The Wisdom of “It’s Not My Fault”: Finding Freedom When We are Caught in Self-Blame – Tara Brach

April 28, 2018

by Tara Brach: I sometimes think that the most basic truths are the ones that we most regularly forget, and one of them is: If we are turned on ourselves, we cannot love this life…
The turning on ourselves contracts us. In those moments, we are disconnected from our inner life and from each other. We move through the day with an undercurrent of I’m not okay, but are unaware of how much it’s affecting our capacity to relax and enjoy our moments.

In Buddhist teachings, the Buddha described two arrows. The first arrow is the natural experience that arises in this human animal that we are, for example: fear, aggression, greed, craving. The second arrow is self-aversion for the fact of the first arrow. We have the experience of being nasty, selfish or greedy, and we don’t like ourselves for that. That’s the second arrow. The Buddha says: “The first arrow hurts, why do we shoot the second arrow into us, ourselves?” And yet we do. He goes on to say: “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow; however, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.” The first arrow arises from causes and conditions beyond our control. But when we learn to release the judgment and self-blame that we experience in response to the first arrow, the second arrow becomes completely avoidable.

In order to be able to really bring compassion and friendliness to the first arrow, we must first understand that what is happening inside of us is a natural part of our survival conditioning. It is part of being human, and is really not our fault. Now, you might be thinking: Wait a minute! If I believe that it’s not my fault, how will I ever be accountable or responsible?

Causes and Conditions: Forces Beyond Our Control

The things that we most hate about ourselves are shaped by innumerable forces: They are conditioned by the primitive brain’s habits of aggression and craving, and amplified by genetic tendencies from past generations and the prevailing stories and mindset of our surrounding culture. We didn’t choose any of this. For instance, research is finding more and more that genetics affect a huge amount of our experience, right down to our “happiness quotient” and whether we are early or late risers. Other conditioning happens over the course of our life-experiences, whether we have been traumatized or abused or, perhaps, have suffered the less quantifiable kinds of deficits in attention, understanding, care and attunement from our care-givers. It’s very interesting to look at how the ways our parents or care-givers treated us are internalized and then that is how we end up treating ourselves.

Fifteen or sixteen years ago, I went shopping with one of my fellow teachers at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. We wanted to have a Buddha for our meditation community. We found a lovely Buddha with a kind an androgynous look and you could see the feminine and the masculine archetypes. We fell for it, and were excited to bring it into our sangha. The first Wednesday night, I introduced everybody to it and afterwards, I noticed that people were standing and, as they were looking at it, they were leaning a bit to the left. One person came over to me and she said, “Tara, it’s beautiful, but the cast is to the left. It’s leaning.” And so it was. It was an imperfect Buddha—a leaning Buddha. And I thought it was one of the coolest, most helpful teachings for our meditation community. This Buddha, that is still part of our community today, is a lovely Buddha, and it is subject to conditions that are beyond its control—somebody made a leaning cast. It’s not the Buddha’s fault.

>So, there are all of the forces at play that are completely out of our control, but we take them personally, like they are our fault. There is a stuck place, where our primitive brain and body activity—fear, aggression, craving—becomes my fear, my aggression, my craving.

Rather than being universal wiring in our nervous system, we get this feeling that what we are experiencing is uniquely ours. But when these experiences of anxiety, fear, jealousy, resentment, anger, aggression and so on arise in us, if we can get even a glimmer of understanding that it’s part of the human condition—it’s not my fear, it’s the fear—that shift can create the willingness, flexibility and gentleness that makes space for very deep healing to occur.

The Wisdom of It’s Not My Fault

When we can say,”It’s not my fault”, it actually enables us to be more responsible and more accountable. It’s the self-blame that actually locks us into repeating the patterning. Realizing that the first arrow is out of our control and releasing self-blame is the beginning of bringing forth the awareness that can free us from the pain of the second arrow.

You might bring to mind some situation that brings up self-blame, something that is hard to accept or hard to forgive. Some place where you’re caught in disliking yourself.

Now begin to shine the light of awareness on the edginess, the tightness around the heart, by sensing: Is this really my fault? See if you can sense that, like the leaning Buddha, there are conditions that you didn’t sign on for: the fears, anger and wants shaped by genetics, culture, life-experiences. And then see if you can open to the possibility that the first arrow—the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are driven by these feelings—is just part of this human inheritance. You didn’t choose this.

When we are not caught in self-blame, we are free to love this life. Opening to the possibility of It’s not my fault creates space for true intimacy with our world and deep inner freedom. When our actions arise from this openhearted presence, they naturally bring healing and nourishment to others.

Source: Tara Brach

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The Seven Keys to Awakening – Leonard Jacobson

The most important key to awakening is to learn the art of being present. Being present is remarkably simple.

Gently remember to bring yourself present with something that is actually here. If you can see it, hear it, taste it, touch it or smell it, you can be present with it.

When you first wake up inthe morning, spend a few minutes being present with your body breathing. When you are having a shower, be present with the warmth of the water and the fragrance of the soap. Be present as you eat your breakfast. Be present as you wash the dishes. When you notice you have drifted off into the world of thought, memory and imagination, bring yourself back to the present moment.

It is only from Presence that you can be unconditionally loving and accepting of yourself. This includes all those things you would like to change about yourself such as jealousy, possessiveness, control, judgment, helplessness, inadequacy, blame, guilt, uncertainty, unworthiness, arrogance, expectation, resentment, anger, sadness, frustration, just to name a few.

To want to change any of these qualities in you is a subtle rejection of them, which is not unconditional acceptance. The key is to identify, own, acknowledge and confess all of these qualities, as they arise within you. Hide absolutely nothing from yourself. Own and acknowledge all of these things with love, acceptance and compassion. The more you own and accept whatever arises without judgment, the more you will relax and be released out of the past into deeper and deeper levels of Presence.

The second key to awakening is to come into right relationship with your feelings. This is only possible as you become present. There are many emotions from the past, which you repressed for good reason then. But now they want to be released, so it is necessary to find an opportunity to feel and express repressed emotions like anger, hurt, pain and sadness.

Just be present with the feelings whenever they arise within you. Allow them authentic expression, but do not identify with the story woven into the feelings. The feelings are from the past, which are projecting onto the present. Do not try to get rid of these feelings. That would be a judgment of them. Simply allow them to complete their journey through you. Once released, they will be gone forever.

It is important to take full responsibility for your emotional reactions. No one can make you angry unless you have anger repressed within you from your past. No one can hurt you unless you have hurt repressed within you from your past. As these repressed emotions are liberated from you, you will begin to feel a level of love, peace and freedom that you did not know was possible.

The third key to awakening is to own and acknowledge every aspect of who you have become. You are saying, “this is me, this is who I have become. I am possessive and controlling.” Or, “I am blaming. I get angry when I don’t get my own way.” Or, “I will not allow myself to get too close to people because I am afraid I might get rejected.”

By confessing and owning you have become, with love, acceptance and compassion, it is released. And you are freed to the level of Presence where none of these qualities exist. They cannot exist because they are not a part of the true nature of Being. They exist only at the level of mind.

The fourth key to awakening is to come into right relationship with the ego. The ego is not the enemy. It is your friend and protector in a painful world where no one is truly present. Once you know the ego’s true role in your life, you will come to appreciate it. You will befriend it, and gradually the ego will relax and it will allow you to be more present. As you become established in Presence, the ego will surrender and its role in your life will be transformed.

The fifth key is to bring conscious awareness to all the ways that you lose yourself in others. If you look to others for love, acceptance or approval, you are losing yourself in them. If you fear judgment or rejection from others, then you are losing yourself and you are giving away your power and your freedom. To awaken is to come back to yourself, and to release yourself from entanglement in others.

The sixth key to awakening is to accept full responsibility for yourself. This will release you from the world of expectation, resentment, blame and guilt. It will lead you into total freedom.

The final key to awakening is to let go. Dance, celebrate, lose control!

Excerpt from “Words from Silence”(Revised Edition) by Leonard Jacobson. pp.128-131.

Source: AWAKEN

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