TONGLEN MEDITATION PRACTICE
One of the reasons I got into yoga teaching, besides it being my mom's idea originally, was because of suffering; both my own suffering and the suffering in others. When I "discovered" yoga in my early twenties, I discovered relief. Relief from afflicted mental states, relief from an angst, I discovered easefulness and peace. Physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically and spiritually, I just felt BETTER. The more I practiced, the better I felt. That is what kept me coming back for more, day after day. And so curious about how the body and mind worked. It felt like how it feels to come home. I felt joy, pure joy in just being alive in this body. It was very healing to all the hurts in my heart and my head.
That was my experience, personally. As I practiced more, there came requests to teach others. What I encountered daily were people, suffering. Perhaps not suffering in the extreme sense of the word per se, but everyone was suffering somehow, either coming to you with a complaint about the physical body or a worry in their mind, or a discomfort in their beingness, a decided lack of EASE in most cases. That is what really inspired me to share the yoga that I discovered. The yoga that I found to help ease my aches and pains, mentally and physically. I knew yoga worked for me and I knew it would work for others, if they took it on.
This inspired me to take deeper training, to acquire more tools and education so that when someone came to me asking for help, I would have something to give them, something to tell them, something for them to try.
Maybe you, too, have looked around and seen the suffering around you. It is immense sometimes, overwhelming at others. If you are a sensitive, intuitive or empathetic person, the awareness of the suffering in the world can take you down at times, get you down, flatten you. It did to me, since I was about 14 years old. I felt that pain for the world. That is because, I learned later, we ARE all one entity, one energy. The illusion of our separateness is just that, an illusion, it is simply not real. Scientists prove it now with their quantum mechanics. Science now proves that we are vibration and resonance, not solid mass. We are like different parts of one body. The baby toe may seem like a separate thing from the right elbow, but both parts have the same blood running through them, the same breath and oxygen. The separation is only in the perception, not in the reality. We feel the pain of others because we are all part of a one. That is why some people feel everything.
When I first felt everything, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken for every hungry person, for every angry person, for every hurting person, every damaged person, I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken for the planet that we are killing every day just by living and for all the suffering around the world. I thought "what? what can be done? what can I do? It is all too overwhelming" and such.
I feel fortunate that I, by some wild luck, stumbled across the light. I tripped on yoga. With the teachings and practice of yoga, I was able to find release, relief and stability for myself. I was at least able to save myself and in sharing what was shared with me, perhaps others would be able to grab on and pull themselves up too.
I still have suffering. Life is still happening, every day, in all its messy, inglorious splendor. The causes of our suffering can never be completely controlled or done away with. There will always be, loss of loved ones, illness, heartbreak, loneliness, whatever. That is not going to change, but we, as humans, can change how we process those external events.
Just as we rise to the physical challenges we voluntarily impose upon ourselves doing yoga postures on the mat and breathe through it all with grace, we rise to the challenges life puts in our path for our own growth and personal evolution. We are constantly becoming that which we already are. That means there is no place to get to, we already are all that we aspire to be. Life's missteps and fires of learning are just that, placed for our learning, for us to realize ourselves, for us to understand our true nature more clearly, that which we already are.
It is like a fog exists over our consciousness. You know these weeks in winter when we go days without seeing the blue sky? Sometimes life is that way too. We go DAAAAYS. And then, it clears. We glimpse it. You know that feeling of relief, of happiness, of joy to see the sun? Yoga helps us see that sun and blue sky, and it helps us to understand that the blue sky is our natural state, our true nature, even if all we perceive at the moment, is grey clouds or fog. We don't live as if it is foggy, we live as if it is sunny blue sky everyday, because that truth is where our awareness is anchored.
Its a big idea. Its a big picture. But it is the real picture, if we can open our perception wide enough to see it that way. People who have had near death experiences have that perception, that way of seeing opened up to them. Many report that after seeing that light, that it completely changed they way they lived afterwards.
There is an invitation in all of this. A Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice offered by Pema Chodron called 'TONGLEN' and it is for this suffering, this feeling of pain, not just our own, but that of others as well.
I will be practicing this meditation for the next few weeks if you would like to join me in the experiment. Just practice any time of day. Could be a formal seated practice in the morning when you first wake up, or anytime throughout the day as needed or when you encounter difficult emotions in yourself or others.
The practice can sometimes seem counter-intuitive. People often ask me, why would you want to take in negative energy? Isn't the idea to breathe in the good and breathe out the bad? Well, look at it this way, according to the yoga sutras, we create more tensions for ourselves when we try to push away what we think we don't want, and try to grasp for more of what we think we DO want. This constant pushing and pulling is a great source of suffering and unhappiness for us, as, for the most part, we are never able to completely rearrange external circumstances to suit us all the time. Things are always changing, partners are leaving, jobs are lost, loved ones are passing, we are becoming ill, whatever it is, life is happening and we cannot ever get everything lined up to our exact preference all the time. If our happiness is anchored in external circumstances being lined up in a certain way, we are HOOPED! The yoga sutras teach a sort of equanimity or detachment from needing things to be a certain way to be happy, to leave the striving and the grasping and learn to be ok with things as they are. Breathe.
Tonglen meditation practice is the perfect tool for this. It is a very powerful practice, and so you have to see if it is the right one for you or not. If any practice doesn't feel right to you, it might not be the right time for you to do that practice. You might practice something else such as counting the breath, inhaling one, exhaling one, inhaling two, exhaling two, or a simple mantra repetition ( in any language), in order to focus the mind.
If you would like to practice tonglen, here it is:
You can do this anywhere, anytime. It is the practice of breathing in the suffering, the pain, the discomfort, whatever that is, whatever unpleasant feeling, be it physical or mental/emotional. This can be your suffering, or it can be the suffering of another, or it can be the suffering of larger groups of people, it can be that of someone you see walking down the street, or someone you are sitting with in the hospital, or ALL the people in the hospital. Feel and sense and touch that pain and suffering as you breathe it in, feel it as fully as you can, and then as you breathe out, send out what that suffering needs: compassion, warmth, love, healing, kindness, relief, whatever the antithesis of that suffering may be.
It's a recycling of energy, in a sense. And it serves the double purpose of getting us really cozy and comfortable with suffering, our own, and others. Since suffering is unavoidable, no human being will escape some experience of suffering in their lives, better to learn how to process it with grace.
What you may experience through this practice is... relief, that is one, but also... like a feeling of comfort or soothing balm. It is a beautiful practice to take care of feelings of fear, jealousy, any kind of discomfort, by not running away from it, but welcoming it in as a teacher. It can be extremely helpful to those around you, as you are energetically radiating love, compassion, kindness, metta. You can even use it to diffuse a potentially harmful or dangerous situation. Since we are all vibration and energy, our energy, when channeled properly, can have a profound effect on those around us.
More on TONGLEN:
"Let's do tonglen for a world that is falling apart"
- Pema Chodron 2009 (before the world even REALLY started falling apart, holy cow!) :D