Tara Brach: The Path of Spiritual Surrender, Part 2

Tara Brach: The Path of Spiritual Surrender, Part 2

[flute] Namaste and welcome. This class is part two of “The Path Of Surrender.” We had to skip a week due to me having to
surrender to illness as sometimes happens. But so I am deeper in this path of surrender
now to share with you all my revelations. And I thought I’d start with one of my favorite
stories from Kafka – some of you might remember this – it’s really quite lovely. When he was an older man, he used to visit
a park regularly and he’d spend time sitting in a park. And one day, a little girl was walking by
and she had tears running down her face. And he asked her to stop and tell him what
was wrong. And so she told him that she was missing her
doll. Her doll had been lost. And he said he’d help her look around. So they looked around together and they tried
to find it but… She left and he said he’d keep looking. He didn’t find it. Well, she came back few days later and Kafka
said, “Well, there is no doll. I couldn’t find it. But I did find a note. And this is what it says.” And then he read from the note, “I’ve
gone to travel some around the world. Please don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” So the girl is somewhat relieved. And she returned to the park every week or
so and each time he returned Kafka would be there with a note telling her about some of
the wild and fun and beautiful adventures that this little doll was having around the
world. Well, at one point he got much sicker and
he went to the park one last time and that was when he brought a doll. And he handed it to the little girl and he
said that the travels had changed her. Well, some years later when the girl was a
young woman she found and read a little note that had been rolled up and placed in the
doll’s hand. And here is what it said, “You will lose
everyone you love but the love will always return in new forms.” “The love will always return in new forms.” So I think the enquiry is: What allows us
to be available? We all know this world is changing, coming,
going, we lose everything – and how do we have our hands open so that we can still be
available for the love that really does live through this world so we can be available? And the given is that we can’t control that
this world is changing, that surrender isn’t really giving up, it’s accepting that everything
changes, that things go away. That’s really kind of the definition – and
that as we let go of trying so ardently to control things… if you notice, we are contionuously
trying to make things go our way. Just when you are witnessing, just to observe
yourself, how constant it is whether it’s through our mind or our body, we are trying
to manage things so that they work for us and even a small pause in this controlling
opens up the space for this universal light and love to shine through. So how do we pause the controlling? And by the way, when I say “stop controlling”
that doesn’t mean to get inactive, to disengage. Mary Oliver said beautifully in one poem how
to get like fully engaged but when it’s time to let go let go, to really know when
we have to stop controlling so mightily. And then what happens is when we have more
open hands there is a lot more wisdom and intelligence in how to make choices that really
serve us. So the path of surrender as we are talking
about it is not some exotic path that requires major renunciation. I remember when I started meditation – that
was about forty-five plus years ago – it was considered like completely exotic like
it was really considered out there and other-worldly. Now I remember one of the first retreats I
went to the story that was shared was of a woman who decided to go to India to see the
guru because in those days you want to see the guru in India. And so she calls her travel agent and the
travel agent said, “Why don’t you go to Florida like you usually do? All right, I’ll make your reservation.” So she goes ahead to make her reservation
for that long, long flight around the globe. And then… The woman took the flight… She had gone on a train… It turns out she met some people who knew
the guru and also knew the protocol which was “You can only speak three words” but
she knew about that, she said, “I know, I know.” And she gets on this bus and they have to
take this long hairpin turn bus ride really tight clench muscle, you know, it was scary
one. And again people that were going to the guru
encountered her on the bus and they reminded her, you know, “You know about the three
word thing” and she said, “I know.” Finally she is in the encampment in a long
line to see the guru in his tent. And, again, she gets to the very front and
his escorts let her know the rules. And it’s finally her turn. She goes in to see him. And there he is with his saffron robes and
his beerd and she looks at him and she says, “Sheldon, come home.” She was good. She obeyed. Three words. We don’t have to travel across the globe
or necessarily go to a three-month retreats, although they can be wonderful, I have been
to long retreats, but we don’t have to do extreme things to be on a very profound spiritual
path where we are learning how to let go when we need to let go, when we are learning in
our bodies how to release some of the clutch of tight muscles that have been armoring us
since we were little and where we learn how to let go of the thoughts that keep on circling
through that we know don’t help us, we know that they are just telling us things that
make us more uptight about what’s going to go wrong and we learn to let go in our
hearts of what we are resisting, we let go of that armoring so that we can feel vulnerable
and discover in that presence and vulnerability that we actually have a very vast, tender
heart. We can learn to surrender in those ways. It takes real training. And that’s because we have such conditioning
to clench and control. You know, one of the ways it’s often been
described is, you know, you can see the primitive brain in constant effort to control with the
as they say it – and this was in a conference – I saw a poster describing the four Fs:
Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing reproduction. We are always managing. Aldus Huxley had a way of describing it that
I thought was really powerful. And he calls it the “reducing valve of awareness”
and that as humans on the planet we get all these strategies and habits of controlling
and with those habits that open awareness gets very tight and narrow and fixated. The controlling reduces the field of perception. And we go into a trance the more we are controlling. So we don’t see the bigger picture. We spend a lot of time chasing after what
we think we want, worrying about what we think is going wrong, presenting a self in a way
that protects us from bad judgments… We also spend a lot of time, even on the spiritual
path – because it translates to the spiritual path – of trying to control things. In one of the ten-thousand stories about the
novice who is going to the monastery in this one the novice asks how long it will take
him to be enlightened. And the abbot looks at him and says, “Well,
probably ten years.” And he said, “What if I try twice as hard?” The abbot looks at him and says, “Twenty
years.” He goes, “Wait a minute! You told me ten years!” “For you thirty.” But you get the idea, you know, we bring our
controlling into meditation and try to judge ourselves into doing it right or doing it
different or compare ourselves to others. So the habits of controlling reduce our reducing
valve. They cut us off from a larger kind of creativity
and intelligence and love. One woman described… She described her young daughter, six years
old, asking her what she did when she went to the university each day. And the mom said, “Well, I’m in the art
department. And I teach people how to draw and paint.” And the little girl is astonished, she says,
“You mean they forgot?” You know, I think of John O’Donohue who
says, you know, “What did we do with our wildness?” You know, he calls it “wildness” really
the wildness of God or the creativity of the universe. And what happens is that of course the more
that in our upbringing there is wounding and there is a sense of threat and not belonging
the more tight we have to control to get our needs met. It’s not our fault. But the more we are controlling the more the
civilization binds us and we are cut off from something deeper. So what I’d like to invite you to do is
just to check it out for yourself because it happens most obviously in relationships. We’ll do a brief reflection. And what I invite you to do as you take a
moment to close your eyes and take a few full breaths and bring yourself right here. See if you can scan today or this last week
for a situation with another person where you were aware of controlling in some way,
where you are aware of either trying hard not to have them judge you or trying to impress
or trying to attract or trying to have them change their behavior in some way, having
to try to get them to cooperate in some way with you… Some way that you were controlling and relating
to another person. Trying to cover over something, prove something… And let yourself look a little more closely
at the situation. Anywhere you have an agenda, where you’re
trying to get the other person to respond in a certain way, when you’re trying to
control another person whether it’s a child or friend or somebody at work or whoever it
is, in this situation in particular, how present are you? How open-hearted? How spontaneous or creative? How grateful are you? How attuned were you in this situation to
what might have been going on for the other person? And when you are controlling, do you like
yourself? What’s your experience of yourself? You can continue to look more closely at how
we contract, how you contract in particular situations. But, more broadly speaking, controlling reconfirms
a sense of a limited self; either a threatened self, an incomplete self, a deficient self,
but there is not a sense of wholeness and presence. And when we are controlling the other person
becomes what I’ve often described as an “unreal other,” they are an object to
in some way have an impact on, make change. So surrendering –letting go of the controlling
– is a way of opening from that limited, small self into true nature, into the creativity
and aliveness and heart that’s right here. And one of the stories I’ve heard – a
mythological story – that I like a lot that describes a bit of this process is a… it
comes from Palanesa. And as the story goes, for eons and eons the
matriarch of the society would regularly go down to the river and shed her skin. And that was the ritual. But one season in particular when she did
this her skin got caught on a branch and she just left it there and went back to the community. But her teenage daughter was horrified by
seeing her mother in her knew being without the skin and she freaked out, she got really
upset and… finally… Her mother tried to, you know, calm her down
but it didn’t work. So finally the mother went back down to the
river and picked her skin off that branch and put it back on and went back. And, according to this myth, from that point
on humans lost their connection with their own timeless immortality, with spirit, they
became confined in a more egoic state. So what’s the teaching here? What does it really mean to shed our skin? You might take what Nit she said and consider
that that “A state that cannot shed its skin perishes.” What do we mean? I think of our skin as our outgrown beliefs
/ of those limiting beliefs and habit patterns that we have outgrown but that are keeping
us stuck in a smaller sense of who we are and that as we evolve we by nature, as a way
to keep on growing, have to let go of the beliefs “I am deficient,” “I am a bad
person” or the beliefs that “You’re at fault because you’re making me feel bad”
or the habit patterns of maybe over-consuming in a way to numb something so that we can’t
feel our hearts. Over time we start letting go of those layers
of skin that keep us small. Does that metaphor resonate for you? Okay. Mark Nepo – and I first heard this myth
through the poet Mark Nepo who I think is just a fantastic wise and deep poet – he
describes this process of letting go of what’s keeping us small as “taking the exquisite
risk,” the “exquisite risk.” And I love this term because “exquisite”
connotes both beauty and excellence and sensitivity and responsiveness. Exquisite. And “risk”: We are exposing ourself to
the unknown, to the unfamiliar, to what’s out of control seemingly. And yet, each of us, each of you on your path,
in order to keep becoming who we really are has to step out of their comfort zone. So this is where we are going to lean in a
little more deeply now. Last week or last class we explored the letting
go of skin in terms of three areas that we meditate, how our meditation actually trains
us to let go of skin. Meditation is a process of letting go. And the first way that meditation trains us
is that we are practicing to notice thoughts but unhook, not live inside them so much. And this is a powerful and essential part
of releasing skin. We have to be able to see “Okay, there is
the same thought I have been telling me of what’s wrong with me, it’s the critical
voice of my you-know-who” – whoever we have internalized – “and here I am believing
it” and the freedom comes when we say, “Wow, just a thought! I don’t have to believe it!” There is some unhooking. The thoughts you typically think day after
day are by enlarge fear thoughts that reinforce a small, limiting sense of self. This is Carlos Castaneda who writes about
the shaman Don Juan, he says, “You talk to yourself too much. Now you are not unique in that. Every one of us does it. We maintain our world with our inner dialogue. A man or a woman of knowledge is aware that
the world will change completely as soon as they stop talking to themselves.” Okay? So this is the first domain of meditation
training and letting go of the skin is that we start noticing the thoughts that are keeping
us small and we unhook. One of my friends, Wes Nisker, who is a Buddhist
teacher on the West coast – puts it this way when he talks about working with his thoughts,
he says, “We are still friends and we still live together but I am no longer codependent.” So that’s the first step. That’s the first training in meditation
for letting go. The second one is that we start opening to
the vulnerability, the feelings that are here. So we are sitting and we get a wave of emotion
and what’s the practice? Oh, say yes. And the letting go is our resistance, we are
letting go of our resistance because we are rigged to kind of pull away from what’s
uncomfortable so we let go of that and just open to what’s here, open to the vulnerability. Now I remember years ago seeing some little
cartoon that had a snail at a bar really depressed talking to the bar tender saying, “Well,
and I shared my vulnerability with her and she screamed out in disgust and said, ‘Yuk,
you are a snail!’ She saw my innards!” you know, and that
is the fear, that is the fear, that we are going to expose ourselves and somebody is
going to say ‘Yuk’ because we feel a sense of ‘Yuk’ when we see our insecurities
and our jealousy and our competitiveness and our aggression, all the stuff we all have
wired into our nervous system we take it really personally and we feel a sense of ‘Yuk’
about ourselves. So the challenge and the invitation is to
have the courage to stand with and stay with and be with what feels uncomfortable. So this is the second part of the training
that we open to the aliveness in our body, even when it feels like burning and squeezing
and really uncomfortable, and we open to the aliveness of our emotions. The third training in meditation is what I
sometimes call “remembering love.” Now our conditioning is the negativity-bias
which means: instead of remembering love, the habit when we are looking at another person
or looking at ourselves or our world is to fixate on what seems wrong and that’s just
our survival conditioning. So what actually takes practice to remember
the good, to sense what we love or appreciate about our partner or our parent or our sibling
or friend, to consciously reflect on that and feel our hearts get tender, that takes
training. Last week I was talking about… – not last
week, I keep saying it… Two weeks ago when we were exploring surrendering
we were talking about how remembering love actually helps us to sense our belonging to
a larger field and that this is key if we want to learn the art of surrender. Otherwise we feel too scared. So we need to feel our belonging. And one friend here last… after that class
said that he understood the steps of letting go of fear, he understood the step of opening
to feelings, but how do you surrender into a larger belonging? How do you sense a larger field of what we
call love or spirit or the sacred? How do you sense that and open to that? So that’s where we are going to spend the
rest of our time is how do we really open to a larger belonging, surrendering to like
the river empties into the ocean. And we can begin with Rumi who has a poem
called “Wean Yourself” that I’d like to read:
“Little by little, wean yourself. This is the gist of what I have to say. From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in
the blood, move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food, to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game. Think how it is to have a conversation with
an embryo. You might say, “The world outside is vast
and intricate. There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom. At night there are millions of galaxies, and
in sunlight the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.” You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped
up in the dark with eyes closed. Listen to the answer. There is no “other world.” I only know what I’ve experienced. You must be hallucinating.” If we live inside the ordinary reality, we
keep telling ourselves about, the limiting world, we won’t sense there is a larger
belonging. When people talk about a sense of the sacred,
a sense of a field of tenderness and love and belonging, we’ll say, “You must be
hallucinating! I haven’t felt that!” So how do we begin to open to something that
we don’t feel we’ve touched very much? And the starting place is to know that you
wouldn’t be here unless you intuited there was something more than the habitual world
that your thoughts are telling you about. You have some intuition of whether you call
it God or Buddha nature or consciousness or sacredness, there is something that draws
us to deepen our attention – we might not know what it is – but when we get quiet,
when we are maybe in nature or with somebody we love or maybe we are listening to certain
music, we get a glimmer there is something more. How do we deepen that? And this is really what surrender is about,
it’s letting go of the skin and opening to what’s beyond. And there are many, many different pathways
by the way to sensing that larger belonging. We long for it. When we are scared we want to belong to something
and when our hearts are opening we love the feeling of belonging to something. There are many pathways. And for this person who I mentioned who asked
me about it I started asking questions of when he felt some glimmer. And for him it was when he was in nature. And we got real specific like we talked about
his walks at Great Falls Park – there’s a Maryland side and a Virginia side – and
it’s a beautiful part of the river, and how when he pauses and sense he could take
in the sounds, you know, the birds, the river, the wind, the smells. Pausing, quieting ourselves a little and taking
in nature helps us remember that we belong. This is certainly part of my daily practice
to remind me I am not the small self my mind tells me I am. I go down to that same river and listen and
smell and look and take in and often sense the currents and that everything that’s
going on inside me is part of that changing flow. That’s one pathway. A second pathway to remembering a larger belonging
is in the moments that we actually get kind to ourselves. Self-kindness, even a slight gesture of kindness,
even just telling yourself ‘Please, be kind’, will begin to soften and open some space and
you’ll start sensing you belong to something larger. It dissolves an armoring and actually reveals
a larger sense of being part of things. The more self-aversion you have the more gradual
it’s going to be in terms of developing self-kindness. One friend of mine who is a wonderful teacher
and also scientist really – Shauna Shapiro – describes her path of beginning to find
that belonging. She was going through a difficult divorce
and she would wake up each morning with a kind of pit of shame in her. And her meditation teacher said to her, ‘”There
is a practice for you! How about every day waking up and saying to
yourself, ‘I love you, Shauna.’ Saying to yourself, ‘I love you, Shauna.’ And she said, “No way,” you know, “I
can’t go near to saying that. I don’t believe it, I don’t feel it, no
way!” And then she said, “Okay, here is a backup. Instead of saying that, how about just putting
your hand on your heart and saying, ‘Good morning, Shauna’. That she could do. So she practiced it regularly for a number
of months. She would wake up and put her hand on her
heart and say “Good morning, Shauna.” And it worked out okay. Nothing major. But she could do it. So then her teacher said after some months,
“You are ready for the advanced practice.” And the advanced practice was, “Good morning,
I love you, Shauna.” Well, the next morning she did it and she
didn’t feel anything but she was able to say the words. That was something. But she kept it up. And this is the truth: Whatever you practice
gets stronger. Neurons that fire together wire together. We develop new pathways. Well, one morning she put her hand on her
heart and she did it and she felt her grand-mother’s love and her mother’s love, she felt that
belonging we are talking about to love. But it started small. “Good morning, Shauna,” you know, just
with a statement. The pathway of self-kindness what I have observed
over the years in working with people is an essential part of emotional healing and of
discovering larger belonging because we are rigged to be turned on ourselves and it undoes
it, it undoes and stops the war. And when we stop the war then we find the
natural loving and tenderness that’s always been there but has been buried. So self-kindness. Another pathway to feeling belonging is to
receive it from others. And you can do this in real life being in
relationships where there really is a loving person and you begin to just soften and let
it in some and that can help to develop a connection and you can do it in your meditation
practice. You can bring to mind someone that you feel
does care about you and just practice just softening and letting it in some. One woman I worked with some years ago had
undergone a lot of trauma and she was very, very cut off from herself and others, she
longed to feel belonging but she mostly felt threatened and she was in a very abusive relationship
with her boy-friend and so she was in a state of pretty chronic fear. And I had her practice taking in love from
people she thought she could feel love from. And when I asked her she said it was her sister,
her best friend and over some months I got included in the circle. And her meditation was she would sit and get
quiet and she’d imagine the three of us and imagine us just pouring in love and taking
it and I’d say, “What does it feel like?” And she said, “It’s like being in a warm
bath. I can absolutely float and let go into the
loving.” That was her practice: floating and letting
go into the loving of three people. And what she found after a while was that
gave her enough of a sense of connection that she could begin to be with the traumatic fear
that was in her body. But that safety and belonging was the precursor
to her healing. For myself, one of my most ongoing practices
is… has to do with really saying, “I am letting in the love of the beloved.” And I remember when I first had a kind of
awakening experience: I went to a retreat and I was feeling very, very turned on myself;
I said, “The more I meditate the more I sensed that I was really down on myself.” And I tried all my normal strategies of, you
know, breathing and quieting and letting go of the thoughts and try and offer love to
myself and it didn’t budge, there was this core like I was digging in my heels feeling
like, “No, I am unacceptable, I am bad.” And that was years after I had written “Radical
Acceptance.” I was really feeling stuck. And I remember as I got in touch with that
really stuck place it felt like there was some badness that was inside. And I asked that place, “What do you most
need?” And the words that came out were, “Please
love me.” And so I said those words out loud and then
I said them again and again. And I started weeping because I realized how
much I longed to belong to something larger, to be loved by something larger. Which of course don’t we all? I mean, that’s the primordial wanting the
great mother of the universe to embrace us. That was what I was longing for and I was
so sincere and right in the thick of that longing and that prayer that I was quite receptive. And I felt this pouring in of tenderness,
that there was this vast presence that was right here also that was in some way touching
and kissing my brow and just washing me through with love. And the sense was melting, of just letting
go into that. Well, since then thousands and thousands of
times in some way I have kind of called on that presence and in some way, you know, invited
and asked for that washing through and sensed that letting go into a larger belonging. I would say pretty much every day at some
point when there is a sense of a kind of contracted small self some part of me is going kind of
like this where my hands are offering that smallness, that unpleasantness, that judgment,
that grimness, whatever into that larger belonging. I do it so often – in 12-Step groups they
call it “turning it over” but in some way just letting my small self belong to something
larger – that it happens instantaneously, it’s not even a, “Okay, let me say the
words ‘Please love me’, okay, now I am going to imagine a field of light, okay, now
it’s washing through…” It happens very, very quickly as soon as I
sense a contraction in some way there is a letting go into. But it takes practice. I have done it thousands of times. So I thought we’d practice a little right
now this kind of letting go into something larger. And as you kind of sit up a little and come
into stillness, again there are many many ways, many pathways, of belonging to something
larger. For one man who was in a 12-Step Program it
was the mantra, “It’s not my will but my heart’s will.” For another, executive who was very over-responsible
type he was having the sense that he was taking stuff that he was micro-managing and just
handing it over to a larger intelligence. Breathing and feeling yourself right here. Relaxing with the breath. You might let yourself bring to mind something
that’s going on in your life where you are caught in reactivity, where you sense that
your fears, your anger, your judgment is keeping you small; in other words you are trapped
in a skin that you’d like to outgrow, let go of. It may be that like me you feel the skin is
a deep sense of a part of you that bad or flawed, it might be a belief, or fear, might
be an addictive behavior, some way that you are resisting what’s going on in your life,
something you are feeling you are trapped in or stuck in. And letting yourself feel the vulnerability
of that because we can’t hand over what we haven’t really contacted, it doesn’t
work that way. You have to actually feel it. So let go of ideas and just let yourself feel
the stuck place, the vulnerable place, the fear, the wound, the hurt, the anger. Breathe with it. Sense it as a wave in the ocean and that surrendering
is just that in some deep way you’re letting it belong to the ocean, you’re handing it
over and letting it belong to the ocean. And right now as you sense that you might
imagine an ocean of vast intelligence, awareness, love that’s larger than this egoic self
and just sense that in some way offer it into that. You might experiment with what I do where
I am holding the two hands and slightly bowing my head and just letting it be held by that
larger universe, offering it up, handing it over. Or you might just energetically sense a letting
go into something larger. The river releasing into the ocean. Not my will but my heart’s will. Just notice the sense of a beingness or presence
that’s here, that which is witnessing, that which is aware right now. Notice what shifts in your body. Notice your heart. Without any expectation knowing that this
is an experiment, it takes many rounds, but we each because the truth is we do belong
to this universe, to awareness, to love, that the gesture and sense of that, letting go
into that, actually facilitates the realization. A surrendering presence. You can continue with your eyes closed. Just explore in these moments what happens
when you surrender thoughts, just let go. Surrendering so as Kafka said “We can let
everything go. We can lose everything. And yet love returns. We can experience that.” Letting go of thoughts. You might sense what wants to let go in your
body right now. Where does your body want to let go? You might sense what you are unwilling to
feel and letting go of any armoring so you just open to what’s here. You might sense in a deep way that gesture
of kindness, that the awake heart in you is just offering kindness to this whole process. And if you like you can put your hand on your
heart if that feels good. And let go of any separations, just opening
to the love and the presence that’s here. Letting go into the aliveness that’s right
here. Breathing and feeling yourself right here. From the Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche, “Happiness cannot be found from great effort and willpower but it is already there in relaxation and
letting go. Don’t strain yourself, there is nothing
to do. Let everything happen on its own, springing
up and falling back, without changing anything. And all will vanish and reappear without end. Waiting to grasp the ungraspable you exhaust
yourself in vane. As soon as you relax this grasping space is
there, open, inviting and comfortable. Nothing to do, nothing to force, nothing to
want. Everything happens by itself.” “Happiness cannot be found through great
effort and willpower but it’s already here in relaxation and letting go.” Namaste and thank you for your attention. [flute]

7 Replies to “Tara Brach: The Path of Spiritual Surrender, Part 2”

  1. Thank you. Your teachings help me immensely. I was recently in a psychiatric ward and just listening to you helps me a lot more than the DBT stuff they had there.

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