Mind Matters — Be Still, My Heart

Labor Day weekend has passed. The journey into Fall has begun: school starts; vacations end; pools close: the pumpkins lay in fields like so many orange basketballs and apples ripen for the harvest.

Eschewing the beach, I spent the long weekend at a meditation retreat in the Hudson River Valley. The leader of this event was Jack Kornfield, not only a Buddhist master but also a psychologist. There is congruence between meditation and mindfulness and psychology. In fact, the goals of mindfulness and psychotherapy are quite similar: how to stay centered in the midst of chaos; how to let go; how to cope with anxiety, anger, betrayal; how to trust; how to forgive; how to be discriminating but not judgmental; how to love instead of hate; how to move beyond shame and quiet to a place of gentleness for oneself.

However, neither mindfulness nor psychotherapy considers the end goal to be just about the individual. The process of getting in touch with ourselves is in the end so that we can go back into community to serve and to act for the greater good of all. The irony is that as we attend to stilling our own unquiet minds, we re-discover the universality of our connection to others—actually to everything, including the environment. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls this inter-being.

If we ask ourselves what is truly most important to us, we find our common humanity. We all want to love and be loved; we all want a sense of belonging and connection. Sadly, instead of recognizing our shared humanity, we can get caught in projecting our fears onto others. It is really our own pain that we run from by conjuring up hatred of those who seem “different” or “not like us.” Not able to face the insecurity of the human condition, that is, our mortality, our fear inflames into hatred.

So what to do with the fear? Well, sitting in stillness for a weekend and watching your breath does help. Oh, plenty of thoughts and feelings pop up. After a day or so, more quiet may come and you begin to trust the wisdom within that rises above fear and hatred and allows you to get in touch with your own still voice that reminds you to, once again, love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, you can only love your neighbor when you do love yourself.

This may sound shlocky to some, but there is not a truly wise, saintly, or holy person anywhere—living or dead—who would say “hatred is the way.” Hatred never ends by more hatred. Humankind thrives with loving kindness. On this, both psychologists and spiritual teachers would agree.

We don’t all need to rush to an ashram or go up to a mountain. It is just a matter of taking some quiet, still time to listen to your own heart for what it deeply cares for. If we feed seeds of bitterness, bitterness will grow; if we feed seeds of loving kindness, loving kindness will blossom. It’s our choice.