There have been some aspects of me, minor ones thankfully, which have confounded all of my efforts to change or grow. Perhaps the most stubborn is the fact that the default position of my facial muscles is a perpetual frown. I have written about this in my books, I have written about this in posts, I have tried various methods to change this, but nothing has worked except momentarily.
‘What’s the big deal?” you might ask. Well, when my facial muscles are in that repose, it feels like there is some dark veil over my life, I’m not angry or upset, I’m calm and peaceful, but experience happiness I don’t. I know that whether I do Thich Nhat Hanh’s “mouth yoga” and bring a smile purposefully to my face, or when I’m out and purposefully emanate loving kindness and feel a smile on my face, I feel lighter, freer. But those remedial efforts have just proven to be temporary.
Recently, a friend related his experience when he followed a teaching he found that encouraged opening his heart to embracing all aspects of himself, including his dark side. He noted that I was often caught up in trying to free myself from various “problems” and that I should try this practice of embracing them instead.
And so when I next meditated, I sat with my heart and I felt it embrace my weaknesses, my dark side, and my moroseness. As my heart embraced, I hugged myself. The experience was cathartic, with tears streaming down my face.
Last winter, when I realized from within that fear and thus other emotions were indeed just a product of my mind and thus “not me,” and let them go, not engaging them, I was doing as the Buddha taught. (See my post, "Proof of the Nature of Mind - Fear, Ego, and Buddha Mind.") And for emotions like fear and anger this has worked. These emotions generally do not even arise anymore, and when they do I’m very aware and allow them to subside. So they are there, just not front and center. But for things like my perpetual frown it didn't, and I went further and tried to get rid of them.
I’m aware and have written that our ego mind is part of us and will always be a part of us.; it and true Buddha mind are just the polar ends of the mind’s continuum. Ego-mind will never go away. Beyond that fact, however, I have come to believe that whatever has been causing my facial muscles to be in a perpetual frown was so global, so in my bones, and not an emotion per se, that using the technique of “not me” just hadn’t worked. It wasn't an example of ego-mind at work.
Trying to get rid of these "problems" had given them strength instead. As the ancient Chinese poem "Affirming Faith in Mind" says, "seek rest and no rest comes instead." But opening up my heart to embrace this physical aspect of my psychology, while recognizing that it is “not me,” removed all internal struggle and I believe sort of smothered these negative feelings with love. I was made whole.
And as a result of this, I was able for the first time to know from within myself the truth of Pema Chodron’s teaching that we have everything we need to be happy and at peace inside ourselves. Only we can take that away. And by implication, we have the power to give it back. I felt an undefined faith and trust, and because I was one with my heart, I felt strong. And I smiled. I had finally discovered how to perfect turning my will and my life over to the care of my true Buddha nature ... by embracing all aspects of my being and experience.
And so that day when I was out and about, I felt my heart embrace me and I was aware throughout the day that I have everything I need to be at peace and happy inside myself, that regardless where I was or what was going on around me I would be happy if I only looked to myself. And I was indeed happy and at peace. I was aware of my surroundings, but all the things that usually pulled me away from my happiness, were just there with no power. And so I smiled, not purposefully, but naturally. And I felt that smile on my face all day accompanied by a joyful energy, and in the days since.
Update: July 13, 2019
Over the years of practicing the heart’s embrace , I have refined the practice to make it even more effective. It now consist of the following:
My true buddha self opens my heart to embrace all aspects of my being and experience … past, present, and future. Re the past, my heart embraces all past trauma, feels the pain, and allows it to heal. (Allow yourself a moment to feel that pain.) Re the present, my heart accepts that my life is the way it is right now at this moment and releases all desire that my life be different in any way from the way it is right now. Re the future, my heart’s attitude is que sera sera, I have faith that whatever life throws my way I will be ok, safe, because I have returned home and will always return home to my true Buddha nature and be at peace and happy.
And so nothing offends. All internal and external struggle cease to be. I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy. And I will allow nothing to interfere with that peace and happiness.
Why the refinement? As with other areas of practice, I found that the more specific one is as to what you are addressing, the better. When I used to say, “I embrace all aspects of my being and experience,” it was almost too easy to say and although it was a global statement it did not reach into all the corners of my samsara. Even when I added, “past, present, and future,” it still did not direct me to where I needed to go. When I recite the practice in its current version, my heart is directed to the key elements that the heart needs to embrace in order for me to be truly free of my ego-mind and thus at peace and happy. I have found it to be very helpful, a reminder of and connection to my true Buddha self’s attitude, as opposed to my ego-mind, and it continues to be a core component of my daily meditation practice.