Monday, April 17, 2006

Start Where You Are [updated]

Start Where You Are
(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.
~Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

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.


The Zero Boss said...

Have you tried some other techniques for engaging the compassionate heart before starting tonglen? E.g., meditate on how yours and the other person's actions are born from suffering, work on seeing the other person's perspective, or recall another time when you've acted like the person who's pissing you off right now.

I haven't tried using tonglen for another individual except in a therapeutic context (doing it for my wife when she's getting energy work done). Usually I do it in the more general sense of absorbing the suffering of all those who are starving or otherwise suffering. Not sure if I'm the oddball in this regard...

william harryman said...

Hi Jigdral,

Thanks for reading and commmenting.

I have done my share of loving-kindness meditation in the past, and have only recently started working with tonglen. I find it possible to do the general kind of tonglen in which I absorb (or transform?) a kind of impersonal suffering.

I've done a lot of work with projections and reclaiming them as part of conflict resolution, but I have been wondering if I could diffuse a situation in the moment with the use of tonglen.

The hardest part is that it requires me to be in observer self (witness) in order to avoid being attached to the conflict. Very hard for me when my ego is involved in it.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts. I think I might need to stick with the basics until I am a bit farther along the path.