Cindie Chavez ©2018
For the umpteenth night I lay awake, staring at the ceiling, picking up my phone to check the time (“really? Only 3 minutes have passed?” *sigh*) and sinking further into despondency about how many sleepless nights in a row I’d experienced. The number was growing, and nothing I was trying was helping much.
It was very easy to allow this situation to drag me over to Victimland. Some days I’d feel like I was constantly complaining that “I haven’t slept in 24 hours…or 30 hours…or more. “I feel like a wreck.” “I can’t think straight.” “I’m totally sleep deprived.” “Why me?”, I’d whine. Grumpiness was like a dark cloud following me around, with its partner Brain Fog.
Down, down, down I was slipping into a dark place of feeling desperate, despondent, depressed – and also, angry. Imagining that most of the world was blissfully asleep while I was lying there awake, it just didn’t seem fair.
When I was a young mother, I’d hear some of my friends talk about getting up when they couldn’t’ sleep, and cleaning the house, mopping floors, doing laundry – or working on a project – practically bragging about how they’d take advantage of those hours that sleep eluded them to make some art or write a book. But that has never been me. It must feel really great to say “I couldn’t sleep at all the last few nights, so I wrote a book!” Yeah. But no. Not going to happen. As far as insomniacs go, I was a disgruntled clockwatching insomniac. I was NOT an ambitious productive insomniac.
Often when I couldn’t sleep I would pick up my phone to check the time. Then I’d end up Googling “best remedies for insomnia” or some other clever query. I felt like I had tried everything on those lists. I had read dozens of “How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep” type of articles. I had brewed plenty of calming herbal teas, taken herbal supplements specifically designed to support sleep, practiced yoga and meditation, made sure to follow the “no computer screens after 9:00 pm” rule, added extra calcium and magnesium to my diet, using essential oils…and on and on. I’m happy to say that something finally worked even though I’m not quite certain of the perfect combination that finally vanquished the chronic insomnia.
However, in the midst of it all, I had a realization one night while lying awake, an epiphany that has been worth all of those sleepless nights. And, as it turns out, my epiphany has a name, it is called Tonglen (pronounced tong-len). Tonglen is translated as “taking and sending” and it is a form of meditation that I happened to discover by “accident”.
Certain types of meditation would aptly be described as “prayers” because the focus of those meditations are often on the well-being of others and include ideas like bringing peace and ending suffering. One of the forms of meditation I love and have practiced for years is known as Metta. “Metta” means “loving-kindness” and my simple version of Metta meditation includes holding friends, family, and clients as the focus while envisioning good things for them.
Tonglen is a similar practice and I want to share with you how I fortuitously discovered it. As I lay awake one night, slightly frustrated that once again sleep was eluding me, I decided to meditate. As I attempted to begin my usual practice of Metta, meditating for a friend or loved one, I had trouble focusing on anyone else because I felt so desperate to sleep. But I kept trying – and then I had an idea…I could be focusing on sending healing thoughts and wishes for peaceful sleep to all of the other people in the world experiencing insomnia at that moment.
Suddenly I was filled with total bliss and experienced a huge “aha moment” of gigantic purpose – like I had been chosen as if I were literally “the one” to be blessing these other sleepless dreamers. I still laugh when I think about that moment of clarity because of course I’m not “the one” but it felt so good to have that huge sense of present moment volition. I felt profoundly grateful to be awake and not worried about losing sleep at all. My wakefulness now had purpose.
Shortly after this experience, I learned about Tonglen, the “taking and sending” meditation – taking on the suffering of the world for a long breath in, and then breathing out peace and relief to all who are experiencing that suffering.
I’m thankful that these days I don’t experience insomnia very often. But this style of meditation has become a powerful tool to reduce the anxiety, frustration, anger and uncomfortable emotions that have become a universal response to current events. It is a tool that has reduced my suffering, and I like to believe the suffering of others as well.
When I’m feeling angry about current events I can perform tonglen, not only for myself but for all others who are feeling anger in that moment. When I’m frustrated, when I’m grieved, when I’m worried – there are always others feeling those things too. When I am anguished because of the suffering others are experiencing, I can perform tonglen not only to relieve my own anguish but especially for the relief of their suffering.
Tonglen is an exceedingly simple meditative practice in which one visualizes taking in the suffering of oneself and others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath sending recognition, compassion, and relief. It involves being willing for those brief moments to “take on” the suffering of the world (or those specific people or groups that you have chosen to focus on) as you breath in, and then imagining that this suffering is being transmuted into goodness, love, compassion as you breath out, sending blessings and relief to those who are suffering.
There are some spiritual communities that believe it’s better to not pay attention to these injustices and threats to our democracy; I’m not one of those people. I know it would “feel better” to just look away and go on living my life and enjoying my privilege, oblivious to the fact that our President is a fascist (and by the way, that is not an opinion, there are criteria for fascists and he meets it). Of course, it would feel better to ignore it all, until it didn’t. The news cycle is continually relaying the painful reality of injustice and suffering. This continual onslaught of troublesome and discouraging events has produced anxiety, anger, frustration, worry, and grief. It is not comfortable. It shouldn’t be comfortable to watch our democracy crumble.
And for those of us who are taking action, it is important that we stay grounded, rested, and aligned with the solutions as we act to help change this dire situation. I don’t believe that we can change things by meditation and prayer alone – yes, we need the “prayer warriors”, and we need “boots on the ground” as well. But, it is important to recognize that activism can be exhausting. “Protest fatigue” is a thing. Experiencing distressing emotions is an energy drain. Tonglen can help. It isn’t the whole answer, but it is a great place to start.
And then, here are some other practical ways you can take action:
More by Cindie:
Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONLIGHT™ – A Course in Manifesting Love and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com
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