In an earlier interview, Jack Kornfield shared with us his insights into mindfulness and psychotherapy. I am thrilled to have him hear again and today he gets practical with us, talking about the importance of creating connection to life, some ways to go about it, and our innate capacities for understanding, well-being, and joy.
For those who do not know Jack Kornfield, let me introduce him. He is one of the true leaders of our time in respect to the marriage of Eastern and Western Psychology. He stands alongside an esteemed group of elders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Joseph Goldstein in bringing mindfulness to the west. Not only that, he also holds his PhD in clinical Psychology which makes him so relevant to the connection between mindfulness and psychotherapy.
He co-founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussets and is a founding teacher of the well known retreat center Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, Ca. He has taught in Centers and University settings worldwide with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. He is also author of many widely popular books translated in over 20 languages, some of which are, A Path with Heart, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry and his newest book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.
Elisha: Jack, one of the things you talk about in your book, The Wise Heart, is creating this sacred connection to life. It’s always been important to me to make things really accessible. What are some practical ways we can nurture our sacred connection to life?
Jack: There are many simple ways we can reconnect and these are things that we all know. First stop, take a breath and listen deeply. You are surrounded by mystery. Open to the wild variation of human incarnation, the play of your own consciousness. Become present where you are. Extend this presence by taking a walk in nature, walk by the ocean, by the mountains, wherever you are take some time to quiet your mind and open the heart. Look around when you’re not so hurried and look in the eyes of the people you love or watch the rain clouds scudding by and the amazing colors and the puddles outside the office where you work. Sense the everpresent dance of change, how your life is unpredictable and uncertain and then remember that you have the capacity to be present in every moment for its mysterious unfolding.
Another way to reconnect is through ritual. I tell stories inThe Wise Heart about a therapist who worked mostly with trauma victims and people who had been tortured. It was hard to carry these stories and it was not enough to simply listen. It became important it was for her to create an altar for that which she held sacred and place on it Buddha and Kwan Yin and Mother Mary and Guadelupe and Kali and a passage about the mercy of Allah from the Koran. She honored all these different expressions of the divine and placed them for her clients to see so the people that she worked would also allow a sacred compassion to hold their pain. In some way it helped her too, so she didn’t have to carry all the suffering in her own body and individual psyche.
There is a whole chapter in The Wise Heart on the skillful use of ritual, not in a religious way, but as a reminder to bring us back to that which is sacred. We all know ways to do this. Sometimes it’s as simple as lighting a candle or washing our hands and taking a few mintues to sit quietly and meditate and pray or just return our gazing to the mystery of the maple tree outside our window.
Elisha: My dissertation was around cultivating sacred moments, that was the topic and the actual name of it, and I knew something was happening in our culture when it was published in a mainstream journal. I really came to realize that people have the ability to cultivate these moments and the number one word that came out for most people was this idea of “connection”. That’s what people felt most often was this sense of connection which was tied to various areas of feeling well and various areas of stress reduction and relaxing into the moment.
Jack: As you can see in reading The Wise Heart , which is brings the western and eastern psychological traditions together, that one of the great underlying principles is that we already contain the wisdom and capacities that we seek, just as your research showed you. Our instinct and intuition, when not blocked, gives us intimate access to well-being, understanding, to a sense of connection and the sacred. When western psychology and psychiatry limits itself to the focus on disease and its cures, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) and the medical model of psychology and psychiatry, we only talk about half the game or less. Because there is so much more to life and our humanity blossoms in our human capacity for connecting, for understanding, for well-being, and for joy. I elaborate on this with many stories. All of these other capacities are there in us.
We admire these qualities in Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, or the Dalai Lama, people we see as exemplars of this human possibility for the world. When Nelson Mandela walked out of 27 years in Robbin Island Prison after being tortured and confined and was still able to meet the world with enormous graciousness of heart, compassion and forgiveness it demonstrated our human birthright,, our innate capacity to be free inwardly, no matter where we are. There is no one who can imprison our heart and our soul. To know these capacities is extremely important when we try to bring together the great psychologies of the world and move toward collective healing. Psychology is not just about pathology, but it’s about seeing our inner freedom and connectedness, the compassion and the innate dignity and beauty of the human spirit. When we find this beauty in ourselves, then it becomes a gift to those that we encounter or those that we work with.
Thank you so much Jack for being with us and sharing your insights and wisdom.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.