I am aware as I write these words that I am feeling a little apprehensive about sharing something personal and profound about being self-aware. I have recently become a fan of the book, The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron. In the book she describes a practice known as Tonglen, which activates loving-kindness and compassion for one’s self and others. What I like about this mindfulness practice is that it supports working through that which is painful and unwanted by allowing one to completely open the heart and mind to whatever arises. It increases an individual’s capacity for growth and transformation by increasing self-awareness.
Why am I talking about Tonglen in relationship to self-awareness? In my personal work with transformation I have found that often when I get stuck it is related to my fears. Fear that I can’t do or say what needs doing or saying. Fear that I will fail publicly. Fear that I have chosen the wrong path. Fear that people won’t like what I have to offer. In this very moment I am afraid that I don’t have just the right words to describe what causes one to get stuck, much less how to get unstuck.
Being able to see ourselves objectively requires that we love ourselves unconditionally. Self-awareness and making conscious choices and decisions grow proportionately with our ability to be okay with our own imperfections. It is a matter of trusting and opening to the possibilities rather than hiding from the fear of not being good enough or blaming our circumstances on others. We must own all of ourselves to be able to fully express and use our talents and gifts. Tonglen is one vehicle to face-up to what is unwanted or that which we resist, and practice loving-kindness and compassion.
In Tonglen there are four stages. The first stage is recognizing the struggle and allowing a moment of stillness and openness. I have to catch myself and buy myself a moment instead of finding a quick escape route. I catch myself by paying close attention to my physical body. Like most people, I feel fear in a variety of places. For example, sometimes my stomach feels queasy, my chest feels tight, or my jaw tightens up and I catch my breath. Begin to notice your physical reactions and open yourself up to what is happening without judgment. Next, during stage two, we begin visualizing and working with the raw energy, so rather than run from it or fight it we let ourselves experience it. For me, this energy often feels claustrophobic, as if the air is thick and heavy. I know it seems counter intuitive to choose to experience the heaviness. Yet, giving yourself a moment to deepen the awareness of what you are feeling is the gateway to understanding. In the third stage, we practice breathing in to accept that which is unwanted followed by a breath out to let go and feel a sense of relief that we can be more open to the unwanted. Finally, in the last stage, we incorporate others who struggle with the same challenge knowing that we are expanding awareness for all who struggle.
I have found this practice to be profoundly helpful. There are new courses being taught in universities as part of the leadership content on mindfulness practices.