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Mindfulness Heart Practices - 8 weeks to sink into a heart workout in winter

We have been taught to seek happiness outside of ourselves. In pleasures, and in getting what (we think) we want, and hoping that when we do get what we want we can hold onto it. The path of mindfulness meditation teaches that the contentment that we are seeking outwardly already exists inside of us. By training the mind to collect, come in from seeking and scatteredness, and connecting with our inner life, we can touch into the well-being that is available through a deep presence with the moment. Or as Kierkegaard said “most people pursue happiness with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”

In the 8-fold path of Buddhism the first steps are to generate an ethical lifestyle of generosity and non-harming of self and others, the next are to concentrate the mind/heart, and finally cultivating wisdom from these foundations. In this 8-week workshop we will follow this structure, while practicing meeting our edges of compassion and friendliness, and slowly expanding them through practice. As Jack Kornfield says, “what we practice, we will become.”

In a culture of perfectionism and competitiveness, we may have to consciously unravel our tendency to exclude ourselves from our compassion and kindness. This workshop will aide in carving the time to practice softening with ourselves, so that when we do turn to loving others, it is not with co-dependence, control, and conditionality (if you love me, I’ll love you).

Weaving in models of modern Western psychotherapy, this workshop will provide understanding of how and why layers of protection have been placed upon the heart. With the benefit of this understanding, we can compassionately start to work to let go of defense mechanisms that once ensured our survival, and now get in the way of true connection with ourselves and others. Awareness precedes choice. My approach is practical and based on evidence-based methods.

The structure of having a group of others interesting in the inner life to come back to every week aides in accountability for our practice. The four flavours of the heart that we will examine each provide a refuge to come home to. They overlap and need one another. If we were to have only lovingkindness and compassion without cultivating joy and equanimity, we’d collapse under the weight of the suffering in the world. It will be such a delight to spend two weeks examining joy and gratitude. The beautiful teaching is that because we are all connected, when another experiences joy we can feel that too. What a wonderful antidote for a habit for comparison where our happiness is pitted against another’s, as if happiness were a limited resource (it’s not!).

In each 2 week segment examining one of the four heart qualities we will practice formally in session as well as informally, taking the practice off the cushion/chair and into daily life. Going on a short walk around town and uttering kind phrases to people in our minds, also called a metta walk, we will experience first hand the power of this simple inclination of heart.

In the most recent meditation retreat I attended we practiced settling in the body for 3 days and then concentration practices for 3 days before opening into wisdom practices for 4 days. I was astounded at the level of sweetness and contentment that I experienced through collecting the mind in this way. There is a well-spring of joy and contentment that lives within us, but we are trying to accomplish too many things and seeking happiness in the wrong places to experience it. We unconsciously blow agitation into spirals of dust storms in the mind trying to be and feel okay. Having a space to collect and connect with others also intending to settle so helps this path of realization that we are already okay the way we are. I hope that you will find this in this group I am creating. Let’s cultivate contentment together! In winter we can turn towards the warmth of our hearts as refuge, coming home to our true nature.

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