As cases of COVID-19 surge to new records in cities across the United States, fear and uncertainty continue to plague the country, and healthcare workers are burning out. Now they may have even less time to recover as the CDC, concerned about hospital staffing shortages, just reduced the number of quarantine days required for healthcare workers who have tested positive for COVID.
Lama Palden—licensed psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and coach—has a practice that can help healthcare workers or anyone battling burnout. Her 2019 book Love on Every Breath contains a 45-minute, eight-step Tonglen practice geared toward people facing pain, in addition to short practices that can be done on their own. One such “On-the-Spot” meditation is geared specifically toward caregivers to help them prevent burnout.
“When we’re in some sort of helping profession or on the frontlines in some kind of a way, there’s something very sustaining that nourishes us if we can draw from a practice like this,” Palden says of the “On-the-Spot” meditation. “People that are in any kind of frontline position—whether they’re a cop, or a firefighter, a therapist, a priest, or something else—are taking in their situation and a tremendous amount of information.”
The practice outlined in Love on Every Breath lets these caregivers rely not just on themselves but on the strength of an awakened being—Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in the Tibetan tradition but Palden’s practice welcomes all faiths—as they process the experiences around them.
“It’s easier for us to imagine an awakened being like Avalokiteshvara, or the Dalai Lama, or somebody outside of ourselves, the Buddha, Christ. Then, we open to them. . . and through that, feel our own inner light, inner basic goodness, and awakened nature,” Palden explains. “The energy is already going in. If they can concentrate on a sense of purity or awakened or divine energy—however they envision it—and have that transformed and then sent out, it’s like [the practice] cleans everything up and sends it back out so that it isn’t just festering or becoming a weight inside.”
Lama Palden’s “On-the-Spot Meditation”: Taking and Sending for Others
Envision a crystal vajra [a ritual clublike weapon with a sphere at each end] of light in your heart. See the person or people in front of you whom you want to work with. Contemplate their suffering and open to feel loving-kindness and compassion for them.
Breathe in their suffering as black smoke, and see it instantaneously, spontaneously transformed by the lightning bolt emanating from the vajra. This transforms their suffering into white light, awakened compassion, love, and healing energy.
Breathe out this light to the person or people in front of you. See them filling with light, being healed, happy, and awakened.
For an even briefer version:
Breathe into suffering. See and feel it transformed by the crystal vajra and the lightning bolt of enlightened heart-mind. Breathe out love to yourself and all beings, to the entirety of what is.
Excerpted from the book Love on Every Breath. Copyright © 2019 by Lama Palden Drolma. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com
A version of this article was originally published on October 7, 2021.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.