I just read the most amazing interview in the February 2008 issue of O magazine that Oprah did with a Buddhist nun named Pema Chödrön.
Pema practices something called tonglen, which is "seeing the sameness of what you're feeling with what others feel and letting the pain and joy of your life connect you with all people."
When something bad happens in our life, most of us tend to run away from the situation in order to avoid feeling pain. But nothing is a better teacher than that moment, says Pema, so we should stay with unpleasant feelings. Even looking at the positive side of a negative situation is avoiding the feeling—does that make sense?
I couldn't find the full article anywhere online, but I found a shortened version of it on Oprah's website (as well as a radio interview.)
Here are my favorite parts:
Pema: We have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings... that feeling in your stomach of I don't want this to be happening. You try to escape it in some way, but if somehow you could stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, you can really learn something.
Connect with the physical sensation. It always feels really bad; it's usually a tightening in the throat or the heart or the solar plexus. Stay with that and say to yourself, "Millions of people all over the world have this kind of discomfort, fear... this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity."
Oprah: What happens if you choose not to sit with the feeling?
Pema: It cuts you off from your compassion and empathy for others. That gives birth to a chain reaction that causes people to self-destruct or strike out and hurt other people. It’s the source of a lot of the pain and destruction that we see in the world today.
Oprah: So what do you do to stay with it?
Pema: The most straightforward way is to breathe in very deeply and connect with the feeling, and breathe it out on the exhalation. I call it compassionate abiding. It means staying with yourself when, probably for your whole lifetime, you’ve always run away at that point.
Oprah: For me, that's getting a bag of chips.
Pema: Yeah, for a lot of people, it's eating.
Oprah: As you wrote in When Things Fall Apart, "This very moment is the perfect teacher..." You also wrote that every day gives us an opportunity to either open up or shut down, and that the most precious opportunity presents itself when you think you can’t handle whatever is happening. So if, in that moment, you can train yourself to open up instead of shutting down…
Pema: That’s exactly when you get a real transformation.
You know, I grew up Catholic, but, for my own personal reasons, don't practice. While I do not miss the religion itself, I miss connecting with something larger than myself—my spiritual side is hungry at the moment. Every time I read something about Buddhist ideas and beliefs, it resonates with me. I know I don't have to actually become one to implement the religion's philosophy into my life, so I'm going to read up on it some more.