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Posted: April 15, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

Accepting the Impossible is Not Impossible

(Editor's Note: Sometimes we are confronted with the need to deal with what seems at the time to be impossible, a task none of us relishes. Enjoy these two articles on accepting that which may seem impossible to accept. One article is by and the other is about mindfulness mediation psychologist Tara Brach.)

The Power of the Pause
Querencia: Discovering Our Place of Stillness and Power

By Tara Brach

In bullfighting there is an interesting parallel to the pause as a refuge and renewal. It is believed that in the midst of a fight, a bull can find his own area of safety in the arena. There he can reclaim his strength and power. This place and inner state are called his querencia. As long as the bull remains enraged and reactive, the matador is in charge. Yet when he finds querencia, he gathers his strength and loses his fear. From the matador's perspective, at this point the bull is truly dangerous, for he has tapped into his power.

Each time we feel provoked and charge madly against the enemy, we become more off-balance, further ensnared in our shadow. As we learn to find querencia by pausing, we can respond to difficult situations in more balanced and effective ways.

Pausing as a technique may feel unfamiliar, awkward, or at odds with our usual way of living. But actually there are many moments -- showering, walking, driving -- when we release our preoccupations and are simply aware and letting life be. We may pause at seeing the new green in spring; or in the supermarket we may pause to gaze at the freshness of an infant's face. When we finally understand a problem we've been grappling with, our pause may be a sigh as our body and mind relax. At the end of a long day, we may experience a natural pause when we lie down in bed and let everything go.

The pauses in our life make our experience full and meaningful. When celebrated pianist Arthur Rubinstein was asked how he handled the notes so well, he replied, "I handle notes no better than many others, but the pauses -- ah! That is where the art resides." Like a rest in a musical score, the pure stillness of a pause forms the background that lets the foreground take shape with clarity and freshness. The moment that arises can, like the well-sounded note, reflect the genuineness, the wholeness, the truth of who we are.

Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist who teaches mindfulness meditation at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, which she founded in 1996, and at centers around the country.

Book Review

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha
Tara Brach
Bantam 06/03 Paperback $15.00
ISBN 0553380990

Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist, lecturer, and workshop leader, as well as the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C., one of the largest and most active meditation communities on the East Coast.

On the opening pages of this timely and important book, the author admits noticing among her clients and meditation students a large number who are severely burdened by a sense of not being good enough, of being essentially flawed or unworthy. As one of Brach's friends said to her: "Feeling that something is wrong with me is the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing." Of course, a culture that breeds separation and shame is of little help. Often our "trance of unworthiness" is fed by the media and its emphasis upon celebrities. Using illustrative material from her own life, case histories, Buddhist tales, and guided meditations, Brach presents radical acceptance as the antidote to this widespread malaise.

Radical Acceptance enables us to see more clearly and to learn how to hold our experiences with compassion. As Carl Rogers once said: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." Brach has put together a rich compendium of spiritual practices that can serve as a counterbalance to established feelings of neglect, judging ourselves and others harshly, and spurning the bounties of the present moment. We especially liked the sacred art of the pause (see the excerpt below). Other exercises include embracing life with a smile, developing an embodied presence, discovering your deepest longing, meeting fear, tonglen -- awakening the heart of compassion, cultivating a forgiving heart, and communicating with awareness.

Another of Brach's practices makes a great deal of sense and is very accessible to anyone:

"Sometimes the easiest way to appreciate ourselves is by looking through the eyes of someone who loves us. A friend told me that when he sees himself through the eyes of his spiritual teacher, he remembers how deeply devoted he is to seeking the truth. One of my clients realizes he is lovable when he remembers how his grandfather used to delight in his boyish curiosity and inventiveness. Sometimes seeing ourselves through the eyes of a close friend can help us to remember our good qualities... We don't have to limit our appreciators to the human world. I once saw a bumper sticker that said: 'Lord, help me to see myself the way my dog sees me' ... The practice of looking through the eyes of one who loves us can be a powerful and surprisingly direct way to remember our beauty and goodness."

Given the enormity of the problem of self-disregard in these tense and depressing times, the spiritual practices in Radical Acceptance arrive like manna from heaven. Brach also makes a good case for the importance of acknowledging our innate goodness.

-- Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

These articles originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Robert Owens Scott and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact Scott directly via email at

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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