giving tonglen a whirl…

Posted on April 9, 2013, by ,In holistic health, meditation No comments

I will begin by saying that I’ve done tonglen practice a little bit before reading about it this week for class. I have also done various types of loving kindness meditations including the ho’oponopono prayer. I recite this prayer, too, almost daily:

May I be well and happy
Free from harm and change
May any obstacle to my spiritual, emotional, or physical well-being be removed
May I reach/be enlightenment in this lifetime.

This was a prayer given to me by my friend Ani when I took Buddhist vows nearly 12 years ago. That prayer starts with me and then moves to my loved ones, then to acquaintances, then to “enemies”, then to anyone/everyone in the world and universe. It can take a LONG time to do the prayer. I hold the person’s face in my mind as I recite the prayer for them. It has helped me to forgive and forget a multitude of things in myself and in others.

I read about tonglen for class this week and described it in a paper I wrote yesterday:

Tonglen is a transformational meditation practice that helps to change the atmosphere in our relationships (with self and all other sentient beings.) Tonglen has four stages: Stage 1 reminds us of any of the five mind training slogans from absolute bodhichitta (i.e. “regard all dharma as dreams;” “examine the nature of unborn insight;” “self-liberation is no antidote;” “rest in the nature of alaya;” and/or “in the post meditation experience, one should remain as a child of illusion;” from Pema Chodron’s “Awakening Compassion” video.) Stage 2 of Tonglen is to breathe in the dark and heavy thoughts/emotions that arise and then breathe out whatever feels cool and light. Stage 3 is to think of whatever unresolved issue is present and alive in oneself and breathe in the dark, heaviness of it and then breathe out something that feels peaceful or helpful in some way. The idea is to open space up in one’s mind and heart in both the darkness and the lightness, which is the nature of the giving/receiving aspects of Tonglen. Stage 4 asks us to universalize this experience by visualizing all being who are sharing this dark experience that we are having in this present moment and breathing out images or thoughts of peace for all; this helps to help us to feel less sense of separation in our darkest moments.

It is a lovely variation on the theme of loving kindness and compassion towards self and others. It seems to help heal suffering in relationships and can be done even for folks that you don’t know. Chodron gave the example of seeing a father speak harshly to a child in a store – she said that the breathing in could be for the anger/frustration the father feels and breathing out of peace for him. Likewise, we could breathe in the pain and humiliation the child feels and breathe out an image of a flower or something that might be of some use to him/her.

I wrote yesterday about the various monkey wrenches in my day. I noticed that what got triggered in me was not only frustration, but self-doubt. I can write a lot about this and tell you the why’s and the how’s of this story but the real meat of it was that I got to a very familiar place of self-doubt that I don’t frankly treat as an old friend. Lately when I experience self-doubt, it is accompanied with low level anxiety. I realize this is because I want to trust my thoughts, words and deeds in this body and in this lifetime. Not doing so, can feel almost crippling. I noticed the thoughts and stories and was really ok to drop them. Still, I had the feelings that were unpleasant – unwanted. I decided to take a few minutes and breathe in the space of self-doubt and accompanied anxiety. I breathed in all its murky twistedness. I fucking hate this feeling and want to resist it with every ounce of my being. But this time, I invited it in. I held it for a few minutes and then breathed out an image of the beach with the ocean waves washing this feeling through and out.

then the fun part began. I breathed in and thought about all the millions of people that might be feeling this same sense of self-doubt and anxiety right at this moment. This really helped to open up space inside me – a space of realization that I’m not alone in this. Probability-wise, there must be quite a number of people who feel this exact thing at this exact moment. Who is to say not? I breathed out images of expansive ocean waves washing this away. It was much easier to do this for others than for myself. I repeated the process because I want to feel the easy kindness I had to send out to others and give it to myself, too.

I’d love feedback on personal experience of these loving-kindness meditations. do you do them? Do you find them helpful? do you have insights into understand that might help me too?

thank you.

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