Tonglen Practice for Uncertain Times

In moments of anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and feeling disconnected, there’s a simple yet profound Buddhist practice that can provide an immediate ballast to the weight of suffering. I invite you to practice this with me daily in these coming weeks, or whenever uncertainty has you in its grip.

Sit quietly and spend a minute bringing attention to the natural rhythm of your own breath. In and out… Feel the raw sensations of your body making contact with the supporting surface. Heaviness…warmth… solidity…just breathing in and out. Gradually tune in to the sensations in your body, mind and heart. What is present right now? The fluttering of anxiety in the belly, tense muscles in the jaw or shoulders, the mind racing for solutions or tuning out to escape…just noticing.

Then, while continuing to breathe in and out, sense the stillness or openness that’s also present in parts of the mind, body and heart, even in the midst of the swirling of anxiety or sadness. A sense of aliveness that continues to flow…

As the breath comes in, imagine your cells receiving this life energy. Open with total receptivity, like a balloon gently expanding with air. Become aware of the experience of no resistance, of allowing yourself to be touched by the sensations of the breath.

Breathing out…notice the sensations of letting go and releasing into the space that surrounds you. Imagine the sensations of tension, fear and loneliness flowing outward with the breath and mingling with the vastness of space. Breathe out into relaxation, knowing you and all beings are held in this vast space, infused with the energy of compassion and lovingkindness.

As you continue to breathe this way, you might imagine the millions of other people in the world, in this very same moment, who are also suffering in the grip of fear, uncertainty and loneliness. People just like you, the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, the unsheltered, and any others who come to mind. Connect with these beings in your mind and heart in a way that feels open and sincere. See them in your mind’s eye or simply feel their presence. Sense the universal truth that all beings want to be healthy, safe and free from suffering.

Breathing in…feeling the universality of this human predicament, the pain of uncertainty, loss and loneliness. Feel the presence of the others around the world who share this same human experience.

Breathing out…letting go and releasing this pain into the vastness of the space that surrounds you. Imagine the collective letting go of all beings, into this same space, which holds you all in lovingkindness.

Continue to breathe in and out in this way, until your mind naturally comes back into the room. May this practice serve to alleviate suffering, for yourself, your loved ones, and all beings.

Namaste.

Trisha Stotler

IMCW Teacher and Interim Executive Director

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