Accessing Inner Wisdom & Compassion

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Following up on last week’s post about Jack Kornfield‘s description of being greeted by the Dalai Lama and one of my student’s sharing of her experience of being held by Amma, I want to emphasize that we do not have to track down the Dalai Lama or wait for Amma to come to town in order to feel completely loved and accepted for who we are.

We have within ourselves the capacity to hold ourselves in the deepest loving kindness and compassion so that we experience a sense of union and release. We have access to universal compassion, just as we have access to universal wisdom. It’s right here, ready and available to us, just waiting for us to take a pause — a pause to be held, to open, to listen, to be fully present.

In a recent retreat on Buddhist Psychology, Jack emphasized how available this universal wisdom is by leading us in an exercise where we encountered a ‘luminous being’ in whatever form that took for each of us. With the aid of this luminous being we were able to face a personal challenge in our lives. Just by closing our eyes and pausing with intention and open-hearted inquiry, we accessed infinite wisdom and compassion with good advice. (I believe this guided exercise is included in one of his recent books. I’m sorry I don’t know which one.)

This luminous being exercise reminded me of my experience many years ago when I was suffering from an extended illness and had lots of time to meditate. I found a luminous being of light in my meditation. She was dancing in a bubble of light, so joyfully I was entranced. She had close-cropped hair, wore white Chinese style pajamas and radiated pure joy. Because of this pure joy, so different from my experience at that difficult time of my life, it took me awhile to realize that she was me!

Over the course of many meditations during the months of my healing, I asked her questions and she had wise answers without agenda — no shoulds, musts or oughts — just a quiet clear message that helped me heal. I wrote down her words and when I shared some of them in meditation class at College of Marin, fellow students would say ‘It’s like she’s talking directly to me.’ Our teacher insisted that I publish her words in a book. I did, and that book is Tapping the Wisdom Within, A Guide to Joyous Living.

Whenever I didn’t have a specific question to ask this wise inner voice, I would just say, ‘What do I need to know?’ And unless there was some other answer to a question I had left unasked, the answer she gave me was always this: ‘You need to know that I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you.’

Well, that is a lot to know! Feeling the power of this statement, unbidden, rising up from the universe, holding me in its warm embrace, is a very heady experience. It is the experience we each are capable of having any time we simply sit quietly and allow ourselves to access this universal wisdom and loving kindness in whatever form it takes for us.

So although we can avail ourselves of very special experiences of being greeted by a human who is so in touch with this universal wisdom and love, we want to be careful not to assume that they have access and we do not. No such person would want that for us. With their luminosity they want to light the way to show us how to find it for ourselves. We may find it without imagining a luminous being, but that imagining may help us to see how readily available that universal wisdom and compassion is.

Sometimes we accept wisdom only from outside ourselves. That’s what this luminous being told me when I asked her about herself. She explained that I totally discounted anything I might have to say as worthless, so my subconscious created this seemingly separate being so that I could receive, as if from outside my own experience, the words I needed to hear in order to heal myself. 

It is not at all unusual to discount our own ability to be wise or access universal wisdom. It is for this very reason that we turn to exultant beings that radiate wisdom and compassion. So why did I not see Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe in my meditative vision? I guess this kind of work is done with what we have within our own experience. Even as a child I had glimpses of insight into the nature of oneness. I used to chant to myself ‘ God is in me and I am in God,’ over and over until a dizzying sense of the power of that statement overcame me and I understood how it was possible for all that is, God, to permeate all matter so that this essence was inside me, and I inside it. This ‘unified field theory’ at the age of four has informed my life, at least when I let it. 

I did forget for awhile, and that’s what had led to my illness. I had been so busy, so caught up in my job, raising kids and helping my ailing parents, I felt totally separate from myself, from the me that understood the nature of being. I had to come home to it again in a way that had meaning for me. In those days the only ‘retreat’ readily available to the general public was illness. It was a way to have time out to treat not just our physical well being but our spiritual well being as well. Now we are so fortunate to have places like Spirit Rock where we can take the time we need without having to get sick to take a time out from our busy lives.

When we realize that we have this capacity to access a feeling of being totally loved and unconditionally accepted, then we stop looking outside ourselves for validation. We begin to radiate that universal loving kindness to the world. We become conduits and amplifiers of this universal energy.

So how do we go about this? In Buddhist practice, sending metta is the tried and true means of accessing this inner loving kindness. This begins with sending metta to ourselves. Last week I shared an extra practice to do that I learned from Jack, and I hope that if you have trouble sending metta to yourself that you tried it and it helped. If you weren’t here you can read about it in the previous post.

Recently we’ve been noticing how we talk to ourselves. Are we name-calling? Are we denigrating ourselves? Are we being outright rude? The benefit of meditation practice is increased awareness that could be seen as adding a witness to our experience. We don’t become a bystander of our own lives, but we do begin to hear more clearly the words we use to accuse ourselves of something, among other things.

Meditation practice begins with anchoring in physical sensation, noticing what is occurring in this moment. Bringing body awareness into our exploration gives us way more information than just staying stuck in thought. We notice where we feel it, what tightens up, what feels agitated. In the past these sensations may have created an overall sense of discomfort that led us, without our even being aware of it, away from exploring any further. Opportunity lost!

The sensations that we notice in the body can tell us not just that this experience is painful. They can also activate images, memories and emotions that can further inform us about the source of some of the negative beliefs we hold that result in such rude self-talk.

Bring to mind something you have done recently, perhaps even today, that didn’t meet your standards of behavior or speech. Perhaps you misspoke, forgot something, were late somewhere, over-indulged or any number of other possible ways we tend to disappoint ourselves.
When you have something in mind, then just let yourself think about what you did in your normal way. Don’t miss this sanctioned chance to engage your mind in the past where it loves to linger! As you think about what you did or said notice what arises:

  • With the memory fully in mind, notice the thought-words you use to describe yourself as you focus on this memory of a recent behavior.
  • Notice any physical sensations that arise as you spend time with this memory of action and reaction…. Is there some place in the body that clinches up, tightens, clamps down? …Really spend some time noticing where this is happening and how far it radiates out into the field of sensation…. Don’t make any effort to ease the tightness as we do during meditation. Instead let the tension inform you….You may feel uncomfortable and want to release the tension or turn away from this exercise. But you can gently and kindly encourage yourself to stay with it. Imagine all of this happening in a very spacious, kind loving field that can hold it all safely.

  • What information does the tension carry? Allow any associative images, memories or emotions to arise, This is how the body communicates.
  • Acknowledge them as messengers and hold them with the same spacious loving kindness and curiosity.
  • If you are not feeling a naturally arising stream of information, ask a question: ‘Why am I so hard on myself?’ perhaps.
  • Allow any insight to arise.This might be the image or the voice of the original source of this rudeness — some mean thing a schoolmate, teacher or parent said to you as a child, for example. You trusted their judgment because you were young and vulnerable, ready to accept whatever anyone told you, hungry as you were — as we all are — for self-knowledge. But now we are adults, we have the capacity to see that the careless words of another person, regardless of their position, were more the result of their own fears and concerns, that these words were not aimed at us. We just happened to be in the way when that person was trying to cope with suffering the best way they knew how at that moment.
  • Hold the whole experience in loving kindness. Send metta to the person: May you be well, may you be happy, may you be at ease, may you be at peace, wherever you are.
  • Send metta to the body using the breath to release any accumulated tension.
  • Send metta to yourself: May I be well, may I be happy. May I be at ease. May I be at peace.
  • Allow a few minutes to transition from this experience into discussion or, if on your own, perhaps making notes about your experience and insights, if you wish.

How was that experience? If any insights came, you might consider making note of them. Throughout the week, be open to the possibility that more answers will come in different forms — a book leaps out at you, a friend says something particularly wise and needed, etc. We offer ourselves up what we need to know only when we have opened our ears and our hearts to listen.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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