Group November 3rd 2016

We listened to a talk from Pema Chödrön's 'Noble Heart' - a recorded retreat. Pema is a Buddhist nun, ordained in 1974, she is resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. The chosen talk was number 3, 'Developing Inner Strength and Trust'. She describes how, when we watch our minds, we realise we perhaps aren't what we thought we were - there are cravings and aversions - and fear. We usually turn away from fear but she describes how feeling fear helps us move beyond our usual and habitual view of ourselves. An essential part of seeing further is developing trust and inner strength. Where do we look for this? She describes 'the wrong places', i.e., addiction, dogmatic belief systems and sometimes 'transcendental' experiences - places we all look for security and comfort, but grasping and clinging doesn't make things last and so we overlook how deeper well-being can come when we open ourselves to the totality of our experience - cf Kabat-Zinn's 'Full Catastrophe'.

So developing trust and inner strength comes from opening to the present moment. The practice of mindfulness cultivates this, as does practice of the 'four great catalysts' :- maitri (aka loving kindness), compassion, joy and equanimity, all of which exist in us, but which can be nurtured and expanded. Mindfulness begins with attention and trust in the present moment - whatever that is - dark and light, joy or sadness. It's a process, it's about "dropping the speech balloon'' - that judgemental commentary on what we notice - it's 'good'/'bad', 'right'/'wrong' and instead to trust what we observe, developing a flexible mind. Mindfulness helps us relax and trust in our present experience, it's a tool to bring us back to the multi-sensory feel of the present moment, helping bring us back when we disocciate or 'numb out' and try to leave whatever it is we don't like.

Loving kindness practice helps us to work with the fear of this. It's described as 'unlimited, unconditional friendship toward oneself, which is then radiated out to all other beings', it's about 'placing the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness'. Fear, Pema says, makes us get away from direct experience and this weakens us, it isolates and cuts us off from each other while it is our interconnecttefness that heals.

In loving kindness, gentleness and kindness are important, so too is honesty, moving us away from self-deception. What we realise about ourselves is our introduction to what others are seeing and feeling and thinking, so giving us good heart towards others. Knowing emotions and thoughts can reduce their hold, and this includes depression, where mindfulness and loving kindness may not cure, but can soften, reduce fear and foster an aware and measured life approach.

This is a gradual path  - not to be rushed, letting things evolve at their own speed, using our own experience and our own being, going at our own pace.

'Pema Chodron explains Maitri:  (>watch

There was then a reading from Don Miguel Ruiz's 'The Four Agreements', about Toltec wisdom. The Toltec, from south Mexico, were known as "women and men of knowledge" or naguels, they were scientists and artists and they formed a society to explore and practice spiritual knowledge and practices. Ruiz describes how this came about, around 3.000 years ago, with one human being looking differently at life:

'He could understand everyone very well, but no-one could understand him. They believed he was the incarnation of God, and he smiled when he heard this and said,"It is true. I am God. But you are also God. We are the same, you and I. We are images of light. We are God." But still the people didn't understand him.

He had discovered that he was a mirror for the rest of the people, a mirror in which he could see himself. "Everyone is a mirror," he said. He saw himself, but nobody saw himself as themself. And he realised that  everyone was dreaming, but without awareness, without knowing what they really are. They couldn't see him as themselves because there was a wall of fog or smoke between the mirrors. And that wall of fog was made by the interpretation of images of light - the Dream of humans."

We finished with 'Making a vow', a loving-kindness based practice from Germer's 'The mindful path to self-compassion' (p266-267).