We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.
Do I spend time wondering how others are doing? When someone sits across from me: yes. Otherwise: usually not.
Pema Chodron’s suggestion has me wondering if this is enough. I live a pretty whirlwind life: psychotherapist, professor, photographer, author, partner and friend. When I’m not immersed in one of these roles my mind goes to problem solving and planning.
Sitting on the cushion in meditation I notice my designing thoughts fashioning syllabi, gardens, page layouts, budgets, retirement, interventions, trips, counseling centers, paragraphs, presentations, emails, household chores, ad infinitum.
The mental computer loops through tasks while I practice coming back to my breath again and again. I always imagined I was 180 degrees different from the engineering lineage of my grandfather, father, uncles and brother. Yet nonstop I engineer superhighways of the mind to accomplish tasks at higher and riskier speeds.
Do I wonder how my actions affect other people’s hearts? All the strategic thoughts are seamlessly connected to actions. But are they genuinely connected to others? In the abstract: yes.
My bigger endeavors have given hundreds of students a stellar education in transpersonal psychology. I’ve initiated or designed several successful counseling programs at Naropa University. Those tasks occupied large tracks of cerebral space for years.
Now authoring books occupies the dominant parcel of mental real estate. I want to share inspirational images and quotes of women from around the world. Blogging about the process helps me feel more connected to my audience and other authors.
The practice of tonglen helps me move from the abstract to the personal. It’s a structured exercise in Tibetan Buddhism to breath in the pain of others and then breath out an offering of compassion and relief. Pema speaks of it as a natural process we’ve lost touch with in our hurly-burly lives, something a big open heart does without thinking.
Tonglen reminds me to deliberately consider family members, friends and colleagues; especially anyone who is suffering or someone I’m having trouble with. I’d like to embody the process a little more off the cushion and in my daily ruminations towards others and myself.
Setting the intention is the first step. Over and over I see a line of progress when I begin with a straightforward question and an open heart. No beating myself up, simply breathing in the pain and starting fresh again.
How about you? Where is your mind wondering? Where could you use a little compassionate relief?