Mindfulness is something that I’ve been meaning to explore more for myself as it’s become such a significant part of our contemporary culture. I finally decided to take the plunge and start on this 40 day Mindfulness Course led by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield (both leading mindfulness practitioners based in the U.S) a few weeks ago. The main draw was that it was a guided daily practice that required less than 15 minutes each day. ;p Yeah, that was the main reason why. I just wanted to dip my feet into this because I knew that if I had to commit a huge amount of time to it I probably wouldn’t follow through. Since it’s only about 10 minutes per session, I’ve been able to listen to the recordings every day, sometimes before work in the morning, sometimes before going to sleep at night. At the start, I thought I could just be in a position that was comfortable so I often listened to the session lying flat in bed, but then I realised that I was always dozing off during the silent bits and only waking up when they started speaking. That’s when I realised that I needed to be in a position that allowed me to be alert.
So far I’m really enjoying it. I’m grateful that I was able to come across Tara Brach from a podcast of Tim Ferriss in which he had a conversation with Maria Popova (my idol, as you probably realise by now) and she mentioned that she followed Tara Brach’s meditations as part of her routine. Amazingly, Tim Ferriss also had Tara Brach herself on his podcast and after listening, I was convinced.
One part of the conversation that was really interesting was when Tara told listeners about the story of Inviting Mara to Tea (somewhere around 54:30 min of the conversation). The story can also be read on her previous blog. Basically, it has to do with the Demon God Mara (a symbol of jealousy, anger, greed…the bad stuff basically) who kept trying to attack the Buddha with everything he had but the Buddha merely converted his attack to flower petals. The Buddha managed to attain enlightenment after Mara gave up and left but Mara kept returning subsequently, much to the dismay of Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda. But each time Mara appeared, Buddha would merely say:
“I see you Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”
That statement in itself she says, represents the “two wings of presence”.
The first part, ‘I see you Mara’, is mindfulness. It’s about saying, I can see that this is happening. In our daily lives, this can be anything troubling such as unsettling emotions from an unpleasant interaction with someone else, or anger at another person. By saying ‘I see you’, it means that are pausing and recognising what is happening, what is here now. It’s an “honest recognition” of what’s here.
The second part, ‘Come, let’s have tea’, is about making space for what’s there. Or as she says, “letting life be just as it is at the moment.” Making space for difficult emotions. Getting to know them. Letting them be. In one of the days of the meditation practice, I remember her talking about this concept as well. And the beautiful question she posed was simply, “Can I be with this?”
According to her, those two wings of presence are the foundation of a meditation practice.
At any moment in our lives when we are faced with something, it would be akin to saying, Oh ok, I see you Mara. Come, let’s have tea.
We can first pause and ask, what is happening inside me right now?
And next, can I make space for this? Can I bring a warm interest, a kind attention to it?
Out of that presence, “we can then act in a way that is most intelligent and most empowered.” It’s a way of being with ourselves that is both intimate and full.
One question that Tim Ferriss asked her which I thought was great and very applicable to a lot of people, was whether this sort of mindfulness practice would lull us into becoming more passive people because we end up more content with ourselves. Or as he put it, a friend of his asked if he was every worried about losing his edge; losing the qualities of his character that allowed to a large extent, his current successes?
Her answer was that mindfulness of the situation was not a permanent stance but rather, a grounds for action. It is “out of that presence that we can then act in a way that is most intelligent and most empowered… We can then respond from our full potential rather than from a reactive mode.”
For her, mindfulness can also be about tapping into our fullest potential as humans.
I remember listening/reading so much about the amazing Brené Brown‘s work and she has talked about this as well in relation to her latest book Rising Strong. Her mechanism for Rising Strong after failure has to do with 1. The Reckoning – reckoning with uncomfortable emotions, getting curious about it and 2. The Rumble – getting a deeper understanding of their emotions, writing the ‘Shitty First Draft’ of the story one is telling oneself 3. The Revolution – writing our version of the story and thus owning it. The first part always starts with learning to be able to sit with the discomfort.
It’s never easy, but I think mindfulness is a good way to learn to become more comfortable with difficult emotions. Still have a few more days of the 40 day practice to go. 😉 Looking forward to sharing more interesting quotes and ideas with you.