In this video, Tara shares an emotional story of how meditation helps her find refuge as she learns to live with a genetic disease. (4:13)
Jennifer Mattson, guest blogger
Tara Brach charts a path to true refuge
“Yoga is seeing life the way it is.” — Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
In her latest book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach explores how to find peace in the face of life’s greatest difficulties—whether it’s betrayal in a relationship, concern about your child’s development, or the diagnosis of a serious illness.
At the center of the Buddhist tradition are the three gateways to refuge: the Buddha (awareness), the Dharma (the truth of reality), and the Sangha (community, relating to others), which can be thought of as awareness, truth, and love.
Tara suggests that by activating these gateways—training our attention on the present, accepting life as it unfolds, and connecting with others—we can access our full capacity for love. The challenge is to find inner sanctuary during moments of terrible loss and great fear, when we have forgotten the way back home.
“This whole path could be summed up as forgetting and remembering,” Tara says. “We get caught in the trance of our reactivity, being judgmental, and keeping ourselves distant. If we are lucky, sooner or later, something reminds us that life happens in a flash.”
That’s why we practice meditation and yoga — to remember.
Saying “Yes” to What Is
Our escape from suffering, Tara says, begins with a simple step: Take a moment, close your eyes, and ask, What needs my attention? What is true now? Are you tired? Frustrated? Excited? Is your mind spinning with a dozen thoughts?
“When I am completely in the present moment, it might not be pleasant, but there is an okay-ness,” Tara says. Whether painful or pleasant, an honest “yes” to the reality of what’s happening right now opens our mind and body to an honest inquiry that’s centered on self-care rather than self-judgment. Tara suggests thinking of someone who makes us feel safe or, as Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, to say to ourselves, “Darling, I care about your suffering.”
Tara’s own experience with a rare, debilitating genetic disease bears this out. “I was in the cardiac unit. I was traumatized by this sense that my whole life was shaken up with no sense of a future,” she recalls. “My inner controller was blaming me for not taking care of myself, and I was frantically scheming on how to get myself out of this rut of feeling sick and miserable.”
Finally, she stopped fighting with her situation and took a pause. “I put my hand on my heart and said ‘It’s okay, sweetheart, just let go.’ I found a space of tenderness—and that was refuge.”
Tara says that after years of engaging in this process, she’s discovered that what it comes down to, again and again, is a way to bring love into the moment. When we do, we finally discover who we are beyond the struggling self.
Jennifer Mattson is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she us a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in TheAtlantic.com, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books. On Twitter: @jennifermattson