As the quarantine days continue to pass, I’m finding it more and more difficult to answer the question, “How are you doing?” When I take stock of my life, I have a job, food, shelter, security, health, and people I can at least call. Yet some days are just plain hard, and I struggle to allow myself to say, “I’m having a hard time.” I feel guilt when those words come out of my mouth. But still it doesn’t change the fact that in that moment, I am struggling. I asked Lama Tsomo for some guidance on this topic, as I was certain that wallowing with guilt and not acknowledging my own experience wasn’t going to do me or the world any good. Here’s part of our discussion.
How can we acknowledge our privilege in this situation while honoring that everyone is having a different experience?
Again, I go back toTonglen. As usual, I start with myself. I acknowledge my own suffering. Whatever it is, I don’t have to be embarrassed about it. It’s just me. It’s my experience. I can let myself feel that sadness of missing my family and friends or whatever sadness or grief I am experiencing in that moment. I imagine holding my suffering self in compassion. When I do that, I can physically feel my body relax. I can feel this letting go when I hold myself in compassion. I realize that I was holding myself together, which was causing me to feel less compassion. If I am feeling sad and holding myself together, I may actually become more irritable. If I feel into it then I can feel the comfort of being held, then step out to people in the same situation, then feel compassion for them and hold others in that same compassion.
When I feel comfortable with that, I can step out further to people who have been completely separated and can’t get back to family. There are situations like that all over the world, like for people in hospitals who can have no visitors. Then when I feel comfortable breathing compassion for people in that situation, I can step out to the more serious consequences, like ultimate separation or death. I step it out until I have included everyone. I expand my view out, so the original suffering hasn’t changed but I feel differently.
This also helps with the feeling of helplessness. Sometimes if I can just breathe for everyone, then that’s something. Alleviating helplessness by practicing compassion, by showing up to teachings and cultivating compassion, you are doing something. We can’t see in the moment but by practicing compassion we are sending ripples out into the world. Compassion that begins with ourselves is desperately needed at this time.
It’s ok to be having a hard time. And it’s ok to be having a hard time and not know exactly why. The world around us is heavy right now. Giving ourselves space to acknowledge our own experience may lighten our load. Hopefully, that will make us better able to help our neighbors. It doesn’t do us any good to compare one hardship to another. Like Lama Tsomo says, we are not separate. Click here to listen to Lama Tsomo unpack the importance of compassion, especially when we may be more strained and unsettled than usual. She wraps up the discussion with a guided Tonglen meditation when you can practice extending compassion to yourself and others.