I have never known what to do when people I love hurt. Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, all I know how to do is hug, soothe, and cook. I prescribe what works for me: flowers, tea, chocolate. Cookies. Time spent watching birds.
It meets w/ spotty success, I confess.
And of course, as any Buddhist wannabe, I practice tonglen. I practice as my beloved Pema Chodron teaches: when my husband is suffering from his incessantly difficult knees, I remember how my own hands ache from arthritis, and how my own knees give out in the stiffness of early morning. I identify with his pain, breathe it in, and then breathe out peace. Comfort.
I also make a nice pot of tea, and buy salted dark chocolate caramels. Not as good for my karmic profile, I know, but sooo tasty!
When my young girlfriend speaks of her few difficulties w/ her new baby, I think of when I wake up mid-sleep and can’t relax, over-thinking my life. I breathe in her anxiety — worried as she may be that she won’t be able to handle this new, infinitely complex job — and breathe out comfort. I also pick up Starbuck’s, in case she needs some added energy.
Tonglen may be what best defines Buddhism to me: the desire to make the world better on a person-by-person, every day to every day, basis. And then practicing that desire: breathing in pain, breathing out comfort. As one source notes, it begins with befriending ourselves: noting our own pain, our own grief & loss & fear, and sitting with it for a moment. Then realising — on a bone-deep visceral level — that ALL human beings feel pain, grief, loss & fear. That alone is pretty amazing stuff.
But to move from that recognition to the desire to change this, to use our own dark places to heal those of others? How incredibly wonderful is that impulse?
Today, if you’re blue, or wondering how to help someone you love weather a difficult time? Don’t think. Just breathe. In< pain/ out> comfort. It’s really that simple.