Remembering our Personal and Universal Nature


Ajahn Chah, teacher to Jack Kornfield, says:

You should know both the universal and the personal, the realm of forms and the freedom to not cling to them. The forms of the world have their place, but in another way there is nothing there. To be free, we need to respect both of these truths.

Jack Kornfield starts his chapter on the 6th Buddhist psychology principle with that quote and goes on to say:

In the simplest language, we are spiritual beings incarnated into human form. We need to remember our ZIP code as well as our Buddha nature.

I love Jack Kornfield’s ability to have humor in his deeply spiritual and human work. One of his books is entitled ‘After the ecstasy, the laundry’! 

Even though the last two weeks have been around the first and second Buddhist psychology principles, I felt really drawn to the sixth principle this week. The sixth Buddhist psychology principle states:

Our life has universal and personal nature. Both dimensions must be respected if we are to be happy and free.

Oscillating between these two realms – personal and universal

I have to admit, this principle had me really thinking and feeling. And at this point in my journey with the concepts, I’ve come to feel that dance of life. And, have come to really notice within my body just how much of a beautiful oscillation in the whole spectrum between these two realms there is in any given moment of my life.

In my A.L.I.G.N. one-on-one work, I have the honor to hold space and witness it within my clients. In my Thai massage practice, I have the honor to watch and feel, in real time, a shift from the personal to the Universal; and then to see in the receiver’s eyes, that glow of the divine when they slowly arise from the experience of being lovingly moved and touched.  

It’s what I also pray for when I guide my yoga classes. My hope and prayer is for each and every individual to truly feel their deep worth and worthiness, beyond labels of who they are and what they do. Even as we dive into sometimes challenging content, those concepts of life that can be difficult to approach, are wrapped in love and tenderness. That we each arise from our corpse poses as the brilliant Light beings that we are, and remembering that we are love and are so deserving to receive love.

To embody and symbolize these truths, we used the Chin Mudra, pictured above. This seal and gesture of the hands is representative of that connection of the universal and personal selves. Chin Mudra is the consciousness gesture.

Think of the personal as everything here on earth. Your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and all other beings and things. Even Mother Nature herself. The personal, as Jack wrote, is the remembering of your ZIP code, remembering to brush your teeth, allowing yourself to feel the whole wide array of human emotions, taking care of the planet, taking care of each other, and so much more.

The universal is that big picture. It’s the realization that we are infinite beings of vibration and Universal consciousness. The universal is our spirit as prayer, as hope, as love.  The universal are those awe-inspiring, and heart opening moments of connection, no matter where, when, or how they happen.

In the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form, it says:

Experience this world as a bubble, a wave, and illusion, a dream.

Jack Kornfield writes after this quote,

The universal dimension is the big picture. When we remember the selflessness of all things, our life falls into perspective. The universal dimension reminds us that all things on earth are transitory, tentative, appearing out of emptiness and then disappearing.

I find it, in my personal and humble opinion, necessary to remember this nature of ourselves everyday. This is where the oscillation between personal and universal can play positively in our lives.  

How can we remind ourselves each day of our universal nature and truth? And why might this be important?

Sometimes we do this through meditation, sometimes we might do this through moving our physical form in mindful and intentional practices, and sometimes a sense or a vision or a sound tickles our heart in the most joyful and peaceful ways.

So we can take action and remember our universal Nature, and sometimes from the personal nature here on Earth, we receive an unexpected experience that just cracks our heart wide open. I always reference the beauty of the sun rises and sunsets here.

Or an unexpected connection with a stranger in which we see each other’s universal natures through a conversation or an interaction or just a confirming smile as we pass each other on the sidewalk that says, “I see you, I know life is hard right now, and you are so loved and seen right now.” (Okay, maybe not all of that is said with a knowing smile, but we can hold that intention and message in our hearts! Lol!)

This is important so that we do not get lost in the worry, fear, and doubt. This is important so that we can remember our important place in all of life in a positive manner. This is important so that we can offer this way of seeing to another human being. This is important so that we can see just how important it is to take care of ourself, each other, and the planet.

But don’t forget about form in the midst of all the universal beauty!

If you tell a Zen master everything is like a dream, she will take her stick and whack you over the head. Then she will ask,”Is that a dream? Focusing on the big picture alone is not enough. Form must be honored.

-Jack Kornfield, ‘The Wise Heart’

I loved that little story! It literally had me laugh out loud as I read it. And it made me smile from my heart because it was so refreshing!

It just brings it to the grounds level, that sort of grassroots level that her minds us how important it is to remind ourselves to eat, drink good water, and sleep. To be able to take care of ourself enough to function on a daily level.


Here we see how the universal can support us in stepping into, more easily at least, practices of gratitude for what we have. Practices of seeing the beauty of what’s directly in front of us.  Empowering us to show up where we’re called. Empowering us to help out our fellow human beings, and to even speak and take actions for those who cannot share their voice, and to stand with those whose voices have been silenced for decades. 

Or to put this more simply, we become present. We become fully present in the moment with all of our attention, letting even concepts, judgments, names fall away. We just offer an open heart and listening ears with our loving attention.

“Buddhist psychology believes that healing occurs as we learn to move from the realm of concepts to the world of direct experience. Our mental concepts and ideas about things, about people, objects, or feelings, are static and unchanging. But the reality of experience is an ever-changing river. Direct perception drops beneath the names of things to show us their ephemeral, mysterious nature. When we bring our attention to the direct perception of experience, we become more alive and free.”

-Jack Kornfield

And I feel called here just to remind even my heart, let alone your heart, to be gentle with yourself. To be loving to yourself. If you’ve ever had a spiritual awakening, a heart opening moment, a weekend experience of deep inner exploration that has left you beautifully open and raw, be gentle with yourself.  Perhaps you’ve taken a trip to another place on this planet, another country, another culture, and upon coming home you had culture shock.  Take it slow on your re-entry back into the reality of day-to-day living. 

So I’ll close this blog, using Jack cornfield’s words again because they’re so beautiful. I invite you to really get grounded before reading these words and to center yourself. Really allow yourself to receive these words and then carry them in your heart the rest of the day.

“When we remember who we really are, we bring together the universal with the personal. Instead of becoming more disembodied or rigidly spiritual, we have a sense of humor about the whole dance of life, and everything becomes easier and lighter.

We can care for the hydrangeas in our garden, watch our cholesterol, speak out against injustice, and raise money for tsunami and earthquake survivors. And we can meet each person in his or her or their nobility and timeless beauty, beyond age, gender, and race.

We can accept the ever-changing seasons of life and know they’re fleeting, ephemeral dance. Honoring the paradox of our true nature, we can laugh with wisdom and tenderly care for the precious days we are given.”

All my love,


Breathe and Believe