Wise and Affectionate Inner Attention

In Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are the same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

There is a Sioux saying that the longest journey we will ever make is the journey from our heads to our hearts. Wendell Berry warns that it will be “humbling, arduous and joyful.” Instead of being discouraged by this, I am relieved.

I’m relieved because my journey through yoga and mindfulness practices has been long, humbling, arduous and sometimes joyful. I’ve had to open (sometimes willingly and sometimes not) to all of the habits of head that continually keep me from my heart.

This is nothing romantic or mystical.

Joan Halifax Roshi explains that, “The Four Boundless Abodes are lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. These are qualities of the mind and heart that are inherent to our basic nature…By cultivating them in our activities, we strengthen their presence within us. As their presence grows stronger, so does their boundless quality. These abodes are the unconditional treasure that is always available to each of us.”

But it’s not enough to read about or ponder over the boundless qualities of heart. It’s not about thinking at all, it’s about being.

When I realize I’m caught in my head, I begin the journey back to my heart, through wise attention on my breath, body and senses. That is it – again and again and again – no matter if it is arduous, humbling or joyful.

I’ve come to trust that this truly is the only way back to the unconditional treasure that is always available to each of us.

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