One of the things that comes to mind just about every day, as I listen to the news, is how powerfully fear motivates actions that cause suffering to so many. It might be fear of difference, fear of losing power, fear of the “other”. Whatever the focus of fear, it can become a motivator for lashing out, tearing down, striving to get rid of or destroy that which is feared.
One of the practices I’ve used over many years now is a derivation (my own “translation” of the process) of the Buddhist practice of Tonglen. As a trauma therapist, there have been many times where I’ve sat with someone working on an overwhelming trauma and what has offered me support in staying steady and present over all these years has been this practice of Tonglen. It allows me to keep my heart open in the presence of suffering and pain and has helped me not to be overwhelmed by what clients have shared over these years.
A number of years ago, I realized that Tonglen was a beautiful example of a subtle activism practice—of a practice I could use regularly to help metabolize collective fear and hatred. When I do this practice as subtle activism, I focus on fear because of my belief that this state of being is the source of hatred, violence, and so many other ways in which we harm one another.
And so, for this week’s practice, I invite you to explore the following guided process of using Tonglen (my derivation of it) to contribute to our collective healing. If you haven’t done this kind of practice before, let me say just a few things about it. Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, has wonderful material on Tonglen. You can find her in her books and on YouTube. One of the things I heard her say early on in my explorations of Tonglen is that the light of the heart is fiery and is capable of neutralizing negative energy. She has also said that the more we do this kind of practice the brighter the fiery love in our heart becomes. I have found this to be true and, at this point in my life, I deeply trust the fire in my heart to be able to neutralize or transmute negative energy.
That said, for a number of people who haven’t done this practice before, there is a response of “I don’t want to take all that negativity into me”. For these folks, I recommend beginning by imagining yourself surrounded by white light, a light that begins to neutralize the negative energy as soon as you start the practice. If this feels more comfortable to you, please give yourself the gift of starting this way. Most people find that they eventually don’t need the white light around them as they develop confidence in the process and in the power of their heart light.
And so, on to the practice:
- To begin, settle in so that you are comfortable with your awareness focused first on where you feel most grounded in your body. (If you want to imagine yourself surrounded by white light, this would be the time to do that.)
- Take a few moments to continue to settle, becoming aware of your internal center of gravity. Allow yourself to feel its presence and the sensations you experience when you are grounded.
- Next, bring your awareness to your heart space. Notice or imagine the fiery light of love that always fills your heart space, that is always present even when you aren’t aware of it. It is the focus of this practice.
- Next, bring to mind our collective fear and represent it in whatever symbolic way makes sense to you. Most importantly, note that it is an energy that lives in our collective human field of consciousness. Recall that, in this moment, countless people around the world are caught up in this feeling. You may also become aware of the fear that lives in you.
- When you feel ready, breathe the fear into your heart, allowing it to blend with any personal fear you may have. Bring it all into the fiery light of your heart. Imagine that your heart light neutralizes the fear, burning it away to create neutral energy.
- Then, on the out-breath, before you breathe out, imagine that the neutral energy becomes an energy of love, compassion, ease, peace—whatever quality you would like to breathe out into our collective. Then, notice that as you exhale you also fill your own body-mind with the quality you have chosen.
- Spend as much time as you would like breathing in the fear and exhaling the quality you have chosen, all the while noticing how your heart fire automatically neutralizes the fear you breathe in. You don’t have to make that happen.
- When you’ve done enough for this time, take a few moments to notice how you feel, the quality and tone of your internal experience. You’ve done a subtle activism practice that is in service to our collective human healing, and you’ve also given your own body-mind being a supportive healing process.
As with all these practices, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion. And, be sure to pat gently on the head any judgements that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with or about them. Also make room for any mixed feelings that may come into your awareness, as they are all part of your wholeness and, as with any judgments, there’s nothing you need to do with or about them in this moment.
There are two recordings with this practice. One is just the written material and the other is just the guided practice. Please remember never to listen to guided meditations or practices while driving or operating dangerous machinery.
The first recording below is of the written material. The second is the guided practice…