Friday, April 16, 2010

A Wise Break

Today's post is about a particular aspect of the teachings of  Buddhist meditation writer and teacher Tara Brach

One of the themes of Tara's teaching is that, whilst mindfulness is an essential component of meditation practice, sometimes we're not quite ready to be mindful of very difficult feelings and sensations. She teaches that it's important that we build up a field of compassion, and caring, before attempting to be fully mindful of strong emotions such as fear, terror, despair, or grief. 

I've heard her say in interviews that when meditation practice first became popular in the West about 40 years ago, people were often taught they had to just sit with whatever 'came up' in meditation - and that this would be of benefit eventually.  She said that slowly, teachers in the West realised that these instructions were actually exacerbating some people's suffering. 

In an interview with Sounds True, Tara said:
"When there has been trauma, a lot of meditations cause people to get re-traumatized. Especially in the early days, I would say in all of the Buddhist traditions, people would come and the instructions would be kind of Rumi's 'Guest House': open the doors and invite in all the demons and bring mindfulness.

If there is a lot of trauma and you open the door to it, and you don't have the resilience and the space and the stability, you are just rerunning the same trauma through -  and without anything added it is re-traumatizing.
So that was the kind of innocent but ignorant beginnings of meditation in this country. Not recognizing that some people with trauma would not benefit by directly going into mindfulness practice. And instead they needed more building affect tolerance, or building a capacity of 'be with.'"

Here's a quote from a podcast Tara gave called Awakening to the Sacred. I think this quote is particularly relevant to those of us with physical pain.

"I want to again say, that sometimes it’s too much to stay.  There’s nothing noble about strong-arming ourselves; to steal ourselves to endure.  It’s just not wise. 

So there’s kind of a compassion that knows, OK, be with what’s here, but that sometimes it’s just too much and we’re really thrown off balance by it.  So we take a break.

A wise break is just very mindfully saying ‘OK, it’s too much right now,’ and walking or having tea, or taking the Aspirin if we need it – just  in some way being with ourselves in a way that gives us relief."

I'd love to hear your insights and opinions on this topic.  When is it good to take a break?  How have you learnt to sit with pain?  It's a fascinating aspect of meditation practice!

To finish, a beautiful photograph from an Etsy store (my latest addiction!) called Something Betsy.  I found this little store yesterday and asked Betsy if I could put a few of her photos into my blog posts. She has a group of photos called the 'Pathways Series' - which I thought was very appropriate for a meditation blog!

Here's one taken in Alaska, called 'Where We Were.'

1 comment:

  1. I listened to this podcast a few weeks ago. I think the sit and stick with whatever comes up sentiment is still very common.

    To me it seems that if you spin off into overwhelm about something difficult coming up, that might be the best point to shift your practice. Taking a break might mean going from just sitting to chanting lovingkindess verses, or walking meditation, or focusing on whatever is going "well" in this moment (you're alive, probably not physically in danger, maybe warm and not in terrible physical pain - just a few examples.)

    There probably is a place for dropping it all and taking a walk or having tea or doing some other activity, but I find that comment of Brach's a bit easy for people use as an excuse for skipping out on anything difficult that arrives.

    What I have found is that through regular practice, I've learned to some degree to have a gut sense of when I'm wanting to avoid, and when it's necessary to make some kind of shift, be it subtle or major. A kind of knowing your actual limits.


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