Monday, March 15, 2010

A Tiny Space Through Which Infinite Grace Can Be Known

Dear Sugar Magnolia,

Thank you so much for writing. Just in your asking, I see your heart opening. When you ask for advice on "how [you] could respond (instead of react)," I see you caring for your husband and for yourself and for clarity in the relationship.

In being willing to take ownership of your own reactions, and really just in noticing them, you are already bringing in some space.

And space is what we're going for here. When we are in situations that don't have obvious solutions, we need to get to a place where we are quiet enough and still enough so that the greater wisdom (that is our true nature) may arise. In that space, we know that there are no wrong choices or really any wrong moments or situations. It is simply our interpretation of things that has us judge what is ultimately neutral.

I spent some time contemplating your question and at times felt inept at answering because I got lost in the details (the words that are said, the reactions, the drinking, the cycles) and in seeking a solution on the level of details. I came to see, however, that bringing in space is the simplest and perhaps most profound contribution you can make.

One way you could describe our goal here is that we seek to quiet the thinking mind, even if just for a moment. I believe that the regular practice of quieting the mind and coming fully into the present moment with alert quietness has a cumulative effect on our general state of well-being, specifically on our experience of inner peace.

There are some very simple practices we may all use to awaken out of our automatic, reactionary states.

One way is simply to notice when we're being pulled into reaction. The key here, however, is that you not make yourself wrong for your reaction. You simply want to notice, without judgment. In that moment of observation, you are not lost in the world of reaction (typically carried over from the past). And even though, right in that moment, you may not feel immediate relief, you will notice, with practice, a cumulative effect of more space, more freedom and more compassion both for yourself and others.

Another simple practice is to feel your body. I like to feel my feet in my shoes or on the floor (or at this moment propped on an ottoman and buzzing with aliveness). In those brief moments when we're feeling the aliveness of the body, we are tuned in with the enormity of life, beyond our mental comprehension, and the mind quiets.

Similarly, when we notice ourselves going through a wave of emotion, we can do the same: we can breathe, relax our body, and feel the wave of reaction as it moves through us. Typically we want to ignore or push away feelings of discomfort. In the paradoxical exploration of the sensations, we come to find that we've created space.

You can allow yourself to be exactly as you are in the moment. And with that comes openness and quiet, through which our deeper wisdom, beyond the churning of the rational/problem-solving/wrong-making/thinking mind, can arise and reveal itself to us.

You are in great shape, my dear, and I'm humbled by your question.

One final thought for this letter . . . I find instant relief when I recite the following loving-kindness meditation:

Just like me, this person wants to be happy and free of suffering.

Thank you for reminding us all that even - and especially - in difficult times, we can make just a tiny space through which infinite grace can be known. And THIS is our true nature.



If other questions arise from this writing, please email

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Hi Beautiful Sister Carina,

I would like some guidance regarding a situation in my life with my beloved husband.

It has become a recurrent reaction of his that whenever we have a disagreement or frustration, he blows up and says either that he is so tired of this( with exasperation and anger in his energy) or he threatens to leave.

Usually this threat of leaving deflects my focus from what the issue at hand is to that of "Oh my gosh, he's threatening to leave" and I cow-tow to this threat by telling him that I believe in him and our marriage and that I'm not ready to give it up and why is he so easily defeated? Why does he always want to cut and run?

Anyway, could you please offer some advice on how I could respond (instead of react)?

Also, on a side note, he is inevitably remorseful and sorry every time after a blow up and says he will not play the "I'm leaving unless I have my way" card again.

Also, on another note, for the past 3 months alcohol was usually involved with these episodes. The recent episode however did not involve alcohol has he has voluntarily decided to "cleanse or detox" for a period of time.

Thank you with love,
Sugar Magnolia