Practicing for a loved one who is ill

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Dianne’s letter

Hi Venerable Thubten Chodron,

If you could suggest how I could get my mind back on track with practicing, I would be so grateful. Since I learned of my Mom’s illness I haven’t been able to sit and meditate. I feel sad for her and paralyzed in terms of what I am offering to ease her situation. I have been thinking, “This isn’t about me. I need to focus and get back to practicing,” but I don’t feel I’m doing a very good job of using the Dharma to help others or myself. After I told you about my Mom’s illness and you said that you would say prayers for her, I was shocked that I didn’t think of doing that myself. Then, when I thought to make prayers for her, I didn’t know how to or what to pray for. If you had some suggestions I would be very grateful.

Dianne

Venerable Thubten Chodron’s response

Dear Dianne,

I’m glad you’re looking for ways to apply the Dharma to your present situation. There’s a section on health on my website, and you may get some ideas there.

This is a good time to contemplate the disadvantages of samsara—the six sufferings, the eight difficulties of human beings, etc. Doing these meditations will help you see that what is transpiring, although not pleasant, is completely normal for us sentient beings in samsara. That, in turn, will energize you to strive for liberation and diminish the tendency to think you can make samsara fun and suffering-free.

I encourage you also to observe the thoughts and emotions you’re having. You may want to write some of them down. Don’t judge them, just acknowledge them. Just observe what’s happening inside of you. Accept the feelings. Let them be, but don’t indulge in them or get locked into the stories behind them—the stories your conceptual mind is making up about how things should be.

After you’ve done that, begin to examine which thoughts and feelings are supported by ignorance, which by attachment, which by anger, which by loving-kindness, which by compassion, etc. Check which are realistic and which are seeking something that cannot come to be. Then ask, “What are other ways to look at these situations? How would Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, look at them? If Chenrezig were in my shoes, how would he describe what is going on? What thoughts and feelings would he cultivate to deal with the situation?”

Hand turning large prayer wheels.

Contemplating the disadvantages of samsara inspires us to strive for liberation. (Photo by Alfonso)

Also, do some Chenrezig practice, and while reciting the mantra om mani padme hum, radiate light that fills yourself, your Mom, and all sentient beings. The light purifies the suffering and the karma that causes it and inspires you, your Mom, and all others so that you can actualize realizations of the path.

You may also want to do the taking and giving meditation (tonglen). In it, take suffering and its causes, the afflictions, from your mom. You can also take suffering and its causes from your future self. The latter will help you accept whatever you’re feeling and free you from judging yourself.

These are some ideas. Hope they help.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

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