God did not give me sisters. What I got were amazing female cousins.
Yesterday, I went to a “daylong retreat” in Rockville, MD, with one of those cousins. I adore her. As is true of any worthwhile relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when you’re family, when you share bloodlines and interesting aunts and uncles (or your parents are those interesting aunts and uncles), there’s a shorthand that simply can’t ever be mimicked by a non-bloodline relationship — because of the genetics, we both understand when the other is fearful of falling apart.
She gets me and I get her.
I truly don’t know what I’d do without her.
In October, she asked me if I were interested in going to hear Tara Brach speak at a daylong retreat.
Five days before Thanksgiving.
I couldn’t imagine saying no. First, I love spending time with this cousin (as I do all of them), and secondly, a day, eight hours in almost total silence without children? Without homework fights? Without laundry? Sign me up. So I did. I signed me up.
Tara Brach is an award-winning author, a meditation specialist (that sounds weird), a practicing Buddhist, and psychotherapist with more than 35 years experience in the field of stress management, grief and loss, anxiety treatment and other issues we face as carbon-based, earth-bound creatures on this planet.
It was glorious and healing and also a fair amount of spiritual / energetic Work (with a capital W). There were 225 of us in the center hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville and from my seat looking out the enormous windows I watched the sun begin its ascent through the trees on my left and then begin its descent set through more trees on my right. It was a special event and I encourage anyone to take advantage of Tara’s proximity to us in the DC area. We practiced seven meditations in all.
The event offered eight hours of amazing self-awareness and self-acceptance opportunities. We meditated, journaled, shared, commented, listened and rested. I took them all in. My brain and mind wandered of course, “When’s lunch?” “How long have we been at this one?” “Lots of people start coughing after the first 5 minutes…” For $75 in cash I gained peace of mind, humbling wisdom and self-love, connection with my intuition, allowance and self-forgiveness and love of The Other.
If you ever have a chance to listen Tara Brach live, do it. Just … do it. If you don’t know her, buy one of her books.
Tara opened the event, after tuning in with the breath, with a reference to my favorite poem of all time. “The Guest House” by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. This is the poem:
this being human is a guest house.
every morning a new arrival.
a joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
welcome and entertain them all!
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
the dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
After that I knew I was “home.” I had just meditated on that poem not 24 hours beforehand.
We were off to the slow races. Who could get there last was the goal. Tara invoked the poem, specifically saying “yes” to our darker emotions, a few times throughout the day.
Here is a list of 18 things I learned from Tara Brach:
- We process 68,000 thoughts a day; 98% of them are from yesterday.
- We suffer because we forget who we are.
- Our strategies to promote and defend ourselves are hard-wired. This is how we identify with the world; but we needn’t stay chained to that. We take it personally during meditation that our minds wander, that we might not be “doing” it “right” — that’s ego. Let it go.
- Hating our ego adds more self-aggression; hating the ego adds more ego: it’s a separation, it’s a judgment. Don’t judge, just be.
- When you go half as fast, you experience twice as much.
- Self-aversion locks us in self-aversion.
- In meditation, the concept of observing the “breath” is just a tool, use it if it helps. If it causes self-aversion (judgement, then zero in on something else: sounds, light, shadows through closed eyes).
- It’s not what’s happening, it’s how you relate to it.
- Invite your darker emotions in. She told a few jokes and stories, I’ll share a joke below. One story is of the Buddha who was walking through a forest and saw Marra, who is the shadow side, the darker emotions. One of Buddha’s students came up to him and said, “Master, Master! Marra is behind the tree, over there!” and instead of fighting Marra, Buddha said, “I see you Marra. Let’s have tea.” Invite your emotions in.
- Say “yes” even to resistance; allowing that the resistance exists is a way to reduce your anxiety about being resistant. We have our central nervous system for a reason — when the body & mind are not ready, they are not ready. Just allowing the fact that you’re not ready brings you one step closer to eventually allowing it all, whatever you’re resisting.
- We are at war with ourselves. When we are at ease with ourselves, we don’t act with hostility or immoral behaviors.
- When we judge and blame, the area in our brains which houses compassion and empathy shuts down.
- When a sense of unworthiness is activated in us, creativity halts.
- It’s not about saying yes to what feels good; it’s about saying yes to what is. You don’t have to love what’s happening, but denying its existence, saying no to it will never work.
- We can get confused when we think that saying “Bad! Bad! Bad!” will ever help someone. You can’t hate or judge someone into transformation, especially yourself. (Been there, tried that, failed miserably.)
- Separation loss of compassion, blaming others is what is makes us sick. The “I” in illness and the “We” in wellness illustrate clearly that when we separate and think of the other as unreal, that we have illness. When we welcome others, when we see them, we have wellness.
- Say yes to your need for space, peace and boundaries. When others have hurt you, be OK with your feelings of anger or hurt or offense or fear. Often we think in our goals to being self-actualized and whole, that we must hold a space for that person and the hurt they have inflicted on us; that we must allow it in some energetic sense. That’s not true.
- Most of our exhaustion comes from saying “no”; to resisting WHAT IS happening in our lives; our muscles tense and stress because they are geared toward resistance.
A 60-year-old man visits his new GP to go over a battery of lab tests performed the week before.
The doctor says, “Well, it looks by the results of all these tests, you’re in very good physical health. Everything seems to be as it should be.”
The man says, “Wow, that’s great to hear. So I’ll live another 20 years?”
The doctor says, “Well, that all depends. Do you smoke, or drink excessively?”
The man says, “No.”
The doctor asks, “Do you golf, boat, spend a lot of time in the heat, or strong sun?”
The man says, “No.”
The doctor asks, “Do you excessively gamble, have sexual relations, stay out late and party?”
The man says, “No. I don’t do drugs or play cards. Nothing.”
The doctor asks, “Do you hike, go to high elevations, perform risky behaviors, skydive?”
The man says, “No. None of that…”
The doctor asks “What about travel to exotic locations, do you fly to foreign countries? Eat foods you’re unaccustomed to?”
The man says, “No. I have a steady diet.”
The list of questions goes on in the same spirit, asking about excess and vices for about four more and the patient says no to each one.
Finally the doctor asks, “Then why do you care??”
That got a big laugh.
The final meditation was a partner exercise. Naturally, my cousin and I chose each other. It was part active listening and part being OK with what you say. It was called “What Do You Love?” Everyone faced another person, knee to knee, and one person asked of the other, “Tell me, what do you love?” and the other person was to answer the question, without self-judgment, without fear (because love is supposed to be free of all that self-aversion stuff; it’s pure: love) and nothing was off-base.
I asked first and then it was my turn to answer. I said a few things that were typical and honest.
Then, I had a moment of transformation, an Awakening. I paused (one of Tara’s favorite words is “pause”).
I said, “I love my story.” And we both got a little emotional.
For me to be not only OK with, but to say that I love my story; the story of my entire life: all the ups and downs; all the fears and triumphs… was and is a lot. But it’s true. If I abhor and regret what I came from, how can I be OK with what I’ve become? It doesn’t work that way.
A day later, I’m still riding the wave, still confident that whatever inspired me to say “I love my story” is right, because if I don’t love my story, if YOU don’t love YOUR story, you don’t accept it; we are rejecting who we are.
So one more:
19. The first step to self acceptance and self-love, is loving who we are, no matter how or what we went through to get here. I believe I am finally there.
20. That’s up to you…
So get started: Tara Brach has a bunch of guided meditations available for download on her website; some are those you can listen to while you walk. She has CDs available on Amazon. This is her author page. On iTunes, there are a couple podcasts. She also has podcasts available on her website.
ps — one more: When we experience emotions, synaptically and clinically, the emotion only stays in our body for 90 seconds to process and flush through. What are we saying to ourselves when we stay, cognitively, in our states of fear and shame and guilt for years? Our brain was finished with that trauma and emotional state ages ago… We can learn to let go. We must learn to let go.