Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bhavana

As any parent knows, when a child’s behavior is rewarded with attention, that behavior grows. A similar process occurs within our own consciousness.

We can attend to what is lacking in ourselves and our world. We might catalog our resentments. Or we could devote ourselves to our worries. As we do, each will grow in importance and assume a place of honor in our awareness. Of course, for we are lending them our precious energy.

Luckily, however, we can choose our focus. We can direct our attention to peace or beauty or the oneness of all life. We can choose trust over fear and acceptance over the push to have it our way. And with practice, these will be the qualities that will grow and begin to inform our experience of life.

Bhava is a Sanskrit word meaning “attitude” or “feeling”. It can also refer to a general mindset. In her beautifully~titled and exceedingly helpful book Meditation for the Love of It, Sally Kempton describes how “we look at the world through the glasses of our particular set of bhavas and imagine that what we see is the way things really are when actually we are seeing only the reflection of our bhavas.”

So, whether a tendency to worry has us seeing problems everywhere, or our propensity for anger leads us to hone in on slights and wrongs done, we see what we expect to see. The fact that others respond quite differently to similar situations only confirms that our responses are, indeed, ours.

The good news is that since these bhavas underlie all our interactions, any shift in them will lead to a significant change in our experience. The practice of consciously working with our internal bhavas is called bhavana, a method employed by many eastern spiritual traditions. Bhavana translates as “cultivating” or “calling into existence.”

Isn't that a beautiful phrase? Calling into existence. What is it that we want to call into existence? Certainly not fear or mistrust or selfishness. Yet these may be the very qualities we unconsciously nurture. No surprise there. We all have bugaboos. The point is that they needn’t be set in stone.

If we relate to life from a distance or with a certain harshness or negativity, for example, techniques which soften the heart are gifts beckoning. Following sage bumper sticker advice, we could practice random acts of kindness. We might chronicle our gratitudes before bed each night, or say an authentic and heart~felt grace before meals.

We could engage in specific meditative practices designed to open us~~consciously breathing with a feeling of love, visualizing our breath swirling into and out of our heart center, or extending goodwill from ourselves to others in ever expanding circles as in lovingkindness meditation. We could envision meditating at the feet of the Divine and greet everyone we meet as though he or she were Jesus in disguise.

And when our favorite bugaboos rise up to greet us~~as they most certainly will~~we could interact with them kindly, holding them in our hearts and surrounding them with the compassion they desperately seek.

It’s not easy to alter an ingrained approach to life. How exciting, though, to try. As a wise parent, we can nurture the life~affirming capacities of our own evolving consciousness~~ and delight as they expand.

“If you practice a particular bhava long enough,” Kempton writes, “it will become natural~~it will actually become real for you. That’s because your consciousness is so creative that it can shape itself completely around any feeling you hold and recreate itself in that image.”

Bhavas clothe our spirits. Surely we want to choose our wardrobe with care, especially because the gala event we’re attending is nothing less than our very lives.

Blessings on each of you and your own bhavana practice!

Loanne Marie

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was just harboring feelings of "what if" when I read your essay. What perfect timing. I can let go and continue my life as though NOW matters.
Thank you for opening my eyes and heart.

Loanne Marie said...

What a delightful response! Congratulations for stopping right in the midst of an ingrained pattern~~at the very moment when your bhana was leading you around by the nose~~and choosing a different path. It seems like your eyes and heart were quite ready to open, and you took my words and used them as a key. Nicely done!

Thanks so much for writing!

Sara said...

Loann,

I was reading this at work, and what an amazing sentiment that I could share with my co-workers...it is all too often that nurses get "bogged down" with all there is to do, all the drama, etc...and this could be helpful...thanks!

Loanne Marie said...

Oh, Sara, I am delighted! What a precious opportunity you all have to work with bhavas. I know there is such a pull to focus on the paperwork, the difficult patient (or doctor!), the things that don't go as planned. These particulars may, in fact, be real. They're just not the whole picture. And by not simply unconsciously allowing ourselves to get tugged this way or that, we get to choose what we attend to. And thus, our experience is changed.

I wish you and all your fellow nurses well! Thanks so much for reading and for writing!!!

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Leia Marie