Sunday, March 9, 2014

Out with the Good and In with the Bad: On Riding the Breath

Does it count as slacking off if I didn't work too hard on last week's slogan, even though the reason I didn't work on it was because that's the way I look at the world already? Not that I don't get caught up in the shadows flitting on the wall of the cave, but when I stop to think about it, I have no problems reminding myself of the illusory nature of things.

Regardless, let's move onto this week's tenet:
Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.
What the heck does that mean? Even's alternate translation didn't help: "Train in taking and sending alternately. Put them on the breath."

Moving onto the commentaries, I found my answers:
"As you breathe in, imagine all the suffering and negativity of others as thick black smoke coming in through your right nostril and into your heart. As you breathe out, imagine all your own happiness and wellbeing [sic.] as silvery light coming from your heart and going out through your left nostril to all beings everywhere." (Source)
Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? This idea, tonglen in Tibetan, is something I encountered before starting this journey and this blog. It's something I've even practiced in the past, having been influenced to do so by the work of Pema Chödrön. For those of you who are reading this because you do want a little glimpse into Buddhism, tonglen can be seen, through Judeo-Christian eyes, as praying for good to come to those around us and helping with their burdens.

The danger for me when I worked with tonglen in the past was not setting down the pain of others, and of adding it to my own. It built up quickly, and felt as though my body was suffused with that thick black smoke. Thinking about my past problems with tonglen was exacerbated as I read the Tricycle piece about it. In particular:
"It feels great to pray for others and to be all warm and loving. But that is not all there is to it.  The practice of sending and taking, or tonglen in Tibetan, brings to light the boundaries of that love and caring. If you pray for your friends and family, how about other people and other families? If you pray for those you like or admire, how about those who you dislike or reject? What about those you disagree with, or simply find annoying? What about those who do harm? The idea is to go beyond bias, to include more and more, to let the heart grow and expand." (Source.)
I'm a little nervous of devoting my meditation time this week to this practice (and yes, I've meditated every day - yay for getting back on schedule!), but I'm going to work to keep in mind Judy Lief's parting words in her piece about the seventh slogan: "In your tonglen practice in general, at the end of each breath, drop whatever you have breathed in or out. Let it go completely. Keep a light touch."

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

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