This past week was just plain overwhelming for me. Not in any usual sense. The cats and I watched TV. I went for a couple of walks with friends. I went about my routine, ate my meals, checked in with clients, got my hair cut and even gave a talk.
None of that was overwhelming. What was overwhelming was that while I was doing what I was doing, people in different parts of the country were killing each other. People in other parts of the world were killing each other.
Now, people killing each other is not all that unusual. Frankly, it is no longer shocking. It is just another mass shooting or another bombing, or another eye for an eye. But, for whatever reason, this week all that overwhelmed me.
Reached my Saturation Point
I don’t know about you, but I am saturated. I have no room left to hear people talk of the “shock” and “dismay” at the violence. How can people still believe that “It can never happen here”?
And I am worried that because it is becoming so commonplace, because it is on the nightly news every damn night, because it is happening in my community, as well as everywhere else, that I am becoming numb.I have no more outrage left.
My sorrow has dried up. My reservoir of compassion is not being refilled.
There is a Tibetan Buddhist practice that addresses these feelings called “Tonglen”. You can find it online. It is a meditation technique known as “sending and taking”. A simple process tied to breathing in and breathing out. My purpose here is not to share the practice with you, but to let you know just how profoundly it has helped me with my overwhelm.
As with many practices, the origins are found in ancient texts and traditions handed down from one teacher to the next. It may or may not be anything like it was when it was first practiced. All I know is that the kind soul who discovered its power and shared it with others was the epitome of selflessness.
And, like so much spiritual wisdom, it is seemingly quite simple on the surface. But with patience and necessity, it reveals its potent complexity to the practitioner the more it is used. Many spiritual traditions have similar practices, so I am not suggesting Tonglen is better than others. I am merely expressing my gratitude for what it continues to give me – a pause in my suffering and a moment to reflect.
The Gift of an Open Heart
The gift for me is this: in my moments of suffering, regardless of what causes I attribute my suffering to, I can open my heart and realize that I am not alone. That my suffering is an experience shared to one degree or another, by every living thing on this planet.
And in that moment of awareness of shared suffering, I can, in its place, create such spaciousness within my heart that all that pain can be absorbed and lifted from those who are experiencing it, albeit for just a moment. And in return, I can release my pain and send out love in its place. And with that love, the hope (prayer) that everyone be released from his/her/their pain and that all suffering cease.
I have been doing Tonglen with great frequency this week. Not just for the people who were victims of gun violence, but also for those who are suffering because they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, for those who have no shelter, for those who are needing a gentle touch and a smile, but who remain invisible in a society that doesn’t want to see.
As Above, So Below; As Without, So Within
This morning I woke to dense fog. It is now late afternoon and the sun has reclaimed its ownership of the sky. My mood has followed a similar course. While I am still experiencing deep sadness over all the deaths than occurred this past week here in the U.S. and around the world, I am also getting better at sending light and love.
Along with Tonglen, I have also been doing a loving-kindness meditation. It is just four statements, wishes really, that are asked (offered) as a way of connecting with the experience of loving-kindness.
“May I feel safe; may I feel content; may I feel strong; may I live with ease.”
This blessing is done four times: first for myself, second for those who I love deeply, third for those whom I do not yet know or who are on the periphery of my life, and lastly for all sentient beings – beings who have awareness, regardless of form.
This week while I have been physically safe, I have wanted the extra blessing of not feeling alone. Contentment has been elusive, but there have been moments of it, especially those shared with my cats and friends. I am continually working on strength – not just physical strength, but moral strength and strength of spirit. This wish was especially invoked this week, what with all that happened.
I must admit, I am conflicted by the last wish. I am so very aware of all the blessings in my life that allow me to live with ease. But this week it was difficult to find that sweet spot and hold on to it for more than a few nanoseconds.
It is too easy for me to put myself last when comparing degrees of suffering, because my suffering seems so insignificant. But I have learned not to use comparison, as this misses the point. The point is that there is always going to be suffering; liberation lies in the meaning I make of my suffering.
What happens for me when I do this blessing is that I become more spacious and lighter. For me it is liberating! Should this speak to you, please do find a way to incorporate it into your life.
4 responses to “Pausing for a Moment to Reflect”
thanks mary for the tonglen info-i am a daily reiki user- to myself, others and then thru time and space-check it out if unknown. i also incorporate the healing sphere with positive thoughts against fear, anger, falseness. may your practice grow for the benefit of all
Fthis was just what I needed to ground and connect with others and that part of myself not really separ
I just was reminded of Tonglen and now your blog. Tonglen is such a powerful practice as is loving-kindness. Thank you for a beautiful reminder to make it a PRACTICE, not just something I know about and forget.