Radical Compassion by Tara Brach Read Online (FREE)
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LOVING OURSELVES INTO HEALING
Many years ago, I read a moving article by a hospice caregiver who had accompanied thousands of people during their final weeks. One phrase in particular has stayed with me. After countless hours listening to the thoughts of the dying, the caregiver summed up their greatest regret with these words: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.”
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I started asking myself questions like these: What does it mean to live true to yourself? Do you feel that your life is aligned with what matters to your heart? Are you living true to yourself—today? Right now? A few months later, I began asking the same questions of my meditation students.
What I found is that this regret of the dying is also true for many of the rest of us. My students tell me that being true to themselves means being loving, present, and authentic. They speak of being honest, serving others, serving the world. They talk about expressing their creativity, believing in their own worthiness, and working at what they love. And about having the strength to grow beyond their insecurities and to reconcile troubled relationships.
They also say that almost daily they lose sight of these aspirations and intentions. Instead, they get caught up in reactivity—self-judgment, blaming others, pettiness, selfishness, living on autopilot. As one student said, “Each day there’s a big gap between what’s possible and how I’m actually living my life. And with that comes an ever-lurking sense of personal failure.”
I know that feeling of failure intimately. For many years, the “trance of unworthiness” kept me feeling deficient as friend and daughter, partner and parent. It fueled doubt about my capability as therapist and teacher. And when I faced severe physical illness, it initially triggered self-blame: “What did I do wrong to get so sick?”
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Yet this very suffering—feeling deficient and disconnected—has also been my most fertile ground for waking up. It has led me to a spiritual path and practices that I cherish. And when I get stuck in painful emotions, it brings me to a repeating realization, an insight that has profoundly changed my life: I have to love myself into healing. The only path that can carry me home is the path of self-compassion.
It doesn’t matter if I’m caught in anger, fear of failing at something important, a sense of self-doubt, or loneliness. And it doesn’t matter if I’m facing yet again challenges to physical mobility and well-being. The healing medicine always has some flavor of care, compassion, or forgiveness. On some level, I’m telling myself, “Please, be kind.” This turning toward loving presence is the gateway to living true to ourselves.
“Radical compassion” means including the vulnerability of this life—all life—in our heart. It means having the courage to love ourselves, each other, and our world. Radical compassion is rooted in mindful, embodied presence, and it is expressed actively through caring that includes all beings.
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There’s an image I love that shows mindfulness and compassion as inseparable dimensions of awakening. It depicts awareness as a bird with two wings: When both wings are unfurled in their fullness and beauty, the bird can fly and be free.