Something for Everyone
Laura K. Secor
Hello my friends,
Normally I would be writing about the influx of birds, the yellow forsythia, the knobby little buds appearing on the trees. Leaving the windows open, the pleasure in that most miraculous ordinary, the return of life after a bleak winter. But what a time! I see the spring through the morose-tinted glasses of lockdown.
I wondered, over the last several weeks, what I would write about for today’s Nugget. I’ve been listening to dharma talks by my favorite Buddhist, Pema Chodron, and I found my answer in her teaching on Tonglen. I will get technical for just a moment, for the Buddhist students who read this series. The teaching on Tonglen is found in her book Start Where You Are, which covers the lojong slogans. The core idea of lojong is “taking in and sending out.”
“Taking in and sending out” are the instructions for a special kind of meditation called Tonglen, which is the meditative portion of the lojong teaching. Now I’m sure many of you have heard this typical New Age meditation instruction – “breathe in sparkly white light and breathe out all your negative feelings.” In other words, you take everything you want to get rid of and attempt to throw it out. Like dumping trash in the ocean, just get rid of it and someone else will clean it up. Tonglen is the opposite. You breathe in what is painful and breathe out your desire to help others. You breathe in what you are afraid of, and breathe out your hope of healing.
Tonglen is hard, probably mostly because we do seem to have this bias that we would never breathe pain in. But once you get the hang of it, it’s actually very soothing. Your “in breath” gives you the strength to admit to the pain you’re feeling anyway. I don’t know about you, but I was never able to feel better just by breathing out. I never felt like I was actually getting rid of my pain, so I just felt vaguely guilty for failing to achieve the exercise. This – once you get past the initial resistance – is more real. As you breathe in, you admit that you are feeling pain. You don’t have to pretend it’s magically dissolving in sparkly white light. It’s real, it’s here, it’s inside. But then – and here is the fun part – you imagine that inside you is a machine that transforms your pain into healing. You yourself are the solution. You don’t dump the problem onto an unknown external, you perform the alchemy yourself.
Now I admit it would be really hard to imagine that I could just simply heal my own pain. I am going to guess that you might also struggle with this. But tonglen asks you to do something different. Tonglen asks you to imagine all the other people in the world feeling the pain you are feeling, and wish for healing for all of them. See? You turn it around. You say – I want good feelings not just for myself but for all of us.
I’ve valued tonglen for a few years now, but last week it occurred to me that tonglen is the perfect practice in this time of pandemic. As we all breathe in the pain, we don’t have to wonder what other people are feeling. We are all in this together.. The whole planet. We are united by our fight against this virus. We breathe in the pain, and we breathe out our wish that everyone, the whole planet, will be able to fight off infection. It’s universal. Tonglen was made for this situation. We can each take comfort in knowing we are in the company of so many others, and we can each offer comfort to everyone.
Ways to Help
Rev. Aaron Payson
People are wondering what they can do in these times. I know I do. How can I help? What can I do that is in line with my values, my financial situation, my desire to stay home yet still help? Here are some places to start:
Start Here at Home – at UUCW
Don’t forget to make your pledge if possible. Or make a gift that can be credited to this fiscal year. We will be dealing with lost rental and fundraising income due to the current gathering restrictions. We need to keep our staff, programs and building running even if we are not together. Go to www.uucworcester.org/donate to make a gift for this year or pledge for next year.
If you are interested in helping members of our Community who are struggling, consider contributing an additional amount to the Minister’s Discretionary Fund. These funds are used to help people with rent, prescription expense and other vital necessities.
Contribute to the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry
There are two ways you can contribute to the Pantry at this time. If you are interested in contributing financially, go to the Loaves & Fishes online donation form.
We are also looking for hygiene supplies that our folks cannot purchase with SNAP. Last month we were able to give a bar of soap to all our clients. If you are able to drop off hygiene supplies, specifically wipes, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and/or deodorant that would be great. The drop-off location is Dianne Mann’s house: 21 Ridgewood Rd. Worcester, MA 01606. There will be a tub at the side porch for any donations. Any questions, contact: Dianne Mann at
Contribute to the Interfaith Hospitality Network Homeless Shelter
IHN is the Shelter that we partner with several times a year. They have many needs right now. This morning they were asking for the hygiene supplies we all need. They, too, have asked for additional money since they are in a position of needing staff to help cover the evening and night shifts that church people were supposed to cover. If you are interested in helping with the IHN Shelter, would like to know what they need, etc. Contact: Robin Mitzcavitch at .
Worcester Mutual Aid
If you are a Facebook user and want to help in specific ways, you may want to get on the Worcester Mutual Aid Facebook Group. There are specific postings here for people who need help. There are a wide variety of questions. Perhaps you will know the answer to a question about unemployment, rental questions, etc. We will all get through this together.
Worcester Mutual Aid Facemask Working Group
We’ve all heard how the people on the front lines do not have enough PPE. There is a large network of sewers out there making masks like crazy. Our own Robin Mitzcavitch is one of them! Perhaps you have fabric, elastic, t-shirts, etc. laying around that you never had time to sew, check into this group or ask Robin how you can help.
It’s tough times folks! Never before have we seen anything like it. I have faith that we will all get through this together. Take care of yourself those around you. If you have any needs, please reach out to me. And, if you have the time and/or money to help others, I encourage you to do that as well.
Rev. Aaron Payson