No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are

No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are

by Jack Kornfield

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451693706
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 06/12/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 144,487
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jack Kornfield, PhD, is one of the best known, most respected meditation teachers in the world. A psychologist and founder of two of the largest Buddhist centers and communities in America, he is one of the key teachers to introduce mindfulness to the West. His books, which include A Path with Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; and The Wise Heart, are classics, selling well over a million copies, and translated into twenty-one languages. Jack has taught at major universities and centers worldwide, including Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley; he teaches regular classes to four hundred at Spirit Rock in Marin County and to large crowds nationwide at retreats, conferences, and events. To learn more, please visit: JackKornfield.com or SpiritRock.org.

Read an Excerpt

CONTENTS

Invitation to Freedom

Part I – FREEDOM OF SPIRIT

1. Vastness Is Our Home

The Dance of Life • The One Who Knows • Sacred Stillness • Loving Awareness • Running from Hyenas • Rest in Love

Practice: Opening to Spacious Awareness 

                 Mind Like Sky

2. Free to Love
 The Beloved • Love's Many Faces • Grace and Angst • Respond with Love • The Sparkle in Your Eyes • Encounter with the Gods • Embodying Love • Love Baked Fresh • Blessing of Respect.

Practice: Lovingkindness
 

3. Trusting the Living Universe

Tending Our Garden • The Dance of Life • Wise Trust • Beyond Despair • Embraced by a Living Universe • Aging with Trust

Practice: Trust in the Big Picture

Trust Your Inner Knowing

Be Inspired by Trust

4. The Eternal Present

Touching the Eternal Present • Notice Now • Moral Mathematics of the Moment • Beginner’s Mind • How Then Shall We Live? • Finding Sanctuary • Timelessness of the Natural World • Lover of the Moment • Nous Sommes, We Are

Practice: Open to Timelessness

Part II – OBSTACLES TO FREEDOM

5. Fear of Freedom

 Trauma, Fear and Freedom • Self-Hatred • Trying to Please • Fear of Falling • Acting Flawlessly • Lean into the Wind

Practice: Entering Difficulties with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

6. Forgiveness

Forgiving Yourself and Another • Your Spirit Is Not Bound by Your History • Honoring the Past • Heart of Forgiveness • Courage and Clarity • True Release • I’m Going to Kill You • Letting Go: The Chord That Completes the Song

Practice: Forgiveness

7. Freedom from Troubled Emotions

Praying for Our Enemies • Powerful Inner Forces • Befriending the Trouble

 • Resolving Conflicts • Facing Demons • Dawn of Compassion

Practice: Compassion.

Practice with Troubled Emotions

Part III – REALIZING FREEDOM

8.  Elegance of Imperfection

Invitation to Care • Tyranny of Perfection • Wild, Uncharted, Imperfect Glory • Eyes of Love • What You Have Left • Mastery • It’s Already Broken

Practice: I See You Mara  

Practicing Imperfection

9. Gift of an Open Mind

Zen and the Art of Openness • Prejudice and Perspective • Breaking Barriers • Are You Sure? • Actually See Her • The Healing Power of Words • Heartfelt Communication

Practice: Is This True?

10. The Gift of Authenticity

You Were Born to Do This • Staying True • To Whom Are You Faithful? • Start Where You Are • Aware Inside, Calm Outside • Honoring Your Feelings • Desire • Free to Be Human

Practice: Being True

11. Free to Dream

Express Your Heart • “Bird Got My Wings” • They’re Your Dreams • Crafting Your Life • Conscious and True • The Currents of Life • Dream Big and Dance

Practice: You Are An Artist

Part IV – LIVING FREEDOM

12. Deliver Your Gifts

Free to Act • Vision and Action • Bring Your Gift • Selfless Service • The World Needs You • Your Very Flesh Shall Be a Poem

Practice: Deliver Your Gifts

13. Live in Mystery

Not Far Away • The Mystery of Incarnation • The Earth Is Breathing You • Beyond History and Self • Interbeing: You Are Not Alone • Everyone Gains • Outer and Inner Freedom • Emptiness Is Our Home • Vision • “I Told You So”

Practice: Open to Mystery

   Just Like Me

14. The Joy of Being Alive

Happiness for No Cause • Bouncing for Joy • Gateways to Joy • Gratefulness • Pure Heart • You Deserve Happiness • Wonderful! • It’s in Your Hands • Coursing in Gratitude
 
 
Invitation to Freedom
 
Dear friends, after more than forty years teaching mindfulness and compassion to thousands on the spiritual path, the most important message I can offer is this: You don't have to wait to be free. You don't need to postpone being happy.
All too often these beautiful spiritual practices of mindfulness and compassion become entwined with a vision of self-discipline and duty. We see them as taking us through a long road of obstacles that leads eventually to distant benefits. Yes, there is hard work of the heart and there are demanding cycles in our lives. Yet wherever you are on your journey, there is another wonderful truth called “Living the Fruit” or “Starting with the Result.” The fruits of well-being and the experience of joy, freedom, and love are available now, whatever your circumstance!
When Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island prison after twenty-seven years of incarceration, he did so with such dignity, magnanimity, and forgiveness that his spirit transformed South Africa and inspired the world. Like Mandela, you can be free and dignified wherever you find yourself. Inner freedom is not reserved for exceptional people. No one can imprison your spirit.
When your boss calls and you feel fear or anxiety, when someone in your family is in conflict or duress, when you feel overwhelmed by the world, you have choices. You can be bound and constricted or you can use this difficulty to open and discover what’s next in your unfolding journey. Sometimes life gives us ease, sometimes it is challenging, and sometimes profoundly painful.  Whatever your circumstances, you can take a breath, soften your gaze, and remember that courage and freedom are within, waiting to awaken. Even under the direst conditions, freedom of spirit is available. Freedom of spirit is mysterious, magnificent, and simple. We are free and able to love in this life—no matter what.
Deep down we know this is true. We know it whenever we feel a part of something greater—listening to music, making love, walking in the mountains or swimming in the sea,  sitting at the mystery of a dying loved one as her spirit leaves her body silently as a falling star, or witnessing the miraculous birth of a child.  At times like these, a joyful openness swells through our body and our heart is surrounded by peace.
Sara, a single mom with two kids, found out that her eight-year-old daughter Alicia had leukemia. Sara was terrified, anxious, grieving the loss of her child’s health, scared that she would lose her. For the first year, Alicia went through long rounds of chemotherapy, hospital stays, and doctors. A fearful sadness filled the house and anxiety colored Sara’s days. Then, one afternoon when they were out on a walk, Alicia said, “Mama, I don’t know how long I’m going to live, but I want them to be happy days.”
Her words were a splash of cold water on her mother’s face. Sara realized that she had to step out of the fearful melodrama to meet her daughter’s freedom of mind with her own, to return to a trusting spirit. Sara grabbed her daughter and did a little waltz, holding her tight. Her fear dissipated. And in time, Alicia healed. She is now twenty-two and just graduated from college.
But even if she hadn’t healed, what kind of days would you have had her choose? You can’t do much with your life if you’re miserable. You might as well be happy.
 
When I was eight-years old, on an especially bitter windy winter day, my brothers and I dressed in jackets and scarves and gloves and went out to play in the snow. I was skinny as a rail and shivering with cold. My twin brother, Irv, stronger, wilder, and more robust, looked at me, contracted and fearful, and laughed. Then he began to remove layers of clothing, first the gloves, his coat, then a sweater, his shirt, undershirt, all the while laughing. He danced and paraded around half-naked in the snow, the icy wind whipping around us. We were all wide-eyed, laughing hysterically.
In that moment, my brother taught me about choosing freedom, manifesting a spirit that to this day I still remember. Whether we’re in a wildly blowing snowstorm or feeling the cold wind of loss, blame, or insecurity, we want to be free. We want to be released from fear and worry, not confined by judgments. We want to allow ourselves to trust, love, express ourselves, and be happy.
Each chapter of this book is an invitation to experience a particular dimension of freedom—freedom of spirit, freedom to start over, freedom beyond fear, freedom to be yourself, freedom to love, freedom to be happy. There are stories, reflections, teachings, and practices that illuminate how we get stuck and how we can free ourselves. This isn’t a book that you read just to make yourself feel better for a little while, then put on your shelf. Finding freedom is an active process that engages your intellect, your heart, and your whole spirit. The means and the goal are one—be yourself, dream, trust, and act. May each chapter awaken your spirit and bring you joy.

You can choose your spirit. Freedom, Love, and Joy are yours, in your very life, your exact circumstance. They are your birthright.
Jack Kornfield
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Spring 2017
 

                                                    
Part I
FREEDOM OF SPIRIT
 
“What do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver

 
Chapter 1
VASTNESS IS OUR HOME
“Sometimes I go about pitying myself, when all the while
I am being carried by great winds across the sky.” —Ojibwa saying

            We are being carried on a luminous star, sharing in the dance of life with seven billion beings like us. Vastness is our home. When we recognize the spaciousness that is our universe, around us and within us, the door of freedom opens. Worries and conflicts fall into perspective, emotions are held with ease, and we act in the world with peace and dignity.
The Dance of Life
Whitney was caught in midlife troubles. Her mother was scheduled for hip surgery and her father was suffering from early-stage Alzheimer’s. She wanted her parents to continue living in their home in Illinois, but their disabilities made independent living challenging. Whitney’s brother in St. Louis was not involved and wanted his sister to “take care of it.” So Whitney took a month’s leave from work and went to her parents’ home to help. When she arrived, the house was in shambles. Her mom needed time to heal from the surgery, and her father was unable to care for himself. They could not afford round-the-clock care, and it was clear they would have to move.
            Whitney took a walk up a hillside she’d known since childhood. She didn’t want to lose the family home; she wanted her parents to stay there until the end—and she didn’t want to lose her parents. She wept as she walked, but when she reached the top of the hill, she sat quietly,  calmed herself and looked across the vast Midwestern fields stretching to the horizon. The sky was filled with cumulus clouds bringing shade to the many small houses clustered at the edge of town and beyond.
Facing this unbounded vastness, she suddenly felt less alone. She could sense how everything has its rhythm—arriving and departing, flourishing and struggling, coming into being and fading away. How many people, she wondered, are in the same predicament we are right now? As she breathed with more ease, her mind opened further. I am not the only person with aging parents. It is part of the human journey., And as the space within her opened, she felt more trust.
We can all see this way. We can gain a broader perspective. With a spacious heart, we can remember the bigger picture. Even when illness strikes, a parent is dying, or any other form of loss is upon us, we can recognize that it’s a part of life’s seasons.
What would it feel like to love the whole kit and caboodle—to make our love bigger than our sorrows. Among the multitudes of humans, many are experiencing loss and change. Many need renewal. And the world keeps turning, farmers growing food,  markets trading,  musicians playing. We live in the midst of a great and ever-changing paradox.
Breathe. Relax. Live each day one at a time.
The One Who Knows
As your spacious heart opens, you can rediscover the vast perspective you’d almost forgotten. Spacious heart reveals the spacious mind. This is the mind that, after you’ve stubbed your toe, hopped around, and howled, finally laughs. The mind that, when you are upset with your partner, goes to sleep and wakes up, and sees that what was such a big deal has fallen into perspective.
Your spacious mind is the natural awareness that knows and accommodates everything. My meditation teacher in the forests of Thailand, Ajahn Chah, called it “The One Who Knows.” He said this is the original nature of mind, the silent witness, spacious consciousness. His instructions were simple: Become witness to it all, the person with perspective, the One Who Knows.
Pay attention to the movie showing in your life right now. Notice the plot. It might be an adventure, a tragedy, a romance, a soap opera, or a battle. “All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. Sometimes you get caught in the plot. But remember, you are also the audience. Take a breath. Look around. Become witness to it all, the spacious awareness, The One Who Knows.
I sat at the bedside of a woman with pancreatic cancer near the end of her days. She was only thirty-one-years old. We looked in one another’s eyes, and the layers just peeled away. Her skinny body, her gender, poetic accomplishment, her family and friends. I was graced to be a witness to her spirit. “How’s it going?” I asked, with great gentleness. “It looks like this incarnation is going to be over soon. It’s okay. It’s natural to die, you know.” And what peered back through her deep, knowing eyes were vastness, tenderness, and a timeless freedom.
Rest in spacious awareness and feel the presence of love. The One Who knows becomes the loving witness of all things. You become loving awareness itself. The freedom of loving awareness is available; it just takes practice for you to remember it, and to trust that it is always here. When you feel lost, stuck in a tiny part of the big picture, contracted, or caught up, take a breath and visualize yourself stepping back. With a spacious mind, you can witness even these contracted states and hold them in loving awareness.
 Relax. With loving awareness you can notice your feelings, your thoughts, your circumstances. Just now. Even as you read this book, witness the one reading and smile at him or her with loving awareness. Begin each morning with loving awareness. Tune in to the space around you, the space outside, the huge landscape that spreads across the continent. Feel the vastness of the sky and of the space that holds the moon and planets and galaxies.
Let your mind and heart become that space. Breathe into your heart. Observe the clouds floating in the endless sky and become the sky. The clouds are not just outside; they are in you as well. Feel the landscape, the trees, the mountains and buildings all arising in your own heart. Let yourself open, merge into space with love. Relax and rest in the immensity that surrounds you, the immensity that is you.  Notice how vast loving awareness can be.
As The One Who Knows, witness it all, let loving awareness make room for everything: boredom and excitement, fear and trust, pleasure and pain, birth and death.
Sacred Stillness
When you walk into a shaded grove of giant redwoods or into a great cathedral, a sacred stillness descends. As spaciousness opens within you, you can experience a profound silence in your very being. You may feel nervous at first, and at the same time, you’ve longed for this. This is the vast silence that surrounds life. Trust it, and rest in the stillness. Feel your heart open and become more fully alive. Everything that arises from this silence is only a cloud in the vast sky, a wave on the ocean. Rest in the depths of silence.
Vastness is the nature of consciousness. If you gaze at it directly, you’ll discover the mind is transparent, spacious, that it has no boundaries, your heart as wide as the world. As you open to this vastness, you can allow the waves of life to arise and pass. In silence, you’ll see the mystery giving birth to life, to thoughts and feelings and sense perceptions. The waves of the world rise and fall, expand and contract, the heart beats, cerebral spinal fluid pulses, there are ever-changing rhythms in the phases of the moon, the changing of seasons, the cycles of a woman’s body, the turning galaxies, and the stock market too.
Begin to notice that there are pauses between the waves, gaps between breaths and between thoughts. At first these seem fleeting, but gradually you’ll be able to rest in these pauses. As the waves rise and fall, you become silent loving awareness itself. This silence is not withdrawal, indifference, or punishment. It is not the absence of thoughts. It is spacious and refreshing, a tender stillness from which you can learn, listen, and look deeply.
Loving Awareness
Notice how loving awareness fills time and space. This is the mystery witnessing itself. In loving awareness, the river of thoughts and images flows without judgment. With loving awareness, you experience the stream of feelings without being afraid, falling under their spell, or grasping too tightly. Delight and anxiety, anger, tenderness and longing, even grief and tears are all welcome. And loving awareness encourages the full measure of joy, inviting well-being to grow.
As you rest in loving awareness, trust grows. You trust the universe to run itself, and you trust your awareness to hold it all. I remember when I first learned to swim in the university pool. I was a shivering, skinny, seven-year old. I flailed and bobbed around. And then, one moment, being held by the instructor as I lay on my back, he removed his hand and I realized I could float. It was magic. I learned to swim. In the same way, you can learn to trust loving awareness. It will always hold you.
As an experiment, try not to be aware. Take thirty seconds right now and stop being aware of any sense impressions, thoughts, feelings, and so forth. Try hard. Even if you close your eyes and plug your ears, it doesn’t work, does it? You can’t stop it. Awareness is always here.
Like the fish that can’t see the water, you cannot see awareness directly. But you can experience it and therefore trust it. Loving awareness is spacious, open, transparent, silent, vast, and responsive like a mirror. You can always return to it. It is timeless, awake, and appreciative. Loving awareness sees without possessing. It allows, honors, connects, and dances with life as it is. It appreciates but does not grasp experiences or things. Author Steven Wright elucidates, “I have the world’s largest collection of seashells. I keep it on all the beaches of the world. Perhaps you’ve seen it.”
Running from Hyenas
Benjamin, age sixty-four, lost more than half his retirement savings in the 2008 economic crisis. He knew that he and his wife were better off than others whose mortgages went underwater and were losing their homes, but he became almost sick with anxiety. He checked the stock market ten times a day. His dreams were filled with images of drowning, being chased by hyenas, losing his way. His family told him to stop obsessing, but he didn’t know how. When he came to his first meditation class, it was nearly impossible for him to sit still. Anxiety generated feelings in his body that were hard to accept, and his mind was racing. Should he pull his remaining money out of the badly lowered stocks? Might he lose more by abandoning a questionable real estate venture?
At the second class he attended, I led a guided meditation on space, inviting vast open awareness to surround body and mind. Students listened to the Tibetan bells in the room and the distant traffic and voices outside, listening as though their minds were as big as the sky and all the sounds were clouds within it. This experience brought Benjamin a sense of relief, and he bought a meditation CD to take home. After that, when anxious thoughts woke him in the night, he had a way to work with them. With vast space as his mantra, the grip of his obsession began to loosen. Now he had some perspective. He knew how to safeguard what remained of his money and invest more conservatively. He also relaxed the need to imagine he could control the future. Freed from obsessive thoughts, he was able to be present with his family again.
Shifts like Benjamin’s are possible for everyone. We all remember times we’ve felt spacious and calm. We listen better, see more clearly, exercise more perspective. With spacious awareness, our inner life becomes clearer too. Difficult emotions get clarified, their energy freed. Depression reveals its message about hurt, anger, and unmet needs. Fearful stories, when seen clearly, are lovingly open to release. The freedom of a spacious mind and heart is always available. Turn toward it. Open to vastness whenever you can. Become the sky of loving awareness.
Rest in Love
Spaciousness, awareness, and love are intertwined. Frank Ostaseski, cofounder of Zen Hospice in San Francisco, tells this story:
There was a fellow I worked with who asked if I could teach him to meditate. He was in a lot of pain. He had terminal stomach cancer, and I said okay, we’ll give it a try. So we oriented his attention toward physical sensations, except that when he started to go toward these sensations, it was too much for him and he started screaming, “I can’t, it’s too much. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” I said okay, let’s try something else and I put my hand on his stomach and said how’s that? He said oh, that hurts too much. I said okay, and so I put my hands near his feet. He said oh, that’s a little better. I said okay, and I put my hands further away from him. And he said, “That’s lovely actually.” There was no energetic work here, no California voodoo stuff. Just an opening to more and more space. And then his words came, not mine, not my meditation instruction: “Oh, rest in love, rest in love.” So whenever he’d get in trouble with his pain from then on, he would push his morphine pump and then just repeat to himself, “Rest in love, rest in love.” It’s really simple.
Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, anything you give space to can be transformed. Whatever the situation, widen the space; remember vastness; allow ease and perspective. Spaciousness is the doorway to freedom. Your spacious heart is your true home.

 
 
PRACTICE
Opening to Spacious Awareness
Think of a time in your life when you felt the most expansive, open, and loving. It may have been walking in the mountains, looking at the night sky filled with stars, or after the birth of a child. Remember how vast spacious awareness feels in your body. How it feels in the heart. Let the mind quiet. Remember how silent it was, how present you could be.
Now close your eyes. Feel that same vastness here and now. Relax and become the space of loving awareness that can allow sunshine, storm clouds, lightning, praise and blame, gain and loss, expansion and contraction, the world endlessly giving birth to itself, all with your gracious and peaceful heart.
 

Table of Contents

Invitation to Freedom 1

Part 1 Freedom of Spirit

l Vastness Is Our Home 9

The Dance of Life

The One Who Knows

Sacred Stillness

Loving Awareness

Running from Hyenas

Rest in Love

Practice: Opening to Spacious Awareness

Practice: Mind Like the Sky

2 Free to Love 21

The Beloved

Love's Many Faces

Grace and Angst

Respond with Love

The Sparkle in Your Eyes

Encounter with the Gods

Embodying Love

Love Baked Fresh

Blessing of Respect

Practice: Lovingkindness Meditation

3 Trusting the Living Universe 41

Tending Our Garden

The Dance of Life

Wise Trust

Beyond Despair

Embraced by a Living Universe

Aging with Trust

Practice: Trust in the Big Picture

Practice: Trust Your Inner Knowing

Practice: Be Inspired by Trust

4 The Eternal Present 59

Touching the Eternal Present

Notice Now

Moral Mathematics of the Moment

Beginner's Mind

How Then Shall We Live?

Finding Sanctuary a Timelessness of the Natural World

Lover of the Moment

That's for You

Practice: Open to Timelessness

Part 2 Obstacles to Freedom

5 Fear of Freedom 79

Trauma, Fear, and Freedom

Self-Hatred

Trying to Please

Fear of Falling

Acting Flawlessly

Lean into the Wind

Practice: Entering Difficulties with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

6 Forgiveness 97

Forgiving Yourself and Another

Your Spirit Is Not Bound by Your History

Honoring the Past

Heart of Forgiveness

Courage and Clarity

True Release

I'm Going to Kill You

Letting Go: The Chord That Completes the Song

Practice: Forgiveness Meditation

7 Freedom from Troubled Emotions 115

Praying for Our Enemies

Powerful Inner Forces

Befriending the Trouble

Resolving Conflicts

Facing Demons

Dawn of Compassion

Practice: Compassion

Practice: Practice with Troubled Emotions

Part 3 Realizing Freedom

8 Elegance of Imperfection 135

Invitation to Care

Tyranny of Perfection

Wild, Uncharted, Imperfect Glory

Eyes of Love

What You Have Left

Mastery

It's Already Broken

Practice: I See You, Mara

Practice: Practicing Imperfection

9 The Gift of an Open Mind 153

Zen and the Art of Openness

Prejudice and Perspective

Breaking Barriers

Are You Sure?

Actually See Her

The Healing Power of Words

Heartfelt Communication

Practice: Is This True?

10 The Gift of Authenticity 169

You Were Born to Do This

Staying True

To Whom Are You Faithful?

Start Where You Are

Aware Inside, Calm Outside

Honoring Your Feelings

Desire

Free to Be Human

Practice: Being True

11 Free to Dream 185

Express Your Heart

"Bird Got My Wings"

They're Your Dreams

Crafting Your Life

Conscious and True

The Currents of Life

Dream Big and Dance

Practice: You Are an Artist

Part 4 Living Freedom

12 Deliver Your Gifts 201

Free to Act

Try Again

Vision and Action

Bring Your Gift

Selfless Service

The World Needs You

Your Very Flesh Shall Be a Poem

Practice: Deliver Your Gifts

13 Freedom in Challenging Times 219

Our Challenge

Listen with Your Heart

Join the Web of Care

Blessed Unrest

Lead with Humanity

Strategic and Strong

You Have Been Training for This

Practice: Stand Up

14 Live in Mystery 241

Not Far Away

The Mystery of Incarnation

The Earth Is Breathing You

Beyond History and Self

Interbeing: You Are Not Alone

Everyone Gains

Outer and Inner Freedom

Emptiness Is Our Home

Vision

"I Told You So"

Practice: Open to Mystery

Practice: just Like Me

15 The Joy of Being Alive 267

Happiness for No Cause

Bouncing for Joy

Gratefulness

Pure Heart

You Deserve Happiness

Wonderful!

It's in Your Hands

Coursing in Gratitude

Acknowledgments and Bows of Gratitude 283

Index 285

Credits 299

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