Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

I am not making enough money. I struggle paying the bills. I panic. What if I never create enough income? What if I end up on the street and die?

I try to reassure myself. “Well, well, calm down. It’s not that bad. You’ll earn enough to survive. You have friends and family who are willing to help.” My mind doesn’t listen AT ALL. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to live in ever increasing poverty. I don’t want to end up homeless!” “Hush, hush. This is just temporarily. You have SO MANY skills. Of course, you’ll make enough money.” “Yes, but that’s not the point, that’s…”

Then, I remember Pema Chödron. Something I read today. About tonglen. Breathing in the dark, heavy, hot stuff. Breathing out the white, light, cool stuff. Just that. Breathing in all the pain and suffering. Of myself. Of everyone who is in the same boat as I. Everyone who panics, who feels shame, who is overwhelmed by fear. Everyone who wants support, hope, safety. Breathing out lightness, relief, reassurance and hope. She writes about removing the object. Bringing down your experience to the visceral feeling, without thinking about the object. Breathing in the panic, fear, shame. Allowing this pain to penetrate me, to open me up to the suffering of us humans. Breathing out lightness, support, understanding. Nothing else.

It doesn’t work. I breathe in hot, dark, heavy. I don’t breathe out white, light, cool. I am stuck. I am not relaxing in this panic. I am consumed by it. I am crushed by it’s impact. I feel how strong it is. How blinding. I don’t see any ray of hope. I don’t trust there is a way out, there is just fear. I can’t enjoy the warmth of my house, the protection from the pouring rain. I only see myself out on the street, in the same cold, pouring rain, begging disinterested car drivers for money. There is nothing but my panic, and these horrible images.

And yet. There is some shifting, some movement within me. An opening of compassion. Some empathy. Some softening. I understand how scared I am. How terrified that I won’t make it. How horrified that I won’t have support. How overwhelmed by shame to even ask for support. How lonely to face my struggles and demons alone. I totally get how terrifying this situation is for me. I calm down. Nothing has changed. And something did. A splinter of compassion is growing next to my panic. Underneath the fear, the panic, I touch a seed of solidity. A solidity without words. Like a willow in the wind. It’s top sways wildly in the storm, it’s trunk moves flexibly with the storm. The roots are solidly grounded in the earth. I am solidly grounded in the earth.

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