In this landmark work, internationally beloved teacher of meditation and mindfulness Jack Kornfield reveals that you can be happy now, this minute, with the keys to inner freedom.
In his first major book in several years, the inspiring author of the classic A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield, invites us into a new awareness. Through his signature warmhearted, poignant, often funny stories, with their Aha moments and O. Henry-like outcomes, Jack shows how we get stuck and how we can free ourselves, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances. Renowned for his mindfulness practices and meditations, Jack provides these keys for opening gateways to immediate shifts in perspective and clarity of vision, allowing us to see how to change course, take action, or—when we shouldn’t act—just relax and trust.
Each chapter presents a path to a different kind of freedom—freedom from fear, freedom to start over, to love, to be yourself, and to be happy—and guides you into an active process that engages your mind, heart, and spirit, awakens your spirit, and brings real joy, over and over again. Drawing from his own life as a son, brother, father, and partner, and on his forty years of face-to-face teaching of thousands of people across the country, Jack presents a stirring call to be here, in the power of the now, the present, as we work through life’s passages. His keys to life will help us find hope, clarity, relief from past disappointments and guilt, and the courage to go forward.
The Dance of Life • The One Who Knows • Sacred Stillness • Loving Awareness • Running from Hyenas • Rest in Love
Practice: Opening to Spacious Awareness
Mind Like Sky
2. Free to Love The Beloved • Love's Many Faces • Grace and Angst • Respond with Love • The Sparkle in Your Eyes • Encounter with the Gods • Embodying Love • Love Baked Fresh • Blessing of Respect.
3. Trusting the Living Universe
Tending Our Garden • The Dance of Life • Wise Trust • Beyond Despair • Embraced by a Living Universe • Aging with Trust
Practice: Trust in the Big Picture
Trust Your Inner Knowing
Be Inspired by Trust
4. The Eternal Present
Touching the Eternal Present • Notice Now • Moral Mathematics of the Moment • Beginner’s Mind • How Then Shall We Live? • Finding Sanctuary • Timelessness of the Natural World • Lover of the Moment • Nous Sommes, We Are
Practice: Open to Timelessness
Part II – OBSTACLES TO FREEDOM
5. Fear of Freedom
Trauma, Fear and Freedom • Self-Hatred • Trying to Please • Fear of Falling • Acting Flawlessly • Lean into the Wind
Practice: Entering Difficulties with an Open Mind and an Open Heart
Forgiving Yourself and Another • Your Spirit Is Not Bound by Your History • Honoring the Past • Heart of Forgiveness • Courage and Clarity • True Release • I’m Going to Kill You • Letting Go: The Chord That Completes the Song
7. Freedom from Troubled Emotions
Praying for Our Enemies • Powerful Inner Forces • Befriending the Trouble
• Resolving Conflicts • Facing Demons • Dawn of Compassion
Practice with Troubled Emotions
Part III – REALIZING FREEDOM
8. Elegance of Imperfection
Invitation to Care • Tyranny of Perfection • Wild, Uncharted, Imperfect Glory • Eyes of Love • What You Have Left • Mastery • It’s Already Broken
Practice: I See You Mara
9. Gift of an Open Mind
Zen and the Art of Openness • Prejudice and Perspective • Breaking Barriers • Are You Sure? • Actually See Her • The Healing Power of Words • Heartfelt Communication
Practice: Is This True?
10. The Gift of Authenticity
You Were Born to Do This • Staying True • To Whom Are You Faithful? • Start Where You Are • Aware Inside, Calm Outside • Honoring Your Feelings • Desire • Free to Be Human
Practice: Being True
11. Free to Dream
Express Your Heart • “Bird Got My Wings” • They’re Your Dreams • Crafting Your Life • Conscious and True • The Currents of Life • Dream Big and Dance
Practice: You Are An Artist
Part IV – LIVING FREEDOM
12. Deliver Your Gifts
Free to Act • Vision and Action • Bring Your Gift • Selfless Service • The World Needs You • Your Very Flesh Shall Be a Poem
Practice: Deliver Your Gifts
13. Live in Mystery
Not Far Away • The Mystery of Incarnation • The Earth Is Breathing You • Beyond History and Self • Interbeing: You Are Not Alone • Everyone Gains • Outer and Inner Freedom • Emptiness Is Our Home • Vision • “I Told You So”
Practice: Open to Mystery
Just Like Me
14. The Joy of Being Alive
Happiness for No Cause • Bouncing for Joy • Gateways to Joy • Gratefulness • Pure Heart • You Deserve Happiness • Wonderful! • It’s in Your Hands • Coursing in Gratitude
Invitation to Freedom
Dear friends, after more than forty years teaching mindfulness and compassion to thousands on the spiritual path, the most important message I can offer is this: You don't have to wait to be free. You don't need to postpone being happy. All too often these beautiful spiritual practices of mindfulness and compassion become entwined with a vision of self-discipline and duty. We see them as taking us through a long road of obstacles that leads eventually to distant benefits. Yes, there is hard work of the heart and there are demanding cycles in our lives. Yet wherever you are on your journey, there is another wonderful truth called “Living the Fruit” or “Starting with the Result.” The fruits of well-being and the experience of joy, freedom, and love are available now, whatever your circumstance! When Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration, he did so with such dignity, magnanimity, and forgiveness that his spirit transformed South Africa and inspired the world. Like Mandela, you can be free and dignified wherever you find yourself. Inner freedom is not reserved for exceptional people. No one can imprison your spirit. When your boss calls and you feel fear or anxiety, when someone in your family is in conflict or duress, when you feel overwhelmed by the world, you have choices. You can be bound and constricted or you can use this difficulty to open and discover what’s next in your unfolding journey. Sometimes life gives us ease, sometimes it is challenging, and sometimes profoundly painful. Whatever your circumstances, you can take a breath, soften your gaze, and remember that courage and freedom are within, waiting to awaken. Even under the direst conditions, freedom of spirit is available. Freedom of spirit is mysterious, magnificent, and simple. We are free and able to love in this life—no matter what. Deep down we know this is true. We know it whenever we feel a part of something greater—listening to music, making love, walking in the mountains or swimming in the sea, sitting at the mystery of a dying loved one as her spirit leaves her body silently as a falling star, or witnessing the miraculous birth of a child. At times like these, a joyful openness swells through our body and our heart is surrounded by peace. Sara, a single mom with two kids, found out that her eight-year-old daughter Alicia had leukemia. Sara was terrified, anxious, grieving the loss of her child’s health, scared that she would lose her. For the first year, Alicia went through long rounds of chemotherapy, hospital stays, and doctors. A fearful sadness filled the house and anxiety colored Sara’s days. Then, one afternoon when they were out on a walk, Alicia said, “Mama, I don’t know how long I’m going to live, but I want them to be happy days.” Her words were a splash of cold water on her mother’s face. Sara realized that she had to step out of the fearful melodrama to meet her daughter’s freedom of mind with her own, to return to a trusting spirit. Sara grabbed her daughter and did a little waltz, holding her tight. Her fear dissipated. And in time, Alicia healed. She is now twenty-two and just graduated from college. But even if she hadn’t healed, what kind of days would you have had her choose? You can’t do much with your life if you’re miserable. You might as well be happy.
When I was eight-years old, on an especially bitter windy winter day, my brothers and I dressed in jackets and scarves and gloves and went out to play in the snow. I was skinny as a rail and shivering with cold. My twin brother, Irv, stronger, wilder, and more robust, looked at me, contracted and fearful, and laughed. Then he began to remove layers of clothing, first the gloves, his coat, then a sweater, his shirt, undershirt, all the while laughing. He danced and paraded around half-naked in the snow, the icy wind whipping around us. We were all wide-eyed, laughing hysterically. In that moment, my brother taught me about choosing freedom, manifesting a spirit that to this day I still remember. Whether we’re in a wildly blowing snowstorm or feeling the cold wind of loss, blame, or insecurity, we want to be free. We want to be released from fear and worry, not confined by judgments. We want to allow ourselves to trust, love, express ourselves, and be happy. Each chapter of this book is an invitation to experience a particular dimension of freedom—freedom of spirit, freedom to start over, freedom beyond fear, freedom to be yourself, freedom to love, freedom to be happy. There are stories, reflections, teachings, and practices that illuminate how we get stuck and how we can free ourselves. This isn’t a book that you read just to make yourself feel better for a little while, then put on your shelf. Finding freedom is an active process that engages your intellect, your heart, and your whole spirit. The means and the goal are one—be yourself, dream, trust, and act. May each chapter awaken your spirit and bring you joy.
You can choose your spirit. Freedom, Love, and Joy are yours, in your very life, your exact circumstance. They are your birthright. Jack Kornfield Spirit Rock Meditation Center Spring 2017
Part I FREEDOM OF SPIRIT
“What do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver
Chapter 1 VASTNESS IS OUR HOME “Sometimes I go about pitying myself, when all the while I am being carried by great winds across the sky.” —Ojibwa saying
We are being carried on a luminous star, sharing in the dance of life with seven billion beings like us. Vastness is our home. When we recognize the spaciousness that is our universe, around us and within us, the door of freedom opens. Worries and conflicts fall into perspective, emotions are held with ease, and we act in the world with peace and dignity. The Dance of Life Whitney was caught in midlife troubles. Her mother was scheduled for hip surgery and her father was suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s. She wanted her parents to continue living in their home in Illinois, but their disabilities made independent living challenging. Whitney’s brother in St. Louis was not involved and wanted his sister to “take care of it.” So Whitney took a month’s leave from work and went to her parents’ home to help. When she arrived, the house was in shambles. Her mom needed time to heal from the surgery, and her father was unable to care for himself. They could not afford round-the-clock care, and it was clear they would have to move. Whitney took a walk up a hillside she’d known since childhood. She didn’t want to lose the family home; she wanted her parents to stay there until the end—and she didn’t want to lose her parents. She wept as she walked, but when she reached the top of the hill, she sat quietly, calmed herself and looked across the vast Midwestern fields stretching to the horizon. The sky was filled with cumulus clouds bringing shade to the many small houses clustered at the edge of town and beyond. Facing this unbounded vastness, she suddenly felt less alone. She could sense how everything has its rhythm—arriving and departing, flourishing and struggling, coming into being and fading away. How many people, she wondered, are in the same predicament we are right now? As she breathed with more ease, her mind opened further. I am not the only person with aging parents. It is part of the human journey., And as the space within her opened, she felt more trust. We can all see this way. We can gain a broader perspective. With a spacious heart, we can remember the bigger picture. Even when illness strikes, a parent is dying, or any other form of loss is upon us, we can recognize that it’s a part of life’s seasons. What would it feel like to love the whole kit and caboodle—to make our love bigger than our sorrows. Among the multitudes of humans, many are experiencing loss and change. Many need renewal. And the world keeps turning, farmers growing food, markets trading, musicians playing. We live in the midst of a great and ever-changing paradox. Breathe. Relax. Live each day one at a time. The One Who Knows As your spacious heart opens, you can rediscover the vast perspective you’d almost forgotten. Spacious heart reveals the spacious mind. This is the mind that, after you’ve stubbed your toe, hopped around, and howled, finally laughs. The mind that, when you are upset with your partner, goes to sleep and wakes up, and sees that what was such a big deal has fallen into perspective. Your spacious mind is the natural awareness that knows and accommodates everything. My meditation teacher in the forests of Thailand, Ajahn Chah, called it “The One Who Knows.” He said this is the original nature of mind, the silent witness, spacious consciousness. His instructions were simple: Become witness to it all, the person with perspective, the One Who Knows. Pay attention to the movie showing in your life right now. Notice the plot. It might be an adventure, a tragedy, a romance, a soap opera, or a battle. “All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. Sometimes you get caught in the plot. But remember, you are also the audience. Take a breath. Look around. Become witness to it all, the spacious awareness, The One Who Knows. I sat at the bedside of a woman with pancreatic cancer near the end of her days. She was only thirty-one-years old. We looked in one another’s eyes, and the layers just peeled away. Her skinny body, her gender, poetic accomplishment, her family and friends. I was graced to be a witness to her spirit. “How’s it going?” I asked, with great gentleness. “It looks like this incarnation is going to be over soon. It’s okay. It’s natural to die, you know.” And what peered back through her deep, knowing eyes were vastness, tenderness, and a timeless freedom. Rest in spacious awareness and feel the presence of love. The One Who knows becomes the loving witness of all things. You become loving awareness itself. The freedom of loving awareness is available; it just takes practice for you to remember it, and to trust that it is always here. When you feel lost, stuck in a tiny part of the big picture, contracted, or caught up, take a breath and visualize yourself stepping back. With a spacious mind, you can witness even these contracted states and hold them in loving awareness. Relax. With loving awareness you can notice your feelings, your thoughts, your circumstances. Just now. Even as you read this book, witness the one reading and smile at him or her with loving awareness. Begin each morning with loving awareness. Tune in to the space around you, the space outside, the huge landscape that spreads across the continent. Feel the vastness of the sky and of the space that holds the moon and planets and galaxies. Let your mind and heart become that space. Breathe into your heart. Observe the clouds floating in the endless sky and become the sky. The clouds are not just outside; they are in you as well. Feel the landscape, the trees, the mountains and buildings all arising in your own heart. Let yourself open, merge into space with love. Relax and rest in the immensity that surrounds you, the immensity that is you. Notice how vast loving awareness can be. As The One Who Knows, witness it all, let loving awareness make room for everything: boredom and excitement, fear and trust, pleasure and pain, birth and death. Sacred Stillness When you walk into a shaded grove of giant redwoods or into a great cathedral, a sacred stillness descends. As spaciousness opens within you, you can experience a profound silence in your very being. You may feel nervous at first, and at the same time, you’ve longed for this. This is the vast silence that surrounds life. Trust it, and rest in the stillness. Feel your heart open and become more fully alive. Everything that arises from this silence is only a cloud in the vast sky, a wave on the ocean. Rest in the depths of silence. Vastness is the nature of consciousness. If you gaze at it directly, you’ll discover the mind is transparent, spacious, that it has no boundaries, your heart as wide as the world. As you open to this vastness, you can allow the waves of life to arise and pass. In silence, you’ll see the mystery giving birth to life, to thoughts and feelings and sense perceptions. The waves of the world rise and fall, expand and contract, the heart beats, cerebral spinal fluid pulses, there are ever-changing rhythms in the phases of the moon, the changing of seasons, the cycles of a woman’s body, the turning galaxies, and the stock market too. Begin to notice that there are pauses between the waves, gaps between breaths and between thoughts. At first these seem fleeting, but gradually you’ll be able to rest in these pauses. As the waves rise and fall, you become silent loving awareness itself. This silence is not withdrawal, indifference, or punishment. It is not the absence of thoughts. It is spacious and refreshing, a tender stillness from which you can learn, listen, and look deeply. Loving Awareness Notice how loving awareness fills time and space. This is the mystery witnessing itself. In loving awareness, the river of thoughts and images flows without judgment. With loving awareness, you experience the stream of feelings without being afraid, falling under their spell, or grasping too tightly. Delight and anxiety, anger, tenderness and longing, even grief and tears are all welcome. And loving awareness encourages the full measure of joy, inviting well-being to grow. As you rest in loving awareness, trust grows. You trust the universe to run itself, and you trust your awareness to hold it all. I remember when I first learned to swim in the university pool. I was a shivering, skinny, seven-year old. I flailed and bobbed around. And then, one moment, being held by the instructor as I lay on my back, he removed his hand and I realized I could float. It was magic. I learned to swim. In the same way, you can learn to trust loving awareness. It will always hold you. As an experiment, try not to be aware. Take thirty seconds right now and stop being aware of any sense impressions, thoughts, feelings, and so forth. Try hard. Even if you close your eyes and plug your ears, it doesn’t work, does it? You can’t stop it. Awareness is always here. Like the fish that can’t see the water, you cannot see awareness directly. But you can experience it and therefore trust it. Loving awareness is spacious, open, transparent, silent, vast, and responsive like a mirror. You can always return to it. It is timeless, awake, and appreciative. Loving awareness sees without possessing. It allows, honors, connects, and dances with life as it is. It appreciates but does not grasp experiences or things. Author Steven Wright elucidates, “I have the world’s largest collection of seashells. I keep it on all the beaches of the world. Perhaps you’ve seen it.” Running from Hyenas Benjamin, age sixty-four, lost more than half his retirement savings in the 2008 economic crisis. He knew that he and his wife were better off than others whose mortgages went underwater and were losing their homes, but he became almost sick with anxiety. He checked the stock market ten times a day. His dreams were filled with images of drowning, being chased by hyenas, losing his way. His family told him to stop obsessing, but he didn’t know how. When he came to his first meditation class, it was nearly impossible for him to sit still. Anxiety generated feelings in his body that were hard to accept, and his mind was racing. Should he pull his remaining money out of the badly lowered stocks? Might he lose more by abandoning a questionable real estate venture? At the second class he attended, I led a guided meditation on space, inviting vast open awareness to surround body and mind. Students listened to the Tibetan bells in the room and the distant traffic and voices outside, listening as though their minds were as big as the sky and all the sounds were clouds within it. This experience brought Benjamin a sense of relief, and he bought a meditation CD to take home. After that, when anxious thoughts woke him in the night, he had a way to work with them. With vast space as his mantra, the grip of his obsession began to loosen. Now he had some perspective. He knew how to safeguard what remained of his money and invest more conservatively. He also relaxed the need to imagine he could control the future. Freed from obsessive thoughts, he was able to be present with his family again. Shifts like Benjamin’s are possible for everyone. We all remember times we’ve felt spacious and calm. We listen better, see more clearly, exercise more perspective. With spacious awareness, our inner life becomes clearer too. Difficult emotions get clarified, their energy freed. Depression reveals its message about hurt, anger, and unmet needs. Fearful stories, when seen clearly, are lovingly open to release. The freedom of a spacious mind and heart is always available. Turn toward it. Open to vastness whenever you can. Become the sky of loving awareness. Rest in Love Spaciousness, awareness, and love are intertwined. Frank Ostaseski, cofounder of Zen Hospice in San Francisco, tells this story: There was a fellow I worked with who asked if I could teach him to meditate. He was in a lot of pain. He had terminal stomach cancer, and I said okay, we’ll give it a try. So we oriented his attention toward physical sensations, except that when he started to go toward these sensations, it was too much for him and he started screaming, “I can’t, it’s too much. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” I said okay, let’s try something else and I put my hand on his stomach and said how’s that? He said oh, that hurts too much. I said okay, and so I put my hands near his feet. He said oh, that’s a little better. I said okay, and I put my hands further away from him. And he said, “That’s lovely actually.” There was no energetic work here, no California voodoo stuff. Just an opening to more and more space. And then his words came, not mine, not my meditation instruction: “Oh, rest in love, rest in love.” So whenever he’d get in trouble with his pain from then on, he would push his morphine pump and then just repeat to himself, “Rest in love, rest in love.” It’s really simple. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, anything you give space to can be transformed. Whatever the situation, widen the space; remember vastness; allow ease and perspective. Spaciousness is the doorway to freedom. Your spacious heart is your true home.
PRACTICE Opening to Spacious Awareness Think of a time in your life when you felt the most expansive, open, and loving. It may have been walking in the mountains, looking at the night sky filled with stars, or after the birth of a child. Remember how vast spacious awareness feels in your body. How it feels in the heart. Let the mind quiet. Remember how silent it was, how present you could be. Now close your eyes. Feel that same vastness here and now. Relax and become the space of loving awareness that can allow sunshine, storm clouds, lightning, praise and blame, gain and loss, expansion and contraction, the world endlessly giving birth to itself, all with your gracious and peaceful heart.
Jack Kornfield, PhD, is one of the best known, most respected meditation teachers in the world. A psychologist and founder of two of the largest Buddhist centers and communities in America, he is one of the key teachers to introduce mindfulness to the West. His books, which include A Path with Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; and The Wise Heart, are classics, selling well over a million copies, and translated into twenty-one languages. Jack has taught at major universities and centers worldwide, including Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley; he teaches regular classes to four hundred at Spirit Rock in Marin County and to large crowds nationwide at retreats, conferences, and events. To learn more, please visit: JackKornfield.com or SpiritRock.org.
“Any reader of this work will find a compassionate, light-hearted, and humorous teacher who leads readers to grapple with difficult emotions.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"In this book, Jack Kornfield wonderfully evokes the spaciousness, the ease, and the radiance of a free heart and mind. Even more important—he clearly lays out a path whereby any one of us can move from distant admiration of the idea to actually living it day by day."
– Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Love
"A consommé of goodness, heart, laughter, tears, and breath, nourishing and delicious. Rich in hope and deep wisdom for these revved up, rattling times."
– Anne Lamott author of Grace (Eventually)
"With its incomparable blend of deep wisdom, evocative stories, and powerful meditations, No Time Like the Present is the fruit of a lifetime of spiritual teaching. Jack Kornfield’s message is, we don’t have to wait. Love, peace, freedom . . . it’s all available right here, in this very heart."
– Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge
“'Only in the darkness can you see the stars,' said Martin Luther King, in days that were almost as dark as our own. Like a brilliant star to guide us in these days of darkness Jack Kornfield’s new book appears just at the right moment. It reminds us that there is No Time Like the Present—no matter how dark—to rescue threatened values—freedom, love, joy—within us and in the world around us. Like Rabbi Hillel, Jack challenges us: 'If not now, when?'”
– Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, co-founder of Gratefulness.org
"A treasure trove of emotionally inspiring stories revealing the paths to freedom in our diverse lives. In this magnificent book, Jack Kornfield guides us with his transformative teachings of wisdom and inner peace. This is a work of heart, a gift of Jack's personal experiences as well as his lifetime of learning about what brings meaning, connection, and clarity to life. There is no time like the present to soak in the life-affirming invitations and practices that can enrich how we engage with others, the world, and ourselves. Enjoy!"
– Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., author of Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human and Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
"This book is a treasure of useful insights and practical ways of coping with our egoic and false-self search for satisfactions that lead nowhere, except to needless suffering. His charming and sympathetic suggestions for healing fill this book with encouragement and compassion for ourselves and others."
– Fr. Thomas Keating, founding member and the spiritual guide of Contemplative Outreach, LTD
"Jack is one of the world’s wisest, kindest, and most helpful teachers. Reading his book is like sitting and chatting with him about the most important things in your life. He is so warm, so full of practical suggestions, and so generous with simple but transformative practices. This book is beautiful, inspiring, and profound."
– Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
Praise for Jack Kornfield
"One of the great spiritual teachers of our time."
– Alice Walker
"Jack Kornfield is a wonderful storyteller and a great teacher."
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