Cultivating Fierce Open Receptivity

Being receptive to all parts of life—good, bad, neutral—introduces more choice into our lives. When we welcome everything we are less likely to rush to judgement and more likely to be informed by life.

I’d like to help us explore openness today. And I have an invitation that I think might be helpful to you in your practice: Welcome everything. Wish away nothing. Welcome everything. Wish away nothing. 

Now, to welcome something doesn’t mean we have to like it. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. It just means we have to be willing to meet it. To welcome something asks us to temporarily suspend our rush to judgment and just to be open to what’s occurring. It’s a reminder that our job is simply to meet what’s at our front door. 

I had a friend who went to see a very eminent psychiatrist named Sidney, and in the last few years of his life he developed Alzheimer’s disease, so he couldn’t recall faces or remember names so well. So when my friends went to his house, they rang the doorbell. He opened the door and for a moment he just stood there, a bit confused and stunned. Then he said, “I’m really sorry, I can’t recall people’s names anymore. But I know this is my house, and my house has always been a place where people were welcomed. So if you are on my front doorstep I know my job is to invite you in.” 

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Cultivating Fierce Open Receptivity

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Beyond Preferences

Welcome everything. Wish away nothing. We like the familiar. We like the certain. We like our preferences to be met. In fact, we have been taught that our happiness is dependent upon those preferences being met. But inevitably in our life change comes along. We lose our job; we move to another city; our pet dies. A sense of continuity and certainty is disturbed. For most of us, when uncertainty shows its face, our response is resistance. We want to get rid of these difficult experiences like unwanted houseguests. But our work really is to welcome them in, to include them in our meditation practice, in life. 

When I encourage receptivity here I’m not suggesting that we should let life walk all over us—not at all. I think when we welcome something it gives us options. We can get to know it. We can find a skillful response to whatever’s emerging in our life. The great African-American writer James Baldwin, he said, “There are many things in life that we must face that we cannot change, but nothing can be changed if it’s not faced.” 

The opposite of being open is being closed—being stuck in denial and resistance. Denial breeds ignorance. We can’t be free if we are rejecting any part of ourselves. With welcoming comes the ability to work with what is pleasant and what is unpleasant. And after a while we begin to discover that our happiness isn’t determined simply by what is external in our life, but also what is internal. 

Discovering Reality

Openness is the key characteristic of a curious mind. It doesn’t determine reality. It discovers it. Openness embraces paradox and contradiction. Openness is about keeping our minds and hearts available to new information, to let our self be informed by life. It welcomes the good times and the bad times as an equally valid experience. Openness is the basis of a skillful response to life. 

At the deepest level, this is the invitation to fearless receptivity. Fearlessness doesn’t mean we have no fear. It means fear is not the only thing in the room. When there’s openness, when there’s awareness, we can be conscious of the fear. And then we have a choice: we can function from the fear, or we can function from the awareness of the fear. To welcome everything and push away nothing: this can’t be done as an act of will. This is an act of love. 

Mostly we think of mindfulness as bringing a very precise attention to what’s happening as it’s happening. We bring a careful moment-to-moment attention to sensation, to thought, to emotions. But sometimes this kind of precise attention can create a sort of tension or struggle in the mind. Then it’s more useful to try a practice that cultivates an open, boundless awareness. One teaching says: develop a mind that is vast like space. Allow pleasant and unpleasant experiences to appear and disappear without struggle, resistance or harm. Develop a mind that’s vast like the sky. One type of awareness isn’t better than another type of awareness. They’re just skillful means to help us cultivate wisdom and our trust in awareness itself. 

So let’s settle back, let’s relax. 

Follow the Practice:

1. Come into the breath and body. Maybe let your eyes close, if that feels comfortable for you. Let your breathing be very natural. 

2. Begin by being aware of the various sensations in your body: pressure, movement, tingling; the feel of the air on your hands and face. Let the sounds come and go. For a moment, see if you can let go of the idea of arms and legs and a body. Just feel the waves of sensation. 

3. Become aware of the area above your head. How far does it extend? Let your awareness sense what’s to the left of you, what’s to the right of you. Let awareness come into the area below your body. Is there any vibration in your feet or the floor? Let your awareness extend to the area behind your body until it fills the whole room. Let your awareness be aware of what’s in front of the body—extending out as far as it possibly can. So there’s this sense of openness: boundless space. And all the activities of body, of heart, of mind are appearing and disappearing in that open, welcoming space. Allow all experience to arise without any interference—no inside, no outside. Relax your ownership of thoughts. You can see the difference between being lost in thought and being mindful of thought. 

It’s like when a sound occurs in the room or a bird flies by. You just notice the sound of the bird. You don’t think it’s you. Let it be that way with your thoughts and sensations: everything coming, everything going in a vast, open space. It could be helpful to think about what happens when you walk into a room. Most people see the chairs or tables or the objects in the room and fail to see the space. Let yourself be aware of the space surrounding all the activity, all the coming and going. Remember, whatever we can give space to can move. Keep allowing all the thoughts, all the sensations, all the feelings to rise and disappear in the vast spaciousness like clouds in the sky. 

4. Finally, let your attention come to the awareness itself. Vast, transparent, clear, not disturbed by anything that’s coming and going. 

Welcome everything. Wish away nothing. 

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About the author

Frank Ostaseski

Frank Ostaseski is a meditation teacher who cofounded the Zen Hospice Project. In 2004, he went on to create the Metta Institute to provide innovative educational programs and professional training to foster compassionate, mindfulness-based care.

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