Uninterrupted, gnawing pain! Face-to-face with something
that hadn’t happened in years, I instantly recognized the feeling and
immediately judged my circumstances. BAD! I had been practicing yoga
almost daily with no problems. So, why now and why me? My lower back was in
serious trouble. I didn’t want to label this experience as good or bad—it just
happened. A snap judgment! My thoughts continued to spiral down.
Thanks to support from my compassionate teacher, I made my
way up the studio steps and to my car. I drove home, still not reconciled with
the pain. Several hours later, after contacting my naturopath, I had a recovery
plan. It was time to be. I was still upset.
Impermanence had struck on the heels of four, intense months
of doing—a writing immersion—and I hadn’t taken time to unwind. My striving
mind was in deep conflict with my body. It was as if self-compassion never
existed. How unfair! What an inconvenience! I’ll just push myself a bit more!
My body was doing its best, given the circumstances, yet it was my mind that
needed a time-out.
Not able to move well gave me plenty of hours for being. I
realized, at an even deeper level, what was meant by seeing adversity as a
profound teacher. I had heard from and read about people who welcomed their
terminal diagnoses or injuries from a car accident. Welcomed these
events! They had learned amazing lessons about themselves and life. They became
forever changed in how they interacted with people and viewed life events. Life
became more inclusive and meaningful. They discovered
what really mattered—unconditional love and others. No snap judgments there.
Able to do very little for myself but rest, I was a tangled
mess. The more I tried, the more pain and constraint I felt. My body was
defying me. It seemed that I had aged before my very eyes. No amount of mind
over matter would allow me ease or mobility. It was very humbling to be living
within narrow parameters. I continued to judge my circumstances. A captive
audience, my body commanded my full attention. These circumstances touched a
familiar vibe. What lesson was unfolding?
Up until that point, I was feeling pretty good about how
life was unfolding. Believing that my inner core was resilient and that I could
handle any misfortune, I was zapped by reality. That’s right—control is only an
illusion. Reminding myself to accept the experience that had come to me, I softened
my heart to a different perspective. Had I been abusing or loving myself?
In slow recovery, I observed my pain as part of the moment,
not labeling it. I stopped using negative self-talk regarding why I did not do
preventative back strengthening exercises or how my computer posture might have
been questionable. I made no excuses. I recalled the Buddhist practice of
Tonglen that I had tried in earlier years without much success. Had I evolved
enough spiritually that this practice might be helpful?
Tonglen practice helps you to interact from your best Self
in both challenging and celebratory circumstances—whether thought about in
advance or done in-the-moment. The first action for either kind of circumstance
is no action. Step back and simply observe without judgment. Think: Something
is happening. Do not identify the situation as good or bad or apply any
other dualities. In circumstances of challenge, Tonglen statements help you to
observe adverse circumstances, negative thoughts, or impermanence and work
Stay with the pure
feelings of the moment; there is nothing to distract you from the past or
future. This focus can be difficult, since most of the time you are used to
making snap judgments. Remember self-compassion. As you breathe in these pure
feelings—what does not work for
you—you realize that you are honestly facing your issues. For some, this may be
overwhelming at first and a bit scary. Your anxiety may be out-of-control. Stay
with the negative feeling. Next, breathe out substitute feelings—antidotes—that
are reassuring. You begin to feel calm.
Repeat the statements as you inhale and exhale any number of times until you
feel you are a part of them.
I usually want to turn away from agony, seeking a fast fix.
This time I lay with the pain, felt it, and breathed it in. I breathed in dark
and negative feelings, naming frustration, discomfort, arrogance of knowing
(rather, thinking I did), and delay in finishing my work. These
statements resonated to my core, to the point of tears.
To balance those negative feelings, I breathed out positive
statements, characteristics of the true Self:
ease, patience, forgiveness, and calm. I continued to repeat this
pattern of inhaling and exhaling my feelings. At the time, it was all I could do
to work with my own feelings. Yet part of Tonglen practice seeks
inclusiveness—to remember that others (family members, as well as those you
don’t know) experience similar circumstances and feel distress and pain. As I
became more aligned through my statements with an energy that was greater than
I, I was able to breathe in similar negative feelings that others experienced
and breathe out the antidotes for those feelings. Inclusivity emerged, as
separateness faded to the background. The more I worked with this practice, the
more oneness I felt.
I developed the following Tonglen statements for three
challenging situations. Although it is still tricky to catch myself before
making snap judgments, I find that this practice offers lighter and more
connected feelings. You might want to start reading the statements and then sit
with the experience until you know the statements are right for you. Some of
the situations and supporting declarations may have to be changed, customizing
them to your circumstances. Be courageous and develop your own statements. It
is worth your time. You will know what resonates when you feel something
quicken within. Recognizing which statements symbolize your situation, repeat
them until you feel you are a part of them.
It is easier to state declarations for yourself first and
then state the declarations on behalf of family members and unknown others who
have similar distress or pain. Breathe in what does not work for them and
breathe out positive feelings that strengthen them. All energies are connected.
It is important to remember that even though you may not know whom you support
with your declarations, you will feel a kinship with them. This is also a sign
of oneness. I invite you to consider these Tonglen statements for challenging
Situation 1: Anxiety over health issues or terminal
- Fear of leaving loved ones, incomplete work
projects, not fulfilling my purpose
- Knowing that this experience is mine by design
- Knowing that I’m not alone
- Knowing that I’m part of a greater energy
- Knowing that I’m deeply loved
Situation 2: Relationship setback
- Lack of unconditional love for another
- Guilt, shame
- Insensitivity to circumstances
- Presumption that I know, or know better
- Self-compassion and love
- Forgiveness for my humanness
- Strength to create a new habit or approach
Situation 3: Tight heart; carrying a grudge
- My timetable
- Understanding of and forgiveness for my role in
- Unconditional love in the form of expansive
At the other end of the spectrum, Tonglen statements also
encourage you to recognize celebratory feelings of good will, caring, and joy.
When you are feeling personal gratitude, fulfillment, or awe, it is natural to
want to recognize the circumstances that created those feelings. A greater
energy around you is supportive. Sharing your happiness, whether privately or
overtly, raises your vibration.
You’ll also want to share your positive experiences with
others who are celebrating similar circumstances or with those who could
benefit from some positivity. This gathering of celebratory feelings raises the
vibrations of all energies throughout the collective universe and those of the
Breathe in examples of optimism and breathe out the gifts of
your experience, sharing with others to uplift them. On behalf of others who
might benefit from positivity, breathe in your observations and breathe out
The following Tonglen statements point to three celebration
circumstances. Starting with these declarations may move you to develop your
own. Again, you will know which statements are right for you because something
within will stir. Repeat the statements until you feel you are a part of them.
Situation 1: Beauty of nature – Contemplating a small
twig of crabapple blossoms
- Red and green gradient foliage
- Tender, pink flowers with delicate magenta and
- Quiet, unassuming beauty that speaks to strength
- Appreciation for nature’s spontaneous gifts
- Innate goodness that augments circumstances
- This moment that encourages wholeness
Situation 2: Improved health because of professional care
– Hooray for craniosacral therapy!
- Gratitude for intuitive perceptions and skilled
- Release of tight ligaments and muscles
- Relief that overrides pain
- Love in the form of body alignment and mobility
- Zest for life
Situation 3: Reconnection of Friendship
Breathe in …
- Like-minded thoughtfulness and common values
- Shared focus, honesty, and appreciation of
- Acceptance without judgment
- Friendship that weathers impermanence
- Lightness, humor, and ease of being
- Uncompromised support
Words can never fully express the interactions and effects
of Tonglen practice. It is about reaching an understanding at a higher level
among all energies. After working with Tonglen, I feel that my heart and mind
are no longer at odds. When I feel a snap judgment lurking and begin to label
an experience as fortunate or unfortunate, I stop because I realize that my
thinking and feeling patterns are no longer stable. I may or may not be going
down the “rabbit hole.” I return to the
present moment, breathe, and begin Tonglen statements. Because my mind and
heart have stopped judging, they are more open to new understandings. This is a
good thing—a form of loving myself and others.
Applying a diligent practice like this whenever life’s
experiences lure me toward snap judgments, I find my thoughts and actions are
more consistent. When I begin with something is happening and then move
to breath declarations for myself and others, humanness doesn’t trip me up as
Awareness of this change seemed to come out-of-the-blue. Yet
I know differently. Nothing happens by chance. It was a wise and resourceful
greater energy that believed I was ready. Now I have more clarity within the
moment. I think of others in similar circumstances and want for them what I am
experiencing. I am a work-in-progress, and this has made all the difference.
From a higher vantage:
Resilience is gained from not accepting the lure of immediately labeling
circumstances as good or bad, happy or sad, or hopeless or optimistic. Simple
acknowledgment is enough. I don’t have to judge, thereby not feeling separated
from others. Instead, I am creating a new pattern of how I deal with the
on-going challenges and celebrations that Impermanence is sure to deliver. Distress
and pain are eased while joy is enhanced.