I’ve been home for 3 weeks from Bhutan. The 13-hour time zone difference contributed to the first 10 days to 2 weeks being a kind of blur. I was in a haze of brain fog. One of my adult kids was suffering so I was in heavy caretaker mode from the time my flight landed in LAX, to the time the car and driver dropped me off at my home in San Diego, in the middle of the night.
Three days after my return from the Happiest Kingdom on the planet, I was scheduled to go on a boat rally with more than 160 sailboats leaving San Diego October 29 and arriving in Cabo San Lucas, November 8. Our boat was provisioned, and the crew was ready for their departure. At the last minute, my husband and I decided it was best for me to forfeit the trip, to be on hand to offer TLC to our child, and to get some rest, as I was still quite topsy-turvy with jet lag!
The TLC was easy. It always amazes me how well mindfulness techniques work! They work even if the person needing the grounding doesn’t have their own practice – they can be guided through difficult emotions for on the spot, in the minute help. Feeling your feet on the floor is an instant tool to break a feeling of anxiety ramping up.
Naming the emotion calms the brain.
Placing your hands on where you feel the emotion in your body helps tremendously. Soothing touch releases oxytocin, which helps calm the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin, that keep you hyped up. Allowing some time (but not all day) to feel like crap is fine, but then doing something that brings you joy is a must!
As a mom, I was happy that I could be of service in such an immediate way. And this particular kid is a pleasure to help. You know if you’ve got kids, or more than one kid especially, that they are each unique and some are less demanding in certain ways than others…I’m trying to be the most political here, but this kid has been pretty easy.
Connection to community is a biggie when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. It has been so heartwarming for me to see friends reaching out with authentic expressions of love and support.
By the time I left to fly down to Cabo to meet the boat at the end of the rally, my child was back on solid ground. I checked into a gorgeous hotel in San Jose Del Cabo, the JW Marriott, to await my husband and crew. That night there was a mass shooting at a bar he and his friends visit after exams in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. One of his friends goes there every Wednesday night for line dancing. My son told me about it the next morning.
I was so upset that I was having a hard time using my tools.
I haven’t recovered from the Synagogue shooting, and he we were again. Mexico TV didn’t have much info so I logged onto CNN.com on my phone. The news said that the shooter was known to law enforcement. He was a former service member who suffered with PTSD. I called my son back. “Don’t they have the law on the books up in LA where someone can be reported to law enforcement and they can have their gun confiscated for 90 or 120 days while they undergo psychiatric evaluation? I know that have a law like that on the books here in San Diego.”
“Mom, you can’t make sense out of this. It’s just horrible, stop trying,” he said.
An hour later, my husband called to say they were through customs, and asked me to get lounge chairs and towels set up for he and the crew at the pool.
I waited on a lounge chair in the shade, trying to concentrate on reading a novel. Lowell showed up an hour before the rest of the crew. I hadn’t seen him for over a week, and I didn’t realize how much I emotion I was holding in until I saw his face. The week without him was tough. Even though I felt deep satisfaction that I was able to be a small part of the success of our son’s rapid recovery, it took a lot of my emotional bandwidth. So I was tired when the tragic truth of yet another mass shooting hit the news.
I was dripping tears when I told him about the deaths in the bar. “I think I want to move out of the United States, this doesn’t happen in other countries, where they don’t allow guns like this,” I cried.
“Honey, you have got to get your shit together before everyone else shows up,” was his response.
“I know, I will…I just need to feel it for a few minutes…it’s so terrible and so tragic,” I said.
“What about your practice? What happened to your practice? The girls on the crew read your book this week on the cruise and they were quoting you about breathing in the bad and breathing out the good,” he said.
“Oh! Tonglen, the receiving-sending meditation technique! It’s a compassion practice. Thank you! I’ll do it, and I know it will work!”
So that’s what I did.
I breathed in the pain and sorrow of all the families of the victims, all the friends of the victims, the community, and our country; then I breathed out the suffering and let it be held in the universal source of light and love and peace. I let the collective pain touch my heart on my in breath, and breathed out love for all of us, into the love that is all of us.
My heart transformed the suffering into love.
It was a flow through, breathing in the pain, out the love. After about 4 or 5 minutes, I felt much better. I used to flip into this technique all the time, when I felt suffering. Somehow, I forgot about it!
It’s an ancient practice that can be traced back to 11th Century Tibet, and the Kadampa school of Buddhism founded by Dromton Rinpoche. I think it works partly because it is giving you something to do – you are making a decision to do something positive – instead of dwelling in the muck at the bottom of the snake pit.
When I practice Tonglen, I can feel my soul reaching or lifting up and out, instead of curling and contracting inward. Pain, suffering, and fear are being transmuted into peace, joy, comfort, and well-being.
Thank goodness, my husband reminded me to use a tool that would enable me to get my mind and heart back in balance.
And thank goodness, I know that practice well enough that I could flip into it once he reminded me.
If you would like to try Tonglen, I recommend listening to Tara Brach’s 11-minute guided Tonglen practice.
May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you live with ease.