There’s a Buddhist belief that a genuinely loving relationship is the practice for which all other practices are preparation. In this conversation, we explore romantic partnership as an opportunity for spiritual awakening and cultivating unconditional love as a path to enlightenment.
Camilla Figueroa, MSW and founder of Dharma Yoga Therapy recently took the time to have some discussion with us on this ever-relevant topic. Please click below to her our conversation. And, if you’d like to download the audio, click here and find the “Download” button.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.
Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union of karuna and prajna within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.
Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.
Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”
Sound as vibration has the ability to permeate all things. Sound originates in space. We live in space, breath air, receive energy from the sun and the earth at every moment, and yet, the awareness of the essential relationship with these primal elements only happens during heightened states of consciousness, when we become sensitive to the gross and subtle dimensions of these essentials. Sound travels through us, activating our bodies and our imagination, and modulating our mood in the process. We connect and process sound as information. Everything we do, think, sense, and feel, carries a vibrational frequency that creates and can change our circumstance at every moment.
The most ancient cultures on the planet believed that material reality is the manifestation of primordial vibration. Even the Bible teaches that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1
Early and contemporary spiritual traditions, the mystical experiences of sages and shamans, and scientists alike propose that vibration (spandam, the first sound) is the beginning of all creation. Both the material and the absolute realities are nothing but pulsations and at every level there is sound component of the universe. Through the finesse of their yogic practices and meditation, the sages as well as the scientists distilled the microscopic and molecular stratus of sound in detailed scales. The ancient Bön and Dzogchen teachings, which predate Buddhism in Tibet, also state that sound is in the basis of all manifestation. In a newsletter of the International Dzogchen Community, Costantino Albini writes:
“In the most ancient Tibetan mythological cycles, sound is considered to be the original source of all existence. Sound, which from the beginning of time has vibrated in ineffable emptiness, arises through mutations of light and then differentiates into rays of various colors from which the material elements that make up the entire universe originate.”
Albini is describing how sound gives birth to light, and how light shines out in rays that become the elements—quite literally the physical matter of the universe. In many ancient traditions, sound and vibration are present as a gateway to contemplation, divination, and spiritual development. In the Vedic tradition, derived from texts originating in ancient India, the “Word,” as it is conceived of in the Western Bible, is called the Nada Brahma.
The primordial and transcendent sound is considered the seed from which all of creation evolved. This is the Nada Brahma. Nada, or vibration, is the first audible sound, the primordial roaring, the resounding flow that heralds the beginning of the evolutionary process from which energy and matter radiate. Brahma, the creator God, is the creative power that animates one’s divine consciousness with the power to move the heart.
The original, eternal Nada vibrates at the highest rate of frequency. In physics, when an object vibrates at an inconceivable speed, it appears to the eye that it’s not moving. It’s fascinating that the highest point of vibration is stillness; in the dimension of sound, this is experienced as silence. Above a certain level of high frequency, sound becomes inaudible and can only be perceived subjectively. The ears cannot perceive sounds that are vibrating at such a high rate. Thus, Nada is both the beginning of all sounds and manifestations, and, in the realm of consciousness, Nada is the vibratory rate of silence.
Whatever way you look at it, even as meditation or contemplative practice, an experience of Nada—savored in the intimate union of sound and silence—becomes the super-highway to the therapeutic process. As practitioners of sound as yoga and transpersonal music psychotherapy, we consider Nada the beginning of the boundless healing power of sound. The journey to wholeness starts with awareness, clarity, and a moment of suspension.
It is interesting to see that creation and sound have, in most religions and civilizations, enjoyed a cosmic relationship. In the Indian philosophy, sound, dhvani or nada is the basic substance from which the universe of music and expressive utterance and indeed the entire universe has emerged, the Nada-Brahman. The nada is linked to the source of creation, to space and time, to the senses, to symbols, melodies and structures in music, and to sonic design in terms if resonance and acoustics.
The Hatha-yoga-pradipika 3.64 says that the mind absorbed in nada does not crave for sense objects. The unstruck sound, anahata nada, is heard in the anahata-chakra, the psycho-energetic centre located at the heart, the seat of transcendental consciousness. In this seat of the divine can be heard the immortal sound not produced by anything. It is the divinity inherent in music that connotes this sound of the soundless, and endows the yogis with super sensuous sound, from the audible to the inaudible, transcendental sound. They stir the depth of the ocean.
The above text was excerpted from Silvia’s upcoming book Sound and the Subtle: Transforming Emotions through Mantra & Raga Yoga.
Silvia Nakkach, MA, MMT, is a musician that has cultivated a voice that transports the listeners into heart of devotion. An award-winning composer, former psychotherapist, and a leading authority in the field of sound and consciousness transformation, she is on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she has created the world premier Certificate in Sound, Voice and Music Healing established in an academic institution. She is also the founding director of the Vox Mundi and the Mystery School of the Voice, a project devoted to preserving sacred musical traditions, combining education, performance, and spiritual service, with centers throughout the USA, Brazil, Argentina, and India. As an internationally accredited specialist in cross-cultural music therapy training, Silvia has pioneered the integration of microtonal singing and the ragas of India with integrative medicine applications, contributing an extensive body of vocal techniques that have become landmarks in the field of sound and music therapies across the world. She has released 12 CD-albums, and her last book, FREE YOUR VOICE, is making history among musicians, vocalist, healers, yogis and spiritual seekers. Her thousands of students across the world refer to Silvia as the Minister of Transportation and Transformation. Meet her here: www.voxmundiproject.com
Listen to her recent interview with Tami Simons from Sounds True: The Sacred Sound
We spend much of our time with our thoughts. The thinking mind will not just turn itself off, become empty and still, once we start meditating. In fact, trying to stop thoughts, or empty the mind, may actually produce more tension and stress around thinking, while fully allowing thinking into meditation may paradoxically lead to peace and tranquillity. But this can only be known through one’s experience. If you like, you can try out these instructions:
• Sit in a comfortable posture
• Close your eyes and bring your attention to your hands touching, one on top of the other, or resting on your thighs.
• Be aware of the external contact of your hands touching, but do not hold your attention there—just come back to it on occasion.
• Allow your thoughts and emotions into the meditation sitting. Be kind to your thinking mind. Let yourself think the thoughts, be carried by them, and if you get overwhelmed, just bring your attention back to the touch of the hands.
• If you start drifting off toward sleep, let yourself go toward sleep. If you feel restlessness, boredom, or physical pain, it is okay to adjust your posture, lie down, or stop the meditation sitting.
• Try this meditation practice for 15 to 20 minutes at first. Anything that happens in meditation is part of your experience of meditation. Nothing is wrong.
On my retreats, people share their meditation sittings in a group. Everyone in the group listens while one person talks about what went in his or her meditation sittings. A few years ago, a middle-aged man on one of my retreats reported feeling intense rage toward his ex-wife. Normally when he experienced this rage in his meditation sitting, he would try to bring his attention to his breath to calm his mind. That didn’t work this time. So he focused on the sensation of anger in his chest. That helped a little at first, but then he had memories of how his wife had treated him and his hatred surfaced again with even more force than before.
He tried to step back and observe the thoughts as passing clouds, but however much he tried to get some distance from them, he soon found himself immersed in one angry scenario after another. After all of these worthy attempts, not only did he still feel rage, but he also felt like a failure for not being able to transcend it. At this low point in his meditation sitting, he remembered that I said he could fully allow thoughts and emotions into his meditation sitting. He was ambivalent about doing that, fearing that if he allowed the thinking to go on, it would get worse, and he would never get free of it. At this point, what did he have to lose?
He let himself think about his ex-wife. He wanted to hurt her. He imagined various ways of making her life miserable. And, as he let these truly unacceptable and reprehensible thoughts into his meditation sitting, he felt more connected to himself. Though this was the honest truth, he knew he would never carry out the revenge scenarios he had so ingeniously crafted. Something else began to emerge, which couldn’t arise when he was battling his rage.
From being kind to his rage, which included understanding himself with compassion, he began to see more of his role in their relationship; for if he could be so rageful and vengeful, then what was he really like to live with? How was he pushing her away, disregarding her, not feeling any friendliness or kindness to her when they were together? As he explored this new direction in his thinking, compassion for her arose in his heart. By the end of the meditation sitting, he no longer felt like a failure, having gained trust in his own meditative process.
Thankfully, most of our experiences of thinking in meditation are not that dramatic. We mostly have issues with thoughts that distract us and needlessly repeat themselves. But even with those thoughts, when we allow them in and let them run their course, we may find that they die down on their own and we learn a bit more about ourselves in the process of being with them. When we take away the intention to stop our thoughts, we reduce our tension around thoughts, and can become more relaxed overall. Many people have reported that when they have allowed thinking to go on in meditation in this way, they have fewer thoughts, less involvement in certain thoughts, and may even experience long stretches of time where they are with their breath and bodily sensations.
This approach to meditation is called, “Recollective Awareness Meditation.” I started developing it when I was a Buddhist monk in the Sri Lanka in the 1980s. It is a form of Vipassana Meditation, as is Insight Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation, but differs from them in these basic ways:
1. Meditators learn to recollect their meditation sittings as the primary way to develop awareness of what happens in meditation. They then write about their meditation experiences in greater detail and share their meditation experiences with a teacher or a group of fellow meditators.
2. Meditators learn to become familiar with their mind in meditation and begin to trust in the meditative process to lead them further. They learn to make their own choices as to what to attend to in their meditation sittings and develop less dependence on a teacher (or tradition) and thus greater self-autonomy.
3. By allowing thoughts and emotions fully into their meditation sittings from the very beginning, they break down the artificial boundary between how their mind is in meditation and the way it is outside of meditation. The good qualities that arise in meditation then tend to be more accessible to them at other times.
4. Instead of trying to see their experiences as impermanent, they learn how to explore their experiences as being dependently arisen (coming about through causes and conditions). This way of “seeing things as they have become” is at the core of Buddhist philosophy and practice.
On this retreat, I will introduce this approach to meditation, give talks on it, and conduct group and individual interviews. This retreat is for people new to meditation as well as those who have an established meditation practice.
Please feel free to contact me prior to the retreat. I hope to see you there.
Thank you, fear, for being such a powerful teacher, for waking me at night with heart tremors, for unplugging me from my source, for taking on the illusion of bills to pay, children to provide for, a husband dying of cancer, and terrifying self doubt. Such magnificent lessons!
God bless you, fear, for getting my attention more than everything, more than anyone, more than love, more than joy. You found me when no one else could. You sought me out, pushed me into corners, made me weep, made me angry, and broke me in half. Finally, fear, you broke me wide open…
And for that moment of total surrender to the divine, I am deeply grateful. Only then did I embrace my soul again and step fully into the light – refusing to ever go back into your dungeon, refusing to ever be your prisoner again.
Fear, my old friend, I recognize you now when you come to me in the night, disguised as bills, illness, heartbreak, grief or disappointment. – I recognize you, master of disguises. I recognize you by the stirring in my gut as you approach, the quickening of my heart rate, the frantic pacing of my thoughts. Ah ha! It is only you!
And you, fear, are not real…
Photo by Travis Newbill
You are the boogeyman I planted in my closet. The one I told to awaken me in the night so I would learn to dance with you instead of scream and cry. So I would learn to use you as fuel to help me reach my next level. So I would see ultimately that you are my friend, my fertilizer, my divine companion on this journey to rediscover my soul.
I embrace you, fear, because without you I would be nowhere. I would never have jumped off my first cliff into the unknown. I would never have stepped into my first terrifying adventure that changed everything. I would never have found my voice. Because without you, fear, I would still be sleeping…
You can stay in the closet or you can dance with me. It makes no difference. My light cannot be diminished. It never could. But it took you showing up for me to discover that.
Now, fear, my love has destroyed you, flooded your darkness, washed away your disguises, illuminated every crevice where you once hid. When I turn to face you, I only see divine order. I only feel my burning heart pulsing with gratitude, my arms stretching up to grasp the hand that lifts me into the light.
Jason Siff leads Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Introduction to Recollective Awareness Meditation, August 29–September 1. To learn more, please click here
Jason Siff was a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka in the 1980s when he started developing Recollective Awareness Meditation. In 1996, he co-founded the Skillful Meditation Project and has been a full-time meditation teacher since then. He also trains teachers in Recollective Awareness Meditation in retreats throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. His first book on meditation, Unlearning Meditation: What to do when the instructions get in the way, was published by Shambhala Publications in 2010.
Recently, he took some time to discuss Recollective Awareness Meditation and his upcoming retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center.
When bad news first arrives, it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you; it’s a punch to the gut. This moment is a great blessing. This is the brief and sudden moment of calm while your ego mind is stunned into silence. It’s the holy moment of grace when you can listen to and hear your own powerful intuition, your higher self. It whispers inside: “This is all going to be okay. Something better is waiting for you. This is all in divine order for your highest good.”
That’s the voice of your soul’s wisdom, your divinity, speaking up because your ego has been delivered a swift blow and is temporarily stunned. But very soon, within minutes, the ego mind fires back up and begins whispering: “How did this happen? This isn’t fair! Life is meaningless…”
Your ego mind is beginning the battle of survival that it was designed to do. This is the mind you agreed to have when you took a physical body for this incarnation. Yet it’s only half of your mind. The other half of your mind holds the doorway to your highest self, your divine intuition, and your true essence. In the brief gaps of silence from your ego mind, your higher self is always whispering the truth.
If you don’t grab hold of that inner voice, the deeper wisdom of your soul, the ego mind will quickly overpower you with fear messages — shifting into full blown fear and desperation: “You’re worthless, you’ll never feel love again, you won’t find another job, you’re all alone now, this is a tragedy….”
If you’ve learned to discipline your mind through meditation or other kinds of spiritual practice, the fear and negativity of the ego self can be diminished and contained before it pushes you into depression, illness, stress, and rage.
Every time you choose to indulge the fear voice, you allow it to grow stronger inside until it becomes your boss. It will fight to reign supreme over your soul’s wisdom. It tells you to protect yourself, defend your actions, fight for survival, trust no one, close your heart, blame everyone, and that nothing here is fair.
Everything changes the moment you ask to hear your soul’s wisdom. It’s a simple request, an act of surrender to the lesson: “Please show me my soul’s lesson and help me move through this with love and courage.”
That simple request calls divine guidance to your side, fills the room with light, opens your heart, quiets your mind, shows you another perspective on your pain; it illuminates the choices you didn’t know you had.
Your highest self created this moment of pain to allow you to step up to your wisdom, to awaken into love, to embrace your spiritual perspective and take your life to the next level of your soul’s growth.
You’re not a victim to loss, disease, heartbreak, the economy, a terrible manager, or corrupt politicians. You’re only a victim to your ego mind; it fills you with fear and keeps you from moving into the light.
YOU are a divine being who created this painful moment to shake lose your old patterns of negativity; to provide an opportunity to embrace your soul’s perspective — even while you walk in this physical world.
You came here to merge your divine self with your physical self and create a new level of consciousness for yourself and others.
You intended to be grand and fearless, bold and awake, infused with wisdom, loving and aware. Your divine lens, your spiritual self, illuminates this path and shows you your next step.
Your ego self says it isn’t possible.
You get to choose. Just a simple request for divine guidance. And it changes everything…
As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide. It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.
The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet. Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them. When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance. We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.
We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle. As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity. Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence. In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day. Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out. We’ve forgotten how to simply live.
Photo by Karen O’Hern
We all possess a basic goodness. It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute. It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good. When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society. Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.
From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease. I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do. I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life. I feel kind of “off” and I know I’m not alone. We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.
Photo by Greg Smith
Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy. It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside. Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room. Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are? This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.
We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild. Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face. I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is. It really is that simple. Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.
Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in. Bring a family member or friend. Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.
A lot could be (and has been) said about Kazuaki Tanahashi (who is affectionately known as “Kaz”) — a deeply precious teacher, artist, and activist. Here, we’ll let his masterful bushwork do most of the talking. Enjoy.
“In the Zen tradition ensos, or circle symbols, have been drawn with black ink on paper, to represent enlightenment. As the multi-colored flow of paint represents the interconnectedness of all life, each circle reflects my hopes, visions and aspirations for a world making healthier choices for the benefit of future generations.”
“The ideography that originated in China has been a common writing system in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan for centuries, although the ideographs are pronounced differently.”
“Tanahashi’s one-stroke paintings … always painted in just one breath, leave a passionate swash whispered trace.”
Sue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side and I See Your Dream Job. She will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.An intuitive since childhood, Sue has trained more than 200 intuitive coaches around the world. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN.com and Yoga Journal, among others.
Recently, she took the time to have some discussion on the topics of grief, healing, and intuition. Please enjoy the video interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat she’ll be leading at SMC, please click here.