trauma changes our relationship to the self-blame of pain and trauma; it allows us to safely open up again to agony and despair long ago buried. We break the grip of limiting thoughts by bringing a mindful and compassionate presence to the raw feelings that drive them. We bring the entire interdependent tangle of beliefs and emotions into awareness. Alienated hurts and fears can come into consciousness and be received with loving, caring attention. We come to new associations, new learning, new self-trust that we have within us whatever is needed to be present with our life.
Coming Home to Awareness
The spacious wakefulness and stillness that beholds and enfolds all of existence is often described as an ocean that all the waves rise and fall in,. Rather than being buffeted by storms, we learn to rest in an awareness as large as the ocean that lets all the waves wash through, or a spacious sky that all the storm clouds pass through without disturbing the radiant brilliance of the sky itself.
To access this pure awareness, we let go of “shoulds” or self-improvement projects.
When we pay attention to experience with a sincere intention to be kind and open, with an interested, relaxed and friendly attention, we can settle into a loving, forgiving sense of presence. We let go of judging, return to ease and find the spacious wakefulness of simply being here, the peace and freedom of simply being.
When we pause, pay attention, notice, and allow our higher brains to reflect on what we’re noticing, we can soothe ourselves, forgive ourselves, and call on our goodness and strengths. We begin to identify alternative and possibilities invisible before. This leads us to becoming aware of an experience of pure awareness. More than the focused attention of mindfulness, we focus on spaciousness or stillness or silence or timelessness. We begin to experience the mystery of existence, we begin to experience even ourselves as something boundless and infinitely spacious. And not even a something but the no-thing-ness of spacious awareness beyond all appearances and forms. Tara calls this experience our evolutionary capacity to realize our true belonging to something infinitely larger than all circumstances and conditions of our existence. In this true belonging is the true refuge of peace and happiness.
You can trust your heart’s awareness to awaken in the midst of all circumstances.
– Dalai Lama
People experience this true refuge of pure awareness as an open spacious luminosity. We realize our true nature is to be this awareness. We don’t discard our personal well-functioning – or suffering – self, not at all. But we can realize as well the timeless dimensions of our being, of all beings, that we are the consciousness that knows, that is. We can trust that loving presence will guide us through all our struggles to something larger, will guide us home.
“You may have noticed the effect of open awareness when looking at the night sky and sensing its immensity. Or during the silence in the early morning before sunrise. Or when the world is still after a snowfall. We resonate with such moments because they connect us with the most intimate sense of what we are. We sense the depth of our being in the night sky, the mystery of what we are in the silence, the stillness. In these moments of objectless awareness, there’s a wordless homecoming, a realization of pure being.”
Awareness loves the creation that is the dance of itself. We become the awareness that lives its expressions as aliveness. We realize the vast oceanness of our being and cherish the waves that appear on the surface. We enter the flow of life and respond to whatever happens with care and grace.
POETRY AND QUOTES TO INSPIRE
All religions and spiritual traditions begin with the cry, “Help!”
– William James
* * * * *
With little cares we train ourselves to work with great adversity.
* * * * *
What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness.
– Barbara Kiingsolver
* * * * *
Our habit is to think there is a particular cause for our happiness – the new green in early spring, the sound of a child’s laughter, or the sensations of playing in the ocean waves. But what actually allows us to be happy is the background space of silence, allowing presence. Each time we meet aliveness with presence, presence intensifies, and awareness senses itself. The living green awakens us to this inner space of presence, the laughter to presence, the sparkle and splash to presence. We are inhabiting our wholeness and are happy being who we are.
– Tara Brach
* * * * *
All you ever longed for is
Before you in this moment
If you dare draw in a
Breath and whisper “Yes.”
Trust the energy that
Courses through you. Trust
Then take surrender even deeper. Be the energy.
Don’t push anything away. Follow each
Sensation back to its source
In vastness and pure presence.
– Danna Faulds
* * * * *
It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get back into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe….For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.
– D.H. Lawrence
* * * * *
We reclaim our life and spirit by planting ourselves again in the universe. This begins when we connect with the truth of what is happening in our body. When we disconnect from the body, we are pulling away from the energetic expression of our being that connects us with all of life. By imagining a great tree uprooted from the earth, we can sense the unnaturalness, violence, and suffering of this severed belonging. The experience of being uprooted is a kind of dying. Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have the perpetual sense of a threat lurking around the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. The mysterious field of aliveness we call the universe can only be experienced if we are in contact with the felt sense of that aliveness in our own being.
– Tara Brach
* * * * *
Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.
– Mark Nepo
* * * * *
Ah, not to be cut off,
Not through the slightest partition
Shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner – what is it?
If not intensified sky,
Hurled through with birds and deep
With the winds of homecoming.
– Ranier Maria Rilke
* * * * *
To be intimate is to feel the silence, the space that everything is happening in.
* * * * *
I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
For where I am closed, I am false.
– Ranier Maria Rilke
* * * * *
Sometimes you hear a voice through the door calling you,
As a fish out of water hears the waves….Come back. Come back
This turning toward what you deeply love saves you.
[see other quotes from True Refuge in January 28, 2013 Weekly Quotes]
STORIES TO LEARN FROM
True Refuge is filled with real stories of real people who struggle with catastrophic illness, loss of a job, a marriage falling apart, addictions, domestic violence, PTSD and the very real fear-anger-shame-grief those circumstances give rise to. People who learn to use the healing power of loving presence and compassionate awareness to find true refuge in their own inner being.
Tears came to my eyes as I read many of those stories. Here I’m excerpting Tara’s own story, coping with a genetic condition that is rare and little known, as an illustration of the journey to find and then trust in true refuge.
I’ll need some Advil if I’m going to get out for a walk…but I’ll get a stomachache if I don’t eat something first…and it’s too early. Then the thought I’m awake, and as I dislodge the pillow from under my knees and roll slowly onto my side, the stabbing in my hip kicks in. It’s another morning, another day of having to live inside a hurting body.
I try not to think of how it used to be. I can let go of the younger me, the one who won a yoga Olympics by holding wheel pose for more than eighteen minutes. I can let go of the woman who ran three miles on most days, who loved to ski and Boogie Board, bike and play tennis. But what about just being able to wander the hills and woods around our home? What about walking along the river?
So much has been taken away. First came an injury to my knees while running. Then knee instability ruled out biking or tennis. I resigned myself to swimming for exercise, only to find that swimming aggravated disks in my neck. Now even walking is often painful. Sweeping the floor, bending over, or pickup up anything heavier than a gallon of water can leave me hurting for days. And I’m losing strength on all fronts, because most ways of strengthening the muscles injure my joints.
Losing the freedom to move easily feels like a kind of death, a separation from the experience of aliveness that I love. But the worst part is looking ahead. I imagine being with my future grandchildren, unable to lift them into my arms, splash in the water, horse around on the floor, or play tag on the lawn. I imagine being a prisoner in a body that hurts…. If suffering and loss can’t be avoided, how can we humans find peace and freedom in the midst of our lives?….
I want to say right here that stepping away from the full pain of loss can be an intelligent and compassionate response – it gives us space and time to regain some energy, perspective, and balance. It may not a be false refuge to keep ourselves occupied after a fresh loss – to bury ourselves in work, books, movies, or to surround ourselves with company. The same is true if we need to withdraw from regular activities and social engagements. But our ways of seeking relief are often neither healthy nor temporary. Instead, they become ongoing attempts to control our experience so that we don’t’ have to open to our grief….
My controller can hold loss at bay for months at a time. If I can keep doing things – teaching serving our community, counseling others – the ground stays firm under my feet. But some years ago, right before our winter meditation retreat, my body crashed. I landed in the hospital, unable to teach, or for that matter to read, walk around, or go to the bathroom without trailing an IV.
I remember lying on the hospital bed that first night, unable to sleep. At around 3 A.M., an elderly nurse came in to take my vitals and look at my chart. Seeing me watching her, she leaned over and patted me gently on the shoulder. “Oh dear,’ she whispered kindly, “you’re feeling poorly, aren’t you?
As she walked out tears started streaming down my face. Kindness had opened the door to how vulnerable I felt. How much worse would it get? What if I wasn’t well enough to teach? Should I get off our meditation community’s board? Would I even be able to sit in front of a computer to write? There was nothing about the future I could count on.
Then a verse from Rumi came to mind:
Forget the future…
I’d worship someone who could do that…
If you can say, “There’s nothing ahead,” there will be nothing there.
The cure for the pain is in the pain.
I began to reflect on this, repeating, “There’s nothing ahead, there’s nothing ahead.” All my ideas about the future receded. In their place was the squeeze of raw fear, the clutching in my heart I had been running from. As I allowed the fear – attended to it, breathed with it – I could feel a deep, cutting grief. “Just be here,” I told myself. “Open to this.” The pain was tugging, tearing at my heart. I sobbed silently (not wanting to disturb my roommate), wrecked by surge after surge of grief. This human self was face to-face with its fragility, its temporariness, with the inevitability of loss.
Yet as my crying subsided, a sense of relief set in. It wasn’t quite peace – I was still afraid of being sick and sidelined from life – but the burden of being the controller, of thinking I could manage the future or fight against loss, was gone for the moment. It was clear that my life was out of my hands.
Those six days in the hospital were a humbling lesson in surrender. A pulse that wouldn’t go above forty-five; doctors who couldn’t figure out what was wrong; food I couldn’t eat; release date extended. Yet what was most amazing to watch was how the controller struggled to remain in charge.
On the third day I was walking around the perimeter of the cardiac unit, jarred by how weak I felt, how uncertain about my future. Then, for the ten thousandth time, my mind lurched forward, anticipating how I might reconfigure my life, what I’d have to cancel, how I could manage this deteriorating body. When I saw that the controller was back in action I returned to my room and wearily collapsed on the raised hospital bed. As I lay there, the circling thoughts collapsed too, and I sank below the surface, into pain.
Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa taught that the essence of a liberating spiritual practice is to “meet our edge and soften.” My edge was right here: the acute loneliness, the despair about the future, the grip of fear. I knew I needed to soften, to open. I tried to keep my attention on where the pain was most acute, but the controller was still there, holding back. It was as if I’d fallen into a black hole of grief and died. Gently, tentatively, I started encouraging myself to feel what was there and soften. The more painful the edge of grief was, the more tender my inner voice became. At some point I placed my hand on my heard and said, “Sweetheart, just soften…let go, it’s okay.” And as I dropped into that aching hold of grief, I entered a space filled with the tenderness of pure love. It surrounded me, held me, suffused my being. Meeting my edge and softening was a dying into timeless loving presence.
Is some ways, the hospital was a great place to practice. So little control, so many hours alone, so many rounds of vulnerability. In the remaining days, I repeated to myself again and again. “Sweetheart, just soften.” Whenever I recognized that I had tightened in anxious planning and worry, I noted it as “my edge.” Then I’d invite myself to soften. I found that kindness made all the difference. When I returned home, the stories and fears about the future were still there. The controller would come and go. But I had deeper trust that I could meet my life with an open and present heart.
EXERCISES TO PRACTICE True Refuge
Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.
Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.
– Anthony de Mello
Most of the exercises in True Refuge are offered in the spirit of “What is coming between me and loving presence and compassionate awareness?”
Coming Home to Truth in the Present Moment
1. The Buddha’s Smile
Research now shows that even a small smile relaxes our reactivity and includes us toward feelings of ease and well-being.
* Close your eyes, take a few full breaths, and with each exhale sense a letting go of tension, a softening and relaxing of the body.
* Imagine a smile spreading through your eyes, gently uplifting the corners and softening the flesh around them. Feel a real yet slight smile at the mouth and also sense the inside of the mouth smiling. Relaxing the jaw, notice the sensations that arise thorugh the mouth and cheek area.
* Imagine smiling into the heart. Sense the smile spreading through the heart and chest, creating space for whatever you might be feeling. Allow the sensations and feelings in the heart area to float in this tender space.
* Imagine smiling into the navel area, letting the curve of a smile spread through the belly, softening any tension there. Notice awareness awakening deep inside the torso.
* Now imagine the atmosphere of a smile enlarging to include your whole body. Take a few more full breaths, sensing the aliveness that fills your entire body held in the openness of a smile. Rest for as long as you like in that felt sense of aliveness and openness.
2. A Light RAIN
Pausing for a brief and cleansing shower of RAIN during the day can clear our minds and open our hearts. The steps are essentially the same as the full, formal practice of RAIN (taught throughout the book), just abbreviated.
RECOGNIZE emotional reactivity
Pause by taking three full breaths, and ALLOW your inner experience to be as it is.
INVESTIGATE with kindness whatever feelings are most predominant.
Resume, activity, and notice if there is more NATURAL presence.
* A light RAIN starts by recognizing that you are caught in reactivity – to a perceived slight, unwashed dishes, misplace eyeglasses, feelings of indigestion, something you regret saying. When you recognize you are stuck, stop everything ad take three long, full breaths. These breaths help you disengage from the momentum of your thoughts and activity and make space for your inner experience. Investigate by asking yourself, “What am I feeling?” and bring your attention to your body – primarily your throat, chest, and belly. Notice what sensations (tightness, heat, pressure) and emotion, (angry afraid, guilty) are predominant. Let your intention be to befriend what you notice. Try to stay in touch with your breath as you contact your felt sense of what is happening.
* Sometimes it’s easy to locate your felt sense, but at other times it might be vague and hard to identify quickly. That’s fine. What is important is pausing and deepening your attention. See if it is possible to regard yourself with kindness.
* You complete your moments of light RAIN by simply relaxing and reentering activity. As you move into what is next in your day, sense what might have shifted. Are you more aware? Open? Warmhearted? Are you taking things less personally? Is there more access to natural presence, the N of RAIN?
* As with practicing the fuller version of RAIN, approach these pauses creatively. You will soon discover what most helps you list, with a friendly attention, to your inner life.
3. Preciousness of the Moment
A brief but powerful exercise from THich Nhat Hanh to turn toward the refuge of truth. Ask a close friend or partner to participate in the exercise and reflections with you.
* Hug your partner while taking three conscious and full in-breaths and out-breaths. With the first breath, reflect on the truth, “I am going to die.” With the second breath, reflect on the truth, “You are going to die.” With the third breath, reflect on the truth, “And we have just these precious moments.”
* Share you reflections with your partner and listen to theirs with an open, loving heart. Let the preciousness of these moments open you to the timelessness of presence.
Coming Home to Love
Tara teaches many mindfulness, loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness practices that will be familiar to those familiar with practices from the Buddhist wisdom tradition. Here are two of her variations that are easy to implement throughout the day.
4. Self-Forgiveness Scan
Even when we are not overtly at war with ourselves, we often move through the day judging ourselves for the ways we feel we are falling short. This practice brings our self-judgments into awareness so they can be seen and released. It’s an especially cleansing way to end the day. Try it when you are lying in bed before you go to sleep.
* Take some moments to become still and to relax any obvious areas of tension. Then take a few long, slow breaths to help you arrive fully in your body.
* Now ask yourself, “Is there anything between me and being at home with myself?” (Feel free to change the wording in any way that helps you identify the presence of self-blame.) Then pause and see what comes up in your body and mind. What stories of wrongdoing have you been telling yourself? – stories of letting others down, of performing poorly at work, of not meeting your standards as a parent, partner, friend, human being.
* If something arises, simply acknowledge it and offer it forgiveness. You might gently place your hand on your heart and whisper “forgiven, forgive” or “it’s okay.” Recall your intention not to push yourself out of your own heart. Then inquire again – is there anything else you’re holding against yourself? Continue in this way until you’ve identified whatever self-judgments you’ve been varying. End the scan by offering yourself a prayer or blessing, a wish for your own peace of heart and mind.
5. Loving Kindness in Daily Life
* Set an intention to reflect, each morning for a week, on the goodness of the people you live with or feel close to. Then whenever you remember during the day, silently offer them your prayers for peace and happiness.
* Whenever a loved one or someone else triggers feeling sof irritation ro insecurity, pause, recall some specific example of that person’s goodness, and mentally whisper, “May you be happy.”
* Choose a “neutral” person you encounter regularly, and whenever you see them during the following week, remind yourself of their goodness and silently offer your wishes for their well-being. Notice if your feelings for this person change.
* Choose a “difficult” person and set a time to reflect daily on his or her goodness. After you’ve offered prayers of loving kindness for at least two weeks, do you notice a change in your feelings? Has there been any change in their behavior toward you?
* Imagine your heart is holding the people you’re praying for, or that you’re touching their cheeks with care. Imagine them feeling healed and loved and uplifted by your prayer.
* Discover what happens when you let someone know the goodness you are seeing in them.
Coming Home to Awareness
As we move through life we need a flexible attention, one that is capable of a narrow focus on objects or experiences (like images, sensations, sounds, feelings, thoughts, beliefs, tasks) as well as an open focus that perceives the presence of spaciousness. Learning to attend to inner space cultivates this flexibility. We become familiar with the formless, impersonal ground of all experience. Even at times when the lens narrows, we are less inclined to fixate and react with grasping or resisting.
6. Exploring Inner Space
[I’m offering here an adaptation I use in teaching my own meditation group.]
Let yourself imagine the space between your eyes.
Let yourself imagine the space between your ears.
Let yourself imagine that the region between your forehead and the back of your skull as filled with space.
Let yourself sense that your hands are filled with space.
Let yourself sense that your chest is filled with space.
Let yourself sense that your belly is filled with space.
Let yourself sense that your whole body is filled with space. Breathe gently into the space that is your whole body, and let your whole body feel spacious.
Let yourself imagine that the space within your body and the space that extends outside your body into the room is continuous, is the same spaciousness.
Notice your awareness of this spaciousness.
Let yourself rest in this wakeful and open spaciousness.
Let yourself BE this wakeful and open spaciousness.
RESOURCES of True Refuge
True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach, PhD. New York: Bantam Books, 2012.
Tara’s website offers guided meditations, audio talks, video talks, books and CD’s, and her 2013 teaching schedule on True Refuge.
From the jacket of the book…
True Refuge is a precious gift, filled with insight, shared from heart to heart.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
This book offers unique insight and easily learned practices that literally can transform your life’s path. Read, explore, and enjoy!
– Dan Siegel
This is a special book, lovely, loving, wise, and helpful. It is like having a sage and caring friend sit with you, offering comfort, insight, and guidance for your own true journey home.
– Jack Kornfield
True Refuge inspires the confidence needed to face our deepest, most difficult emotions. With tenderness and understanding, she teaches us the practical techniques that can help us loosen the grip of these emotions and arrive at a place of peace and basic goodness which is our essential nature.
– Tim Ryan
Tara reminds us that we each have the capacity to connect to ourselves and others in a deep and lasting way. The techniques she offers for establishing a practice are both simple and profound, and accessible to all.
– Sharon Salzberg
This profound and timely book is rich with practical help coming from Tara’s long professional experience and her heartfelt openness about her own pains and losses. Based on a deep understanding of the body and mind, and illuminated by contemplative wisdom, True Refuge will help you find the sanctuary inside that brings strength, peace, and healing.
– Rick Hanson
…and many, many more.