Start Where You Are~Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty
(Again and Again)
Start where you are. This is very important. Tonglen practice (and all meditation practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you're this person you really respect. You may be the most violent person in the world -- that's a fine place to start. That's a very rich place to start -- juicy, smelly. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. All of that is a good place to start. Just where you are -- that's the place to start.
What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself, will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you're doing for others, and what you do for others, you're doing for yourself. When you exchange yourself for others in the practice of tonglen, it becomes increasingly uncertain what is out there and what is in here.
For an introduction to the practice of tonglen, take a look at this lecture by Pema Chodron and then follow that with some of the links under Teachings (tonglen is at the bottom).
Tonglen is a tough practice. For me, I can sometimes do it when I am sitting in silence, untouched by the world outside the walls of my apartment. But when it counts, when I am in conflict with my partner, or struggling to motivate a client, or whenever, I have a hard time staying centered enough to breath in their suffering and breath out peace.
Granted, I am trying to use tonglen in ways that maybe it was not designed for, but I'm always looking for new ways to use the tools I have. I can do the general tonglen practice that is rather impersonal, but I want to try to find a way to make it a conflict resolution tool, as well.
Maybe I shouldn't try. Maybe that's too much to ask of myself at this stage in my path. My brain hasn't yet been rewired for compassion in the face of conflict. It's easier when I am trying to help a client who is struggling with motivation or structure, but even then my frustration sometimes keeps me from really being as compassionate as I would want. I am understanding and reassuring, and to anyone looking on I appear to be very supportive, but in my head the voice of impatience is still there.
So, as Chodron suggests, I will keep starting where I am, again and again and again. I sometimes expect perfection of myself, and then am hyper-critical when it doesn't happen right away. But that's another post.