Why does my grocery store keep “ethnic” frozen foods separate from the rest of the frozen foods? And why are artichokes considered ethnic? Why can’t the edamame and the sugar snap peas just get along? A simple trip to the grocery generates so many dilemmas. Also, why can’t barley flour be kept with the rest of the grains? I think Kroger may be trying to keep the dirty hippies away from the rest of the shoppers; someone call the ACLU, stat. I’m not sure why I associate the weekend with grocery shopping; there is no reason I couldn’t go on a Wednesday, when there are approximately 5,000 fewer people in the aisles.

Coming into contact with so many people at once was the perfect opportunity to practice a new (to me) technique called tonglen. Pema Chodrun explains it beautifully here, but essentially it is a practice meant to increase your capacity to feel compassion for others. It is a breathing exercise, which I love. When you encounter one who is in pain, breathe in with the intention of pulling their suffering into you. On your exhalation, focus on sending compassion, love, rainbows, whatever you imagine to be healing, back toward the afflicted person. It’s such a simple exercise. The rainbow part is strictly my interpretation, of course. I have realized lately, as I pay more attention to how my kids learn, that I think in images. Having the inhale pain-exhale love image helps me to focus.

I have done something similar to this for a long time, but my un-named practice was very amorphous, more of a hippy-dippy feeling of sending good vibes out into the world, or to a specific person. Kind of a step up from the old saw “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Tonglen is another step up on that same ladder. Looking beyond the anger or frustration that people project is difficult. Why is being nice so hard sometimes?

In a totally modern twist, even Wikihow has a tutorial on the how to stop being mean to people. I am fascinated that the same subject is of such enduring interest that there are web resources as diverse as Buddhist teaching and Wikipedia.