Tara Brach on cultivating a fearless heart

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

I struggle to write about the impact Tara Brach has had on my life. In a time of profound suffering, I was led to her by what I’d call divine guidance. She lit a path that led me back to wholeness. She helped to remind me who I was by illuminating a gateway to love. In my darkness, when I had forgotten, her teachings helped guide me home.

Alongside pioneers like Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg, Tara helped lead the movement that popularized Buddhism in the US. She helped to translate for our Western sensibilities this powerful wisdom tradition, and made mindfulness (vipassana, or insight) meditation palpable for millions.

As a clinical psychologist, best-selling author, beloved teacher, lecturer, and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. – IMCW, Tara not only bridges East and West, but also science and spirituality, even masculine and feminine energies. Our conversation touched on all of those themes. We will be releasing multiple parts of this wisdom that Tara freely shares over the coming months.

This ‘Part One’ of our conversation is a natural beginning. Wherever we are on our spiritual path, it’s worth remembering the essence of why we seek, why any of us dare to begin the hard work of knowing ourselves.

I remember holding back from feeling, even strangely fearing the fullness of my joy. Perhaps I could cheat fate by guarding against my most primal happiness? Perhaps if I held back, I’d be spared from painful loss? Inside the “fearless heart” that Tara discusses here, is the paradox that touching our fear allows us to open to life. What if our fear was our portal to life? To our most exuberant joy?

It’s hard to imagine the young seekers, who’d just come back to the U.S. after learning at the feet of Buddhist monks in Thailand, Nepal, and Tibet in the 1970s, could ever envision how “mindfulness” would become a corporate buzzword. When you encounter a being as luminous, powerful, humble, and loving as Tara Brach, it’s like swimming in an ancient river of essential Truth. Once you dip your toe in it, I hope, like me, you’ll never be the same.

Suggested entry points for accessing Tara’s teaching: Listen to her podcasts on DHARMA SEED.  Watch her two-part series on the basic elements of meditation practice from her website.

Part 2 – Tara Brach on the key message of feminism and disolving the judgements that separate us

One of the most frustrating paradoxes of our time is that while women are more obsessed with our physical appearance than ever before, we are also the least embodied.

I know the pain of nit-picking every last detail in the mirror. And like so many women I know, that pain leads me to believe that my holy body is somehow separate from me. And then the shame comes: I mean, really, shouldn’t I be past this by now?

Fundamentally, I’m trying to find a way back into my wholeness. And thankfully, over the last couple of years, I’ve found there are countless paths up that mountain that lead me back “home.” At 3-Minute Storyteller, we explore how religion, faith, art, exercise, music, creativity, and community all can lead back into this wholeness.

As you’ll hear here, Tara Brach’s way up the mountain certainly has to do with meditation. She teaches us to fully inhabit our bodies before we begin the climb. Trail guide Tara also shares here a secret for healing the world: embracing a culture that celebrates the aliveness of a women’s body from the inside out. Without controlling. Without objectifying.

Tara’s message is for both men: encouraging them to grow towards a celebration of feminism that frees us all. And for women: encouraging them to grow past self-aversion to a loving awareness of their true nature.

The good news is that we can look down and notice our hiking boots have the same power of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. And at any moment, we have the power, and the choice, to knock them together and find our way home.

To learn more about Tara Brach:

Listen to her podcasted meditations and talks on www.TaraBrach.com and www.dharmaseed.com. Read her books – Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. Watch her two-part series on the Basic Elements of Meditation Practice on her website. And of course you can find Tara on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, too.

Part 3 – Tara Brach on the potential for mindfulness to create social change and equality

For much of the winter season, it was pretty quiet around here.  We took a much-needed hiatus that aligned beautifully with this season of introspection. During this reflective time, I made the decision to step down from my beloved position leading our community’s wellness coalition so that I could focus on nurturing 3-Minute Storyteller. It feels lovely now, but make no mistake: forcing myself to be still and listen was messy, scary, confusing, and just plain hard.

As the winter blooms into spring, the yin-being space I’ve been knee deep in is finally giving way to the more acceptable yang-energy of creative action.  So it feels right to start here: full of joy about the opportunity for 3-Minute Storyteller to share conversations that foster compassion between people with great differences.

The Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. that Tara Brach founded did just that. They committed to a yearlong mindfulness practice using the educational resources and spiritual guidance of White Awake, an organization dedicated to combatting white supremacy by supporting white people’s engagement in the creation of a just society. Together, they explored the unconscious bias and privilege inherent in their whiteness, and as Tara reflects in this clip, it served as a powerful wake up to their community.

I wonder where we can start to find a window into another’s experience? Where does the possibility for real communication, rather than debating and pontificating, exist? Where does being ‘woke’ start when so many have retreated far into the echo chambers made possible in our digital age? How can we train our hearts to hold the creative tension of the complex and challenging questions that our nation faces? Where can we cultivate practices that teach opening to another’s pain as a path to strengthen our moral imagination?

We live in a wildly paradoxical moment in American history. In this clip, Tara talks about the tension between the surfacing shadow in our national politics and the enlivening possibilities that our evolving consciousness brings. That tension has been painfully disorienting for me, and Tara’s teaching helps me feel less confused. And that allows room for me to hope . . . and not a soft, dreamy hope. But a tough-as-nails type of hope that is a daily decision.

IMCW lights a spark. They reckon with the wounds of racism, complacency, oppression. This mindful inquiry motivates them to to change their organization and their wider community to make it more inclusive and equitable.

What is possible for this large, diverse, metropolitan spiritual community is possible for us all. Their spark can be fanned to ignite white hot fires of compassionate activism that will lead to systemic change. That’s where my hope lies.

Having a conversation, and attempting to write about race is challenging, awkward and uncomfortable—which makes it feel even more necessary for me to try. I know I’ll stumble and get it wrong.   But my hope is that 3-Minute Storyteller is a space where we can begin to work through injustice and pain caused by the systems of racial oppression that keep every one of us, consciously or unconsciously, separated and broken.

Tara reminds us what basic conditions are necessary for us to open to these most challenging realities. Her teachings, on-line classes, and her books True Refuge and Radical Acceptance guide us to become sanctuaries that invite the vulnerability that is critical for the massive change required.  Drop first into the vibration of our beating hearts.  Let action spill out from there.

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