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Washed out by grace…

We can be so hard on ourselves in so many ways: why did I choose the same kind of partner yet again, why am I not able to find more meaningful work, why am I acting just like my mother/ father, why have I not become awakened yet, why am I not truly loveable by another. Recent research and clinical reports in the fields of attachment and interpersonal neurobiology have shown us that the way we’ve come to see ourselves, others, and relationships was formed in the extended nervous system prior to the acquisition of language. As little ones, we lived in a non-verbal world, shaping our models of self and other according to our deeply wired need to survive, to receive love, and to be mirrored empathically.

Fortunately, the realities of neuroplasticity have shown that it is possible to reorganize the way we see ourselves, conceive of this sacred reality, and interact in close relationships. By some unknown grace, it seems that we are wired for love; somehow we are supported by the unseen world to allow love to restructure our lives. While this journey is simple, we know it is not easy. We sense that it demands everything – and this can be scary. But through compassionate self-inquiry, authentic contemplative practice, somatically-alive psychotherapy, and especially through that ever-fiery crucible that is attuned, intimate relationship, the opportunity is there to give ourselves fully to this life and to receive the fruits of a wide open heart, a body and senses that are an offering of love, and an the clear wisdom of an intuitively-guided mind.

It does seem that one thing is required though, and that is tremendous kindness to ourselves – an unconditional friendliness to who and what we are, and a deep respect for the journey from fear to love, for it requires everything we have – and more. Let us nurture and hold ourselves in kindness today, and to appreciate the difficulties and challenges in living a life beyond belief. Let us set aside the spiritual superego, our desperate need to be something other than what we are, and to allow the grace that is always and already here to wash down throughout this sacred body, pouring through these precious senses. And let us behold the miracle of this life as it is, seeing how lucky most of us truly are, and how we could only ever be in the exact right place, to take the perfectly-designed next step into love.

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The Self-Acceptance Project… a free online video...

Access the Self-Acceptance Project free of charge

Self-aggression, self-acceptance, self-love, and issues of self-worth can be challenging for contemporary spiritual practitioners, even for those who have meditated or engaged in psychotherapy for years. There are many ways we can be unkind to ourselves, often subtle and unconscious, which can affect the way we perceive and engage in our lives, especially in interpersonal and intimate relationship.

In this free, 12-week video event series, I invited 23 psychologists, psychotherapists, neuroscientists, and spiritual teachers to speak with my friend and longtime colleague, Tami Simon, to explore these areas and how we might move toward the creation of a certain kind of holding environment in which we can grow, heal, and transform together.

All episodes of the Self-Acceptance Project are now posted and can be accessed as video or audio downloads, or can be streamed at no cost from the comfort of your own home. We invite you to join us for this pioneering series and look forward to sharing our discoveries with you – and hearing what you have learned. It is our intention that you benefit deeply from this work and that it guide you along your own journey of love and awakening.

Episodes include

  • Developing Shame Resilience with Dr. Brené Brown
  • Waking Up from the Trance of Unworthiness with Dr. Tara Brach
  • Turning Towards Our Pain with Dr. Robert Augustus Masters
  • Begin Exactly Where You Are with Jeff Foster
  • Taking in the Good with Dr. Rick Hanson
  • The Human Capacity to Take Perspectives with Dr. Steven Hayes
  • What if There is Nothing Wrong with Raphael Cushnir
  • No Strangers in the Heart with Mark Nepo
  • Transforming Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion with Dr. Kelly McGonigal
  • Faith in Our Fundamental Worthiness with Sharon Salzberg
  • Developing a Wise Mind with Dr. Erin Olivo
  • Embodied Vulnerability and Non-Division with Bruce Tift
  • Perfect in Our Imperfection with Colin Tipping
  • Staying Loyal to One’s Self with Dr. Judith Blackstone
  • Compassion for the Self-Critic with Dr. Kristin Neff
  • Curiosity is the Key with Dr. Harville Hendrix
  • Kindness is the Means and End with Geneen Roth
  • Healing at the Level of the Subconscious Mind with Dr. Friedemann Schaub
  • Embracing all of Our Parts with Dr. Jay Earley
  • Understanding Empathy and Shame with Karla McLaren
  • Integrating the Shadow with Dr. Parker PalmerLetting Life Be in Charge with Cheri Huber

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If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ...

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you,” that would suffice. -Meister Eckhart

We are quite sure that tomorrow will come, that the most sacred in-breath and out-breath will be there, that grace will take shape as the sun falling into the ocean, that the love that animates this body will continue to take form in such a rare way. But some part of us knows that it is really so fragile here, so precarious, so extraordinary, that this life is not what we think, and that it will be returned to love very soon. It is too much, though, to let this in all the way, as we know that do so would change everything.

We really are on borrowed time, a loan of grace directly from the cells of the heart of the beloved. Yet we know that she will be asking for this unbearably precious gift to be returned soon, so that she may recycle the uniqueness that you are and swirl it out through this and all universes. She will paint the stars in the sky with the essence of what you are, with the signature of your unique soul, and with each and every light strand of your DNA. She will take every word of sweetness that you have ever uttered, every act of kindness you have ever performed, every moment of humility and longing in your heart, and use it to touch sentient life everywhere. And what you are will then pour through every shooting star that will ever fall through the sky again, into eternity; the dust of the stars and the dust of your heart weaved back into one substance.

So let us take just a moment and say thank you, and to get real clear about what it is we are ready to give, what is really and truly most important, and what is falling away.

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Burning brightly

Is it necessary to make a commitment to study and practice within one tradition? When I first started meditating, I was introduced by Burmese meditation master S.N. Goenka to the old adage, “If you want to find water, don’t dig many holes. Dig deep in one place.”

And recently in a discussion with philosopher Ken Wilber, when asked this question in the context of a discussion about the future of spirituality, Ken responded by quoting a Japanese saying, “Try to chase two rabbits at the same time, catch none.”

But is this universally true? In our contemporary context, is it necessary to commit to studying and practicing within a singular spiritual tradition if one wants to radically grow and transform? Although I see the value in this perspective and the depth of realization it can bring, I am not convinced.

As an interviewer, I have now met some highly accomplished and wise teachers whose life experience tells a different story. I have spoken with spiritual teachers who have not followed any formal path at all and whose hearts seem wildly open and whose lives seem truly devoted to serving other people. I’ve also interviewed teachers who have simultaneously studied in several different lineages and who actually recommend such an approach as an opportunity for checks and balances (so to speak) as one matures on the path.

Having now met people who come from such a wide range of different spiritual backgrounds and paths of practice, my current view is that it is not the path that matters as much as it is the heart fire of the individual. What I mean by heart fire is the commitment and intensity of love and devotion that lives at the center of our being. When our hearts are lit up to the max—lit up with a dedication to opening fully and offering our life energy for the well-being of other people—there is a torch within us that begins to blaze with warmth and generosity. The real question becomes not are we on the right path but are we fully sincere in offering ourselves to the world? Are we whole-hearted (a word I learned from meditation teacher Reggie Ray) in letting go of personal territory? Are we whole-hearted in our desire to burn brightly and serve, regardless of the outer form our lives might take?

What I like about turning the question around like this is that now our finger is not pointing outward at some consideration of path or tradition or what other people say or have done or are doing. Now our finger is pointing directly to the center of our own chest. We can ask ourselves questions like: Am I hiding or holding back for some reason? What am I holding back and why? What would it mean to risk more so that the fire of life could shine more brightly through me? How could I live in such a way, right now, so that my heart is 100 percent available to love and serve?

My experience is that when we start investigating our own whole-heartedness in this kind of way, we don’t have the same need to judge and evaluate other people and their paths. There are a multitude of options, valid and viable. What becomes important is the purity and strength of the fire that is blazing within us.

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Gratitude… a visual tour

We were honored at last year’s Wake Up Festival to have with us film maker Louie Schwartzberg, to introduce and show us his short piece on gratitude. While this life has so many challenges, uncertainties and, as the Buddha has taught, will inevitably involve suffering and the breaking-open of our hearts, there is an underlying preciousness here. Just by looking up into the sky or into the eyes of someone we love, or listening to the birds, or watching a flower bloom, we enter into timelessness and eternity. Something more than meets the eye is happening here… the miracle that is this life is waiting around every corner, is part of every conversation, and is unfolding throughout every minute of every day.

Enjoy this lovely short film on the power of gratitude and the preciousness of this one sweet life, narrated by our dear friend, Brother David Steindl-Rast:

Holding mother in our heart

Let us keep all mothers in our hearts today, creating for them the most luminous holding environment of love, in which they can rest and be nourished. Through the unknown – and through the most sacred womb – they have offered the gift of life, a rare, blessed opportunity to make this human journey, to allow this precious heart to be polished into eternity. No matter what our relationship with our mother in the physical world presently, we can exchange one moment of love with her – for the bond we have with her is beyond time and beyond space.

As the Tibetans believe, each being we encounter in this world has at one time been our mother, and has shown us the most precious kindness, care, and compassion; and has been willing to give her life so that we may come into being. May all mother-beings everywhere receive an outpouring of blessings on this day, may their hearts and their bodies be bathed in love, and may they come to know directly, even for a moment, the true preciousness of this life.

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