Embodying Compassion During Crazy Times

A note from Erin:

What can I possibly write when there are kids in cages, families seeking aid only to experience such unimaginable tragedy? And when it’s so tempting to numb out because it’s all just so heavy? I don’t know, friends. Here’s my attempt:

I’m doing my best to lean in and not shrink away, even as I’m coming out of my own deeper-than-I-imagined well of exhaustion…. Leaning in to relish the beauty of the Wasatch wildflowers when I walk in the canyon, and leaning into the broken open heart as I tune into the news. It takes intentionality not to go numb, and we simply cannot go numb. It hurts to care, it all feels like too much, the weight of it is so very heavy – and we have to stay open and take it in anyway. We must.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll have the honor of sharing embodiment work with caregivers from Huntsman Cancer Center who have their own deep compassion fatigue from their important work, let alone from the world.

There are many levels of the beautiful practice of tonglen (giving and taking, also known as the exchange of self and other) from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition Carl and I have studied and practiced over the past 20+ years. It’s a potent practice for times like these.

It’s basic orientation is the invitation to do exactly the opposite of what comes naturally: to courageously open our hearts to suffering rather than battening down the hatches, trying to protect ourselves from it. To breathe in all that is right here to be felt:  the achy heart, the worry, the not knowing what to do, the children’s’ cries, the ever-so-heavy weight of the world…. to let ourselves be genuinely touched by it – and then to breathe out kindness, beauty, love, compassion.


It’s so helpful to start with the foundation of being embodied and grounded, rooted in this body on this spot on the earth – so we’re not trying to hold  it all ourselves, but realize that we ourselves are held by mother earth, right on this spot, as we open our hearts. Another important aspect is to likewise be grounded in the vast spaciousness of being, the most magnanimous aspect of ourselves, the skylike space of our biggest heart-mind that truly has room enough for it all.

It takes no small amount of courage and intentional willingness to be touched by life, to be permeable to it, to give up the attempts to wall ourselves off as a “separate self.”

We are woven into the world with every breath. We can feel it. The soft animals of our body know it.  This practice makes it conscious and allows us to become something like human air purifiers, but instead of air, we become filters for suffering – breathing in the awful stuff, breathing out blessings. What’s truly amazing? We can do this.

Like a fountain getting wet, when we send out loving kindness, we can’t help but get it all over ourselves. With the support of the ground, and the vast heart of compassion, we can let it all in, let it break our hearts open so they never recover, by which I mean that they never go back to that tiny, illusory separate self that desperately clings to what’s good and hardens to avoid the hurt.

Breathing in, breathing out, right this moment, like a vast ocean of exquisitely painful caring. As one Tibetan teacher, Dzigar Kongtrul, says – you have to make your heart big enough for a horse race. Actually – even bigger than that. Big enough to allow compassion for migrant families and climate change and refugees and even for those incredibly misguided politicians, as well as for my own very personal worries, relationship challenges, money stresses, my concerns about the divorced friends in an agonizing custody battle, the painful care I feel for a treasured loved one shrinking from pancreatic cancer.
There really is room for it all.

I keep thinking of Rumi’s smart counsel. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 
Let’s break down the barriers with every breath. 
As Rumi also says, “Don’t go back to sleep.”

If you’re local and want to join me to practice embodied sitting meditation which will end with a tonglen practice and walking meditation, I’m going to be hosting meditation on the full moon, June 27th, at a creekside spot in City Creek Canyon, from 7-8am. Simply park in the main canyon parking lot and walk through the gate to the first picnic spot labeled #1. Go down the wooden steps where there’s a flat spot under a tree by the gently flowing creek. For the next few months, I’ll be hosting such outdoor sitting practice on the New and Full Moons. Embodied meditation in the canyon. I’m so looking forward to it. I frequently sit and practice in this spot and am happy to invite you to join me.
The dates of the Full and New Moons are June 27thJuly 12July 27August 11August 26th. Practice will be from 7-8am at spot 1 in City Creek Canyon. I’ll see how it goes and may continue into the fall, and in the meantime, you’re warmly welcome to join me. Bring your own cushion or camp chair, and whatever you need to be reasonably comfortable, including perhaps a spritz of bug spray and a water bottle. There is no charge, but donations are welcome.

Please also consider joining me for the next Answering the Call of our Times workshop. The last one was a deeply powerful experience for all of us who participated, and I deeply believe in the power of community coming together to practice embodied gratitude, grieving, and visioning how we might bring our unique perspective and gifts to co-create the better version of the world we wish to see manifest. It is necessary work that we cannot do alone. The potent, buoyant power of a compassionate community circle can’t be overestimated! The link with info and registration is below. I’d be honored by your presence. Space is limited to 12, and several spots are already filled. Join me!

  • We are finishing the last details around our Costa Rica retreat at Finca Mia in January! Registration will be open next week.  
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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.