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October 23, 2010

Unconditional Friendliness

Tara Brach, from AWAKENING MIND, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, BNN February 6, 2002


Tara Brach is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. She is a practicing clinical psychologist, a lay Buddhist priest. Article is excerpted from Tara’s upcoming book, Radical Self-Acceptance (Bantum, 2002)

Washington, D.C. -- We use the word “friend” so casually that we forget its true meaning, but friendliness is one of the main translations of the Pali word metta, or lovingkindness. The care and understanding of a friend is a well that drops into the very source of our being. If all religions and great ideologies disappeared and our one pursuit was friendship—unconditional friendliness with each other, our inner life, all nature—ah, what a world!

Because our culture fosters so little natural feeling of belonging, spirituality is often approached in a way that reinforces a sense of separateness. We frequently feel that we’re on our own, meditating by ourselves, working hard to free an encumbered self. Caught up in spiritual ego, we experience ourselves as individuals racing toward the finish line: enlightenment. Our relationships with others may matter, but seem disconnected from our pursuit of spiritual freedom. In one magazine I saw a cartoon of a Buddhist Personal: “Tall, dark, handsome Buddhist looking for himself.”

As the joke suggests, we may entertain the misguided notion that our true nature can only be realized in a vacuum. We might think spiritual “highs” happen only on long silent retreats, or alone on top of a mountain. The Buddha’s disciple Ananda, in his fresh and direct way, asked the Buddha, “Is it not so that half of this holy life is good and noble friends, companionship with the good?” The Buddha responded, “Do not say that, Ananda. It is the whole of this holy life, this friendship, companionship and association with the good.” The community of spiritual friends following the teachings of the Buddha is traditionally known as the sangha. For me, sangha also encompasses the whole web of relationships within which we heal and awaken. We can be in spiritually conscious and intentional relationships with partners and family, friends, therapists, teachers and coworkers. Considering our culture’s obsession with the individual, devoting ourselves to awakening through our relationships is revolutionary because we directly undo the conditioning that keeps us in the trance of separation.

Healing Together Our inner work is not enough and we need the support of others in our spiritual unfolding. When one of my clients, Anne, was four years old, her parents unintentionally left her alone in a basement for an afternoon. She spent those hours terrified, at first shouting and wailing, and then silent, huddled in a corner. As an adult she frequently found herself feeling very young and frightened, as if she were once again abandoned. While meditation and guided imagery sometimes helped to quiet the frantic workings of her mind, she continued to feel lonely and unsafe. When Anne tried to bring a comforting presence to her feelings of vulnerability, she heard the voice of a child screaming, “I can’t do this alone.”

Sometimes we get stuck thinking we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, and if we can’t, we feel ashamed of our dependence and weakness. For Anne, a great breakthrough in therapy was making peace with the fact that sometimes she needed help, and that needing others was not “unspiritual.” As an intentional spiritual practice, Anne committed herself to asking for help—with me in therapy, and when appropriate, with family and friends. By reaching out and allowing herself to be cared for, she increasingly has been able to reach in and soothe her own heart. Taking refuge in relationship continues to be at the center of her spiritual life, sustaining her deepening realization that she is not walking this path alone.

The greatest gift we offer each other is the gift of presence. I’ve always been touched by a phrase Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: “Darling, I care about your suffering.” In an atmosphere of caring presence, we can get very real. We are free to feel and express our longings and fears, free to unfold into wholeness.

In a small midwestern town, an elderly couple lived next door to a family with a four-year-old son. When the old woman died, her grieving husband was left totally on his own. Several days after her death, the little boy went to visit the man, and they spent hours together silently—the boy sitting on the old man’s lap. Each year the town gave an award for the “kindest act,” and the following spring the elderly gentleman nominated the boy to be the recipient. Surprised, his mother asked him, “What was it you talked about that day when you went over there?” He responded, “I didn’t say anything, Mommy. I just helped him to cry.”

Cultures that are solidly based in community wisely offer rituals that acknowledge our greater belonging and allow us to heal together. Storyteller and teacher Michael Meade recounts a healing ritual in Africa, where if a member of the tribe becomes ill—emotionally or physically—the tribe believes that one of their ancestors is suffering from a toothache. The ancestor, as well as the sick person, can be healed only when the painful tooth is removed. At a gathering in which the entire tribe sings, dances and drums throughout the night, each member reveals his or her own problems. Through this communal truth telling, the tooth is “extracted,” and everyone is healed.

In the West, many students of Buddhism are finding that Kalyana Mitta (KM) groups provide an atmosphere of unconditional friendliness that profoundly serves awakening. One man, struggling with a painful divorce and custody battle, had been meditating for a year before joining a KM group. Alone, he’d often felt like a small self valiantly struggling to face his suffering, but in the group he found an enlarged and compassionate space to hold his anger and grief. Through conscious relating, we discover a more porous sense of identity, as “my pain or shame” changes to “our shared suffering.”

Realizing Our True Nature We awaken through both the pain and beauty we experience in being together. When I look back at different chapters of my life, some of my deepest insights and openings have been powered by emotions which arose in relationship. While I may have been earning a degree, training to be a psychotherapist or learning about Buddhism, my most powerful and immediate awakenings unfolded through loving family and friends, grieving my broken heart, giving birth, facing fears of losing those I love. When relating was difficult, I opened to the pain of separation and the possibility of compassion. When relating was joyful, my habits of self dissolved into the truth of belonging. All the Buddha’s teachings — on suffering and freedom from suffering — have been illuminated in the midst of conscious relating.

The root of the word good, “ge”, is also the root of the word together, and signifies “being joined or united in a fitting way.” When we feel connected, we see and reflect back to each other our essential goodness. Not only does this reassure us that we are personally lovable, but such mirroring actively reconnects us with the beauty of our awakened being. One friend, a Buddhist teacher, describes how during meditation interviews with students, his primary role is to behold each being’s Buddha nature. When we forget our inherent goodness and belonging, we need others to remind us. In awakening together, this reminder is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can offer.

In a story told by Sufi teacher Idries Shah, a Bektashi dervish frequented a coffee house and was often found surrounded by students and devotees. He was humble and did not claim to be someone special, yet these very qualities were part of a loving and vibrant aura that attracted many followers. The most frequent question he was asked about spiritual life was highly personal: “How did you become so holy?” Invariably he would reply simply by saying, “I know what is in the Koran.” This went on for quite a while until one day, after hearing this response, a rather arrogant newcomer challenged him: “Well, what is in the Koran?” After regarding him kindly, the Bektashi responded, “In the Koran there are two pressed flowers and a letter from my friend Abdullah.”

Although scriptures guide us and practices focus and quiet us, we awaken through the living experience of love. The Buddha’s message to Ananda was timeless: Unconditional friendliness reminds us of the truth of our belonging. Because we are interdependent, we do not awaken alone. When we give or receive love and acceptance, the trance of being a limited and separate self dissolves. The great Indian teacher, Poonja-ji, said, “We release our separateness into the ocean of being.”(emphasis Ogyen’s)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Poonja-ji, said, “We release our separateness into the ocean of being.”
...release our being from its' prison.



Thank you.

Unconditional Friendliness

>> October 23, 2010

Tara Brach, from AWAKENING MIND, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, BNN February 6, 2002


Tara Brach is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. She is a practicing clinical psychologist, a lay Buddhist priest. Article is excerpted from Tara’s upcoming book, Radical Self-Acceptance (Bantum, 2002)

Washington, D.C. -- We use the word “friend” so casually that we forget its true meaning, but friendliness is one of the main translations of the Pali word metta, or lovingkindness. The care and understanding of a friend is a well that drops into the very source of our being. If all religions and great ideologies disappeared and our one pursuit was friendship—unconditional friendliness with each other, our inner life, all nature—ah, what a world!

Because our culture fosters so little natural feeling of belonging, spirituality is often approached in a way that reinforces a sense of separateness. We frequently feel that we’re on our own, meditating by ourselves, working hard to free an encumbered self. Caught up in spiritual ego, we experience ourselves as individuals racing toward the finish line: enlightenment. Our relationships with others may matter, but seem disconnected from our pursuit of spiritual freedom. In one magazine I saw a cartoon of a Buddhist Personal: “Tall, dark, handsome Buddhist looking for himself.”

As the joke suggests, we may entertain the misguided notion that our true nature can only be realized in a vacuum. We might think spiritual “highs” happen only on long silent retreats, or alone on top of a mountain. The Buddha’s disciple Ananda, in his fresh and direct way, asked the Buddha, “Is it not so that half of this holy life is good and noble friends, companionship with the good?” The Buddha responded, “Do not say that, Ananda. It is the whole of this holy life, this friendship, companionship and association with the good.” The community of spiritual friends following the teachings of the Buddha is traditionally known as the sangha. For me, sangha also encompasses the whole web of relationships within which we heal and awaken. We can be in spiritually conscious and intentional relationships with partners and family, friends, therapists, teachers and coworkers. Considering our culture’s obsession with the individual, devoting ourselves to awakening through our relationships is revolutionary because we directly undo the conditioning that keeps us in the trance of separation.

Healing Together Our inner work is not enough and we need the support of others in our spiritual unfolding. When one of my clients, Anne, was four years old, her parents unintentionally left her alone in a basement for an afternoon. She spent those hours terrified, at first shouting and wailing, and then silent, huddled in a corner. As an adult she frequently found herself feeling very young and frightened, as if she were once again abandoned. While meditation and guided imagery sometimes helped to quiet the frantic workings of her mind, she continued to feel lonely and unsafe. When Anne tried to bring a comforting presence to her feelings of vulnerability, she heard the voice of a child screaming, “I can’t do this alone.”

Sometimes we get stuck thinking we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, and if we can’t, we feel ashamed of our dependence and weakness. For Anne, a great breakthrough in therapy was making peace with the fact that sometimes she needed help, and that needing others was not “unspiritual.” As an intentional spiritual practice, Anne committed herself to asking for help—with me in therapy, and when appropriate, with family and friends. By reaching out and allowing herself to be cared for, she increasingly has been able to reach in and soothe her own heart. Taking refuge in relationship continues to be at the center of her spiritual life, sustaining her deepening realization that she is not walking this path alone.

The greatest gift we offer each other is the gift of presence. I’ve always been touched by a phrase Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: “Darling, I care about your suffering.” In an atmosphere of caring presence, we can get very real. We are free to feel and express our longings and fears, free to unfold into wholeness.

In a small midwestern town, an elderly couple lived next door to a family with a four-year-old son. When the old woman died, her grieving husband was left totally on his own. Several days after her death, the little boy went to visit the man, and they spent hours together silently—the boy sitting on the old man’s lap. Each year the town gave an award for the “kindest act,” and the following spring the elderly gentleman nominated the boy to be the recipient. Surprised, his mother asked him, “What was it you talked about that day when you went over there?” He responded, “I didn’t say anything, Mommy. I just helped him to cry.”

Cultures that are solidly based in community wisely offer rituals that acknowledge our greater belonging and allow us to heal together. Storyteller and teacher Michael Meade recounts a healing ritual in Africa, where if a member of the tribe becomes ill—emotionally or physically—the tribe believes that one of their ancestors is suffering from a toothache. The ancestor, as well as the sick person, can be healed only when the painful tooth is removed. At a gathering in which the entire tribe sings, dances and drums throughout the night, each member reveals his or her own problems. Through this communal truth telling, the tooth is “extracted,” and everyone is healed.

In the West, many students of Buddhism are finding that Kalyana Mitta (KM) groups provide an atmosphere of unconditional friendliness that profoundly serves awakening. One man, struggling with a painful divorce and custody battle, had been meditating for a year before joining a KM group. Alone, he’d often felt like a small self valiantly struggling to face his suffering, but in the group he found an enlarged and compassionate space to hold his anger and grief. Through conscious relating, we discover a more porous sense of identity, as “my pain or shame” changes to “our shared suffering.”

Realizing Our True Nature We awaken through both the pain and beauty we experience in being together. When I look back at different chapters of my life, some of my deepest insights and openings have been powered by emotions which arose in relationship. While I may have been earning a degree, training to be a psychotherapist or learning about Buddhism, my most powerful and immediate awakenings unfolded through loving family and friends, grieving my broken heart, giving birth, facing fears of losing those I love. When relating was difficult, I opened to the pain of separation and the possibility of compassion. When relating was joyful, my habits of self dissolved into the truth of belonging. All the Buddha’s teachings — on suffering and freedom from suffering — have been illuminated in the midst of conscious relating.

The root of the word good, “ge”, is also the root of the word together, and signifies “being joined or united in a fitting way.” When we feel connected, we see and reflect back to each other our essential goodness. Not only does this reassure us that we are personally lovable, but such mirroring actively reconnects us with the beauty of our awakened being. One friend, a Buddhist teacher, describes how during meditation interviews with students, his primary role is to behold each being’s Buddha nature. When we forget our inherent goodness and belonging, we need others to remind us. In awakening together, this reminder is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can offer.

In a story told by Sufi teacher Idries Shah, a Bektashi dervish frequented a coffee house and was often found surrounded by students and devotees. He was humble and did not claim to be someone special, yet these very qualities were part of a loving and vibrant aura that attracted many followers. The most frequent question he was asked about spiritual life was highly personal: “How did you become so holy?” Invariably he would reply simply by saying, “I know what is in the Koran.” This went on for quite a while until one day, after hearing this response, a rather arrogant newcomer challenged him: “Well, what is in the Koran?” After regarding him kindly, the Bektashi responded, “In the Koran there are two pressed flowers and a letter from my friend Abdullah.”

Although scriptures guide us and practices focus and quiet us, we awaken through the living experience of love. The Buddha’s message to Ananda was timeless: Unconditional friendliness reminds us of the truth of our belonging. Because we are interdependent, we do not awaken alone. When we give or receive love and acceptance, the trance of being a limited and separate self dissolves. The great Indian teacher, Poonja-ji, said, “We release our separateness into the ocean of being.”(emphasis Ogyen’s)

1 comments:

Anonymous,  October 24, 2010 at 6:04 AM  

Poonja-ji, said, “We release our separateness into the ocean of being.”
...release our being from its' prison.



Thank you.

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