A Mindful Practice
David Richo, Ph.D.
Here is a spiritual practice that helps us find and rest in oneness:
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and with your cupped hands in your lap, paying attention to your breathing. Notice your breathing in, breathing out, and the little gap between the breaths. That momentary stillness is the
spaciousness of no-mind, freedom from the ego’s storylines of fear and attachment. Rest in it. If thoughts interrupt, simply label them as thoughts and return to awareness of your breathing.
Form an image of your present crisis, problem, or concern and imagine that you are holding it in your cupped hands in the form of a ball. Notice whether you chose the image of a bowling ball, golf ball, etc. Acknowledge it as
yours. Notice how heavily your problem ball weighs and let your hands drop farther down if appropriate. Now imagine that the ball is covered with five layers, each of which you will examine and then shed:
The first layer is that of fear. What is scary about this problem and how are you holding onto the fear or being stopped or pushed by it? Once you are aware of your felt sense of this fear, imagine that you are peeling it away
from your problem ball and dropping it aside. You affirm: “I let go of the need to fear this.”
In each of these layers, to say “I let go” simply means “I picture what it would be like to let go of this layer.” You do not have to wait till you feel you truly have let go of it. This part of the exercise is imagistic and
hopefully leads to a sense that “It can happen.”
The second layer is that of control. How invested are you in controlling the outcome of this problem and how are you trying to maintain control of others around you? Once you are aware of your felt sense of this need/compulsion to
control, imagine that you are peeling it away from your problem ball and dropping it aside. You affirm: “I let go of the need to control this.”
The third layer is that of blame. How are you blaming this problem on someone else? Once you are aware of your felt sense of this blaming, imagine that you are peeling it away from your problem ball and dropping it aside. You
affirm: “I let go of the need to blame anyone for this.”
The fourth layer is that of shame. How are you feeling shame or guilt about having this problem? Once you are aware of your felt sense of this self-recrimination, imagine that you are peeling it away from your problem ball and
dropping it aside. You affirm: “I let go of the need to feel ashamed of this.”
The fifth layer is that of the need to get in control and fix the problem. How are you letting your serenity become dependent upon whether you can bring everything back to normal? Once you are aware of your felt sense of this
burdensome task, imagine that you are peeling it away from your problem ball and dropping it aside. You affirm: “I let go of the need to fix this.”
Return your attention to your breathing, noticing the gaps between your breaths as well as the breaths themselves. Notice if the ball feels lighter. Has it become as light as a ping-pong ball? Ask yourself what is left of the
original problem now that it is shorn of the five layers of ego. Can it now be pure space, like the gap between your breaths, like what is in a ping-pong ball?
Now touch the earth with your cupped hands and lift them over the crown of your head as you open them and let go of what is left of the problem in a gesture of offering and releasing. Open your eyes and give thanks to the first
thing you see in nature. Support from nature was the experience of grace for Buddha who touched the earth as his witness and who gazed with thanks at the Bo tree for seven days in thanksgiving for being enlightened under it.
You are now the fair and alert witness within and outside your problem. Something has been born that sits safely in the center of and yet also beyond the entanglements of your struggle. Free of dualisms, neither stoic nor stuck,
you can observe conflict with feeling and yet with focus on its pure meaning and spiritual challenge. This is attention to both the figure and ground of whatever faces you. Nothing really has to be complicated or confused. The embroideries of ego create those conditions. We
are so used to being ruled by them, we think they are insurmountable.
You can locate the simplicity and —unbearable?— lightness of your being through mindful practices like the one above. You can freely go with the flow of your life and, at the same time, be able to hearken back to a reliable still
point that is impervious to the ups and downs of daily dramas. This still point is oneness, the ultimate spaciousness behind all the appearances of things and behind all the layerings of ego. The stillness may only last for a moment but it is delicious enough to keep
you coming back for more and it is only a breath away. Any issue granted this kind of egoless attention becomes a silence richer than words and leads to surprises.
We have an inner inclination—even an urgency— to be open to what is and to attune to reality as it is, i.e., one. The inhibiting mind wants to dress up and divide reality in accord with its own fears and desires. These are
attempts to protect our opening self from feelings, especially hurt and disappointment. Mindfulness means simply noticing our feelings and paying attention to them rather than seeking a refuge in serenity or disregard. Mindfulness meditation is visiting the mind as a witness
not escaping it as a prisoner. It is not dissociation from our feelings but disidentifying with their possessive power over us. We do this paradoxically by experiencing them and then stepping into what comes next. We never have to doubt that we know how to open to this
process. We do not have to try to open; we are always and already there. The work is to catch ourselves at closing and gently re-open.
Read this aloud, noticing what strength you feel as you do so. Write a poem or prayer about this potential and actual power in yourself:
“When tragedy strikes in my life, I am tempted to ask: ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ This is a normal guilt reaction with roots in childhood superstition. An adult—and more highly evolved— spiritual alternative is now presented
to me: ‘This is not about what I did. This is about what I am called to be.’ This way of configuring crisis is in keeping with the relationship between synchronicity and destiny. Everything that happens is about how I am called to be all that I can be, not about how
bad I was or how victimized I am. How have the tragedies and crises in my life opened the door to new vistas, helped me find my own truth, led me to show more love, and made me more compassionate toward and understanding of others? When I focus on these questions, I make what
has happened workable in the ongoing unfolding of my heroic story.
I now affirm that I can tolerate my emotional reactions without being overwhelmed by them. I sometimes feel myself collapsing under the weight of my concerns or problems. I can decide to hold my disintegration rather than try to
escape from it or fix it. I can hold my terrifying feelings as I hold a child with a terrifying nightmare. Simply by holding and cradling him, I help him regain his reason and be soothed. I can hold myself that way, and thereby reconstitute myself. I can hold my own
disintegration till it becomes integrated. The belief that restitution will follow disruption leads to a sense of trust in the universe and in the cohesive strength within me. Feelings then become signs of lively tides not of tidal waves. I am ready to dive.”
I say to myself (and/or my partner):
You can be broken down and I will hold and love you that way.
You can fall apart and I will hold and love you that way.
You can have nothing to offer for now and I will hold and love you that way.
You can be at your lowest ebb and I will hold and love you that way.
You can be depressed, contorted, wounded or distraught and I will hold and love you that way.
I will do this with no insistence that you be fixed. I can accommodate a you that breaks down and is not available for my needs for the time being.
Copyright © David
Richo, Ph.D. This article is excerpted from The Power of Coincidence: How Life Shows Us What We Need to Know by David Richo, published by Shambhala
David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer in
Santa Barbara and San Francisco California who emphasizes Jungian,
transpersonal, and spiritual perspectives in his work. He is the author of:
The Five Things We Cannot Change (Shambhala, 2005), How To Be An Adult (Paulist, 1991), When Love Meets Fear (Paulist, 1997),
Unexpected Miracles: The Gift of Synchronicity and How to Open It
(Crossroad,1998) , Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your
Dark Side (Shambhala, 1999) and Catholic Means Universal: Integrating
Spirituality and Religion (Crossroad, 2000). For
a catalog of David Richo’s tapes and events, please