A Practice for Activists-in-Isolation

The following piece first appeared in the Faith Formation and Education newsletter. Subscribe to receive future newsletters.


What I love most about my church community and staff colleagues at Trinity Church Wall Street is our crystal clarity about the Christian mission to promote human dignity and social justice, as expressed in our core values. And, so, Trinity has formed and sent out many a dedicated activist and volunteer over the years—people for others, resolved to change the world through hard work and open-hearted determination.

It strikes me that this time of COVID-19 coping must be especially difficult for changemakers and people committed to serving others through social action. If, for example, your personal Rule of Life includes visiting the sick, packing brown bag lunches, reading to children of incarcerated mothers, inviting the neighborhood for Sunday suppers, or witnessing to justice at court proceedings, you may be holding a host of emotions during this time of isolation.

Beyond our call to be creative about ways to deliver care during a crisis, we are being invited to turn inward, too. We have an invitation to spend time in prayer, connecting deeply to the Source of our loving action, for strength and renewed purpose.

There is a simple and direct meditation practice called tonglen (Tibetan for “sending and receiving”) that you can use to cultivate compassion and care while on hiatus from direct service. This practice visualizes the heart’s intention to move energy in times or situations that awaken your compassion—or, conversely, when you find yourself stuck in resistance to suffering, whether yours or another’s.

The following “Sending and Receiving” practice can be used at any time, especially when you may be feeling disempowered or stir-crazy at home! Remember that there is power in the intention to acknowledge and hold the suffering all around you. There is power and dynamism in your intention to extend connectivity and mutuality, by offering relief from suffering to a world in need. This is so, even if this power and dynamism are expressed in the silence of your opening heart. May this practice awaken your self-compassion, widen your circle of concern, and remind you that when we acknowledge our own suffering with compassion, we are better able to offer care to others. May this practice be for us a humble expression of solidarity-in-suffering, as modeled by Jesus.

How to do it:

Find a comfortable position, sitting or standing. Rest your mind for a moment or two as you enter into prayer and begin to notice your breathing. Pay attention to your inhale and exhale, deepening it slightly. As you breathe, connect to the words below. Acknowledge the suffering—yours and that which is all around us—as you breathe in. Visualize your self-offering of relief and solidarity as you breathe out.

I breathe in the disappointment and frustration
of disturbance to routines, plans, and aspirations.
I breathe out patience, courage, adequacy, and peace.

I breathe in the loneliness and sadness
of days spent in isolation without human touch.
I breathe out deep connection and community.

I breathe in the brokenness of our social order,
and the cruelty that dehumanizes the most vulnerable among us.
I breathe out dignity, compassion, and a burning desire for justice.

I breathe in all the worry, fear, and confusion
growing in this time of anxiety and not knowing.
I breathe out calm energy and trust in God’s goodness.

I breathe in the desires of good people everywhere
seeking alternative ways to serve and to love.
I breathe out creativity and confidence in God’s gracious abiding.

Pay attention to your feelings when you meditate in this way. Feel the freedom to adjust the language to express your true feelings and to make this practice your own, that it may be life-giving.