July 11, 2012

Soft Spot. ~ Raia Manjula Kogan


Courtesy of Flickr/Spec-ta-cles

“Perhaps this will put off a lot of people, but I am afraid love is not really the experience of beauty and romantic joy alone. Love is associated with ugliness and pain and aggression, as well as with the beauty of the world. It is not the re-creation of heaven. Love or compassion, the open path, is associated with “what is.” In order to develop love—universal love, cosmic love, whatever you would like to call it—one must accept the whole situation of life as it is, both the light and the dark, the good and the bad. One must open oneself to life, communicate with it.”


Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche, my teacher’s teacher, has said that it is by touching the raw and tender place in our own hearts, our soft spot, that we can access an open and boundless love for all beings. The invitation is to allow the vast awareness we enter in meditation to touch the contracted and seemingly broken parts of ourselves.

How do we commit to coming to the yoga mat or the meditation cushion in the moments of profound disconnection, to stay present in the moments of the most seeming brokenness?

When we do, we discover that it is in meeting the tenderness of our own hearts, our own wounds and broken places that we can begin to heal our sense of disconnection and from wholeness can love others in an unconditioned way.

As a young practitioner, I imagined that when the awakened state that I had touched in meditation opened into an active expression in my life, it would be infinitely light and pure, that I would live as an embodied expression of the universal shakti. While this is absolutely true on some level, what I see now is that from that genuine awakening, there is no longer light and dark, pure and impure.

From touching the deepest parts of ourselves, including our own pain, we can touch any experience fully.

I am in a lineage of practitioners who purposely spent time in cemeteries, charnel grounds and did spiritual practices there. For me, the chaos of an urban life rather than a monastic one is my charnel ground, a path filled with lovers and friends, broken hearts and meltdowns, opportunities to serve and support those who are suffering and opportunities to witness the awe of human creative potential being born.

How do we meet, touch and lovingly open to moments of terror? When life brings us to our knees, what do we do? How do we support others in those moments, when they are facing the complete and utter unknown: divorce, loss, terminal illness, natural disaster?

On a Buddhist path, we contemplate the reality of sickness, old age and death, maybe even before these realities would naturally confront us in our lives. Our paths are nourished and stimulated by these insights because they inspire us to see the precious opportunity of waking up in this human lifetime.

In my work as a therapist, I sit with people in moments of their lives that can feel intolerable and I often sit with the questions: what is it that gives us the capacity to weather a storm? What allows our limbs to sway in the strong wind while our root system stays anchored?

On one level, allowing our awareness to become bigger creates space to feel more.

On another level, by allowing our awareness to touch the edges of the intensity, lessens it, literally softens the muscle fibers that had been holding on because now we know that we are held by something deeper than the contraction.

So the question becomes: how do we cultivate an inner rootedness and sense of space while being present and opening to the raw intensity of our lives?

Many of us have moved through periods in our lives that seem unbearable—and we all will at some point. In fact, our larger culture and potentially our planet is moving through such a time of crisis and restructuring and many people are struggling simply to exist day to day. Many are navigating a crisis of faith and most choose forms of numbness or dissociation that are so easily available in the modern culture. As a psychotherapist, I am intimate with the suffering in people’s lives. While some of our work focuses on transformation, making life-affirming choices in line with the person’s authentic vision for their lives, much of our work lies in being with the “suchness of our lives,” situations that simply exist.

Last year, I ended a relationship while on a month long meditation retreat at an elevation of 8,500 feet.

I have been in love more than once, so I know how to let go. This time however, I was in a room, in silence, with the person who I wanted to forget—and he coughed…a lot.

Something transformed as I meditated with the heartache—yes, I was hurting—but what was the problem? Held in the space of our true nature, our deepest self, there is nothing wrong. As Chogyum Trungpa has said, “chaos is good news.”

I could have hitchhiked into the local town to drink. I could have tried to sleep with somebody else. I could have asked somebody to mail me chocolate almonds…and maybe I did all of these things—but, most of the time, I opened to the sensations in my body-mind with friendliness, openness and curiosity. In between tears, I had some of the most blissful and ecstatic meditation periods and practices as well as moments of profound intimacy and tenderness with the practitioners around me.

As I softened my own heart, places where early wounding caused irrational reactions in my adult relationships, places where I had grown frozen and contracted, places where I held on too tightly out of fear of being alone, I also cultivated a profound tenderness for those around me. As I cried on the meditation cushion, I actually felt more love for everybody else in the room.

If I had been practicing in a different tradition, one that valued transcendence over embodiment, bliss over realness, I might have seen the grief as an impediment to my meditation. Instead, Chogyum Trungpa has taught that the afflictive emotions are actually gateways to experiencing our true nature.

By engaging with pain directly through the primitive language of breath and sensation, we grow in our capacity to be present with life and with others. While at first I resented my former mate for ruining the opportunity for peace and bliss at the top of a mountain, I soon learned that softening around a challenging circumstance brought more transformation than sitting in a way that was disconnected from the challenges of a human life.

I touched my own soft spot and on my journey into the darkness found a place of profound compassion and love for others.

When people show me the parts of themselves they are most embarrassed of, the parts that the tension in their bodies has been elaborately designed to contain, I see gems, gateways to wholeness contained within the places we once perceived to be broken.


Raia is a yogini living in the San Francisco Bay area practicing deeply as she integrates the sacred and the profane, seeking to see the beauty in all things. Sourced in the teachings of Yoga and Dharma as well as Somatic and Relational Psychotherapy, she guides people in coming closer to an authentic expression of their hearts in body, breath, and mind. Visit her at www.devihealingarts.com and http://holosinstitute.net/people/raia.html.

Editor: Bryonie Wise

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