The poet Hafiz is attributed with saying, "I felt in need of a great journey, so I sat still for three days." Two weeks into this journey of compassion through the vehicle of compassion-based practices has had elements of both a great expedition and the quiet of sitting still.
As I detailed in my initial blog, I chose Tonglen as the first practice of this year. In the past, I have had some difficulty with Tonglen in that I have actually found it hard to connect to feelings of suffering using the practice. I think it is because of the quickness of the practice. By quickness I mean taking in suffering on the in-breath and sending out relief on the out-breath. The turnaround of suffering to relief in the span of one cycle of complete breath did not afford me the time to connect to either the feeling of suffering or of relief. I have felt with Tonglen, that I am riding on the surface of feeling, not connecting with them.
I had a similar experience this time, so I explored ways to feel connection.
I found if I took time at the beginning of meditation to let myself deeply inhabit the suffering I was choosing to focus on, then the practices felt real and powerful. Several mornings I chose to focus on the suffering caused by the fires in Australia. To connect to the devastation, I imagined myself as a being, sometimes human, sometimes an animal, caught in the conflagration. I let the sensations of fear, heat, burning rise in my imagination. As I did so I felt panic rise in me. I felt physical manifestations of the suffering. I took this suffering in with my breath and focused on sending out relief on the out breath.
My initial inclination with the sending of relief was to imagine it flowing out with force and fullness. Most often, however, this was not effective. I didn't feel a sense of relief. In the case of the fires, I imagined relief as a forceful stream of water poured directly onto the flames. For a moment, this blocked out the sensation of the fire, but as soon as my breath turned, the strong sensation of suffering returned, unaffected by the offered relief, and sometimes, coming back stronger than before. I explored different ways to connect to the feeling of relief just as I did to connect with the feeling of suffering.
I slowed the out-breath down. I imagined the molecules of my breath as a cooling mist, able to find their way into the molecules of the fire, creating space between the molecules of suffering. As I allowed the suffering in again, I notice a barely perceptible shift in the suffering. I continued with the imagery of molecules of cooling mist. The mist attached itself to the fire. This created space in and around the sensation of suffering. As the space to accommodate the suffering expanded, the suffering diffused. Instead of a hot ball of condensed pain, I experienced a flattened expanse of minimal discomfort until there was an equilibrium of sensation between the suffering I took in and the relief I sent out.
I applied the lesson I learned in this exploration through the two weeks of Tonglen practice and found it to be very effective. Regardless of the suffering I chose to focus on, whether something close in such as being with my father as he deals with congestive heart failure and other ailments that are severely affecting his mobility, or something more distant from my experience such as a homeless person trying to survive on the streets in the below zero temperatures of winter. If I imagined offering relief with any sense of wiping away all suffering, it had, at best, no effect, to worse, and most often, to increase the suffering. However, if I offered relief with softness, as a gift of gentle compassion, it had staying power. Breath by breath, the space around the suffering increased and my capability to be with the suffering, to hold space for it also increased.
This, I believe, is an experience of the infinite heart I referenced as I began this journey and has been a lesson in how to live from an infinite heart. I applied this soft approach when I practiced Tonglen in immediate moments - when I felt anger flare at work when someone blamed me for a mistake they had made; when my heart ached with deep sadness from a grief I thought I was done with, or when I imagined the horror of loosing a loved one in the shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger plane. The softness evoked spaciousness. It also had the effect of slowing time down, as if for a moment, I touched eternity.
I hoped this journey would help me to understand more about how to live from an infinite heart, and here within the first two weeks, the lessons have begun. Insight is being given. I have more experience to help me to trust and remember the capacity of my infinite heart when I feel doubt or feel like I am going to get lost in my own suffering. I am grateful for the gifts of the journey.
The next practice I am going to explore is the self-compassion break developed by Kristen Neff. It is a simple exercise which helps to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion, which are self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. The exercise can be done on the spot when you feel the need for some self-compassion and it can also be done as an intentional practice. I plan to use it both ways, intentionally including it in my daily meditation practice and on-the-spot during the day when I feel I need it. You can find the detailed steps here, and also an guided audio of the practice.
Last time I told you of my teacher Tara Brach's new book Radical Compassion. She is hosting a free ten-day journey to awaken the heart of compassion. She is calling it "Radical Compassion Challenge." To be honest, I find it unfortunate to call it a challenge. Bringing a sense of competition into the practice of compassion feels counter-productive to me, seems to go against the intention of compassion and allowing. However, the content of the ten-days does look very interesting, though, so I am choosing to think of it as an invitation to all to practice. I will be participating as my schedule allows. Maybe you'd like to check it out.
I'm interested to hear about your compassion practices and any work related to compassion you know others are doing. I look forward to sharing with you again in a couple of weeks. If you think others may be interested in this journey, please share this with them. You can also find me on Instagram @heartawakemindfulness.
May all beings be free from suffering. May all hearts be touched by love. May all beings know compassion.
All Body Centered Mindfulness Compassion Compassion Based Mindfulness Compassion-based Mindfulness Connection Creativity Curiosity Embodiment Intention Introduction Journey Of Compassion Love Meditation Mindfulness Self-compassion Welcome Year Of Compassion