Yesterday morning I received news of my Nana’s death. I spent the morning in a bit of a fog, alternately focusing on chores and reflecting on my last visit with Nana. In the early afternoon, I realized what I needed: meditation. I am very lucky to have woods where I live, and I set out for a walk, focusing on my exhale, noticing the songs of the many birds in residence. I walked half way across the creek and sat on the bridge, dangling my legs over the side, and sat for some time enjoying sitting meditation while the creek gurgled under me.
orioles dancing above
golden boats float
downstream beyond sight
Part of the time I was led to tonglen practice—sending and taking. In this practice, you breathe in the emotion that is creating pain or difficulty for you; you breathe out healing and spaciousness. It is a way to cultivate compassion, because you connect with the reality of human experience. Breathing in my feeling of sorrow over losing Nana, I am reminded of the sorrow of all others who have lost a grandmother. Breathing out healing toward myself and others, I can connect with the sense that all wounds can heal, and remind myself of happy memories as well.
You might think to yourself, what is the point of this? Breathing in someone’s sorrow is not really going to change anything. However, what happens is the heart begins to crack open, and one doing tonglen can have a sense of being part of something bigger. Also, the aspiration for healing is an important practice. Bodhisattva vows are, fundamentally, an ongoing commitment to aspiration for the end of everyone’s suffering. If I did not have the option of aspiration, I would feel endlessly discouraged. I would feel helpless.
I sit with the reality of loss—of my loss, my family’s loss. Through this personal practice, I can connect with the experience of other humans on this earth. Perhaps my heart can expand. Perhaps I can truly continue to practice until all beings everywhere are free of suffering.