A couple of weeks ago my cousin’s leg had to be amputated. She had just turned 42. Thinking she was being admitted to have her toe removed, she was told her foot will have to be taken off instead. After that operation, she learned her leg had to be amputated. With my cousin in South Africa, and me in the U.S., I found worrying about her didn’t help. All it did, was leave me exhausted from lying awake imagining her fear and worry.
Worrying contrary to belief doesn’t prevent our worst imaginings from occurring or from some tragedy worsening. It does, however, increase our anxiety. We may be accustomed to worrying but may not know its definition: worrying is being deeply concerned about a problem or a situation where our thoughts are looping around “what’s going to happen?” These kinds of thoughts increase anxiety.
Stress causes us to become anxious, and in small doses is considered normal even a healthy response. But worrying too much causes us to overreact to stress or any uncertainty, and that is detrimental to our overall health. We lose sleep, appetite, the ability to enjoy what happening in our lives, and the ability to be present.
I decided to redirect my energies to more beneficial practices instead. I chose to do two kinds of meditation for my cousin. These are compassion and loving kindness meditations. As our country and the world is in turmoil now, we can choose to do these meditations for all the people who are suffering fear, worry, sadness, anger, and disappointment in this uncertain time, as well.
Both these meditations can be challenging. They could bring up our own feelings of fear, anger and resistance. It is important to do ONLY what you are able to do. Go slowly. If you encounter a mental or emotional block to doing these practices for someone else, then make yourself the object of the meditation. Extend kindness and compassion towards yourself and consider all the people who may also feel as you do. Be gentle and mindful as you undertake these practices.
Loving Kindness Meditation (Mentally repeating good wishes for someone):
Tonglen (Taking and Sending Meditation):
This compassion meditation strongly awakens our ability to feel and take on the suffering and pain of others. It challenges our tendency to reactively avoid the unpleasant and only grasp the pleasant. The practice is to breathe in the suffering of another person, and send out relief and benefit to the person on an exhalation.
Do this meditation for the ill, a person in pain, and someone who is dying or dead. You can do it for yourself when you are in pain. Tonglen can be done in sitting practice or on the spot anywhere anytime.
Practice these techniques anytime you feel especially rigid in your thoughts, feelings or when worry is beginning to set in. Doing these practices empowers us to be a comfort and strength to the people and situations that need us.
May we be calm and centered to help those in need.