The Wave

THE WAVE……..Last night I woke to a powerful image. I was thinking about a variety of sporting events I have attended in which the entire group of spectators joins in support of their team and erupts into a loud and joyous WAVE. It is always exciting for me to wait until the WAVE gets to my part of the stands so that I too can stand up, throw my arms up in the air, yell, and joyously celebrate the love we all have for this team. If they are winning…..we celebrate and feel that elation together. If we are losing…..we are willing to suffer the loss together…. the wave of support lets everyone in the arena know that we stand together in our suffering of that loss. We keep the WAVE going to try and rally the team, letting them know they can draw on our strength to keep fighting. We only know a few of the people sitting directly by us……the rest….are strangers. But the bond we feel is unmistakable……our shared experience of loving this team is all we need to join in. Isn’t that beautiful? 

As I thought about this I thought what a glorious formula that could be for life……..all of us banding together to show our love and desire to celebrate or suffer with humanity, with ourselves……not focusing on our differences, or our shortcomings…..but instead seeing that we are a people that share the experience of elation... sometimes, and suffering...other times. That we understand, I mean really KNOW so much about each “stranger" we walk past.….the experience of hope, loss, self-judgement, insecurities, need for love, desires…..on and on and on. If we KNOW this in ourselves, then we also KNOW it in that person. I love the idea that we could use this knowing to join in one glorious and unending WAVE……an unending WAVE where we all stand up, throw our arms in the air, yell, and willingly open ourselves to suffering with, and celebrating the love we have for this team.

Charisse Lyons

Heart Hurts

Thank you for this beautiful poem that was submitted following one of our "Tonglen Consultation Groups for Practioners". It beautifully points out the temptation we all face to give in to our defenses rather than authentically feeling our own pain. It hurts.....yes! Just feel the pain....absolutely! 


Heart hurts

Breathe into the hurt

Feel the pain

It hurts

It hurts


I want to figure it out 

I get lost in thought

     Oh ya...that's what it is

     Oh ya...great insight, remember that

     Oh ya...


My head bobs

I'm falling asleep

The bob wakes me up


Feel the pain in your heart

Just feel the pain

Don't go to fix or story


Be with it

Feel it

Let it be


Hmmm...a rush of warmth

It's hot



Body and Emotional Memory

“When I resist in any way, I am really stepping out of spaciousness. When I rest in whatever is arising, without resistance, whether it is an opaque emotion or not, then I am not outside of that spaciousness.” ~Aneeta Makena


            It’s taken Tom and I months to tame the little black and white feral cat in our backyard. She started showing upon our back step in the middle of winter. We would open the door and give her some food and she would rush up to the bowl, hiss at us, grab a piece of meat and rush off snarling. Gradually she got a little less reactive and slowly started trusting us, until she could actually eat her bowl of food on the back step without running off after each grabbed morsel. And then came the day that she tolerated being touched. After that she rapidly become the sweetest, most affectionate little cat rubbing up against us, purring and sitting on our laps demanding lots of affection. She even reluctantly put up with us us cutting out the matted knots of fur behind her ears. No more than a teenager, it was soon apparent that some bad boy had knocked her up! We could tell when she had the kittens but did not know where they were until a couple of weeks ago, when she carried them up the patio stairs from the woodpile and presented them to us on the back step – 4adorable little fluff balls, two black and two black and white. At first she wouldn’t let us touch them but within a couple of days mama cat and the four kittens were toddling into the kitchen for their expensive kitten food and not really wanting to leave!

            They have all been hanging out on the back patio, and have been as tame and trusting as any housecat until two days ago when we came home and found her in a terrible state of agitation with the kittens nowhere in sight. Fearful that a redtail hawk or a fox had gotten them, we were feeling sick to our stomachs. Mommy cat was restless, meowing, coming up to us and then rushing off again. We sat out of the patio with her and she gradually settled down and finally called the kittens out of hiding. We were so relieved.

            It is fascinating to me, that I did not doubt for one second that something had threatened her life and that she was in a state of hyper-arousal. She couldn’t tell me the facts, explain the event, tell me what had attacked her. She didn’t have to, I believed her body and her actions. Her body was showing me the memory of what had happened. Whether this was a hawk, a fox, or a dog, is irrelevant to the experience she had. That she had a terrifying experience was self evident.

            And yet, when our own bodies react this way with emotion and reactivity we tell ourselves that it is ridiculous, wrong, uncalled for, neurotic, babyish, that we are being sissies, that there is no reason for the feelings. And if we cannot produce some kind of intellectual understanding, come up with data and facts as memory, details and dates of the event that happened, we dismiss that anything happened at all. We fail to recognize that our emotions and our bodily reactions are themselves memories of an event that frightened and hurt us. I am quite sure that my little cat would go into hyper-arousal again if she got any hint of the threat that happened a few days ago – a loud noise, a shadow overhead, me coming up on her unexpectedly… anything could activate the memory of what happened in her emotional body. She has no intellectual memory of this, but she remembers in every cell of her body.

            Emotions are memories. All of what has happened to us through the course of our lives is faithfully recorded in the body, waiting for us to recognize, accept and bring our loving attention to the suffering. 

            Just as one would immediately recognize the terror of a little animal and approach it with concern, curiosity, calmly, gently and kindly, so too should we approach our own animal, emotional body that holds the past memory of trauma, insult, hurt and threat, in the same way.

            We have learnt to ignore emotional and body memory and believe only factual, intellectual, image, memory – and yet at the time of trauma, the brain is very often turned off, in a state of shock and denial, dissociation and distancing. Our eyes often close during trauma. I just have to think of being on a roller coaster – I do not see anything, my eyes are shut tight and I am clinging on for dear life. The memory of the ride is recorded, however in my body – dizzy, nauseous and terrified! And one little drop on an airplane ride is all that is required to awaken the full body memory, even though I am not afraid of flying. The brain is not our most reliable source of memory. Our body and emotions are.


            Another way we dismiss our emotions is that we do not recognize threat – it has been normalized and excused, rationalized, minimized and denied by the perpetrators of abuse.

            When a child cries because it shamed a parent often get’s angry and states, “I will give you something to cry about – you have nothing to cry about.” Or you hurt yourself, and when you cry you are told, it is not that bad…Nothing happened – we just made it up!

            No wonder we think our feelings are not valid indicators of what is actually occurring, or has occurred – and this is just one mild, albeit pervasive, example of how what happened is denied. So when feelings resurface through some present trigger, we immediately doubt them, deny them, do not notice them or do any of the things we were taught to do – not believe this is memory and not believe that something actually DID happen.

            Recovery work requires us to start learning to pay very close attention to even the subtlest feelings and body sensations. Sometimes they are about the present, but mostly they are about the past. The present can activate the memory, remind us of the past and open a doorway into healing the suffering of our past, when our nervous system, our understanding and perspective of the world was very limited in coping with the difficulties of life and relationships. To dismiss our feelings, or blame them on the current situation is to miss the opportunity for deep self-reflection and processing of the past, which can bring awareness and a new sense of peace and freedom.


“The moment you learn to welcome even suffering, a very rapid transformation happens. It can sometimes be instant; when you totally welcome the pain, it turns around. One could do it with fear: fear arising, fear without the story, and all of a sudden what once was fear is intense aliveness.”

                                                                                                                                               ~Eckhart Tolle



© Lyndall Johnson


What is Compassion?


Com – together with

Passion – to suffer

Compassion is the choice to suffer together with self and other. It is not to feel sorry for, it is not pity or sympathy, it is not even empathy, which is more about imagining (a head exercise about how you are feeling or another might be feeling). Compassion means to fully feel with yourself or another instead of defending against feelings, and creating barriers between you and your fullest experience of life.

So why is it that everyone is not completely aware of their feelings nor allowing themselves the full range of human emotion in every experience of life? 

We were all taught to repress, deny, minimize, dissociate, block, rationalize, intellectualize our feelings at a very young age in one way or another. Each instance is quite unique and yet the same principle of being cut off from feelings and living in the head occurs for all of us. By the time we are adults we are semi conscious, walking ghouls, the living dead – we do not even know what our emotional needs and feelings are – and yet they exert an influence on all that we say and do, leading to defensive and superficial lives lacking in intimacy, meaning, connection, fulfillment or love. 

Love means knowing ourselves fully. It means embracing every experience of our lives with full awareness. It means feeling deeply and immediately– whether this is sorrow, fear, shame, anger or joy. The awareness and lived experience of joy can only occur when one also has full awareness and lived the experience of all the pain and suffering that was buried deep in our souls, and left behind in childhood. Until we can love ourselves – that is, be fully aware of all aspects of self including our suffering, we will not know or love anyone else either. 

Allowing ourselves to bring our awareness to the feelings is problematic. It is hard to break through the defenses, blocks and barriers that keep emotion stuck in the body and separated from awareness by the head. It is hard to integrate head and heart. As children there was no sense of self to be able to observe what the experience was – we just were the experience. If it was unpleasant we found a way to protect ourselves from an awareness of it.  As adults we have a sense of self – and identity and it is this self that has to learn to observe, investigate and accept the suffering that was denied and repressed in one way or another in childhood. It takes practice. And how do we practice?  

We practice first of all noticing and recognizing the behaviors that are designed to keep feelings locked down, hidden and denied from our awareness. This is largely our thinking and behavior – everything from platitudes and affirmations, to judgment and criticism, from addictions, compulsions and obsessions and perfectionistic tendencies to apathy and fatigue, our acting out and acting in. Our fight and flight tactics– all designed to keep the emotions at bay. These blocks and barriers are literally encoded into the body itself and each has it’s own texture, density and complexity experienced as constriction, physical pain, tension, illness, etc. We have been taught to ignore even the pain the blocks create in our body – and yet they manifest all the time.

Then we try to identify the feelings these behaviors mask, and to relax into them and actually feel them. Naming them is not feeling them! If we can start identifying and feeling the suffering behind our defenses, then we will start being aware of the suffering behind the behaviors of others and compassion will naturally arise. Full awareness is compassionate.

We can start to practice truly listening to ourselves and others – deeply – not buying the surface words and actions, but wondering what motives them? ---- always, always unmet needs and feelings. It is about being fully present and noticing how your attention wanders, how you distract away from the conversation, become self referential or any other number of tactics to not be fully present to the whole person – you or the other. It is about noticing what triggers defensiveness – even when someone is trying to guide or help you - and searching for why this is arising. It is to practice curbing the tongue – no longer lashing out, blaming, aggressing, gossiping, but considering what is being triggered that is really about your own suffering.

It is important to recognize that “letting go,” does not mean letting go of feelings. It means letting go of the barriers and subtle ploys, all the wanting and not wanting –i.e. the function of defensive behavior.  It means relaxing your grip and attachment to your habitual ways of blocking emotion and staying unaware. It means letting go of preference, resistance and clinging. It means allowing yourself to experience life nakedly, vulnerably and authentically without holding back or grabbing on to anything to protect your feelings. Start noticing how you want to resist when something challenging or painful arises. Notice how you want to grab a hold of, cling and possess when something pleasurable and enjoyable happens. 

If you do this you will actually feel – you will suffer the feelings - until you do not anymore. They do not last forever when you accept and bring your loving heart to them instead of habitual judgments.You will also, then, feel the bliss of being in your body. You will feel joy which is so different from the feelings of pleasure gained from the petty distractions of addictions to power, wealth, status and substances. Suffering that is defended against will continue to wreak havoc on your life. Suffering that is suffered is short lived and brings freedom.

Compassion is just a natural and spontaneous expression and emergence, with no thought of “how to be compassionate.” It is has no self reference – there is no one actually there to be compassionate. There is no thought or conceptualizing or theorizing about what you or another needs or what the effect of action might be on the self or other. There is no worry or concern about the outcome. There is no thought of doing, or fixing, or advising, or rescuing or changing, or controlling. 

It is simply what arises, appropriate to whatever the situation or condition is. This might or might not concur with the well considered rules and norms of the culture or what other people think is the “good” or “right,” thing to do. There is no wish for anything as a result of the action, or non action. It means being so transparent that the light shines through – all the way through - to your darkest suffering and all the way through to the suffering of others. It means living life fully aware, fully present, fully engaged, and completely whole.

Compassion has many faces – tender, gentle, warm, kind, soft, passionately loving, protective. It might be deep sorrow. It might be sweet intimacy. It might be a fierce “no,” and wield the sword of truth, conviction and integrity. It might be deep sorrow. 

The consort of compassion is wisdom. There is no compassion without wisdom and there is no wisdom without compassion – the two are integral to one another. We must understand and know the psyche deeply in order to love fully. We must love fully in order to see with gnosis. The two are inseparable.  

And this is why any spiritual practice must include study of some kind, deep shadow work (learning to be present to your own suffering), and body work. A two legged stool cannot be used – it is unstable. Our practice must be at least be three legged.  Consider what your three pronged practice will be this year.

© Lyndall Johnson