I have been trying to put into words the feeling of this past week.
It’s an unsettled, persistent, background feeling, at times frightening, at times tearful, and always-present.
Being a doctor, and a mother, and intermittently a teacher, I cannot wrap my mind around the choices that I’m forced to make. Especially when all the most important ones appear to be so completely out of my control.
In ordinary times, this week, the last week of summer, would be filled with trepidation and excitement. Last minute trips to buy school supplies, new backpacks and sneakers. Figuring out bus routes, homeroom assignments, and snuggling the crud out of my three gorgeous boys who are growing up way too fast.
Now, these everyday concerns seem so comforting, and so…painfully inadequate.
My heart aches for my rising Kindergartner, who has spent every school-day morning of the last three years watching his older brother get on the Big Yellow Bus, setting his heart on the dream of being a Big Boy one day, leaving home on his own grand adventure of growing up.
My heart aches for my close girlfriends, schoolteachers, prepping their classrooms right now and praying that not one student, teacher or loved one falls ill this year.
My heart aches for the millions of people who have a loved one who is already medically delicate, and fear the very real possibility of losing them this year.
I need to do something with this feeling, this deep burning ache in my chest, before it eats me alive.
I think about my own hurt, and then, the much greater hurt of so many people who, unlike me, are also struggling right now with loss of housing, of livelihood, and loss of connection to loved ones.
In Tibetan meditation traditions, there is a practice called Tonglen. It is practiced specifically in the darkest and most challenging of times, for healing hurt and anguish. Right now, this tradition feels deeply relatable.
In this tradition, my breath becomes a bellows. I breathe in all the hurt. I burn it up. I breathe out relief, clear refreshing oxygen.
I breathe in sadness, fear, hopelessness, anger.
I burn them up in the furnace of my heart.
I hold the emptiness for two beats. I feel the stillness.
I breathe out cool, refreshing, relief.
I pause, and I breathe in again. I imagine a room filled with smoke, acrid and bitter. My breath becomes the medicine, an air filter, a medicinal furnace. With every breath, the air becomes clearer, my sight becomes clearer. The room fills with life again. I feel tears, beauty, forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
And so, I breathe. The simplest of actions, an ancient rhythm, a heartbeat. I breathe in. I breathe out. I keep breathing.
May we all be healthy, and happy. May we all find love, joy, and forgiveness, this coming year.
May our children, and our elderly parents be happy, healthy, loved and fulfilled.
May all those who hurt, who feel isolated, alone, and abandoned, find love, health, happiness and fulfillment.
May we all heal together.
May the way forward become clear.
May we face it together, with love, courage…and compassion
For a short 4-minute Tonglen instruction from Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, click here.
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