Ahh February – not the month of blahs, but rather the month of ahas! At our house February is a month of celebrations! We anxiously await February 2 when Groundhog Willie pokes his nose out of his winter hideyhole to tell us whether or not winter will soon be over, or if we are in for it for another 6 weeks or so. And then of course, Valentine’s Day follows closely thereafter – a double celebration in our abode as it is my husband’s birthday.....! Even more chocolate! The stores are covered in cupids, bows and arrows, and red hearts reminding us of the eternal hope of romantic love!
And, there just is a certain lightening of spirit in February – due not only to the presence of more daylight hours, but due to a rising awareness that nature is about to release upon us the glories of spring.
For those of us who have seen many springs, or indeed any of us that see the passing of time, there is also an awareness that we need to pay special attention to this spring – this NOW spring – for it may be one of only a few remaining. But, let us not go down that path of self-pity this month! Let us shake these bonds of self-suffering, and instead extend our reach beyond the self....out to those who may truly be in need.
Every one of us has – at some time in our lives – experienced the pain of
suffering. When we feel negative emotion, we often use a myriad of coping skills to hold ourselves together. Denial, anger, depression, avoidance, selfharming mechanisms, attack behaviour, addictive strategies...and there are more! Lots more! Think Retail Therapy! None of these coping ‘skills’ serve to break apart the negative emotion.....and to release it....or to change it. The basic emotion just keeps on giving us misery, and on top of that, now we have the other aspects of negativity to face up to.......the way we have been treating ourselves, and the others in our lives.
In the Buddhist tradition, it is taught that compassion and love are qualities that lead THE WAY to self-enlightenment and spiritual development. We begin with compassion for ourselves, and only then can we reach out. Acknowledging the suffering that is in ourselves is having compassion for the sorrow or guilt or other sometimes nameless misery that we have in our hearts. So, we send love to ourselves. This is not a selfish love or an egotistical love. This is Self Love. The Self that is within each one of us deserves our kindest thoughts, our friendliest attitude, our loving compassion as the Self truly IS love. We can then open into the space that constricts our hearts, and experience a sense of lightness, a sense of expansion.
When we understand that millions of other humans on the face of the earth are suffering just like we are, with perhaps the same emotions – or others that are just as terrifying, we can then extend the kindness that our Self feels out to them. This is the practice of Tonglen.
The wonderful Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodren, explains it ever so much
better than I. “ Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and
seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very
ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and
others and also we begin to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness that Buddhists call shunyata. By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being. At first we experience this as things not being such a big deal or so solid as they seemed before.
Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have just died, or for those that are in pain of any kind. It can be done either as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. For example, if you are out walking and you see someone in pain —right on the spot you can begin to breathe in their pain and send some out some relief. Or, more likely, you might see someone in pain and look away because it brings up your fear or anger; it brings up your resistance and confusion.
So on the spot you can do tonglen for all the people who are just like you, for everyone who wishes to be compassionate but instead is afraid, for everyone who wishes to be brave but instead is a coward.”
For those who are more scientifically minded, and who may question the practice of Tonglen ... Tonglen is understood as a form of energetic conversion...changing one thing into another. All energy exists. It IS. Yet, we can convert it into another form. Think ice into water, water into vapour. All that we need is an agent of change. In this case, heat. And so it is with the practice of Tonglen. Sending love to the Self, and then out unto others is all that is needed.
John Lennon said it best...All You Need Is LOVE!
Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. ~Eric Fromm
Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving. ~Kahlil Gibran