I live in a rural sanctuary, but who can forget the pain of the world—the environmental, pandemic, and political threats, racism, families separated, and people dying alone? Who can forget that many won’t help others stay well by wearing a mask? I feel safe staying close to home, but can’t do much to help other than donate to those who struggle for safety and food and write many postcards encouraging people to vote.
Breathe in pain, my personal struggles with vertigo and hearing and the overwhelming pain of the world. Breathe out love and comfort to myself and others.
Breathe in my helplessness in the face of world crisis. Breathe out compassion for all who suffer.
As I walk, breathe in the sadness of the parched earth in a normally wet climate. Breathe out gratitude for my deep well for watering vegetables for me and flowers for Monarchs and Swallowtails.
Breathe in the anguish of the bluebird male as he searched for his mate for days after her disappearance and the longing for my own lost mate that never goes away. Breathe out comfort for the bluebird and comfort for my aching heart.
Does the practice help with the pain of the world? I don’t know. It helped when I accompanied my husband to the chemotherapy room. I breathed in fear and anguish and breathed out compassion for the patients receiving chemo and their companions. We all suffered. Together. Was I helping them? I don’t know, but it helped me remember life hurts for everyone—sometimes more and sometimes less, but always there or right around the corner.
This realization is a Teacher. It balances me. Life is not all roses and ice cream. It’s also thorns and suffocating heat with no rain in sight. Both sides are here, so why be surprised?
In moments of overwhelming hurt, I look for a way to touch joy or beauty. While my husband had a stem cell transplant, I walked the hospital halls at night to visit the colorful murals in the children’s wing. I breathed in the suffering of these children and their families and breathed out hope for recovery.
Before entering my husband’s quarantined room, I stopped at the coffee shop in the hospital lobby and bought him a decaf latte with soy milk and a muffin for me. Since he couldn’t eat muffins, I nibbled mine in a comfortable chair in the lobby, grateful for muffin comfort.
I watched rushing people head for their destinations, those on crutches and in wheelchairs, those alone and obviously afraid, and sent a silent prayer for them and for me. I send out this same prayer to those who are ill now, those who risk their lives to care for them, and those who must die alone.
I remember you. You hurt and suffer, and it softens my heart to remember our connection. May we all find help and comfort.
How do you handle the suffering of the world? This tonglen practice allows me to take in the world’s suffering in digestible bites. Each inhalation is a recognition of our common experience of living and dying. Each exhalation is a prayer for compassion. For another post about Pema Chodron’s tonglen teachings, see The Wounds We Carry: Help from Pema Chodron’s Tonglen Practice. For a post about surrender to a loss we can’t overcome, see The Peace of Surrender.