I woke up this morning and felt a heaviness like a big boulder sitting on my chest. It ws the weight of suffering in the world, the sadness of all the things that are affecting people I love, people who are not feeling good, people whom I don’t even know that are in situations worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. I had a hard time even pouring myself a cup of coffee, feeling all that helplessness.
“May you be free from suffering”, I thought as I noticed the morning sunlight dappling the trees and the pasture. That’s part of a tonglen meditation I learned years ago. It’s a Buddhist practice that evokes maîtri or lovingkindness. Pema Chodron says, “ Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself – trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”
The basic idea is that you breathe in the discomfort and the pain and breathe out the love, ease, and relief that you wish for. First, you offer it to yourself, saying something like , “May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease." Then, you think of someone that you want to help, and you repeat the thoughts, substituting “May you live in safety…” Finally, you extend that to all beings in the world, “ May we all live in safety…”
The words can be changed and adapted so that they feel right and personal for you. “May I feel this completely so that I and all other beings may be free of pain.” “May I send out this contentment completely so that all beings may feel relaxed and at home with themselves and with the world.” “May both of us be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” Pema Chodron suggests that we open up the meditation to speak for ourselves in whatever words feel best for our own situation. “The isolation, personal burden, loneliness, and desperation of pain gets very strong. And you think you're the only one. I've had people actually say to me, "I think no one else in the world feels this kind of pain." And then I can say to them with tremendous confidence: "You're wrong."
“The most dramatic and probably most difficult step is to say: "Since I'm feeling this anyway, may I be feeling it so all others could be free of it." So tonglen meditation has three levels of courage. The first is to say, "Other people feel this." And that is enough. But if, in that particular moment of time, it feels genuine to say, "May this become a path for awakening the hearts of all of us," do so. And the one that takes you to the deepest level of courage is: "Since I'm feeling this anyway, may I feel it so that others could be free of it." Wise words from a wise woman.
So I’m going to try to do this right now. Maybe you’d like to join me?