Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hail Thee Festival Day

...Foremost among these practices is the one known as tonglen, which means "taking and sending." The practice is as follows:

In meditation, picture or visualize someone you know and love who is going through much suffering--an illness, a loss, depression, pain, anxiety, fear. As you breathe in, imagine all of that person's suffering--in the form of dark, black, smokelike, tarlike, thick, and heavy clouds--entering your nostrils and traveling down into your heart. Hold that suffering in your heart. Then, on the outbreath, take all of your peace, freedom, health, goodness, and virtue, and send it out to the person in the form of healing, liberating light. Imagine that they take it all in, and feel completely free, released, and happy. Do that for several breaths. Then imagine the town that person is in, and, on the inbreath, take in all of the suffering of that town, and send back all of your health and happiness to everyone in it. Then do that for the entire, state, then the entire country, the entire planet, the universe. You are taking in all the suffering of beings everywhere and sending them back health and happiness and virtue.

When people are first introduced to this practice, their reactions are usually strong, visceral, and negative. Mine were. Take that black tar into me? Are you kidding? What if I actually get sick? This is insane, dangerous! When Kalu first gave us these tonglen instructions, a woman stood up in the audience of about one hundred people and said what virtually everybody there was thinking:

"But what if I am doing this with someone who is really sick, and I start to get that sickness myself?"

Without hesitating Kalu said, "You should think, Oh good! It's working!"


A strange thing begins to happen when one practices tonglen for any length of time. First of all, nobody actually gets sick. Rather, you find that you stop recoiling in the face of suffering, both yours and others'. You stop running from pain, and instead find that you can begin to transform it by simply being willing to take it into yourself and then release it. The real changes start to happen in you, by the simple willingness to get your ego-protecting tendencies out of the way.

--Ken Wilber, 'Grace and Grit,' 247-49


Nancy said...

I think the hardest part of that exercise, for some, would be actually paying attention to and recognizing other's suffering.

Sigh, that sounds cynical, I don't mean it to be, but I've come across just one or two too many oblivious people...some of them parked in the handicapped parking spot I needed...grrrrrr

You're right, btw. K pays VERY close attention to how people express things. She has a tremendous insight into why people do things.

Pretty Lady said...

It's not cynical at all, Nancy, it's realistic. People don't want to recognize suffering because they're afraid of it--that it might happen to them, that they can't do anything about it. So they just refuse to admit that it's there.

This is my theory for why people are so often very obnoxious toward disabled people. Other than the narcissism of the young, healthy and stupid, of course.

It was a turning point for me when I discovered this exercise and realized that I didn't actually have to do anything physical to relieve suffering, if that wasn't possible. All I had to do was sit there and acknowledge it, without running away or pretending it didn't exist. That one thing actually starts the healing process for some.

Nancy said...

I think, if I could teach some of the people I hear saying "If I was disabled (btw, ever notice how often really stupid statements are often said with poor grammar?), I'd KILL myself...", that while being disabled is a pain in the ass (literally in my case sometimes), it is not the end of one's productive life.

And that was possibly the most complicated and convoluted sentence I've ever composed....

k said...

How striking that I came over from the posts I put up recently, not knowing you'd even posted again yourself - sometimes that little star thing on the blogroll doesn't alert right - and read this.

It's wonderful, while out and about, to run across folks who just smile at me taking care of business. The ones who clearly understand I'm encased in a malfunctioning physical unit, but can see I'm not mentally or physically incompetent, and not hugely unhappy with it either.

On not acknowledging the suffering? There's also a pervasive tendency to think we're all faking it to rip off the government or garner undeserved sympathy. That's usually worse if *You Don't Look Sick!* (There's actually a blog called *But you don't look sick!* That lady has lupus.) Now I *show* a lot more, which makes it easier in some ways.

The intense relief, the start of allowing healing you mentioned, may come in part because of that one factor. It cuts the crap. It is what it is: it's real, not phony; it's also not the end of the world; it's also nothing for others to be afraid of.

It's so good to feel such a pure and simple and right response from another human. I bet you've seen clients who have never felt that before. Not once. And until they do, they may be *stuck,* doubting themselves, doubting the reality of their suffering, and doubting their right to take the time to deal with that reality.

Desert Cat said...

As difficult as this exercise may be for some people, I have an alternative that may be easier or harder depending.

Same same on the in-breath. Then on the out-breath turn your awareness to Jesus. Look in your spirit's awareness to where Jesus, the ultimate practicioner of this tonglen hung battered and bloodied and dying. Look upon the potent love radiating from his being--love that would knock you flat on your back if you experienced it in person--potent, powerful love that he released in exchange for taking upon himself every suffering, illness, loss, depression, anxiety and fear that a world of lost and hurting people ever felt or ever would feel.

Then--and after coming into the abovementioned awareness this brings me to tears--breathing out, place upon the body of Jesus what you just took in from the person you're praying for. Breathing in again, take in a measure of his love. See him looking down upon you with that fierce love and accept it. Then shifting your awareness back to the person you're praying for, embrace them in your spirit and breathe out this potent love of Christ into their being--see it going to the source of their hurt and transforming them.

Catch your breath, wipe your tears, and repeat as necessary.

Try it some time.