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Beginner's Heart

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At times like this, I don’t know what I’d do w/out tonglen. When I’m grieving for a loved one’s unhappiness, or breathing through my own, I remember: all over the world there is suffering.

I know – how hokey is that? But you know what? It helps. Every time, it saves me. This week several dear friends had very bad news — each different, each devastating: loss, critical health issues… The dark threads of life’s tapestry, as I said the other day. Law suits, and battling greed that victimises the helpless, are never easy. Make the victim a beloved family member, and it’s even harder.

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So practicing tonglen — breathing deeply into my own grief & pain, and remembering all the people in the world who share that kind of pain — is a way of at least feeling I”m not wallowing. I acknowledge how much this hurts, damn it! And then? I remember that I can breathe for those others, and use my pain as a way to do so. Taking on a bit of their grief, and breathing out comfort — even joy — for them. Whether it’s loss of a loved one, life-altering illness, an ugly court battle…whatever, I can take the heavy lead of that sorrow, that hurt, and perform a kind of alchemy. Turn it to the warm gold of comfort.

It’s not easy, I know. But right now, as I breathe through a very hard few days, I’m grateful. NOT for the pain (I’m no masochist!), but for this practice taught by so many wisdom traditions. Years ago, as a compassionvery young woman, I remember reading one of my favourite authors — the English Catholic Elizabeth Goudge. She spoke of ‘offering up’ our pain, a venerable Christian tradition. It’s the same thing, I suspect. Transmuting the base metal of pain & grief into the honeyed gold of love.

Because love is what animates tonglen. As it’s love that grounds compassion, which is really another word for sharing another’s grief. And it’s love that says — your grief is mine. We are far more alike than different, each of us caught in this very human web of suffering, wishing things weren’t the ways they are …

And as I contemplate unattachment — that elusive Buddhist quality of not clinging to what should be — I realise just how far away my attainment of it is. I’m sooo not okay w/ the grief of my loved ones. I want to FIX IT. So tonglen is a wonderful gift. No, I can’t reeaaaalllly fix it. But I can breathe for you, each of you. And that’s a start.

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