I have always believed since I was exposed to the teachings of the Buddha that we are all born with the true Buddha nature inside us, that that is our true essence, our heart, our true self. But although I had absolutely faith in that, I wasn’t able to find a way in my meditation or otherwise to connect with that true self, with my heart.
And so for years, I really didn’t make much progress on the path. I knew that the feelings and perceptions of my ego-mind were not my true self, they were just a product of the mind and caused me suffering, but I had nothing else to turn to. My true Buddha self was not palpable.
Then one morning when I was meditating, the image of me as a smiling toddler from a photo my mother had recently sent came to me. And I knew when I saw that beaming, innocent face, smiling for absolutely no reason other than just being, that that child was my true Buddha self, the manifestation of my unwounded heart. And I cried.
That connection was a turning point for me. The concept of my true Buddha self, of my heart, was palpable. Looking into those eyes, I saw light, love, faith and trust, and joy.
But although I had this experience, it would be many years before I was able to make use of this discovery in my practice. Why? I really can’t say. I guess I just wasn’t far enough along in my practice to apply the lessons of my heart.
Then one day, when I was walking and saw things that disturbed me, I opened up my heart to embrace all aspects of my experience (“the heart’s embrace” practice), and all of a sudden, I felt I was that smiling toddler, and I smiled at the world around me and said, “Hello.” He just came to me. After that point, as I’ve written, I’ve often either conjured up my smiling toddler when I needed to pull myself back from the reaction of my ego-mind, or he began coming to my aid when I needed him, holding my hand.
And so I strongly recommend that you find a photo of yourself as a smiling toddler. Or if you don’t have one, try and remember such a photo or what you were like as a toddler, before your life experiences separated you from your light.
If you just cannot picture yourself as a smiling toddler, then while you’re meditating try doing Thich Nhat Hanh’s mouth yoga exercise. Gently relax your facial muscles and smile. Although done purposefully, if done properly this is a real smile, not forced. It come from within. You will feel yourself lighten; emotions will dissipate.
While you’re in that space, visualize yourself seated on a meditation cushion dressed in a white robe. Feel the peace that is within you; your mind rests totally undisturbed. Visualize a white or golden aura emanating from you, the manifestation of the positive energy that is within your heart … the light, love, faith, trust, compassion, humility, gratefulness, joy, contentment, strength, courage, and wisdom. Just sit with that for at least 10 minutes, observing and absorbing.
Whether by visualizing your smiling toddler or your aura, you have made contact with your true self. How different it is from the dark world of your ego-mind with its fears, anxieties, negative emotions, and doubts. Let your true self literally lead you away from the dark world of your ego-mind back to the world of light that is your birthright. Visualize your true self extending a hand to you, take it, and let your true self lead you to the “other shore” where the physical you and your true self are one.