Category: Jack Kornfield

Heart Wisdom – Ep. 136 – The Sacred Pause

Our meditation—our spiritual life—it’s not about becoming a good meditator. It’s about one breath at a time, one day, one moment. This is an invitation to pause, to take time, to remember the sense of mystery. With mindfulness you may discover a peace that allows you to be present, compassionate and open.

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You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

Every life is filled with change and insecurity, and every life includes loss and suffering and difficulties. When we encounter difficult times in our lives, often our initial strategy is to simply run away. But we find that our troubles follow us. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to heal is to turn toward that which is injured within us. It is important to remember that the healing journey is not always about overcoming the difficulties we’re experiencing or about getting well, at least not completely. We all have the capacity to heal, but we have to discover what form that healing is to take.

One of the most difficult things about hard times is that we often feel that we are going through them alone. But we are not alone. In fact, your life itself is only possible because of the thousands of generations before you, survivors who have carried the lamp of humanity through difficult times from one generation to another. Feel yourself as part of the stream of humanity walking together, finding ways to carry the lamp of wisdom and courage and compassion through difficult times.

Several years ago I was giving a talk on compassion with Pema Chödrön in a large hall in San Francisco filled with at least 3,000 participants. At one point a young woman stood up and spoke in the most raw and painful way about her partner’s suicide several weeks before. She was experiencing a gamut of complex emotions, such as agonizing grief and confusion, guilt and anger, loss and fear. Pema had her hold it all in compassion. As I listened to her I could also feel her loneliness, and so I asked the group when she finished, “How many of you in this room have experienced the suicide of someone in your family, or someone really close to you?” More than 200 people stood up. I asked her to look around the room at the eyes of those who had gone through a similar tragedy and survived. As they gazed at one another, everyone in the room could feel the presence of true compassion, as if we were in a great temple. We all felt the suffering that is part of our humanity, and part of the mystery that we share.

If you have lost money or faith, when you are sick or a family member is suffering from illness or addiction, even when a child is in jeopardy, you are not alone. You are sharing in the inevitable trouble of human incarnation. On this very day, hundreds of thousands of others are also dealing with loss of money, a new diagnosis, or holding their sick child. Breathe with them and hold their pain mindfully with yours, sharing in your heart a spirit of courage and compassion. For thousands of generations we humans have survived hard times. We know how to do this. And when we sense our connection, we help each other.

Two women in nearby towns in northern Canada were forced to venture out on a fierce winter night. One was taking her pregnant daughter to the hospital; the other was driving to take care of her ill father. They made their way along the same road from opposite directions, through hurricane winds and pelting snow. Suddenly each was stopped on opposite sides of a huge fallen tree that blocked the road. It took them only a few minutes to share their stories, exchange car keys, and set forth in each other’s cars to complete their journeys.

As you open beyond the self, you realize that others are part of your extended family. Sylvia Boorstein, a colleague and wisdom holder, tells how in Jewish synagogues there is a yearly memorial service for the survivors of relatives whose death dates are unknown—men and women who died in the Holocaust or are buried in unknown graves. Many people will stand for the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer. In temple on this day, Sylvia writes, “I looked at the people standing and thought ‘Can all these people be direct survivors?’ Then I realized we all are, and I stood up too.”

“We are not separate, we are interdependent,” declared the Buddha. Even the most independent human being was once a helpless infant cared for by others. With each breath we interbreathe carbon dioxide and oxygen with the maple and oak, the dogwood and redwood trees of our biosphere. Our daily nourishment joins us with the rhythms of bees, caterpillars, and rhizomes; it connects our body with the collaborative dance of myriad species of plants and animals.

Nothing is separate. Unless we understand this, we are split between caring for ourselves or caring for the troubles of the world. “I arise in the morning,” wrote essayist E. B. White, “torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.” A psychology of interdependence helps to solve this dilemma. Through the loving awareness of mindfulness and meditation we discover that the duality of inner and outer is false. We can hold all the beauty and the pain of life in our heart and breathe together with courage and compassion.

Excerpt: A Lamp in the Darkness

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Video: Gratitude and Generosity Meditation

Like the waves of the ocean, the breath rises and falls. Bring loving awareness to the breath.

Shift your attention from the breath to all the sensations in your body. With mindful loving awareness, notice the whole field of sensations. If there are areas of pain or stiffness, bow to them and hold them with kindness. Hold them as you would a child who is going through a hard time. Notice how this kind loving awareness allows for the tension and knots to soften in their own way.

Now as an expression of gratitude, say thank you to your own body for caring so much, for holding so much as you move through the days and nights. Tell your body, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”

Now bring your attention to your heart that carries so much. Notice all that your heart has been holding: longings, fear, love, worry, frustration, excitement, sadness, appreciation, doubt, deep love. Say thank you to your heart for caring so much, for trying to help and protect you. Tell your heart, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.” Let your heart be at ease.

Now bring your attention to your mind that produces a stream of thoughts, images, pictures, plans, memories, ideas. Feel the energy of the mind, creative, sometimes obsessed, analyzing, exploring, opening. Say thank you for working so hard to take care of you, to protect you. Tell your mind, “I’m ok just now—you can relax. You can rest.”

Notice that you’re not your body, feelings, thoughts. You are the loving witness, you are consciousness itself. You are the loving awareness that acknowledges the body, heart and mind. Relax into loving awareness. You are the silent, vast witness to it all.

For more teachings like this, please subscribe to my YouTube channel HERE.

This meditation was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 11/22/21.

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Jack Kornfield on the Bowing to Elephants Podcast – Ep. 26

Jack Kornfield on the Bowing to Elephants Podcast – Ep. 26

In this episode of “Bowing to Elephants,” Jack and Mag Dimond discuss:

Jack’s love for Burma and his time studying in the monasteries there

Bodhisattva vows and how they help refocus us when things get difficult

The life of a monk vs. the life of a layman (Jack has lived both!)

The joys of being a grandparent

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Video: Gratitude and Generosity Dharma Talk

Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small. Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life. Gratitude does not envy or compare. Gratitude receives in wonder the myriad offerings of rain and sunlight, the care that supports every single life.

For more teachings like this, please subscribe to my YouTube channel HERE.

This talk was originally livestreamed by Spirit Rock on 11/22/21.

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Meditation on Gratitude and Joy

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy

Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.

Now shift your practice to the cultivation of joy. Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, happiness, and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to other loved ones and benefactors. After the joy for them grows strong, turn back to include yourself. Let the feelings of joy more fully fill your body and mind. Continue repeating the intentions of joy over and over, through whatever resistances and difficulties arise, until you feel stabilized in joy. Next begin to systematically include the categories of neutral people, then difficult people and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart.

Excerpt: The Wise Heart

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Heart Wisdom – Ep. 135 – The Forgiving Heart

With mindful loving awareness, we can step out of the tyranny of self-judgment, judging ourselves for all the things we haven’t done right… We can forgive ourselves for being a learner in this life. I mean, did you get a manual when you were born? Are you supposed to be an expert?

We can let go. We can put down the burdens of resentment. We can see anew with a heart of tenderness and compassion. We can engage this world and care for it in a very different way.

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Family Peace: A Reconciliation Meditation

Family Peace: A Reconciliation Meditation


If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family. —Ram Dass

In Buddhist monasteries when conflict arises, the monks and nuns are encouraged to undertake a formal practice of reconciliation. They begin with this simple intention: “No matter what the hurt within us, we can seek to be reconciled.” Whether we are spending the holidays with family or not, and even if we cannot or should not speak to the other, we can find the courage to hold reconciliation and goodwill in our own heart. We can contribute to the healing of the world.

When we reflect on our family we can see that each person holds a measure of struggle and pain, just as each person carries a secret beauty. When we allow our hearts to sense the pain and struggles of the others, and how the suffering they carry causes pain to themselves and others, a natural compassion arises. This doesn’t mean we have to fix or change them—or even stay near them if their actions are harmful. It means we can see them with the eyes of compassion—we can put ourselves in their shoes and listen to them with a more understanding and open heart. We can wish them well. This is an invitation to reconciliation.

Reconciliation may ask us to listen to one another deeply. It may ask us to see each other with more mercy and tenderness. It may mean acknowledging the past and then starting anew.

In the meditation practice below, we begin by reciting the intentions of reconciliation, willingly planting seeds of reconnection and love in our heart. As we repeat each phrase, we turn our intention to the possibility of restoring harmony where suffering has set us apart. We begin to build a bridge of tenderness to those who have been separated by pain and fear.


Let yourself sit in a comfortable posture. Bring your attention gently to your body and breath. Stay with the breath until you feel settled and present. Then bring into awareness the benefits of reconciliation and healing for all those who have been estranged and set apart. We begin with the family because the family is where we are most vulnerable and can most easily be hurt. If we cannot be reconciled here, it will be difficult to find reconciliation with the world.

Picture each person and group named below as you go through this practice. Recite each simple phrase, one category at a time. Feel the distance and pain between them. Hold the tender possibility of restoring love between them. Know that simply expressing the heart’s willingness to seek reconciliation turns our life toward peace.

Breathe gently. Slowly recite the following intentions, allowing time to sense the reconnection of each:

May all mothers and sons be reconciled.
May all mothers and daughters be reconciled.
May all fathers and sons be reconciled.
May all fathers and daughters be reconciled.
May all sisters and brothers be reconciled.
May all husbands and wives be reconciled.
May all partners and lovers be reconciled.
May all family members be reconciled.
May all employers and employees be reconciled.
May all community members be reconciled.
May all friends be reconciled.
May all women be reconciled.
May all men be reconciled.
May all men and women be reconciled.
May all religions be reconciled.
May all races be reconciled.
May all nations be reconciled.
May all peoples be reconciled.
May all creatures be reconciled.
May all beings of every form be reconciled.

Remember, reconciliation and living with compassion does not mean we have to personally repair every difficulty in our extended family and community. Compassion is a state of heart, not co-dependence. In true compassion we do not lose our own self-respect or sacrifice ourselves blindly for others. Compassion is a circle that encompasses all beings, including ourselves. It blossoms only when we ask, “Is this compassionate for ourselves as well as others?” When these two sides are in harmony true reconciliation can happen.

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Letting Go of Repetitive Thoughts

Letting Go of Repetitive Thoughts


Whatever a person frequently thinks and reflects on, that will become the inclination of their mind.—Buddha

Whatever we regularly think colors our experience—all day, every day. Once we start to watch these thoughts, we discover that 90% of them are reruns! Others are about problems: “I need to call John about the roof again. I hope he can finally fix it.” Some are about our preferences: “I like the way this person talks.” “I really hate this traffic.” Many are worry or self-evaluation: “Oops, I’m messing up again. How do I get through this?” “Wow, I pulled that off well. I hope it was noticed!”

Our life is shaped and determined by our thoughts. Usually we are only half conscious of the way thoughts direct our life; we are lost in thoughts as if they are reality. We take our own mental creations quite seriously, endorsing them without reservation.

Often our fears don’t turn out to be accurate predictions of anything. As Mark Twain put it, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes—most of which never happened!” When we become mindful of fearful thoughts, we see that fear is just a story accompanied by dramatic feelings. We don’t have to take the story as truth. As we see the productions of our mind, we discover radical freedom. The Tibetan lama Khyentse Rinpoche explains, “Mind creates both samsara and nirvana. Yet there is not much to it, it is just thoughts. Once we recognize that thoughts are empty, the mind will no longer have the power to deceive us.”

Yet however much we try, sometimes we’re caught in our repetitive thoughts, and knowing about their emptiness doesn’t help. We can obsess for months about a past relationship or about our fear of failure at work. These difficult patterns of thought can repeat and persist, coloring our consciousness so deeply that we can be tormented by them, unable to see without their distortion.

If we pay attention to the feelings underneath these repeated thoughts, there is often unacknowledged or unaccepted emotions, pain or difficulty. It might be a grief or loss that we have not fully acknowledged, or worry or fear, or longing or a thwarted creative impulse. When we let ourselves drop below the thoughts and sense what is asking for acceptance, our willingness to feel these emotions that have been driving the thoughts often allows them to quiet down.

Following this we need, quite deliberately, to create positive thoughts in order to replace these unskillful patterns of mind. The understanding of these as simply unskillful states means that we can do something about them, as opposed to saying we’re neurotic and there’s no hope.

Buddhists were actually the first cognitive-behavioral therapists. In its current Western form, cognitive-behavioral therapy originates from the work of such figures as Albert Ellis, founder of rational emotive therapy, and psychiatrist Aaron Beck. Modern cognitive therapy grew from behavioral therapy, which rejected the psychoanalytic focus on family history and the unconscious. Instead it looked at what was happening in the here and now. The behaviorists believed that when we change behaviors, all else follows. Adding the cognitive element—the contents of our ongoing inner dialogue—provided another powerful tool for change.

We can see how this works in a standard cognitive-behavioral approach to panic attacks or phobias. We may be taught to count how many times the thought “I’m afraid” arises and touch a wristband inscribed with the words “I am strong” to replace our anxious thoughts. Then we can choose to act out of the strength. Sometimes this behavioral approach is coupled with systematic desensitization.

If you are afraid of heights, you practice step by step, going to higher places until you can tolerate them. The same strategy is used to change depressive and fearful thoughts. In cognitive therapy, you see how unskillful behaviors and painful mind states originate from irrational thought patterns. You challenge these panicky, depressive thoughts, telling yourself not to believe them. Then you act positively and do what you are afraid of anyway.

Though there is considerable overlap between Eastern psychology and cognitive therapy, Buddhist training does more than offer purely rational replacement of inaccurate thought patterns. We could call the Buddhist approach “behaviorism with heart.” It enlists the power of a larger, benevolent intention. We begin by using mindfulness to identify the patterns of thought and the feelings under them that lead to our suffering. These include thoughts and feelings of unworthiness, jealousy and hatred, revenge, anxiety, clinging, and greed. Then out of compassion we change what is in our minds. We transform our thoughts as a loving protection of ourselves and of others.

We can hope for sudden transformation, but in most cases radically retraining our minds requires steady, patient effort. The power to transform our mental conditioning is now scientifically documented by modern neuroscience’s discovery of neuroplasticity, which shows how our brains can be retrained and reshaped at any age. This supports the profound hope and understanding built into Buddhist practice. Like its Western cognitive counterparts, Buddhist training teaches us to look at the thought distortions that create suffering. For example, we can notice when we generalize from one problem to our whole life. If we have a loss in business or a setback in our career, we may think, “I’m a loser. I’ll never succeed.”

In cognitive therapy we would recognize the deluded nature of such thought patterns as “false generalizations” and try to notice every time they arise. Immediately we might substitute a wise thought: “I have a good life and a loving family. My life has had many successes.”

The Buddhist perspective takes the process further. We can learn to see that distorted thoughts based on self-hatred, aggression, revenge, and greed are not in our genuine interest. We can actually see that these thoughts do not have our well-being in mind. We can learn to recognize their harmful potential and choose a different path. My teacher Ajahn Chah described this as recognizing bad mangoes. We’d call them bad apples. “When we choose a fruit to eat, do we pick up the good mangoes or the rotten ones? It is the same in the mind. Learn to know which are the rotten thoughts and immediately turn from them to fill your basket with ripe beautiful mind states instead.”

When we are depressed, frightened, or angry, cascades of unskillful thoughts will tempt us with their stories: “I can’t possibly get through this.” “It will always be this way.” “I’ll never have a good relationship.” These thoughts create a painfully limited and false sense of self. Yet through practice, we can feel the pain that these thoughts produce, release them, and substitute a wiser perspective. Ajahn Chah says, “Whatever the mind tells you, don’t fall for it. It’s only a deception. Whatever negative comments and views it offers, you can just say ‘That’s not my business,’ every time, and let it go.” You can say, “Thank you for trying to protect me. I’m OK for now.”

With the letting go of unhealthy thoughts, there arises a space, a calm, an opening to add healthy thoughts of love and self-respect. With all the dignity, courage and tenderness you possess, inwardly say from your heart phrases of lovingkindness such as: “May I be filled with compassion for myself and others.” “May I hold myself with care and respect.” “May I treasure my life.” “May I be filled with kindness.”

Sometimes you will feel their meaning. Sometimes they may feel more mechanical or rote. No matter. Just repeat them gently again and again. Plant these loving thoughts, water these seeds of well-being over and over until they take root in your heart and mind.

Excerpt adapted from The Wise Heart

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