Painting of tonglenI’ve been practicing tonglen meditation. Tonglen is a Buddhist meditation where, faced with suffering, we breathe it in, envisioning it as a dark tarry substance. Then we breathe out light, airiness and joy. I am using it, I confess, somewhat selfishly, to turn my own discomfort into positive activity.

I used it during the pre-op waiting period for my recent colostomy. I was in a curtained alcove at the hospital. The IV was in place. I had spoken with the anesthesiologist, the anesthesiology nurse and the surgeon. They had sent my husband away and I was waiting. I was nervous. This is a big life change and I could feel it hurtling toward me, beyond my control. My mind was racing with thoughts that produced fear and aloneness. I breathed them in. I thought about people all over the world, waiting for surgery, feeling those feelings. I breathed them in for all of us and then breathed out joy… Joy without reason. Practicing tonglen, I don’t get lost in the emotions and I don’t run from them. I am with them and, at the same time, I am transforming them into compassion for myself and others.

I am continuing to practice as I adjust to life as a disabled “colostomate.” Words like “disgusting” and “revolting” float through my mind as I deal with having a piece of my bowel outside my skin and being much closer to its product than is usual. My disability requires that I share this situation – and the resulting tasks – with those who care for me. I keep wanting to apologize for it. Instead, I envision and gather close all of us with bowel problems and breathe in our embarrassment, our disgust, our sadness, our anger and breathe out joy.

Joy without reason burbles along beneath the surface of life. It is as close as a glance. Though it seems as fine and fragile as spun glass, it is so strong that it can push through layers of bruising and repugnance to sparkle to the surface. Joy is buoyant and brings my spirit and mood back to the surface, where we bask in the sunlight.