tonglen & unicorns


Since I have returned to work after the holidays, there has been a woman  greeting me everyday in the lobby of the office building where I work.  

And it's not just me, she is greeting everyone.  The smiling, pretty, young woman stands just inside the entrance saying "Good morning," to every single person who walks through these doors.

I’m not big on new year’s resolutions but if anyone asks, my official answer this year is: not be so hard on myself.  And wear more plaid. 

I need something attainable, immediate, and affordable. 

Part of this discipline, not the plaid part, includes taking time out.  Being in the moment.  Staying present.  Recognizing how and what I feel.  

This is also known as meditation.  

Most recently while meditating, I have been practicing tonglen, which is "a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. " - Pema Chödrön.

To learn more about tonglen, you can read Pema's book, When Things Fall Apart.  

At its core, it is breathing.

If you want to try it, it goes like this.

(1)    Sit and rest your mind in a sense of openness, stillness. 
(2)    Breathe in feelings that are hot, dark, heavy, a sense of claustrophobia.
(3)    Breathe out feelings of cool, bright, light, a sense of freshness.
(4)    Make it personal.  Use a painful situation that is real to you or someone you care about. Do it for yourself if you are feeling inadequate about something.
(5)    Make it bigger.  Do it for everyone who might be feeling the same as the one person you were thinking about.  Do it for people you consider to be your enemies – think of them as having the same confusion or stuckness as yourself. Breathe in their pain and breathe out their relief. 

Pema also states that "People often say that this practice goes against the grain of how we usually hold ourselves together."  

I can't help wondering if Oxford Properties Group, the owner of the building where I work, is trying out tonglen in their own way.

All customers of Waterpark Place got an email last Friday with the subject line that read: Introducing WaterPark Place's Official Greeter. 

The email, in part, reads:

Our research and experience at several of our Toronto office buildings has demonstrated that employees and visitors alike enjoy being recognized, greeted and appreciated by a familiar and helpful person when they arrive at a Class “A” office building. 

The Official Greeter will welcome people to the buildings; provide directions where necessary; answer questions about the complex; be a direct link to the Property Management office; and perhaps provide an umbrella to a customer in need of protection from the rain as they make there way out of the building at lunch time.  In short, they will do what it takes to provide people with a memorable positive customer service experience from the moment they set foot inside WaterPark Place.

It goes on about upcoming renovations to the elevators, lobbies and mezzanine and how the Greeter, Nadine, will undoubtedly be welcomed by everyone.  

Undoubtedly.

In the coming months, I plan to ask Nadine how Oxford Properties Group's non-smoking campaign is going.  See this post for my beef with the building’s smoking policies outside the entrances. 

And, no, I haven't started the documentary yet.  I have not followed up with them, but now with Nadine in the picture, we just might be able to get somewhere.  

So this January, this year, maybe even this life if all goes well...instead of fending off and hiding from fear and suffering I'm going to try to open my heart and allow myself to breathe in the pain of others.  

I will greet Nadine and accept her kindness.  But I will also, on the inhale, take in her stress and worry and fear that I assume goes along with the responsibility of being the Official Greeter of such a property.  And I will exhale feelings of light and freshness for her.  

I will do the same for the smokers that irritate the hell out of me when they light up right beside the bicycle racks. 

And maybe over time, like Pema says, maybe because of this reversal of the usual logic of avoiding suffering, my small amount of compassion will expand.  Perhaps I will be able to find ways to be there for others in what used to seem like impossible situations.  

As crazy as it sounds, if everyone, to the best of his or her ability, gave this accessible and affordable process a go...maybe it would be something that would ultimately soften and purify us and make us all more loving and kind.

It's worth a shot.  


If it doesn't work, we will have tried.  And we can continue to practice kindness and openness in other ways like expanding our knowledge and understanding, by being humble and tolerant and forgiving.   

We can believe in unicorns if it helps.  

Some say the mythical horse is a symbol of purity, elegance and charm.  And Wikipedia says its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable and to heal sickness. 

Perhaps that's why this one stands outside the entrance to the Centre Block in Ottawa.  

Parliamentary tonglen?