The​ ​Path​ ​to​ ​Heartfulness

As we walk the path of Refuge Recovery, we gradually uncover a loving heart. This is a process of awakening and healing that could be seen as analogous to an archaeological dig. In the early days, we remain on the surface. Mindfulness is our most important tool in the beginning, and it will give tremendous relief. It acts like a metal detector that allows us to know that there are precious treasures beneath the ground.

Mindfulness is also the shovel that begins the excavation. But as we begin to dig, we will likely first encounter all the layers of sediment that were covering the heart. The Heart Practices are a further refining of the soil. We may begin to sift through the rubble hoping to immediately find treasure.

But in the early days we may end up feeling more unsettled during compassion and kindness exercises because we are just uncovering all the skeletons that had been buried over the years of our addiction. We have probably become quite skilled at covering the insecurity and reactivity of our life, burying our hearts deeper and deeper. At the same time, each meditative effort of mindfulness, forgiveness, kindness, or compassion is another shovelful of dirt, each one getting us closer to the forgotten truth of our heart.

Perhaps, at times, the heart practices can be seen as even finer instruments of archaeology, like the brushes that are used to gently sweep away the remaining dust covering the treasure of our own heart. Meditations are versatile—sometimes you need a shovel doing the heavy lifting, and at other times you need something gentler, very subtle and refined, to simply dust off the heart.

But as we know, sometimes uncovering an ancient city can take a lifetime. There is no timetable that we can count on. There is no guarantee that we will reach the forgotten treasure of compassion anytime soon. What is promised is that it is there, waiting, and at times we can hear it calling to us, begging to be uncovered. The path of Refuge Recovery, if followed correctly and with persistence, will always lead to the recovery of our lost love and compassion, one scoop at a time.

We feel that it is only fair to also offer a warning. The path to uncovering our heart’s positive qualities is a radical one. It is fraught with the demons of the heart/mind that in Buddhism we call Mara. Mara is the aspect of heart/mind that creates roadblocks, gives excuses, procrastinates, and urges us to avoid all the unpleasant mind states that accompany the healing of awakening. Mara is the inner experience of all forms of addiction, greed, hatred, and delusion. Mara will attack with vengeance at times, for by committing to the heart’s liberation, we are committing to facing Mara directly.

The Buddha spoke of his battle with Mara, and victory over Mara was won with the weapons of love, compassion, equanimity, and appreciation. After the Buddha’s initial victory, Mara did not give up, however. Mara continued to live with the Buddha throughout his whole life. The Buddha was constantly vigilant, always meeting Mara with a loving awareness, always disarming him with the heart’s wisest responses. We too can live a life of responding wisely to Mara, to our addictive patterns, to the pain of our past.

Everyone has the ability to recover, love, forgive, and be compassionate. Ability is our birthright. The only issues are desire and willingness. Most people would readily confess the desire to be free from the addictions, hatred, anger, and fear that they live with, although there are those of us who have been so badly injured and confused that they have lost all hope. Some of us have even created a belief in hatred as a noble and necessary quality. Our experience shows us that even the most deeply wounded and confused hearts are healed when the principles outlined in our program of recovery are applied.

Find out about upcoming programs with Noah Levine at Kripalu.

Excerpted with permission from Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction, by Noah Levine, © 2014, Harper Collins.

Noah Levine is a Buddhist teacher, counselor, and author of The Heart of the Revolution: The Buddha's Teachings on Kindness, Compassion, and Forgiveness.

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