By meeting the pain with a tender presence, we transform our wounds and losses into wild grace.
On my first ten day meditation retreat, I had many opportunities to look closely at painful emotions and limiting beliefs. My mind generated a deluge of self-condemnation – from gnawing little things like packing comfortable pants to major failures as a parent – and I felt trapped in a flawed, separate self. I realized that the war with myself cuts me off from my heart and continues the suffering.
I intend to accept the underlying feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and shame rather than pushing them away. These precious moments of unconditional acceptance did not last long at first, but always in them I discovered that my heart was open, caring and free. Even when thoughts came up about the parts of me that I didn’t like, they were held with compassion, there was room for imperfection. My mantra became “The limit to what I can accept is the limit to my freedom”.
Of course, my negative judgments were not limited to my own person. I would get angry with people who were dear to me and who didn’t take care of themselves as I imagined. I would get caught up in judgments directed at those in power and causing harm to vulnerable populations. But every time these thoughts came up, I reminded myself that acceptance without limits meant taking all beings into my heart. And I could feel how pushing someone away created a wall that barricaded a small, separate self from others, from the world, from inner freedom. I could feel it in my tense body and narrowed heart.
During this retreat I learned that when I turn my attention from judging myself and others and opening my heart to the vulnerability we all share, the wall becomes more porous. When I open myself to this vulnerability with compassion, the light and warmth of my heart shines through freely. As Rumi puts it: “The pain we accept turns into joy. / Call it into your arms where it can change. “
You could sit for three minutes with the simple intention of accepting any experience that arises: changing thoughts, feelings, sensations, sounds. Feel what you notice in the quality of your heart and your presence. Who are you in the moments when you unconditionally accept life?
When we feel held by a caring presence, by something larger than our little frightened selves, we begin to find space in our own hearts for the fragments of our lives and the lives of others. Suffering that may have appeared “too much” can awaken us to the sweetness of compassion.
Excerpt from Trust in Gold: Discover Your Natural Goodness by Tara Brach. Copyright © 2021 by Tara Brach. Cover and interior illustrations © 2021 Vicky Alvarez. To be released by Sounds True in June 2021.
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