Welcome to the brand new version of RhiannonLaurie.com! I didn’t want our new blog to be lonely or empty, so I’m including some of the best posts from before. This one was first published on March 17th, 2011.
I’ve been doing this weird type of meditation that I made up for years now. And then the in the past week I’ve read two books describing it and calling it, variously, Tonglin or Tonglen Meditation. Apparently it’s a thing.
I was going to tell you about it eventually, because it’s one of those juicy secret weapons on the path to instantly feeling better and more connected and whatnot. But I kept forgetting, and now I’ve been reminded.
Basically it is This
Like anything worthwhile, this technique is crazy simple and a little bit complicated:
You breathe in pain. You breathe out love.
First there is the weirdness of that. Why would you want pain in you? Why would you want love out of you?
In a lot of guided meditations you’re breathing in the golden light or the relaxation or whatever, and breathing out all the toxins. Which is pretty similar to what your breath physically does, right? In with the oxygen, out with the carbon dioxide and water.
This breath is not your ordinary breath
We’re not using breath in this same way. We’re using breath to travel. You travel into the pain, and then from within the pain, you find the compassion.
You breathe into a place, and then you relax into that place. And breathing in brings tension, breathing out brings relaxation. So it is a different way of seeing breath.
It has never worked for me when I try to think of it as bringing anything icky into me. I am bringing myself into it. And then finding the sweetness there.
How about something helpful and more specific in case this is all too ambiguous and confusing?
One thing that makes it easier is to find a specific type of pain. And since our own pain can be kind of scary, you might want to try with someone else’s pain first.
Take someone you know who is going through something difficult. Breathe in their pain. I like to imagine that I’m physically entering their world. What is uncomfortable, restricting, and painful about it.
It may take a few in breaths, at first, to get to this place. When you have it, then you release out into all the wonderful things about them.
Maybe for an uncle of mine that was fighting a custody battle, I feel all lot of tightness in my shoulders, a heaviness in my heart, and a frown on my face as I imagine the pain of his fear every day about his daughter. Then as I breathe out, I also connect to his love for his daughter, for the beauty in his life, for everything strong and good about him.
That is the easiest way I know to feel completely loving and connected.
Making a “prayer list”
Whenever I’m feeling ungrounded, I’ll go through each of my relatives as I’m falling asleep. I’m not that close with most of my extended family and I doubt many of them spend time thinking of me, but I feel closer to them and all of humanity through the exercise.
I also sometimes do this with everyone I can think of with whom I have unfinished business. And usually my best friends as well.
There are a Thousand Variations
Of course you can do different things to get yourself in a meditative state to start with.
You can do this with your own pain. Or with the pain of everyone in the world. Or with the pain of specific groups, like orphans, or birthing mothers, the starving, world leaders, alcoholics, cancer patients, people you admire…
Go ahead and breathe in God’s pain, if that appeals to you. Or the Buddha’s. See where your mind and your heart take you.
You can hold a mudra (hand position) or asana (yoga posture). You can do this after Shiva Nata.
It’s amazing how powerful this can be
It really works for me. In fact, I don’t really like to think about how well this works because then I’m sad about all the days I could have done it and didn’t.
After some practice and some time, I’ve gotten to the point where in just a few breaths I feel my heart open and my body relax. I’m filled with sweetness, connection, and love.
Of course, what works for me doesn’t have to work for you. But you might like to try it sometime.
Have you tried Tonglin or something similar? Did it help you?
What about other types of meditation or activities which awake compassion?
Maintaining a space in which kindness is valued and advice is not given unless asked for.