It’s looking like we have a few days of rain in store in NYC. And after a whirlwind trip home to Cleveland over the weekend, I could use the soggy weather to spend some time at home tending to the little things that pile up when you haven’t been around for awhile. Lucky for me, the atmosphere in my apartment has been greatly enhanced by the addition of Farrell’s plants and her boyfriend’s record player, which they generously moved over to my place before heading out of town, and which make the setting over here all the more suitable to really embrace some springtime showers.
Laying low and setting aside adequate time for myself to do things like unpack my suitcase, put away my laundry and go through the mail has been for me something akin to an acquiring taste. On an unconscious level, for much of my life I think I put off such tasks, largely to avoid feelings that might come along with “not doing something.”
The other day I was listening to a podcast which was discussing the process of feeling rather than avoiding your feelings. It discussed the Buddhist practice of tonglen, and since then I’ve been wanting to talk about it with you. As I understand it, tonglen helps us experience and process life’s biggest feelings. You know, the title wave type feelings that I hope you don’t experience very often but come into all of our lives at some time or another, and feel like they could just completely take us out. (I imagine tonglen is also completely applicable for more day to day experiences as well. I feel pretty sure that Buddhism – or the universe for that matter – isn’t judging the magnitude of our feelings in this regard.)
The practice is to train yourself to recognize, on the onset of such a feeling, that other people in the world also experience the same feeling. ”Just the thought that other people feel this opens it up” as Pema Chodron explains. All you need to do is allow yourself to fully feel the feeling as you inhale. Then, on your exhale, you release the feeling in honor of freeing everyone who experiences it from it. That’s it. All you gotta do. On the spot or in a meditation – either way does it.
Tonglen dissipates the illusion of isolation and facilitates empathy. You can read more about it here.