The Bewilderment of What to Do in Times Like These and the Practice of Tonglen

The bewilderment of what to do in times like these

Times like these can trigger so many things for us personally. Is that you too? What’s happening in the world is also happening in you and me.

It seems like in spiritual circles a successful practice means you don’t feel things. But the more I practice the more I realize that it’s my tender-hearted broken-openness I love the most. My need to care and be cared for is valuable and meaningful. That I feel our shared humanity is something I love.

It’s okay to be someone who feels deeply. There is nothing wrong with you if you are often thinking of friends you know are suffering. The thing is to not stay broken, hopeless, afraid. Know what I mean? The key is to keep your heart open and keep living your life too. To keep moving forward with your day and personal interests even while you know others are suffering.

This is really a hard challenge for some of us, I know. So I wanted to say that anywhere you can share your care counts towards lifting the whole. Keep that in mind especially now as so much in the world can leave us feeling the bewilderment of what to do. Give your love where you can. This is you helping.

I wanted to share a practice I’ve been doing. It’s called Tonglen.

I first heard of Tonglen at a retread I attended.

Tonglen is a Buddhist practice to ease suffering. A practice of sending and taking. A way to be with the suffering and sadness we experience — both our own and the stuff that goes on in the lives of those we know and the larger world around us.

Tonglen is  a way to be with or bear the suffering you feel. It eases the tension, lessens the burden on our hearts. It awakens compassion.

With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain. With each out-breath, we send them relief.

It helps me to be with what seems unbearable… it helps me build compassion and the ability to not have to fly away when something “bad” is happening. The ability to not have to numb out because we cannot handle what is happening. And it helps me know this is something I am doing to help others.

How to do to it

The way I was taught was to breathe in the suffering of the person or situation we wish to help, (remember this can be done for ourselves too). We breathe in our wish to take away the suffering and as we exhale, send ease or peace or love…whatever we feel would most benefit the person.

Pema Chodron says:

At that point you can change the focus and begin to do tonglen for what you are feeling and for millions of others just like you who at that very moment of time are feeling exactly the same stuckness and misery. Maybe you are able to name your pain. You recognize it clearly as terror or revulsion or anger or wanting to get revenge. So you breathe in for all the people who are caught with that same emotion and you send out relief or whatever opens up the space for yourself and all those countless others. Maybe you can’t name what you’re feeling. But you can feel it —a tightness in the stomach, a heavy darkness or whatever. Just contact what you are feeling and breathe in, take it in —for all of us and send out relief to all of us.

Before I end this note to you, I wanted to say how important it is to keep your heart pointing in the direction of what scares you. You may not have answers, you may feel the bewilderment of not knowing what to do… but keeping your heart present for the suffering — yours or another’s — will add so much ease. Let me know what you find.

Kindness and love are the way we move through. Remember, it’s okay to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be a compassionate soul.

Sending a hug across the miles. Always, we are walking together.



Read my recent interview in Mystic Magazine here: