Tara Brach – How To Overcome Fear With The Power Of Mindfulness
It is with great pleasure that I share with you the second masterclass with Tara Brach, following on from Tara’s presentation on How To End The Trance of Unworthiness & Move Through Fear during the Mindfulness Summit in 2015.
Tara Brach is as an internationally recognised meditation teacher and clinical psychologist, and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC (IMCW). She has practiced and taught meditation for over 35 years and successfully published two bestselling meditation and spiritual awakening books, True Refuge and Radical Acceptance. Her podcasts are also downloaded over one million times per month, which is a real testament to her work and ongoing commitment to helping us live with more peace and ease.
During this masterclass we speak about one of the things that can really hold us back from wholehearted living, and that thing is fear – the fear we’re not enough, we won’t be loved and that we’re not worthy. Tara’s relates to this as the ‘Trance of Unworthiness’, and illustrates how it can hold us back from being the person we want to be and the life we want to live.
Also shared in this masterclass is Tara’s personal story of how she’s had to self-nurture through feelings of unworthiness, even after publishing Radical Acceptance.
I’m sure you’ll find this video interview will support and nurture your journey to mindful living. Enjoy!
Want more from Tara?
Check out Tara Brach’s free meditation RAIN Self Compassion which takes you through Tara’s 4 steps to self compassion.
You can also find her books, meditations and more resources here: https://www.tarabrach.com/
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Tara’s free meditation RAIN Self Compassion
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Melli:G’day. Melli O’Brien here from The Mindfulness Summit, and this is the second masterclass following on from last year’s Mindfulness Summit. The idea of these videos is that we just want to continue to nourish and support your journey into mindful living.
Today’s masterclass is with Tara Brach. Tara is a clinical psychologist, an internationally known meditation teacher, and the author of two bestselling books, True Refuge and Radical Acceptance, two of my favorites. Her podcast is downloaded around one million times a month, and in addition to her public work, she also is tirelessly working to get meditation into prisons and schools. In this masterclass with Tara Brach, we speak about one of the things that really can hold us back from wholehearted living, from mindful living. That thing is fear. Specifically, we speak about what she calls the trance of unworthiness. The fear that we’re not enough. The fear that we’re not worthy, and how that can really color our whole life experience, holding us back from being the person we want to be and living the life that we want to live.
Tara gives us some really simple but powerful strategies and insights about how not to push our fear away or make it stop, but actually just learning to relate to it in a different way, with more courage and more compassion. She shows us how to get in touch once again with our innate goodness and worthiness. I know you’re going to enjoy this conversation with Tara Brach, and please enjoy the link to the free meditation Tara has offered us, which will give you time on your own in private to practice bringing mindfulness to your fears. I’m sure that will be really useful for your journey to mindful living. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with the wonderful Tara Brach.
Tara, thank you so much for sharing your time and your presence with myself and The Mindfulness Summit community today. I really, really deeply appreciate it.
Tara: Totally my pleasure. Really, glad to be with you.
Melli: I never had a chance to thank you in person, actually, for your contribution to The Mindfulness Summit. You did an amazing presentation that we got incredible feedback from, so thank you for that as well.
Tara: I was so happy that you put that all together. I continue to hear people talk about what they got from it, so a deep bow, really.
Melli: It started off as such a small idea, and then it … The whole thing had a life of its own, as far as I can tell. It had its own plans, and we were just running along behind it keeping the ship afloat.
Tara: You did a good job keeping track, and there is such a hunger for this kind of thing. It’s only going to keep growing.
Melli: That’s it. That’s it. What I’m so excited about doing this follow on series that we’re doing now, people just showed so much enthusiasm, and as you say, so much hunger, so I’m so excited to now be doing this follow on series. During the summit, what we really focused on was giving as much information as possible about how people can begin to practice mindfulness formally, and how they can integrate that into their daily lives, but what I’m really curious about now and what I’m focusing in on is, what are the ways that we get caught up? Because it’s one thing to cultivate more presence in life, but there are certain ways that the mind works that if it’s not brought into the light of awareness, it tends to be sticky.
I’m excited to have you here today to talk about one of those really sticky things, which is what you talk about in your book, Radical Acceptance, is the trance of unworthiness. You speak about this as being that most of us have a deep seated sense of lack, and a sense that we’re not enough. A fear that we won’t be loved, and this is sticky. My first question to you about this is, and this is really fascinating to me, in your book you spoke about how the trance of unworthiness that tends to already be there can be quite exacerbated in Western culture, because you say we have a culture that breeds a sense of shame and separation, and so my question to you is, how does our culture do that and how are other cultures potentially different to ours?
Tara: It’s actually a question I’ve been reflecting on for a long time, and I don’t know really about other cultures, but I’ve become more and more aware in contemporary culture, Western culture, how competitive it is. How most of us have a standard that we’re trying to meet, so we’re competing against ourself. Is my body thin enough? Am I attractive enough? Am I intelligent enough? Am I successful enough? We’re constantly comparing to other people. In a way, the culture sends a message. It sends a standard that if you want to be successful and happy, you’re going to look like this and act like this, and then it’s transmitted through our parents. Very early on, most of us got the message that to be lovable and to be respected, we needed to be a certain way. For many of us it was, “Don’t be so needy. Don’t be so demanding,” or, “Be more quiet,” or, “Be more entertaining.” It was, “Be different.” We then go on constructing a kind of personality that’s trying to get the approval, but underneath that is this fragility that feels like, “I’m not okay as I am,” and it’s really painful.
One of the things just to add is I’m very aware in schools how our school systems worship a certain kind of intelligence, a certain left brain intelligence, and a large percentage of kids don’t have the particular kind of intelligence our culture puts on a pedestal. They go through school with the subtext of, “I’m not smart enough,” which is to me, it’s a real shame. It makes me really sad to see kids come out feeling like they’re not good enough because of that particular standard. Then, of course, how many women have ruined themselves trying to have a body that doesn’t fit their body? Those are just examples, Melli, but I feel like our culture-
Melli: I can relate to both of those.
Tara: Yeah, most of us can. “Be skinnier. Be smarter.” Ultimately, in a deep way, as long as there’s not a natural way of belonging, in other words, you can’t naturally feel a sense of family or community … We’re not tribal. We don’t have that. You have to jump through hoops in order to feel like you belong. It’s even true in spiritual communities. You have to have a certain way of doing things, a certain persona, a certain whatever. We don’t have a natural sense of belonging, and that creates deep insecurity.
Melli: I remember in your book you spoke about a really endearing story about how some, I think it was some psychologists and researchers were trying to describe the trance of unworthiness to the Dalai Lama, and he was just completely … I think in your book you say that they just kept trying to tell him this. He just didn’t understand the concept of self-hatred or self-aversion. He just was like, “What? I don’t understand. We don’t have that,” so there must be some cultures that are different.
Tara: I think that it’s because we’re so individualistic. I think cultures that have a little more of a sense of collectivity … If you think of it this way, that all of us, all beings when they incarnate, have some sense of separateness and some sense of vulnerability, and that’s natural, and some sense that around the corner something’s going to go wrong, because we all perceive our fragility. That’s universal, but in Western cultures, it goes from, “Something’s wrong,” to, “I’m wrong.” It affixes to the separate self, and I think that’s because we have a really individualistic culture where our sense of safety and belonging only comes by the self meeting certain standards. It’s not unconditional, and that’s where the difference may be.
Melli: I think one of the things that you talk about as well, and gosh, this all resonates so true with my own life experience of having that feeling from a very young age. You speak about how one of the things that we do in response to that is to become really harsh and really critical and really unkind to ourselves. It’s like we’re trying to whip ourselves into shape, and that voice in the head tends to become downright mean. For some of us, it can become a tormentor in the head. This trance of unworthiness becomes this harsh, mean, a vicious cycle of meanness and then more feelings of lack and unworthiness, and it can just become this … My question to you is, why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves? You would think in response to this feeling of tenderness and unworthiness that maybe some kindness would come in and we would go, “Oh,” but that’s not what we do. We make it worse. We’re mean to ourselves. Why do we do that, and why is it so hard just to be kind to ourselves?
Tara: It’s the key question. In fact, that is why I wrote Radical Acceptance is because I was almost astonished when I started becoming aware of how cruel I was to myself. I remember being on a hike in college with a friend, and she was saying, “I’m learning to be my own best friend,” and so on. All of a sudden, something in me froze in that recognition. I am the furthest thing from a friend to myself. I was always on my case for everything. How come? I think that we are trying to control ourselves into being the person we want to be. We have a lot invested in changing ourselves so that we’ll be the lovable, worthwhile, acceptable person, and we try to control ourselves through judgment.
When I do workshops and we start investigating and I ask people, “What would happen if you were kinder to yourself?” The big fear is, “I’d never change. I’d never change. I’d never be who I wanted to be.” Ironically, one of our American psychologists, Rodgers, describes it this way. He says, “It wasn’t until I accepted myself just as I was that I was free to change,” but that’s not the way we perceive it. In fact, we tend to treat ourselves a lot like our parents treated us. If our parents treated us in a way that was either controlling or neglecting, then we control ourselves, neglect ourselves. If there was a lot of judgment, we judge ourselves. Even if it was subtle level of judgment, it still is what we internalize. It’s very difficult to trust that being kind will actually heal us into the person we really want to be.
Melli: I actually get that feedback a lot when I teach mindfulness retreats, and it gets to the question and answer, and it inevitably comes up that people say something to the tune of, “I won’t achieve my potential. Being kind and being present, I won’t achieve my potential. I’ll just be waffling around. I’ll never be the person I’m meant to be.” I often just say to people, “Gosh. The universe has been evolving for 36 billion years. Your brain is the most complex organism in the known universe. I think you’re done. Whatever you do from here is … Go, play, enjoy,” but it’s so pervasive. That’s echoed within myself as well. I can hear that voice going, “If you’re too happy, if you’re too kind, you won’t get there,” but it’s incredible how pervasive that idea is that if we’re kind, and if we’re living an enjoyable life where we’re fully present, that somehow we’ll lose all passion and motivation and become passive people that don’t do anything of worth. That such a pervasive thing.
Tara: We’ve had also billions of years of evolution where we’ve been driven by the limbic system that says the only way to be okay is through fighting, fleeing or freezing. Fighting, meaning judging ourselves, is a way that we try to control. In a way, what we’re asking people to do on this path of mindfulness and healing, is to evolve past fight, flight, freeze, into what I call attend and befriend. That ais where we’re going. The frontal cortex in the brain is the site of compassion and empathy, including self compassion and mindfulness. The most recently evolved part of our brain actually knows how to attend and befriend, but it’s a huge pull to keep going from the more primitive and aggressive parts of our brain, so it takes some courage to begin to take the risk of being kinder, and yet it opens up a whole new world, and it’s very rich and very creative, and allows us to actually be spontaneous, because as long as we think something’s wrong with us we can’t be spontaneous. We’re always trying to package a self so that others will approve of it.
Melli: It opens up so much more choice to live the life that feels true to our hearts, instead of this reactive mode of being where we’re maybe acting from those more primitive parts of the brain, but I find often people speak about not feeling in touch with the life that they really wanted to live when they don’t have that conscious choice.
Tara: That’s exactly right. In fact, I was very impacted by one palliative caregiver who describes that the biggest regret of the dying is, “I didn’t live true to myself.” I don’t think it’s just the dying. I think for many of us, even those that are very hooked on self-judgment, there’s an undercurrent of feeling disappointed and sad that I’m not really living fully who I can be. I think that’s in us. That’s what draws us to try something different. It’s that yearning to wake up out of the old patterning and really live from a more joyful and more generous and happier place. That I think does it. When I describe it the trance of unworthiness, it really is a trance that we start catching on to. Like you, I’ve run into many, many people that are in that “Aha,” of, “Wow, I spent a lot of my living moments at war with myself in some way.” Just recognizing that swaths of moments were turned against ourselves is the beginning of shifting out of it.
Melli: Right. If the trance of unworthiness is coming and going in our lives, the way that we break it is just really beginning to notice, notice, notice, and step out and find a new way of responding to that when it arises. How can we begin to get back in touch with our basic worthiness?
Tara: The first step, as you were just saying, is to really get that we’ve been in a trance. Most people are aware that they judge themselves too much. When I do hand raises, I’ll say, “How many of you feel like you judge yourself too much?” It’s 99.9%, but what people aren’t aware of is how often those feelings of judgment and not okay are infiltrating everything that’s going on. You and I could be having this interview, but the backdrop of, “I’m falling short,” will in some way impede the full creative flow that’s possible, or for other people, the sense of, “I’m not okay, so somebody’s going to reject me,” will stop them from being as real or open as they could be, or for another person that’s at work, they won’t take the risks that they could take.
In a big way, when we think we’re not okay, our whole nervous system is revved so we can’t relax and enjoy the moments. We can’t really open into being states. There’s always a sense I have to do something more. I’m not enough. I sometimes think of it, one woman described in her book as our true sickness is homesickness. That in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not at home with ourselves and there’s a deep sense of missing out. One woman, this is again, a story of a woman who was dying. She woke up from a coma and looked her daughter in the eyes and said, “All my life I thought something was wrong with me.” Those were her last words.
Can we start being aware of that trance way before that? That we’re caught in this, “Something’s wrong,” thing, and that is what starts motivating us to shift gears. Then we begin to say, what is it going to take to really trust what I sometimes think of as basic goodness? That there’s just this awareness that’s looking through our eyes right now, and a tenderness in our hearts that really wants more than anything to love and be loved, that wants to connect, that wants to live fully, and when we start sensing that in us, then we starts saying, “Oh yeah, this is goodness. This is a basic goodness.” I found it’s really interesting, then we start looking at when we’re caught in that trance, and there’s a kind of sadness about it. We get tender towards it, and I sometimes call it a soul sadness, because it’s like we can start seeing the landscape of our lives. Kind of like that dying woman says, “Oh my gosh, so many moments that I could’ve been connecting from a real place, and that I could’ve been celebrating. It’s springtime here. I could’ve been celebrating spring. I was caught up in some sense of, ‘Something’s wrong. I’ve got to be different.’” There’s a sadness about that, but that starts opening us back into trusting our hearts.
Melli: It really gets in the way, as you were speaking, what’s coming through for me is that I feel like one of the things that the trance of unworthiness limits us in the most is intimacy. We all crave intimacy with life and with ourselves and with other people, but when we’re so busy striving to … We’re on these crazy self improvement projects trying to be something more, or trying to prove ourselves in relationship with somebody else. We’re trying to show face, like, “I’ve got it together. I’ve got it together. I’m fine.” That’s like the voice of reason. It’s like, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’ve got it together, and there’s nothing wrong here. Nothing to be seen here.” I feel like that can happen a lot.
It’s great that we’re talking about this, because I feel like this is a thing, as you were saying, on the spiritual path, we can get a little bit stuck in this, “If I’m spiritual enough, I’ll have it all together and I’ll walk a certain way and I’ll always be kind to everybody and just shut it all down if it …” But actually it’s such an incredible relief to just go, “You know what? This is how it is for me right now. Some parts are together and some parts are a bit funky, but there’s this emancipation of just dropping the whole game, and just actually going, “I’m really vulnerable, but I’m willing to be there because I want the connection.” But in order to do that, I guess the trance of unworthiness has to be recognized and seen for what it is, and it’s not like we get rid of it, is it? We don’t try to push it away, or suppress it, or anything. We just go, “There’s a bit of vulnerability in here, but I’m willing to be open with that and to …”
Tara: There is a way to train ourselves to how we work with the trance that actually shifts our sense of identity in a fundamental way. When I say that, what I mean is, it is possible when those feelings of unworthiness come, to be able to use mindfulness and compassion in a way that shifts us from identifying as an unworthy self to actually experiencing that worthy awareness and the tenderness and love that’s paying attention to that current of unworthiness. In other words, we shift from the waves to the ocean. I actually use an acronym when I am training people to bring mindfulness and compassion to the trance of unworthiness that I’d like to walk through with you, because I think it’s so helpful.
I train a lot of mental health professionals that use it then with their clients, and it’s so impactful. It’s basically mindfulness and compassion, but the acronym is RAIN, and the way I use RAIN, and I’ll take you through each letter of it.
The R is that, you’re caught in trance. You’re feeling like you’re falling short. You’re feeling like around the corner you’re going to totally fail. The first step is just to recognize it. You might just name it. Shame, fear. Recognize it. That’s the R.
Then A, allow what’s going on to just be there. In other words, don’t move to try to fix something, to talk yourself out of it, to ignore it. Just allow, and I sometimes think of that as, you’re saying yes. Not, “Yes, I like this,” but “Yes, this is the reality of this moment.” Recognize, and then just allow.
That’s the beginning of RAIN, and there’s a real power, because it creates a pause, and instead of tumbling into the same reactivity that deepens the patterning of a self that’s flailing, you actually have a chance to change the pattern. I’ll just pause for a moment and say that Viktor Frankl has a line. “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space is your power and your freedom.” Recognizing and allowing creates that space.
Then you go on to the I, which is to investigate. It’s a mindful investigation. Okay, you’ve been caught in this fear of failure. Something’s around the corner and you feel like you’re absolutely inadequate and deficient and so on, so investigate means you just start noticing, “Okay, so there’s a belief that I’m falling short.” Investigation mostly is in the body, and just to say that a lot of people hear the word investigate and they think they’re going to do some analytic figuring out. It’s not that. That can just keep you in the trance. Come into the body. Say, “Where am I feeling the shame and the fear, and what does it feel like right this moment?” You really feel grip and the squeeze and you breathe with it.
That’s the investigate, and the N is nurture. You’ve investigated and you’ve gotten in touch with the pain of it in the body, and then you do some expression of self compassion. I put my hand on my heart right now because our relationship with ourselves is at best a hostile distance a lot of the time, and to counter that, to put your hand on your own heart, as you’re listening you might just try it for a moment, just tenderly, all of a sudden, we’re beginning to establish a new relationship with ourself. Often I encourage people in the N of RAIN, the nurture, to send a little message of whatever that painful place most needs, and that’s nurture.
After nurturing is really the most important part of RAIN, and if you think of a real rain, it’s coming down and it nourishes the grounds, but after the rain is when the green flourishes. After you do this little process of RAIN, just to pause and notice the shift from being the shameful self to being that compassionate presence that’s holding the space of kindness for what’s going on, because that shift is the essence of awakening. That is where the healing comes from. Again, it’s simple and yet it’s challenging, and you have to do it many, many rounds. It’s not like one round of RAIN and all of a sudden, voila, everything’s changed, but each time you do it, there’s more and more of a sense of, “Oh, I’m not the self that’s falling short. I’m this awareness that’s present,” and that is liberation. That’s freedom.
Melli: That is getting back in touch with our basic sense of worthiness in that moment.
Tara: Exactly, because the worthiness is not that you’re a good self. It’s that you’re beyond any constricted sense of self at all. You’re really resting in a much larger sense of being. You’re resting in that love and presence that’s who we both are. It’s not particular to a self.
Melli: I love that. This feels like it came full circle, and as you were speaking about that, that really does deeply answer my question of, how do you get back in touch with your basic sense of worthiness? Because in that moment, you can actually hold both. You have the fear or the shame or whatever came up, and that can be held in this loving awareness that is who you are. This is one of those strange paradox-y sounding spiritual things, but in being in touch with that, you can hold both the sense of feeling a bit of shame, and also know deeply that you’re beyond all sense really of worthiness or unworthiness. You can just rest in that loving awareness.
Tara: That’s beautifully said. I like the metaphor of ocean and waves, because if you know you’re the ocean, if you sense your wholeness of being, it’s okay that there’s waves of shame or fear or excitement or passion or whatever it is. They’re part of this ocean, yes, and so you can cradle them on its surface without having your identity contracted and imprisoned inside them.
Melli: And without any ideas of bad self, good self. Without all of the labeling of … You shouldn’t be feeling shame because you’re supposed to have it together, or whatever the story is.
Tara: It takes you way beyond any of the small affirmations that we try to hold onto that really don’t hold, because we’re even bigger than those.
Melli: Oh, I love that. I watched a couple of YouTube talks that you did recently. I’m going to link to them, actually, under this video, because I found them really so helpful and so profound. You did some talks. I think it was entitled Beyond the Fear Body, and in that you spoke about, I feel like I really want to bring this to the fore now, because I feel like in spiritual life, for all of us who are dedicated to living a more kind and conscious life in whatever way that takes shape, one of the things that we have to, it’s a mandatory part of this journey by as far as I can tell, is that as we become more in touch with life and more in touch with ourselves, we also come more in touch with the fear that’s there.
I’m talking about not just the trance of unworthiness here, but maybe the trance of unworthiness is a manifestation of a deep, primordial or existential fear, and it’s so tender. It seems like this is part of spiritual life is actually, this is what we come face to face with over time, with practice. You speak in those talks about meeting all the expression of those existential fears with more wisdom and more compassion, so I was wondering if you could give us any further advice on as we’re going about our daily lives, when these fears come up. Are there any other ways that we can begin to cultivate our ability to deal with that with more wisdom and compassion?
Tara: I first want to say, I feel like you’re really right on in describing fear at the core. I feel like if you look into any moment of struggle or suffering, at the very root of it, we’ll find fear. We are insecure beings. We’re mortal. We have no control over stuff. William James said that the first word in every religion is “help,” and often what happens is because we’re afraid, we go into fight, flight, freeze to try to protect ourselves, and that ends up really only exacerbating the fear. It’s still there. We only temporarily found a way to try to protect ourselves. The deeps fears of separation, of losing our lives, and then what happens is that it turns into anger. Angry about whatever’s threatening our loss, or ashamed about the fear of failure, or depression that’s pushing under the fear. It’s got a lot of different emotional expressions.
One of the things I really think is helpful is first of all to know that it’s not my fear, it’s the fear. As soon as fear comes up, we feel very alone and separate in it, but it’s just a universal condition, and if we didn’t have fear we’d be brain dead. We’re meant to have it. It’s got a survival function. The on button gets jammed, and we just don’t know how to turn it off. The other thing I find really useful is, if you look in Tibetan art, there are fearsome deities that are protecting the entrance to sacred space. You’ll see it in the mandalas that circle around. To get into the center of the mandala, you have to go through the fearsome deities, and to get into the temples, at the gate of the temple you’ll see these statues of fearsome deities. The message is that to really enter into our own sacred space, the real freedom of our hearts, we actually have to go through fear. We have to face that which we’re afraid of, and in the process of bringing presence to fear, we actually wake up to what’s beyond the fear, and knowing that helps.
Then there are different ways that we approach fear. If fear is overwhelming and traumatizing, we need to go really slow and have support, because we don’t want to re-traumatize, but if it’s not at a traumatic level, then there are two pathways of practice with it. One is directly lean in. Just find out where it is in the body. Put your hand on your heart and breathe with it, but stay with the actual sensations, because every emotion has its own vector, and it arises and it falls away. It’s said that an emotion lasts for 1.5 minutes, but if we keep fueling it with thoughts, it’ll keep going. Instead of fueling the fear with fear thoughts, we simply breathe with it and feel it. It’ll come and go, and we’ll start remembering that oceanness again, because in the moment of bringing presence to fear, you start shifting and becoming present more than the current of fear. In other words, you enlarge.
That’s one. Just lean in. The second pathway is to before you lean in, resource some. In other words, find a way to gain more resourcefulness. The metaphor I often use is when I go kayaking with my husband and the river’s going really fast, and I start losing my energy and it’s a little bit scary because the currents are moving so quickly, we tuck behind a rock and we take a little break, and when we’re behind a rock, because the water’s still there, we can look at the whole river and sense what way we want to navigate. We can catch our breath so we can remind that we’re in it together. In other words, we resource, and then we can go back into it and we have more balance and resilience and stability and humor and everything you need to be able to navigate. It’s the same with fear. When it’s strong, we need to be able to have some waves to calm our nervous system and reconnect with our strength.
There are a number of really good ways. One is simply learning how to breathe in a way that strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system. A very simple example, breathe in and just count to four slowly, so it’s about a six second breath, and a matched out breath for six seconds. No pause in between, so it’s six seconds in, six seconds out, no pause, and just do that for a couple of minutes and there’s a lot of science. That will help to establish a little more calm. It also quiets the mind so then you can actually connect directly with the feelings of fear.
Another example is if you put your hand on your heart, actually the warmth there at that center, where all these different nerves crisscross, actually calms you down. Another is if you bring to mind somebody that you feel safe with or loved with and just imagine that person right here, that calms you down. A little bit of resourcing, and of course, the best resourcing is if you actually have somebody you care about there and they say, “I’m with you.” There’s all this research, if you hold hands with a loved one, it actually calms the limbic system where the fear center and the amygdala, and so on. That’s just an example of the two pathways that help us work with fear.
Melli: I love that. Actually, I had a moment when you were just speaking. I had a very dark moment in the last six months and I remember, I had a friend on the phone, and she just said these simple words to me. She said, “You are not alone in this. You are not alone in this. I am here with you.” I just remember, those words have just echoed through my being the whole time, and I’ve actually started to say them to myself now, when I feel challenged. I always say, “You’re not alone. I’m here for you. You’re not alone here.” I love that.
Tara: That’s beautiful. Just to share with you, I do a workshop where I sometimes have people write down their fears on a piece of paper and fold them, and then we’ll put them in the middle. About eight people will be in a circle, and stir them up, and then people will pick out each other’s fears, little folded pieces of paper, and then they’ll take turns reading out loud the fear that they picked, and everybody will sense being with that, and at the end people say, “Wow. Just listening to everybody’s fears and having somebody else read mine really gave me that sense of, ‘I’m not alone.’ That it’s not my fear, it’s the fear,” which really relieves us. I love your-
Melli: It does, doesn’t it? There’s something really liberating about just outing it, because there’s some things about our human experience that feel so intimate and scary to share, to say, “I experience feelings of not enough, and I’ve been meditating for years, but I still feel them.” But just to out it, and go, “Yeah, you’re not alone in this. This is a human thing.” It’s a human mind thing.
Tara: It’s so true. I have a weekly talk, and it’s a weekly podcasted talk, and I confess all my foibles. I get more positive feedback for just being a real human than I do for any high flying truths that I might be … Because it’s reassuring. I just did a course called The Fearless Heart, and one of the readings was from Rumi who talks about night travelers, and he says night travelers are those that are dedicated to knowing their own fear, and they know that they’re walking through the darkness together, but giving enormous light as they do, because as you get to know your own fear, you discover the love that is timeless, the love that will not die. It’s knowing we’re night travelers, we’re in it together.
Melli: Beautiful. I love it. I love being a night traveler with you all. It’s true. I just really wanted to state as well, I do feel it’s true in my experience that the more I touch in on what feels like very scary stuff in my own inner world, it seems that there’s almost a direct relationship between my willingness to touch in with that and be real with it and my ability to be present. It seems like the two, in my life experience, seems to be able to stay present more when I’m real about, because I’m not hiding anymore. I’m not hiding, so I can be present with the dark stuff too. Yeah, I love being a night traveler.
Tara: When you’re a night traveler with your own fear, you’re able to accompany other people and actually have true empathy and true compassion. Because if we haven’t been real with our own shame and our own fear, it’s very hard to feel that sense of tenderness with another. It actually fosters real intimacy.
Melli: If there was one message from your book, Radical Acceptance, if there was one message that you would want our viewers to take with them to give them more of a sense of that intimacy, more of an ability to be kind and compassionate with themselves and their fears, what would be that core message, or a core message?
Tara: How about a two part core message, because they both have to … I sometimes think of it that we’re loving ourselves into healing, and one aspect is that when there’s suffering inside us, to really be committed to attending and befriending, to offer that gesture of kindness. The moment that you offer a gesture of kindness, even if you’re not feeling kind, in that moment there’s actually a shift, and I often will tell a story, the metaphor of if you see a dog in the woods, and you go to pet it and it lurches at you with it’s fangs beared, and you go from friendly to really being angry, but then you see that the dog has its leg caught in a trap, and then you shift to, “Oh, you poor thing,” and you’re feeling really care. When we’re suffering, and when we’re judging ourselves when we feel like we’ve acted terribly and we’re really on our own case, we can assume that we wouldn’t have acted that way if our leg wasn’t in that trap. The things we’re judging are behaviors that come because in some way we’re suffering. There’s an unmet need for feeling safe or loved or whatever, and to then add self judgment locks us in the trance. That’s the first part is to, when we’re suffering, have that forgiveness that gets we have a leg in the trap, and to offer kindness.
The second part of loving ourselves into healing is really to look to see the goodness. Just as you were asking about to see our own worthiness. The Sanskrit word Namaste means that I see the light in you. I see the beauty and the goodness in you. If we can see the light that shines through our own being, if we can sense the real depth of purity in our hearts that wants to really live and love fully, and honor that, we start being more free, and then we can mirror it for each other. The greatest gift you can give to another person is to mirror their goodness. It’s to be able to see the light that’s coming through that person and say, “Wow. You’re really glowing and I really appreciate your kindness.” Melli, the way you’re serving the world, and I say this with all sincerity, I can feel how much you’re dedicated to helping people heal, and that is beautiful, and for me to be able to say that and really mean it, and really honor you, is part of the path. To offer that to each other, that true Namaste.
Melli: Okay, so Tara, if you don’t mind me asking you a personal question, can you think of a time recently when you’ve had those kinds of feelings of unworthiness come up for you, or those kinds of fears come up, and how did you deal with it in the moment, and what happened?
Tara: I’m going to give you an example. It’s not super recent. This is eight years ago, but it’s something that was a very big deal for me. Actually, when I wrote True Refuge, my second book, it came out of having been sick. I was sick for a number of years, and I had no reason to believe I was going to get better, so I was going through a lot of grief, a lot of fear of loss. I was losing some mobility, and so on. I’m a lot better, by the way, but during this time, I had a stretch where I was fatigued and in pain for quite a number of weeks in a row, and in a deep way, I was afraid and sad, but in a daily way, I got really irritable and pessimistic and very self focused.
I remember one day meditating and I heard a voice saying, “I can’t stand myself.” Keep in mind, I had written Radical Acceptance. I knew all about the trance of unworthiness, and hearing that voice was like, “I got it.” I was feeling like this bad sick person, like I wasn’t doing sick very well, and here I was teaching about stuff that I was really self centered, and so I said, “Okay, let’s do some RAIN with this.” I named it, recognize, okay, self aversion, and I allowed it. I didn’t try and make it go away. I just said, yes, okay, it’s self aversion. Then I began to investigate, and the belief was, “I’m falling short. I’m not a spiritual person. I’m so self centered. I’m not caring about others. All I’m doing is dwelling on my own stuff.” That was the belief, but the feeling was shame in my stomach of just this hollowness, and my heart was achy. That was the investigating, and then part of investigating was just to sense how long I’d been living with these feelings.
How many moments that not only was I feeling sick, but I was blaming myself for not being a good person, adding that layer, that subtext, and so then the nurturing? There was a real sadness about adding that layer of suffering, making myself wrong, and that enabled me to put my hand on my heart as I do in a very genuine way. I often send a message, and this time it was just, I’m sorry and I love you. That’s a message I heard from a Hawaiian healer, actually, and I just said it over and over again and sent that energy right to the place that’s feeling ashamed and bad until gradually there was a sense of space opening up where there was more tenderness and more light, and I just let myself rest in that. Then this is the post RAIN, which I mentioned earlier, that’s so important. I could sense the shift that I was no longer living inside the sick person. I was more inhabiting this openhearted awareness that included the different streams of the sadness and the loss and the this and the that, but I wasn’t identified.
I’m sharing that with you, Melli, and with those that are listening, because it wasn’t a one shot. There were many more rounds of feeling sick and then knowing I was down on myself, but I found that every time I pause and recognize, “Oh, I’m caught,” and bring recognize, allow, investigate, nurture, there’s less lag time. The next time, it’s a quicker and quicker remembering, and there’s less identification. One way I understand it is, if you think of indigo dye, when you dye a piece of cloth, you take a white cloth and you dip it into the dye, this brilliant blue dye, you pull it out, and it starts off looking brilliant and blue, but it fades very, very quickly to a little off white. You have to do it again, then pick it up, and each time it holds a little more dye until finally you get this brilliant blue cloth, and that’s the way it is with practicing RAIN, practicing mindfulness and compassion. Each time we make that gesture of kindness, we’re a little bit more familiar with the sense of that loving presence. That’s more the truth of who we are than any narrative we have about a not okay person.
Melli: Thank you so much for sharing that story, and I love that RAIN gives us all the capacity to, in a very concrete way, to bring presence and compassion into those moments when usually when we need it the most, we can bring it in little ways, and the little ways are the great way of dipping the cloth, and dipping the cloth, and dipping the cloth, but what I love about this the most is that life is really hard sometimes. Life as a human being isn’t all that easy, and sometimes it gets really hard, and I love that this is a way that we can just run ourselves through the process of coming home, coming home, coming home to ourselves.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us and for sharing your personal stories as well. It’s really been such a delight, this conversation, and Tara has been kind enough to offer a guided RAIN meditation that you can all practice with, all of the people watching this. We’ll put a link to that below this video so you can train and train and train in this until it becomes second nature. Tara also has … Both of her books are amazing, True Refuge and Radical Acceptance, and you also have a podcast which gives meditation guidance, and you speak more, unpack and unfold this journey into self compassion and mindfulness more through that podcast, so highly recommend you guys check all of this out. You can find it all at tarabrach.com, and Brach is spelled B R A C H. tarabrach.com. Go check it out. Tara, thank you so much for your presence and your wisdom and your openheartedness. It’s been a joy.
Tara: It’s been a pleasure to be with you too, dear. Thank you, and blessings to all.