Opening the doors of the heart – a beautiful talk on kindness from Mary Grace Orr

It’s now been ten years since I attended my first Buddhist meditation retreat. The topic of the six-day retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center was Opening the Doors of the Heart, and we spent the majority of that time in glorious silence, whether sitting on our cushions, walking mindfully through the Fall-crispy-grass on the hills, doing our daily chores, and yes, cracking open our hearts, bit by bit.

Mary Grace Orr gave this beautiful talk a few nights in. (In the event that the link doesn’t work anymore, try this or this.)

I’ve listened to it countless times, and each time different sections catch me. It’s fascinating and humbling to listen again now, another decade’s worth of Metta (lovingkindness) practice under my belt, and still feel as though I have everything yet to learn!

Though the Triratna Buddhist community is my current spiritual home, I continue to feel so much gratitude for all the teachers of the Insight tradition who started me down this path. In particular, I am deeply grateful to James Fox for introducing me to the concept of Metta, and for encouraging me to deepen my practice by attending a retreat.

Saddhu, James, for everything you’ve accomplished with the Prison Yoga Project, and Thank You for inspiring me, then and now!

A yoga sequence to cultivate compassion from Chelsea Jackson Roberts

I found this lovely heart-opening yoga sequence several months ago while putting together a class on the Heart Chakra:

Heart sequence.png

Since then, I’ve incorporated it into just about every class I teach, and it’s become my go-to movement practice… so I figured it was about time I shared the love!

It’s quite accessible in that it is easy to practice anywhere, without a mat or specialized clothing. It’s also easily adjustable to fit any timeframe. I usually start with a version in which I hold each pose for two full breaths. Even if that’s all I have time for, my mindbodyheart feel so much better for it; even better if I have time to go through several rounds, timed with the breath.

I’m convinced that this sequence was exactly the loving kindness that I needed during a recent retreat that was very challenging, both physically and emotionally.

Thank you, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, for sharing your inclusive practices and experiences with us. They are truly gifts that keep on giving!

Using the Brahma Viharas to work with their near enemies

I recently spent 8 days at a retreat on the topic of the Brahma Viharas (also known as the Four Divine Abodes, or the Four Immeasurables in Buddhism), which are:

  1. Metta = Loving Kindness / Goodwill;
  2. Karuna = Compassion (…arises when we meet suffering with metta);
  3. Mudita = Joy (…arises when we meet happiness, good fortune, or positive qualities with metta); and
  4. Upekkha / Equanimity (…arises when we meet change or impermanence with metta).

We also covered the so-called “near enemies” of each brahma vihara, which can arise when we tend toward self-centeredness or see ourselves as separate from others:

  1. Metta / Loving kindness can turn into a kind of possessive love or attachment to a particular path for them (eg going from genuinely wanting the best for someone, to believing you know specifically what is best for them);
  2. Karuna / Compassion can turn into grief or overwhelm;
  3. Mudita / Joy can turn into a sense of intoxication with one’s own or another’s joyful situation; and
  4. Upekkha / Equanimity can turn into indifference or apathy.

The most powerful part of the retreat for me was a practice in which we were encouraged to use a specific brahma vihara to “lift up” each of the near enemies as they came up, in a particular sequence.

  • If you start to get too attached to a person or an outcome, compassion can help you remember that they are on their own journey;
  • If you’re getting overwhelmed with your own suffering (or someone else’s, or the suffering of the entire world), you can reflect on people’s positive qualities or the positive aspects of the situation;
  • If you become so intoxicated with someone else’s choices, positive qualities, or way of being that start wanting some aspect of their life for yourself, you can cultivate a sense of contentment with your own path;
  • If you find yourself becoming apathetic or nihilistic because you’re taking “accepting things as they are” to an extreme, a dose of loving kindness can rekindle your sense of care.

Here’s my best attempt at a diagram to describe this practice. May it serve those of us who would like to cultivate a bit more connectedness in a world full of forces that would like us to believe we are separate from each other.

Brahma Viharas + Near Enemies.jpg