'Tonglen' literally translates from Tibetan as 'give take.' It is a simple visualization practice meant to breathe in suffering and exhale white light. During this time of complex troubles for our country and our world I found this practice to be profound.
I often hear the advice 'don't focus on the bad stuff' in one form or another. It occurred to me this morning, while sifting through my thoughts over the cruel murder of George Floyd, why this common advice has always felt wrong. When we sit with our discomfort we learn something. When we sit with someone else's discomfort we learn something. We also can help someone by being there, in their times of pain and trouble. When I hear parents telling me that their child is too young, too anxious, too fragile to learn about racism and the pains of an entire population of human beings I weep at the loss.
Buddhist have been practicing the study of suffering for thousands of years. To study, focus, and learn of suffering does not make one anxious, fragile, and broken. When you breathe in someone else's suffering you can begin to use your health to breathe out healing.
Tonglen practice is just that, a practice. There's no wrong way. Practice sitting with your breath and your thoughts. Breathe in the suffering you see around you and exhale kindness and white light. If you're interested in developing a meditation practice please find resources in your community. There are terrific online classes everywhere nowadays!
The Brooklyn Public Library has a wealth of resources available to all of its card-holding members, beyond their literal and digital card catalog. Since I am not into making sourdough with all of those dedicated bakers, I thought I would expand my horizons with some of the library's educational events. Along with some wonderful music experiences, poetry readings, and book clubs I am hoping to get in on, my favorite event so far was a guided meditation on Tonglen practice from Dr. Chok Tenzin Monlam, a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner who teaches mindfulness and yoga. He is also a professional translator for written material from Tibetan to English.
Note: I am a novice practitioner. I am not a teacher or spiritual advisor. These thoughts are my own reflections on my practice and experiences.
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