- At the Desert Retreat House -
Now that we have come to the end of 2014, the media is saturated with stories about the significant events of the year gone by. This morning's NewYork Times featured a very gripping "photo essay" of 2014 - January through December captured in sometimes tender, but more often sad and horrifying pictorial reminders of the memorable events of the year.
As I made my way through the various pictures I was struck by an awareness that there was certainly a good deal of pain and suffering in our country and our world this year - racial and political division, homelessness and poverty in a nation of staggering wealth possessed by so very few people, passenger airlines shot down or lost at sea, wars in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, Syrian refugees, beheadings by Islamic militants, untold sickness and death in the wake of the unchecked Ebola virus.
As I reviewed those pictures I was also reminded of the fact that throughout last year, every time I heard those month-by-month reports about division, suffering, war and violence I was moved to compassion while at the same time feeling somewhat frustrated at being unable to do anything to alleviate the pain. I also recall many conversations with people who also expressed a similar frustration when confronted by so many stories of profound suffering, and feeling so impotent to do anything about it.
So this is what my year-end meditation has focused on this morning. Is there anything I can do to bring some light into all this darkness?
In one sense I suppose I can do my part to live a life of day to day compassion, and that my everyday living will bring some peace to the chaos. I might also do what I can to work for justice and peace, perhaps volunteer at our local soup kitchen or donate to the food bank. And all these acts are indeed ways in which I or anyone can indeed do our part to help alleviate suffering. Yet somehow I look at those pictures of last year and I am still haunted by them and still left feeling frustrated that I can do little more than feel a sense of compassion- perhaps secretly glad that the same suffering isn't happening to me and mine.
I suppose that I could also "pray" for all those people who have had so many hard times in 2014. But I must say that I resist praying for people in the traditional way of prayer. I resist putting out petitions to a distant, powerful God who sits on high and determines what requests "He" might answer and which ones "He" will deny.
This morning I was also reminded of a very powerful form of Tibetan Buddhist meditation known as "Tonglen." It is a simple and yet powerful meditation consisting of "mindfully" breathing in and breathing out. What makes "Tonglen" different from other forms of meditation is that, when you become aware of the pain of others, you intentionally breathe in their suffering, and then, moved to compassion, you breathe out a healing energy.
Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron, explains the practice of "Tonglen" meditation in this way:
You breathe in a feeling of hot, dark and heavy - a sense of claustrophobia,
and you breathe out a feeling of cool, bright and light - a sense of freshness.
You breathe in completely through all the pores of your body,
and you breathe out, radiate out completely through all the pores of your body.
As I reflect on this year's end, I realize that in the year to come there is indeed something I can do to help alleviate the pain of the world whenever I am confronted with it. Every day I can breathe in the hot, dark and heavy suffering and breathe out the cool bright light of healing and compassion. This is something every one of us can do.
I think I just made a New Year's resolution.