It has been quite a time! I have to say, I am exhausted, physically, emotionally, psychically and any other way I can be! All over this planet, we have endured so much and waited for so long. When will we finally get relief?
It seems that I can tolerate many things, but so much more easily when I know how long the hard times will last. I made it through the two pregnancies of my children, travelled in 3rd world countries (when you never really know if the train is going to arrive!) and healed from innumerable injuries. I know I can make it through, I am just really fatigued from the layers of unknowns right now.
When we’re already worn down, it may take just one more disappointment to push our health into jeopardy. Stress is exceedingly depleting to all body functions and steals the healing time we need. I live with a bunch of cats and have noticed that they spend most of their time sleeping. They take a sleep break to eat, lick their fur into place, maybe poop, then get back to work in their latest, warmest, cuddle corner. Sometimes, it looks like they try to sleep with one eye partly open, like a crocodile, but the rest of the body is fully relaxed, effortless.
When they hear any noise, the head pops up quicker than toast and the whole body is instantly poised against any predator. False alarm? Back to deeply resting in seconds.
I don’t see my cats spending as much time on their phones as the rest of us in the house, and they’re ambivalent to any news media. It’s like they don’t even care about the election! Aside from sleep, their only obsessions are the treat of canned cat food, warmth and sharing love with us. I first wanted to say that they receive love from us, because we pet them and they tell us how to do it best, but they are providing us chances to slow down, notice them, and choose to engage. I understand that cats cannot help but purr and that this vibration is soothing to our human nervous systems. We feel benevolent, giving them affection, and they are cleverly adjusting the mood of their home to a calmer, slower, more loving atmosphere. Genius!
Some other ancient genius, in the human family, came up with a way for us to also adjust the mood of our environments. It’s a meditation called Tonglen, sometimes called receiving and giving. I offered this practice some time during this past year, and I want to share it again today.
You might take direction from your pets, in the way that they show up when they sense you are emotionally tender. They move right in, no questions asked, and insist on being close. They don’t try to stop your crying or tell you how they had a hard time last week, they just show up. They remain calm and just get to work, receiving and making space for your feelings. They endure your storm. We could even say they absorb your hard times, without becoming distraught themselves, without losing anything.
In exchange, they give you compassion, or calm abiding. They stay with you, ignoring texts and notifications, breathing slowly and purring the whole time. I like to think of this as recycling or upcycling: taking in pain and turning it into compassion.
This is Tonglen! We choose to breathe in pain, our own pain to start, making room for every part of our broken human selves. This acknowledgement can bring so much relief, just to allow ourselves to have our feelings. We try so hard to be stoic, tough, detached, and it often leads to a build-up of negativity like a packed musket. I think you get the metaphor here, one spark and we’re in for some ugly times.
We don’t need to wait for our loved ones to make space for our emotions, we can receive ourselves and experience the courage gained from an ever-growing heart. We can experience the infinite capacity of our own hearts to accept more and more. Breathe in your troubles on your inhalations.
The exhalation is for staying with your feelings, your self, not running away into distraction, news updates, blaming or shaming. You just stay. I like to put a hand on my heart and maybe one on my belly, that gesture saying, “I am here.”. Notice how it feels to make time for yourself. Nothing is more important than this moment. There is not a news update that will be better received at this moment than later. Believe it or not, it can wait! Unless your house is on fire, you do not need to know any news right now.
Notice your body – how does it feel now? In just a short time, just accepting your difficult emotions, making time and space for yourself, you have changed your body chemistry. You have access to more parts of your brain, your organs and glands are repairing and restoring vibrancy to your being, you are more resourced and able to meet your life.
If you feel up to it, you can practice Tonglen for someone else. You breathe in their sorrow, fear, loss, disappointment, and you become the cosmic recycler, breathing out calm abiding. I like to imagine myself like a great, brick furnace, taking in this nasty stuff and burning it up! I have a chimney, out the top of my head. Rather than ash or sooty smoke coming out, it’s compassion, a wish that your troubles would be soothed and healed.
Millions of beings are suffering and it’s easy to feel helpless about how to reduce this. We cannot change most of the conditions of the world, and that can add to the fear-inducing piece of helplessness. We often turn away, feeling overburdened with our own troubles, and that usually doesn’t feel great either.
Tonglen can help. It will help you feel better! You can do something, right now. Take care of yourself, just for a short time, become willing to sit with your own feelings, instead of turning to distraction, Netflix and all that Halloween candy you bought.
I’ve created a recording of Tonglen practice and put it on the . It’s just around 12 minutes. Give it a try!
Please also take time to rest, sleeping like a cat, any time you can. Let yourself repair and restore your vibrancy.