Dharma Topic: Liberation by Insight

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Dear Still Water Friends,

A central part of mindfulness practice is coming home to ourselves.

We learn to settle our restless minds, calm our worries and anxieties, and become aware of the subtle energies, conflicts, and barriers that keep us from having a clear mind and a joyful heart. Thich Nhat Hanh sometimes calls this process “Liberation by insight.”

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will talk about calming and looking deeply as two essential aspects of mindfulness practice. And we will talk specifically about how mindfulness practice has helped us (or might help us) acknowledge and transform the suffering we endured early in our lives.

Two helpful excerpts are below. The first, by Thich Nhat Hanh, focuses on how mindfulness can embrace the wounded child and hungry ghost within us. The second excerpt, by Alice Miller, addresses the lasting effects of the absence of respectful and loving care in childhood.

You are invited to join with us this Thursday for meditation and our program on Liberation by Insight.

The best times to join us are:

  • Just before the first sitting at 7 pm;
  • At 7:25, at the beginning of walking meditation; or,
  • At 7:35, at the beginning of the second sitting.

Also, this Thursday, we will have a Still Water Orientation, beginning at 6:30 p.m., in which we talk about sitting meditation and other mindfulness practices as well as provide information about the Still Water community. The orientation is open to everyone, including old-timers, those with some experience, and those new to mindfulness practice. (It is helpful but not essential to email us, at info@StillWaterMPC.org, that you will be attending the orientation.)

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher  

“Liberation by Insight,” from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 6, 1997 in Plum Village, France.

Your true home is always there. If you know how to handle the monkey within yourself, how to stop running. Each of us is like a hungry ghost. We are hungry for love, we are hungry for understanding. We are hungry for stability, for freedom, and that is why we have been running all the time. We have not had a chance to stop and rest. That is why the practice of meditation is first of all the practice of stopping and resting in order to go back to your true home.

There is a child that suffers in us. There is a monkey who is restless in us. But we need someone to take care of the child, to take care of the monkey, to embrace them. We have to provide that person that will do the work. We cannot let the monkey be alone. We cannot let the hungry ghost in us, the hungry child, the suffering child in us, to be alone. We have to come home and take care and embrace.

When you are calm, when you are comforted, then you can practice  . . . looking deeply in order to understand. When you are concentrated, you are calm. you are in a position to look and to see. That kind of vision will have the power to liberate you from the rest of the suffering in you.

. . . Liberation in Buddhism is liberation by insight, not by grace.

 from The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting, by Alice Miller

When children are born, what they need most from their parents is love, by which I mean affection, attention, care, protection, kindness, and the willingness to communicate. If these needs are gratified, the bodies of those children will retain the good memory of such caring affection all their lives, and later, as adults, they will be able to pass on the same kind of love to their children. But if this is not the case, the children will be left with a lifelong yearning for the fulfillment of their initial (and vital) needs. In later life, this yearning will be directed at other people. In comparison, the more implacably children have been deprived of love and negated or maltreated in the name of “upbringing,” the more those children, on reaching adulthood, will look to their parents (or other people substituting for them) to supply all the things that those same parents failed to provide when they were needed most. This is a normal response on the part of the body. It knows precisely what it needs, it cannot forget the deprivations. The deprivation or hole is there, waiting to be filled.

The older we get, the more difficult it is to find other people who can give us the love our parents denied us. But the body’s expectations do not slacken with age–quite the contrary! They are merely directed at others, usually our own children and grandchildren. The only way out of this dilemma is to become aware of these mechanisms and to identify the reality of our own childhood by counteracting the processes of repression and denial. In this way we can create in our own selves a person who can satisfy at least some of the needs that have been waiting for fulfillment since birth, if not earlier. Then we can give ourselves the attention, the respect, the understanding for our emotions, the sorely needed protection, and the unconditional love that our parents withheld from us.

To make this happen, we need one special experience: the experience of love for the child we once were. Without it, we have no way of knowing what love consists of.