23 September 2013

Accepting Limitations With Tonglen Practice

As has happened before during these past thirteen months, I have been unable to make regular posts on my blog due to school work and the migraines.Time to accept my limitations (an exercise I go through semi-regularly) and content myself with doing what I can, not what I think I should be doing.

I turn too far inward, I lose perspective, when the pain gets as bad as it was and for as many days as it lasted last week. I whine. I become depressed. I lose sight of what is good in my life. I am generally a pain in the butt. God bless my poor husband.

This morning I was reminded, as I sat full of despair about the hostage situation in a Nairobi mall, of a Buddhist practice called tonglen. Here is how Toni Bernhard, in her wonderful book, How To Be Sick, describes it:

"Tonglen practice is a compassion practice from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. ... In tonglen practice...we breathe in the suffering of the world and breathe out whatever kindness, serenity, and compassion we have to give. It's a counter-intuitive practice...tonglen reverses the ego's logic."

She describes how she used tonglen when trying to work part-time while quite ill. She lay down and breathed in the suffering of all those who must work when they are sick because they have no sick day benefits and who, 'if they didn't go to work...wouldn't be able to pay the rent or buy food for their families.' It lifted her out of despair and self-pity into the 'wonder' of '[f]inding our own storehouse of compassion' in the midst of the practice.

Taking my cue from Toni, I practiced tonglen for all those held hostage by other people or by illness and pain. It's not an easy thing to do. I feel overwhelmed enough by the pain of the world without deciding to breathe it in. But two things happened as I falteringly followed Toni's example.

My own pain and the limitations it causes were placed into perspective by helping me feel part of a larger, human reality. I felt less alone. I felt less singular in my suffering.

And whatever teensy amount of compassion and serenity I mustered was enough. Just what happened in tonglen this morning was sufficient.

These are not cognitive events. They are simply there as I practice. Beyond decision-making or ego machinations or the rationalizations of an orderly mind, they are there. And I am at peace.

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