Our meditation practice helps us to develop a more integrated and evolved part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, that enables us to develop a larger sense of being, that can see the reactivity of the small self but does not get caught in it. So we can live with more freedom and more trust, and a sense of connection with others and the world.
When I talk of small self, I mean the egoic self, the thinking self that is living in an incessant inner dialogue, telling us who we are and what is happening to us, how others are treating us, comparing us to others, often feeling separate from others, isolated, judging ourselves and others and so on. Our sense of small separated self comes from our old conditioning, from our survival brain.
We tend to move back and forth from the sense of small self to a larger sense of beingness and the challenge is to bring to our consciousness all the unconscious energies that we are operating from, so we can live more from our larger sense of being.
The two pathways to consciousness
There are two pathways that can help us become more conscious, aware, awake.
1. Recognise and Allow
The first one, is the first wing of mindfulness, to recognise and allow our old conditioning when it manifests itself in our life. To be able to say, ok, I can see that now I am caught in craving, wanting and thinking things should be different and judging. So we learn to make space for our experience of the small self, with kindness and compassion without judging ourselves for it. This practice helps us realise that everything that happens in our life is the path, the things that seem the most in our way (illness, conflict, financial difficulty) are in fact calling for our kind, loving attention. This is the practice of including everything, of saying “this belongs”. This is what will allow us to be most present in the thick of things, to trust that we can access our natural intelligence and wisdom even in the middle of the storm.
Self-reflection: I invite you to close your eyes for a moment and come into presence with your breath and body. Feeling the sensations of sitting and of the breath moving through the body. Bring to mind a current difficulty, something that is tough at the moment, and experiment with saying yes to your difficult experience, even if things are not going your way. Saying yes to your life as it is unfolding right now, and sensing just how deep this yes can go…. if you encounter resistance, see if you can bring kindness to your resistance, saying yes to your no…intentionally deepening your yes to open your presence more and more, and sense the possibility of an unconditional acceptance of all your experiences, whatever they are….
And now experiment with repeating this mantra to yourself: “may this serve my awakening, may this serve the growth of wisdom, compassion, kindness, love, peace” whatever matters most to you… and notice what happens inside of you, as you frame your difficulty with this aspiration. Sense that this practice can support you whenever you encounter a difficulty, to ask yourself: what matters? May this serve in some way?
In our daily life, in the midst of our difficulties, we can slow down, take a pause, notice when we are in reactivity, make space for it and then sense how this can serve, as we remember what matters and the compass of our heart.
When you feel ready you can open your eyes and reconnect with your surroundings.
2. Finding refuge in goodness
The other pathway is to intentionally turn our heart and mind towards that which reconnects us, this is the practice of resourcing, taking refuge in goodness and love. The poet Rumi says that turning towards what you love saves you. A large part of of our practice is to resource, to turn towards what we love, and each of us has to find our own pathway towards that.
When we resource, we start by remembering something, maybe it’s an image of loved ones, the feeling of being held, a sacred place, whatever connects us with a sense of love or safety. We intentionally turn towards that and then we let it in fully. and once we have let it in, we sense what we love. For me, it is turning towards kindness, remembering that in all situations, I can bring kindness, simply be a little kinder with myself and with others. It really helps to shift me out of reactivity and into a space of peace and compassion. I can sense a real softening in my heart and more receptivity. When we offer kindness, we become less preoccupied with a sense of small self, and we feel more at home in the truth of who we are.
We can also practice resourcing by turning towards loving awareness, it calms us and helps us shift from reactivity to love, it brings us back to our heart, when we feel agitated and worried, it corrects our course in the direction of the compass of our heart. It creates an inner refuge of goodness and love, and can bring a sense of peace and protection as well as guidance. Turning to loving awareness connects us with our intuition, our source of inner wisdom, and it guides us towards what is emerging, it is a calling from our more evolved self, our future self. that’s the urge that makes us turn towards what we love.
Extract from True Refuge by Tara Brach
When the Buddha was dying, he gave a final message to his beloved attendant Ananda and to generations to come: “Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge.”
What did he mean? Our ultimate refuge is none other than our own being. There is a light of awareness that shines through each of us and guides us home. We are never separated from this luminous awareness any more than waves are separated from the ocean. Even when we feel most ashamed or lonely, reactive or confused, we are never actually apart from the awakened state of our heart-mind.
This is a wonderful and beautiful teaching. For all of us, this open, loving awareness is our deepest nature. When we trust that we are the ocean we are not afraid of the waves. We have confidence that whatever arises, we will know how to respond wisely.
Tara Brach calls this having a heart that is ready for anything.