Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach: Big Insights: The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life

May 23, 2017
Podcast

Insights at the Edge

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach: Big Insights: The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life

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Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach are two of the leading authorities on mindfulness and meditation in the West. Jack is the bestselling author and teacher widely credited with combining mindfulness with modern western psychology. Tara has been teaching meditation for more than four decades and is the author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. In this special edition of Insights at the Edge originally recorded in 2015, Tami Simon sits down with both Jack and Tara to discuss the big insights that form the foundation of mindfulness practice. They speak on the concept of awareness itself and how to distinguish “awareness” from “thinking.” Tara and Jack share some of the everyday benefits of a meditation practice, including personal clarity and more conscious relationships. Finally, Jack, Tara, and Tami have a frank conversation on how awareness training could affect the state of the world. (60 minutes)

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Jack Kornfield, PhD, trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India and has taught worldwide since 1974. He is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practices to the West. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He has written more than a dozen books including The Wise Heart; A Path With Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; and more.

Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Jack Kornfield:
Big Insights: The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life »
Difficult Times & Liberation »

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Tara Brach, PhD, has been practicing and teaching meditation since 1975, as well as leading workshops and meditation retreats at centers throughout North America and Europe. She has a PhD in clinical psychology,is the founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW), and the author of Radical Acceptance (2003) and True Refuge (2013). Tara’s weekly podcasts of talks and meditations are downloaded over a million times each month. For more, visit tarabrach.com.

Author photo © Jonathan Foust


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Tara Brach:
True Refuge »
Big Insights: The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life »
Radical Acceptance »

Also By Author

3 Simple Habits of a Loving Kindness Practice

3 Simple Habits of a Loving Kindness Practice Header Image

Are you interested in studying loving kindness more in-depth? Check out Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach’s The Power of Awareness, a 7-week mindfulness training and community mentoring program beginning February 18, 2020. Can’t wait? Take advantage of the free video teachings.

 

“A little kingdom I possess, where thoughts and feelings dwell; and very hard the task I find of governing it well.”
—Louisa May Alcott

In his video Seeing the Goodness, Jack Kornfield refers to the practice of loving kindness as “seeing the original innocence, dignity, and beauty of another.”

At first glance, this might sound like a simple thing to do. But what makes loving kindness (also known as lovingkindness) a practice rather than a feeling?

I believe we all have the capacity to embrace loving kindness in our daily lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task. When I sat down to do one of Jack Kornfield’s loving kindness meditations (find it here), I found it surprisingly difficult. Cross-legged on the carpet, I pushed my headphones into my ears and listened carefully to every word—until I couldn’t anymore, and I turned it off.

For the rest of the day, I wondered, why? I think of myself as a kind person. Plus, I meditate fairly regularly. So what was it about this practice I found so difficult?

I ruminated and ruminated. Finally, as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep the other night, the answer came to me at once. My whole life, I’ve been doing it backward—extending love to others and then, only at the end, if there was space left, extending it out to myself. And there isn’t always space left.

WHAT IS LOVING KINDNESS?

loving kindness practice hand

Loving kindness is not just about empathy, presence, and listening in regards to others. It is part of the difficult inner work we all face. This is the work of finding self-forgiveness, releasing shame and guilt, and loving ourselves for exactly who we are. Loving kindness is kind of like looking at ourselves and expressing love—then letting that love reverberate, like two mirrors reflecting one another into infinity.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
—Confucius

It’s a practice of recognizing our own inner beauty and watching it manifest as love and healthy attachment in our relationships. It’s about embracing compassion as a state of enlightenment, as the highest nature of ourselves and the true nature of God. It’s about seeing beyond guilt and shame to the fundamental, universal innocence of all beings.

The origins of the word innocent are various. They are even more fascinating when taken together. In the 12th century, the word inocent (Old French) meant simply “harmless; not guilty; pure.” The prefix, in, meaning not or un-, is attached to the suffix nocere (Latin), meaning “to harm.” Nocere itself originated from the root nek-, meaning “death.” In that regard, we can read innocence as meaning not harmful or not deathful; not yielding death. Infinite.

GENTLE HABITS FOR CULTIVATING LOVING KINDNESS

loving kindness practice habitsI don’t think I’m alone in finding it easier to extend compassion to others than to myself. And I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing repeated bouts of resentment and sadness toward people I love—probably partly from expecting to receive my self-worth from them.

So, how do you get started on something that seems so simple, but isn’t?

Here are three small, but profound, ways to gently maintain a lovingkindness practice.

GROUNDING

What helps you relax? Write down a list of things that help you feel calm, creative and focused. Maybe you feel better after a long shower or bath. I know people who absolutely love puzzling, coloring and Sodoku for this. It can be talking to a good friend, taking a walk, spending some time in nature, or curling up with a good book, watching television, meditating, or yoga. The list can be as long as you want!

As you practice loving kindness, begin to recognize whenever you feel uprooted: instead of compassionate, you might feel irritated, resentful, or bitter. You might feel afraid instead of loving. You might feel defensive instead of communicative. Hold these grounding practices close to your heart and use them whenever needed. They are for you.

SELF-COMPASSION

Jack Kornfield writes in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, “Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.” One of the things that’s hard about lovingkindness, I think, is that it’s possible to feel loving of others while quietly holding onto self-doubt. Whether it’s daily, weekly, or multiple times a day, make a plan for checking in with yourself: How are those inner voices speaking to you right now?

Once you do this enough, it becomes a habit, maybe even automatic. You can get to know these voices, and they can get to know you. They will learn what can and cannot be tolerated and that you value being treated gently, just as you wish to treat others. It is a vital first step on the path toward loving kindness—one that, for many, is the most difficult, but affects our spiritual practice from every direction.

GRATITUDE

Gratitude is like an orb of everything you want from loving kindness. It is a way to thank yourself, others, and the Universe all at once.  The closest to real peace I’ve ever felt was in a moment of gratitude. I felt suspended in the air.

In a grateful space of consciousness, it is much easier to have compassion for others. We can see further into different perspectives. We can have mercy on ourselves. Gratitude is not about removing boundaries, but about understanding this moment as an irreplaceable one. It’s about comprehending that each person is infinitely unique, including you.

 

ABOUT JACK KORNFIELD

Jack Kornfield Author Photo
Jack Kornfield, PhD, trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India and has taught worldwide since 1974. He is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practices to the West. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California. He has written more than a dozen books including The Wise Heart; A Path With HeartAfter the Ecstasy, the Laundry; and more.

ABOUT THE AUTHORDani Ferrara Blogger Author Photo

When she isn’t writing, playing music or teaching, Dani Ferrara blogs at Sounds True and researches the alchemy of healing. Explore her art at daniferrarapoet.com.

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach: Big Insights: The Power...

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach are two of the leading authorities on mindfulness and meditation in the West. Jack is the bestselling author and teacher widely credited with combining mindfulness with modern western psychology. Tara has been teaching meditation for more than four decades and is the author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. In this special edition of Insights at the Edge originally recorded in 2015, Tami Simon sits down with both Jack and Tara to discuss the big insights that form the foundation of mindfulness practice. They speak on the concept of awareness itself and how to distinguish “awareness” from “thinking.” Tara and Jack share some of the everyday benefits of a meditation practice, including personal clarity and more conscious relationships. Finally, Jack, Tara, and Tami have a frank conversation on how awareness training could affect the state of the world. (60 minutes)

Jack Kornfield: Difficult Times & Liberation

Jack Kornfield is a world-renowned teacher and one of the key figures to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He is the author of many books and audio programs, including The Wise Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Jack and Tami Simon discuss Buddhist views of how best to navigate periods of difficulty and heartache. Jack reflects on four decades of personal meditation practice and how this has informed how he works with students. Jack and Tami also explore insights into the nature of suffering, whether or not it is possible to be liberated even in spite of our neuroses, and what is meant by ”the crystal of liberation.”
(49 minutes)

You Might Also Enjoy

The Place You Awaken

Establishing a place for regular outdoor meditation and nature observation is often referred to as a “sit spot” or “medicine spot”.  Like the Buddha, who found his own tree of awakening, we too can go to nature and practice being awake to the reality of the present moment.  This practice can also help us become more intimate with all the qualities of the land we live with.  

If one day I see a small bird and recognize it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird. If I just see it but don’t really recognize it, there is no thin thread. If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognize that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little. Every time I see and recognize that bird, the thread strengthens. Eventually it will grow into a string, then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way.” 

San bushman

Guided Sit Spot Practice

  1. Go to a place in nature that is close to where you live and that you can visit regularly.
  1. Take a few moments to center yourself, breathing in and out, and arriving fully in the present moment.
  1. As you are ready begin to walk mindfully with an intention to find a spot that calls out to you, a place you can sit and deepen your relationship with this place.  The spot should feel welcoming, safe and comfortable.  It could be under a tree, beside a boulder or in an open space.  Often, east facing spots can be nice for early morning sits.
  1. When you find a spot that feels good, in your own way, ask permission of that place and wait to see what comes to you.  If you feel invited, sit.  If not, keep looking.
  1. Once in your spot, sit comfortably and become as still as you can.  Imagine that you are melting into the earth, becoming a part of the land.  Sit for at least 15-30 minutes, noticing any movement, sounds, or other sensations and activities.
  1. Return often.

Find more practices for connecting to nature in Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature by Micah Mortali.

Read Rewilding today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop

Pema Chödrön: “Compassionate Abiding”

How do we find a sense of stability when everything seems so groundless? Pema Chödrön is celebrated around the world for her ability to help us turn toward things that are difficult and embrace our uncertainty. In this week’s podcast, Pema joins Tami to share her one-of-a-kind guidance, including a special practice she calls “compassionate abiding.” Tami and Pema also talk about how to stay embodied when panic arises, accessing the wisdom inherent in our emotions, and the importance of cultivating “unconditional friendship” and befriending even those parts of ourselves that we want to reject.

The Power of Mapping Your Emotions

It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.

Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”

Being able to recognize and express what you’re feeling helps you better understand yourself (leading to greater self-knowledge); validate your emotions and tend to your own emotional needs; and take steps to address those feelings directly by communicating and responding to them effectively. Having emotional self-awareness can motivate you to make healthy changes in your life, take action to improve the world around you, and become more psychologically resilient—that is, better able to cope with crises and rebound from setbacks.

Learning to Unpack Your Emotions

For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.

When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.

If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.

Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.

This is an excerpt from Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times by Lise Van Susteren, MD, and Stacey Colino.

Buy your copy of Emotional Inflammation at your favorite bookseller!
Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop

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