Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Month: February 2013

How to Cope with the Suffering of This World


Suffering abounds in this world.  Once you open your eyes to all the pain and sorrow, you might start crying and never stop.

The Newtown school shootings, Indian bus rapes, minefields, and modern day slavery pushed me into moments of despair.  Sometimes, all the suffering seems too much to bear.

The Practice of Exchanging Oneself and Others

It is in these times of sheer hopelessness and utter desolation, that I especially turn to the practice of Exchanging Oneself and Others, known as “Tonglen” in Tibetan.  You too can find refuge in this simple practice of breathing in suffering and sending your happiness out on the breath.

“Sometimes, visualize that your heart is a brilliant ball of light.  As you breath out, it radiates rays of while light in all directions, carrying your happiness to all beings.  As you breathe in, their suffering, negativity, and afflictions come toward you in the form of dense, black light, which is absorbed into your heart and disappears in its brilliant while light without a trace, relieving all beings of their pain and sorrow.” – The Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

By engaging in the practice of Exchanging Oneself and Others, you gradually dissolve your own self-cherishing and purify your negative patterns.  The practice simultaneously reveals your compassionate heart and gives birth to an unstoppable love as vast as the sky.  Tonglen will expand your capacity in ways you may have never imagined.

The Impact of Exchanging Oneself and Others

Is Tonglen just a mental placebo or could it really have an effect?  The great spiritual masters tell us:

“By sincerely training in the meditation practice of exchanging suffering with happiness, you will eventually become capable of actually taking on others’ illnesses and curing them, and of giving them your happiness in reality.” – The Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

It’s not necessary to wait until the news of suffering overwhelms you.  You can practice this approach of giving and receiving every day and at any time – on the meditation cushion and in daily life. Whether you are happy or sad, well or ill.  Whenever you hear news of suffering, breath in the pain and send your happiness in exchange.  Whenever you see someone suffering, breathe in their misery and send your goodness to them.

The Circle of Suffering

Engaging in a spiritual practice like Tonglen doesn’t preclude taking action to end injustice in the world — consider the beneficent activity of Gandhi or Mother Teresa.

But, like these spiritual luminaries, it’s important to approach helping without hatred, judgment, and blame, which only engender more violence.  Because, we are all caught in a circle of suffering.  Whatever suffering we experience now is due to our past actions.  And, our current negative actions will create our own suffering in the future unless we change ourselves now. While everyone is responsible for their behavior, from a larger perspective, there’s no one person to blame.  Whatever occurs in this life comes about due to a complex web of causes and conditions involving multiple people.  The only way to break the cycle of violence is to have compassion for all.

To see the all-pervading Spirit of Truth, one must be able to love the meanest of all creation as oneself.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Grasping onto an impermanent self and self-cherishing (over-focusing on yourself) are two primary sources of our suffering.  Exchanging our joy and well-being for the suffering of others through the practice of Exchanging Oneself and Others destroys this self-clinging and self-cherisihing and brings true happiness and freedom in its stead.

A Short Guided Practice of Giving and Receiving

In this short video, Pema Chödrön beautifully describes different circumstances in which you can apply the practice of Tonglen and then guides you along.  She begins by saying, “Let’s do Tonglen for a world that is falling apart.”

While it’s only human to despair at times, heaping our own suffering upon the suffering of others will never end suffering.  Instead, cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity and, in so doing, you will become a light for a better world.

How do you cope with the suffering of this world?

There’s more to learn about the practice of Tonglen.  Resources (affiliate links):

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

Image:  Associated Press

Are You Listening to Your Body?


“Listen to your body.”

The refrain to every question I asked the chiropractor.  He kindly gave me additional information, but he concluded every response by saying, “Listen to your body.”

Gripped by pain and temporarily disabled, I waded through my aversion and swam forcefully through my imaginary projections.

  • “What if…”
  • “When will…”
  • “Why?”

It took awhile to get my “self” out of the equation, but finally I did. Then I remembered the mountain of pain that exists in our world; mine clearly minuscule in comparison.  Prompted to drop my dramas, I took a moment to pray,  “May my pain dissolve every being’s pain this very instant.”

The truth is, I had ignored my body’s cries and whispers:

  • Sitting for long stretches at the computer.
  • Dropping my exercise routine when life got busy.
  • Moving heavy pieces of furniture.
  • Unexpectedly, falling flat on my knees on unforgiving lava rock.
  • Going with the whirlwind of stress instead of gathering my equanimity.

It wasn’t one incident that jerked my spine out-of-place.  The discomfort, it seems, piled up from failing to listen again and again.

And, unlike my twenties when it took a single whack from the chiropractor to set me straight, this time the painful twist lingered on and on.

But it got me to listen.  And, I promised to reform.  How about you?

Are you listening to your body?  What’s it telling you?

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

A Simple Way to Balance Your Emotions and Revitalize Your Body

“My destiny is in my own hands.”  Mary Burmeister

According to the ancient art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, you can harmonize your emotions and nourish your body by holding each of your fingers in sequence.  This is a subtle yet powerful self-help approach I’ve personally used to great effect for several years.

Each finger is associated with an attitude that can imbalance a corresponding function and organ system via the subtle energy channels that invisibly course through your body.

Read More

Be Your Own Valentine!


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

~Thomas Merton

You don’t need someone else to be your Valentine.  All the love you need is right there within you.  Just breathe in, remember a moment of love, let it fill you up, and then radiate it out too.  Then you can be a Valentine for the world as well.

Don’t think for a moment that you are not worthy of love.  You are love.  Just let it break through and break out.

In this wounded modern culture, I know this isn’t easy.  I’ve struggled with love too.  But just imagine what it would be like to drop all the stories, relax, and allow yourself to enjoy being love.

That’s my simple message today.  There’s tons more nitty-gritty in the posts mentioned below.

I understand you may need help feeling and believing you are worthy of love or maybe you would like to expand your view of love.  If so, my previous posts on the topic may be of help.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  I love you!  And, I hope you love you too.

Thank you for reading and sharing!  If you liked this article, please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

10 Life Lessons from Emma Jean

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from my friend and mentor, Charlotte Rains-Dixon. 

emmajeanSometimes fiction states truths every bit as profound as non-fiction, which is why I like writing it.  My just-released novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, could be classified as a romantic comedy.  Despite the humor, its heroine embarks on a spiritual quest every bit as serious as those in the latest self-help bestseller.  Sandra asked me to share some of Emma Jean’s discoveries with you.  Here goes:

1.   A serious spiritual quest can start in the oddest of places.   For Emma Jean, her epiphany begins in the throes of passion, when she realizes that she is connected to everyone and everything in the universe.  Her resulting spiritual journey is an effort to recapture that moment.  Except that she discovers:

2.  It truly is the journey, not the destination.  Because there is no destination, only the present moment.  Emma Jean learns this when her initial efforts just lead her farther away from the truth of her being and deeper into trouble.

Read More

The Journey Through Grief

In the midst of grief, it’s hard to see to the other side.  I offer this quote for your consideration.  May it serve you in some way.

“Grief may be the greatest healing experience of a lifetime. It’s certainly one of the hottest fires we will encounter. It penetrates the hard layers of our self-protection, plunges us into the sadness, fear, and despair we have tried so hard to avoid. Grief is unpredictable, uncontrollable. There are no shortcuts around grief. The only way is right through the middle. Some say time heals, but that’s a half-truth. Time alone doesn’t heal. Time and attention heal.

In grief we access parts of ourselves that were somehow unavailable to us in the past. With awareness, the journey through grief becomes a path to wholeness. Grief can lead us to a profound understanding that reaches beyond our individual loss. It opens us to the most essential truth of our lives: the truth of impermanence, the causes of suffering, and the illusion of separateness. When we meet these experiences with mercy and awareness, we begin to appreciate that we are more than the grief. We are what the grief is moving through. In the end, we may still fear death, but we don’t fear living nearly as much. In surrendering to our grief, we have learned to give ourselves more fully to life.”

Frank Ostaseski is the founder of Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, the first Buddhist hospice in America.  From Buddhist Teachers Respond to the Newtown Tragedy, Tricycle Magazine

I appreciate your presence!  Please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

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