I’ve never felt more at peace.
For a while now, meditation, yoga, getting outside and eating well have been a part of my daily routine. I’m able to pause as I transition between activities with a subtle sense of returning to God, the Ground of my being.
One morning, I was following a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. Partway through he says, “Breathing in, I smile. Nothing is as important as my peace, my joy. . . Breathing out I release and let go. . . Smile. Release.”
I heard: Nothing is as important as my peace, and I need to let go of it. I don’t just release my worries and tensions. I release my projects–including my projects to hold onto inner peace.
Suffering is all around me. The storming of the US capital, killing, outrage. Closer to home, people I know are grieving the deaths of a mother, a father, a husband. One friend feels relentlessly attacked by psychotic ideation. Another’s had a steady stream of bad news. I knew what they were going through, but I didn’t feel it. It was someone else’s suffering.
On Day One of The People’s Inauguration: 10 Days to Activate Revolutionary Love, Valarie Kaur invited us to look at others and “see no stranger.” She said, “They are a part of me I have not yet met. The child that is taken from his mother is my child.” I thought of Jesus’ words, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” The oneness we have in Christ is a oneness we all share. “We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord,” we used to sing around the campfire. “We will walk with each other. We will walk side by side.” That means in our difficulties and our grief.
I watched an interview with Cynthia Bourgeault before Christmas. She knows a lot about meditation and inner peace. I love seeing her talk. Her face lights up with joy. She laughs easily. At the end of the interview, she said she was going downstairs to pray tonglen for the world. Every day she sits and breathes in pain and suffering and breathes out peace and joy.
This is what I need to do too, I thought. I need to awaken from the illusion of separateness, arouse my compassion, and be with those in grief, panic, and pain.
In the middle of the night, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, I decided to pray tonglen for all those I knew who were suffering.
I breathed in suffocation and breathed out fresh air.
I breathed in being tumbled by a wave and breathed out feeling my bare feet on solid ground.
I breathed in fighting to keep my head above water and breathed out floating on the surface.
I breathed in “You’ll never make it” and breathed out “You’re already there.”
I breathed in a punch in the gut and breathed out seeing the ocean for the first time.
I breathed in choking on seawater and breathed out sipping fresh lemonade.
I breathed in a stagnant pond and breathed out freshly mown grass.
I breathed in the word ‘alone’ and breathed out ‘all one.’
I breathed in night and breathed out morning.
With every in-breath, I swept scary feelings into my heart, and my heart kept enlarging to receive them. My heart in God’s heart could hold it all, sharing the weight of suffering with those who are bearing it.
With every out-breath, I sent feelings of wholeness, wonder, and hope out on the Breath of God to each one to breathe in.
In the days that followed, I noticed my reaction when a person shared something difficult. One time I continued talking about my own experience. Another time I said something I thought would make them feel better. In those responses, I pushed them and their suffering away. As I became aware of that, I realized I could circle back and open my heart to their suffering. I could ask about it. I could listen and be with them in it.
If you see a homeless person on the street, and they need food, housing, medical attention–if you can give that, do it. But at the same time, work with tonglen, because that is how you start dissolving the barrier between you and them.
— Pema Chodron
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