A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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The Power of Confession


I recently attended a webinar by well-known author and teacher, Caroline Myss, who happens to come from the Catholic tradition. During the Q&A the question of confession came up. The questioner expressed the need to confess but lacking a spiritual community did not know how to find someone to whom they could offer their confession. Many of us have felt the pain of guilt and, like the webinar attendee, have also felt the need to confess with nowhere to turn for relief. I was moved to share this because I believe guilt to be one of the most unnecessary and destructive emotions we can harbor.

I too was raised Catholic and grew up practicing confession. In the Church, confession is a sacrament that takes place between the practitioner and her priest. I am now a practicing Buddhist, and for the past eleven years, I have come to understand and employ a form of confession that is different from what I learned as young Catholic. Buddhist confession does not require the presence of another person, yet it can be just as powerful. I have come to enjoy this aspect of my practice and the relief this daily act of confession provides.

Clear Purification

All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please heed me!

Please purify all my negative karma and emotions.

In front of all Buddhas, I honestly confess all my mistakes.

I sincerely regret all my harmful intentions and actions.

I completely eliminate all my negative thinking and emotions.

I completely eliminate all my afflictions and negative karma.

All my negative thinking, let go. Let go!

All my negative emotions, let go. Let go!

All my unhappy feelings, let go. Let go!

All my trauma, let go. Let go!

All my regret, let go. Let go!

All my guilt, let go. Let go!

Let go! Let go! Let go!

~ from The Buddha Path written by H.E. Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche

This prayer exemplifies the Nine Powers of Purification. When all steps are included, the practitioner engages a profound cleansing purification. When repeated daily or whenever necessary, much negative karma can be cleaned, leaving the practitioner feeling a sense of lightness and peace.

The Nine Powers of Purification

  1. The Power of Visualization  Clearly visualize the object of your prayer, in this case we might visualize Buddha Shakyamuni as our guide.
  2. The Power of Supplication Here we really want to feel as though we are making a sincere plea. The more emotion, the stronger the healing effect.
  3. The Power of Confession   Admitting our mistake, saying our mistake out loud, naming our mistake is a necessary first step.
  4. The Power of Regret    We spend some time in regret, remembering our mistake, but remember that regret is like soap. It must be washed off to work.
  5. The Power of Decision  Only we can decide to let go of our mistakes. The power of decision is a necessary step toward the purification we seek.
  6. The Power of Antidote  The antidote is the healing. The healing is in the act of letting go. For that reason we use a physical mudra,  a clutching or grasping our hands into a fist, then thrusting our open hands outward in a releasing gesture. This feels wonderful and engages body, speech and mind for a thorough cleansing effect.
  7. The Power of Commitment   Of course we are human and we will make more mistakes. But by making a positive commitment we increase our own power to make and keep positive aspirations. That is why we call it “practice.”
  8. The Power of Healing Mantra Repeating mantra is the swiftest way to restore positive thinking. In our practice we use, Om Badzra Sattwa Hung. An alternative might be, “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.”
  9. The Power of Certainty  We reserve our doubting for contemplation. We do not hold doubt during our meditation. The more strongly we can hold and feel certain, the more healing the meditation. The more we repeat what we know, with certainty and feeling, the more strongly our meditation heals us.

Confession works. Confessing in front of others is powerful. But it’s not the only way. By remembering that our thinking is powerful, a daily repetition of this Clear Purification Practice can be a profound healing exercise.

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What’s Death Got to Do with Love?

DSC00094What’s death got to do with love? Everything.

Before you accuse me of being morbid, stop and think about the symbolism here: we’ve just ended one year and jump-started a new one. This bardo between one year and another is the perfect time to contemplate which endings will spring forth with new life.

In contemplating my own year, with its various endings, I can’t help but think how they pale in comparison to those of my sister, who lost her only son last February. Despite her enormous grief, she says in one of her last Facebook posts of 2014:

“Goodbye 2014. It’s been the hardest year of my life but I’m still happy! I have so much to be thankful for this year and that’s what is most important! I have some amazing friends and family that I love with all my heart and can honestly say that without them I would have not survived! I’m learning new things and learning how to create a different way to live in a life that is different but great also! Happy new year to all and I love everyone that is part of my world!!!!”

Wise words from a woman who has learned firsthand that death is part of love.

Not every death is so literal. In Chapter Five of the classic volume about the deep feminine, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.”

The best film I’ve seen on this subject matter is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1961.  My husband and I watched the film for the first time a few nights ago and Pinkola Estés might have been summarizing the plot in the paragraph above. I was stunned by the similarities in theme. Breathless is as fresh and alive as the day it was released. I prefer the French title, “A Bout de Souffle,” which literally means “the end of breath.” The black and white movie explores the themes of letting go of our illusions of love and romance and does it in alternating thrilling, poignant and funny moments.

It doesn’t take much deep thinking to see that our culture has an unnatural insistence on permanence. Whether we are fixated on maintaining unwrinkled faces and tight buns well beyond middle age or we have an unrealistic expectation that the Dow will rise indefinitely, these will never be the natural state of affairs.

In all things, even in love, impermanence rules. Knowing this is the key to being present, again and again, to our lives and to our relationships.

What are you willing to let die so that love may flourish?