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Sunday, June 2, 2013

True Refuge (recommended book), part 1 of 2
Lately, I keep catching myself tearing up for no apparent reason, then realizing that there are actually a whole lot of good reasons to cry.  Through my mindfulness practice, I've finally learned not to be so hard on myself and not to be so anxious over little things... just in time for a whole lot of really big things to go wrong for a whole lot of people I care about.

What a perfect time to start reading this book

by Tara Brach, recommended by a Mindful Teacher who has benefited from her guided meditation and dharma talks, and who also recommends her first book, Radical Acceptance.

The basic idea is that in times of stress and hardship, we tend to seek relief through "false refuges."  These temporary solutions include behavior that we all recognize as ineffective, at least when we see it in other people, like substance abuse or mindless consumption of food or media.  But they also include behavior that we tend to think of as beneficial, even noble, like perfectionism, a more-enlightened-than-thou yoga practice, or simply "staying busy [and] striving to perform well."

Brach gives the example of a woman who kept doing things to take care of her dying husband.  

Wait a minute.  What could be wrong with that?  

Well, she wasn't always acting in a way that truly benefited her husband, but in order to avoid her own distress.  

At one point, she was standing in the kitchen, "helpfully" making him a cup of herbal tea, when she realized that she'd walked away from her beloved husband's bedside right after he'd told her that he knew he only had a short time left and wasn't afraid of death.  

Her action didn't come from any need or desire for tea on her husband's part.  It came from her own need to escape from a moment she found emotionally overwhelming, as well her own need to DO something when there was really nothing that could be done. 

Does this make her a bad person?  Of course not.  It's just a poignant example of the tendency most of us have:  "doing in order to feel better about herself, doing in order to avoid pain, doing in order to avoid failure."  

In other words, when someone is suffering, I need to be present enough to understand what action is really going to help.  When there's no action that's really going to help, the best I can do is be present with the person who's suffering. 

Like much of what is deeply true, this is far easier thought than done.  As Brach puts it, "When we're in trouble, here and now is often the last place we want to be."

However, she explains,  

Sorrow and joy are woven inextricably together.  When we distract ourselves from the reality of loss, we also distract ourselves from the beauty, creativity, and mystery of this ever-changing world... No matter how challenging the situation, there is always a way to take refuge in a healing and liberating presence.
This type of statement always wakes up my inner skeptic.  "Oh, yeah?" Skeptic says.  "Just how challenging a situation are we talking about here?  Some people have it really %*@*#^! bad right now."

Well, these are techniques she's used with people coping with war or imprisonment and people recovering from physical and/or emotional abuse.  She's also been coming to terms with the death of her father and her own diagnosis with an incurable, debilitating illness.

OK, then.  Sounds like she knows what she's talking about.  If Tara Brach thinks she can lead me toward True Refuge, I'm willing to follow along.  

related posts:

True Refuge (recommended book), part 2 of 2

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