Watching the escalating situation in the Middle East prompts me to send the following to as many people as I can. While most of us aren’t in a position to individually change the flow of events there and around the world, we do have a tool available that might offer some respite, shift the energy, or generate unexpected healing. It’s a derivation of a Buddhist practice called Tonglen.
Tonglen is a process that invites us to breathe in the suffering of the world and breathe out ease, comfort, peace. Through identifying with the negativity around us – recognizing that it is part of the human experience and, as such, not separate from us, and that many people are experiencing exactly the suffering or negativity that is the focus of our meditation or experience right now – we diffuse some of the intensity of the suffering and chaos around us. In the Tonglen process, we breathe in suffering, negativity of whatever kind, 360 degrees around, through every pore, and then breathe out – through every pore, again – ease, calm, comfort, peace, whatever transforms the suffering taken in.
Pema Chodron tells stories of interactions with people that were literally transformed by applying Tonglen on the spot. For example, she tells a story of a therapist who was in the presence of a parent who was extremely angry. Instead of becoming defensive – as was the therapist’s usual response with confronted by such intense aggression – he began to breathe in the anger and breathe out ease. Shortly, the client calmed down and was able to get to the pain under the explosive anger of just moments before. The therapist was convinced that the Tonglen not only helped transform the energy in the room, but also shifted his own state of mind into one much more receptive and at ease.
Early in my life, my grandmother taught me about the importance of neutralizing negative energies before they enter the body. Because of this, I found myself uncomfortable with the Tonglen process as taught by Pema Chodron and others, and created the following meditation as a derivation of standard Tonglen practice:
Begin by imagining yourself surrounded by a healing light – white, gold, or some other color that speaks to you of qualities that neutralize and transform any kind of negative, heavy, or difficult energy. This can apply to thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations.
Then, identify the energy you’d like to transform. You may choose to focus on hatred, violence, fear – whatever comes to mind as you focus on any upsetting or negative energy – in you or others. Remind yourself that this energy represents a universal human feeling, thought, or physical experience – something that is possible as a potential in any of our lives and that many people are experiencing right now, in this moment. This allows us to resonate with our connectedness, with our underlying unity.
Then, begin to breathe in this negative quality/energy, bringing it through the healing, transformative light that surrounds you. As the negative quality moves through the light all around you, it is transformed into neutral energy, entering you through every pore. When you exhale, send out to the world energy that is now characterized by ease, comfort, peace, or whatever healing quality comes to you as you breathe.
Regular practice of Tonglen creates not only your own internal comfort and ease, but a deepened sense of connection with others that is, in itself, comforting.
If you have enjoyed this description of Tonglen Meditation, you might also enjoy Nancy’s Expanded Derivation of Tonglen Mediation