“In what do you take refuge?”
What does this mean?
In what do you seek comfort when things are difficult, in what ways do you try to support yourself when struggling….
How do you behaviour when you are feeling sad, angry, scared, stressed, shame, hate, worry?
Typically we take refuge in unhelpful and unskilful behaviours – our stress reactions:
an extra glass of wine or two
focusing on others needs
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these things and yet when they are a reaction to difficulty they can become false refuges. They may bring temporary relief from the difficulty but ultimately they usually create more stress and difficulty.
When we use eating or watching TV or over thinking as a defence against the pain of a situation, we are trying to protect our fragile hearts. We are trying to distract ourselves. We are trying to find refuge but looking in the wrong places.
Lets go back to the Buddha, who was simply a very intelligent and psychologically minded man who was curious about how the human mind and heart works, and who researched human nature by observing it through the vehicle of meditation.
The Buddha suggested we should take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – these are Pali words, the language of his time.
Buddha simply means our true nature.
Dharma means the Path, the meditations and practices.
Sangha means community.
So how can this ancient teaching be relevant for us today?
How can we take refuge in our true nature? – our capacity to have an open, loving heart, our capacity for compassion, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, equanimity?
Despite illness of body or mind, in spite of blinding despair or habitual belief, who you are is whole.
Let nothing keep you separate from the truth. The soul, illumined from within, longs to be known for what it is.
Undying, untouched by fire or the storms of life, there is a place inside where stillness and abiding peace reside.
You can ride the breath to go there.
Despite doubt or hopeless turns of mind, you are not broken.
Spirit surrounds, embraces, fills you from the inside out. Release everything that isn’t your true nature.
What’s left, the fullness, light and shadow, claim all that as your birthright.
Do you trust that this is your true nature? When you get irritable because you’re stressed, when you over eat because you’re anxious, when you cannot sleep because you’re over thinking some problem – are you able to pause and remind yourself that you are only doing these things because you are suffering?
Our true nature gets covered over by our protective defences and we tend to identify with this outer layer – our defences, limitations and failings. And when those defences mean that we snap at the ones we love, we tend to then beat ourselves up further.
So when we are stressed or upset, can we take refuge in our true nature by bringing our compassionate heart to ourselves? Can we remember to do a Self Compassion Break? Or a Loving Kindness practice?
When we realise that we have said or done something we regret, can we remember that this is our outer casing?
Noah Levine says “hurt people, hurt people”. Can we remember that we only ever cause harm to ourselves or others when we are identified with our defences, when we are feeling hurt, scared, unloved? This is also taking refuge in our true nature – our capacity to see clearly, to ‘wake up’ to our patterns of behaving, to understand how we get caught in habitual patterns and how we can do things differently.
Rilke wrote, ‘How could we forget those ancient myths at the beginning of all races – the myths about dragons that at the last minute turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses waiting for us to act with beauty and courage’.
And it does take courage to take refuge in our true nature and our practice – because mindfulness turns us towards what is here when we are stressed – rather than distracting us, papering over the cracks in the way that our stress reactions tend to.
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
Practice is the ultimate act of kindness – it is like picking up the child in front of us who is sad or lonely or angry or scared – and letting them know that we care, that we are here for them, that we are interested in what has upset them.
Learning mindfulness and self compassion practices gives us the skills to be able to hold ourselves in the same way.
But we still have the challenge of remembering use them!
So a fun practice that I picked up recently from Pema Chodron is to notice and name when we are taking false refuge in something. So when we reach for that extra glass of wine, we can say to ourselves “I take refuge in this bottle of wine”. Or when we select another program or episode of that box set to loose ourselves in, we can say “I take refuge in Netflix”. Or “I take refuge in getting angry”, “I take refuge in over analysing”.
So we start to acknowledge what we are doing – not to beat ourselves up about it but to simply bring it into awareness, to make it a conscious choice rather than an unconscious reaction. And we go ahead and watch that fourth episode of the box set, and next time we are seeking refuge in that way, we acknowledge it too because each time we do that slowly we raise our awareness and in time, it creates the space to make another choice.
But we start from where we are, with compassion for our defences and reactions – knowing that they are our attempt to keep ourselves safe from the pain of our fragile heart. We respect our defences while opening up the possibility of trying something new.
So the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are called the 3 Jewels – and the final jewel, taking refuge in community recognises that we are social beings, that we need meaningful connection and relationships.
Good company can be a source of encouragement, support, inspiration, learning, fun.
Whether it is the company of close friends or a community of people with shared values or interests, we need the support of others to be fully alive and certainly a community of mindfulness practitioners supports our practice, supports our understanding and supports us to integrate mindfulness as fully as we can into our lives.
Kind wishes and I hope to see you at Amersham Mindfulness soon,