True Refuge Webinar Blog

When I found out that Tara Brach, Ph.D., was going to be featured in a webinar hosted by The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), I immediately scheduled it into my google calendar so that I wouldn’t miss it.  Dr. Ruth Buczynski, President and Licensed Psychologist at NICABM, interviewed Tara about her latest book called True Refuge:  Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, one of my very favourite books of all time.

Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher in the United States.  Her book is a very practical guide which empowers her readers with the insight and tools on how to find our inner safe haven of peace and wisdom, particularly during times of stress and/or difficulty.  I have recommended this book to many clients and I think what gives it additional credibility is that she writes from a place of personal experience.  In her book she shares details of the struggles that she has experienced related to a complex medical condition which creates a significant amount of physical pain and functional limitations. Throughout the book, her use of real life examples from clients makes the concepts come to life and it’s easy to visualize how her tools and methods really work. 

In moments of suffering and stress, Tara explains that instead of stopping and feeling what we are actually feeling, we tend to live in a sort of ‘virtual reality’ in our thinking mind (stories, beliefs, thoughts about the past, the future, who we think we are).  When we experience unpleasant emotions and/or thoughts, she explains that our knee-jerk reaction is to turn toward false refuges, ex. worry; obsessive thinking; keeping extremely busy (overworking); striving to perform perfectly; overly taking care of others; turning toward things that numb/avoid our feelings such as alcohol, drugs or food; or tuning out (to any number of our devices which are always right there to distract us from our unpleasant feelings).  These refuges are false because they give us the illusion that we’re more in control but what they actually do is severely limit our ability to feel any emotion (when we turn off the unpleasant emotions, all of our emotions get blunted), to be present, and to experience joy/love/happiness.

In today’s webinar, Tara described how mindfulness has helped her clients to find that pause, to interrupt the automatic “chain reactions” that lead to the false refuges.  So, for example, one of her clients turned towards food every time she started feeling like there was a possibility that she might fail at something (whether that be work or social situations).  This client found that if she could PAUSE, even for a minute, deepen her attention, be mindful of her thoughts ex. “Something’s going to go wrong, I’m going to blow it”, in time, in those pauses, she began to be able to offer herself the message “It’s okay. Whatever it is.  You’re going to be okay”.  Tara made several references to the importance of learning to place a hand on our heart, especially in those moments of suffering/struggle, as a way to offer ourselves care inwardly.  This client was able to loosen the chain reactions and make room for moments where she was able to make other choices besides reaching for the food.

Tara emphasized that the key is to interrupt that chain – to be able to see the old pattern and how it gave temporary relief.  Mindfulness practice enables us to see things more clearly, to come into more presence and to open the opportunity to make a different choice, the ability to go from false refuge to True Refuge.  Discovering our True Refuge , which she also calls “coming home”, is returning to our true nature of love and awareness.   It also involves seeing things with mindful awareness and clarity, being present with whatever is showing up inside, honouring emotions and befriending them (in the body and not the proliferative thinking mind), healing and revering our sense of aliveness.