Thursday, December 17, 2015

Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will

In a world stuck in old paradigms, it is becoming more and more necessary to access a right-brain space where something new can emerge: an opening of mind, heart, and will that suspends judgment and assumptions.

* open mind - curiosity vs. judgment
* open heart - compassion vs. cynicism
* open will - relaxing into the unknown vs. fear

Otto Scharmer has shown a parallel with seven sacred teachings from an aboriginal community humility, honesty, truth, respect, love, bravery, courage:
  • humility, honesty, and truth deal with opening the mind (curiosity vs. judgment),
  • respect and love deal with opening the heart (compassion vs. cynicism), and
  • bravery/courage deals with opening the will (relaxing into the unknown vs. fear).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Embracing Pain, Overcoming Fear

Soul Collage: My Creative Self
Tonglen is a Buddhist breathing practice to overcome our fear of suffering, awaken the compassion inherent in all of us, and release the fixations of ego. Anytime you suffer, this practice will be healing. 

Even if you can't name your pain or experience it fully, you can sense it in your body. Stay in contact with that awareness and breathe in your pain with the wish to take away your fear. 

Note that you are not asking to take away your suffering, but rather your fear of suffering. Then breathe out relaxation, relief, joy. Do this for several breaths.

You can also begin the practice by taking on the pain of someone you know, breathing in the wish to take away their fear, breathing out relaxation, relief, happiness for several breaths.

Doing so, you may come face to face with your own fear, resistance, anger or any form of personal pain, often when you are feeling stuck.

Then you can change the focus and do the practice for yourself and all others like you who are feeling the same pain. I especially love this third aspect of tonglen practice, breathing in the pain of everyone in the world who suffers the same feeling, breathing out relaxation, relief, and joy. It touches me as a reminder that none of us is completely alone, that all our emotions are shared with anyone who has ever lived.

Tonglen may be a formal meditation practice. You can also use it any moment you experience pain or see others in pain. As you invite this larger view of reality, you'll begin to notice your perceptions changing. Your assumptions of how things are will not be nearly as solid as before.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

We love our egos, don't we? We get along so well together. And what a relationship! It’s been life-long, predictable, we’re safe—more or less. 

OK, fine, we get angry, we feel hurt, we challenge our constraints but, oh, the seduction of familiarity. 

And, typical of any long-standing relationship, breaking up is difficult—no matter how strong the desire to end it.

I’ve coached many clients to observe and break free from habitual patterns. But I must admit, for them and for me, ego much prefers to wear its mask.

Years ago I was scheduled to be in a workshop where I'd be videotaped describing my lifelong change process, and one of the questions would be about Enneagram style Nine’s fundamental belief: I don't deserve to exist. Though I didn’t consciously feel this way about myself, I knew the story was in there somewhere, and spent weeks prior to the workshop being mindful of clues to that belief. Slowly, I began to see evidence.

As a small example, I became aware how fast I read, even when enjoying fiction or poetry for pleasure. I heard, as if magically radioed in from my past, Mary is such a good girl. She does exactly what she’s told and she does it quickly. I remembered being praised for how many books I could read in a week. That expanded to memories of being praised at work for how quickly I completed projects. I saw how this fed my unconscious story: If I do things quickly, people will praise me, I’ll feel worthwhile, and deserve to exist. 

But I didn’t experience the belief, it was still an idea. This continued up through and past the workshop — interesting insights, a deeper level of awareness, a new perspective on coaching clients by looking for their fundamental stories. Still, I hadn’t yet experienced the truth of my story.

Several weeks later, I received the DVD of my interview, eagerly turned it on, and boom! I saw myself as fat, old, and BLAND. I was completely crushed. I could not identify with that woman on the screen!

For a full day my ego danced around looking for ways to accept the external evidence that contradicted my self-image. I read about strategies for embracing growing old. I considered following the path of aging boomer artists Alice and Richard Matzkin (The Art of Aging: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self) and painting a self-portrait, warts and all — still feeding the story by trying to refute it: I am worthwhile as I am! 

Then, on the second day, I experienced the fundamental story that had been deeply unconscious until that moment. I am worthless. I don't deserve to exist. I felt it down to my bones, my heart was full of shame, and I knew it to be true.

On the third day, I fell through. The phrase fell through is inadequate to capture the experience. I can, however, describe my reaction when I again viewed the DVD of my interview. I felt compassion and even delight, a feeling akin to Oh, so that’s the body and mannerisms my soul is riding in

Since then I've seen significant changes in myself. My defensiveness dissolves more quickly — and in a way that’s very different from tamping down feelings — a sensation of lightness, each molecule more alive. 

I’m not saying I’m transformed, of course. In the immortal words of Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land, “I am only an egg.” 

Thursday, August 6, 2015


To a yogi, no symbol is more powerful than the syllable OM, as witnessed by these words from the Mandukya Upanishad:
OM: this eternal word is all what was, what is and what shall be.
In the Sanskrit letter the long lower curve represents the dream state, the upper curve stands for the waking state and the curve issuing from the center symbolizes deep, dreamless sleep. 

The crescent shape stands for Maya, the veil of illusion, and the dot for the transcendental state. 

When our individual spirit passes through the veil and rests in the transcendental, we are liberated from the three states and their qualities.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Living Ourselves Into New Ways of Thinking

We stand in the middle, living and fully accepting our reality, neither taking this new awareness on from the power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.  Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs
We've all had peak experiences, times when we were washed with a sense of clarity, of deep appreciation, of being at one with the universe. Perhaps you were watching the sunset from a sailboat, or feeling unconditional love from someone who matters to you, or being present at the birth of a child, or hearing a piece of music that touched you deeply. 

This awareness need not be serendipitous. You can invite it.

Rohr suggests that when trapped in "the ways things are" we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, to remain on a threshold where the old world is left behind but we're not sure of the new one yet. In this realm, where we hold a naïve awareness, everything belongs: darkness and light coexist, paradox is revealed.

In our everyday world, what we think we know is a world we've made up. In what Rohr calls the "second naïveté," that everyday world falls apart and a new one is revealed. In this return to simple consciousness (beginner's mind), "we are finally at home in the only world that ever existed." 

Some years ago I was entranced by the film Little Buddha, about a boy who might be the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan teacher. The acting was reserved and there wasn't much action or character development. Why it so appealing to me? Probably because it spoke to some of my personality patterns, an attraction to being Buddha-like. 

People feel safe with my peaceful nature. But one of my most difficult patterns to release has been the tendency to avoid conflict, the only path to real relationship. (Who are you dealing with if I agree with everything you say, if I distract myself from my own agenda, if I don't set clear boundaries about what’s important to me?)

Suzanne Zuercher (Enneagram Spirituality) writes of active contemplation, not passive surrender to the process, but carrying a posture of awareness, intention, and readiness throughout our daily lives: awareness of our habits of attention and how they play out uniquely for us; intention to invite our unknown and disowned parts to come forth, and readiness to take specific actions that shift our focus of attention: doing the things most difficult for us, staying present without avoiding or denying or projecting blame. 

When we remember to be present with naïve awareness, with beginner's mind, we can live ourselves into new ways of thinking.