image credit … lauris naglins

i got calls from two of my dear friends today and both seemed to be swept up in a storm of harsh self-judgement. they did not sound at all happy and they seemed a bit untethered.

 the first was describing his inability to get out of bed some days and has been feeling lost and disconnected for some time. i honestly think i could sense the hidden anger over the phone. i offered the idea of a medication and a provider which he had been considering. i also insisted he try to incorporate some loving-kindness into his day. the idea of loving-kindness can be the most challenging to give to ourselves. this is an awareness i have much personal experience. and it continues to baffle me some days. so i asked him to breathe in loving-kindness for himself with each in breath. on the out breath he could offer loving kindness to the rest of the world who suffered as he did today. i don’t know if he engaged in it, but i felt sure it moved his understanding of his situation a little. or at least i hope so. then another friend called and began to unravel some thoughts she was having about her life on this holiday. she had gone into the field to visit someone before court tomorrow and was about to write up a report. she was lamenting about her untidy home, her inability to keep track of everything, and her imperfections were laid out like hot coals she was forcing herself to walk across. i reminded her that she is far from faulted. she is a single mother of 2 boys, works full time, has a house, was a caretaker for her ailing uncle, sponsors newbies, and still makes time to criticize herself. i offered her the idea of loving-kindness as well. it seemed so apropos. maybe she could take a walk and breathe in some loving kindness for herself, and then breathe out loving kindness for the rest of the world that was suffering as she was today. tonglen- the practice of giving and receiving is a practice of balance that has found its way into my life’s toolbelt. somehow it always reminds me that i am not as alone as i think i am. giving is always a gift and receiving becomes more of one each time. today was a shining example of this. it was a good day.

Suggestions for the Practice of Tonglen reprinted from naljorprisondharmaservice

Use what seems like poison as medicine. Use your personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.

In Tonglen practice, through our compassion, we take on (embrace without resistance) the various sufferings of all beings: their fear, hurt, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, loneliness, doubt, rage, and so forth. In return, we give them our loving-kindness, happiness, peace of mind, well-being, healing, and fulfillment.

1) Sit quietly, calm the mind, and center yourself. Reflect on the immense suffering that all beings everywhere experience. Allow their suffering to open your heart and awaken your compassion. You may also choose to invoke the presence of all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and enlightened beings, so that through their inspiration and blessing, compassion may be born in your heart. In this way, you are resting in bodhicitta—the enlightened nature of the mind. Bodhicitta, is an inexhaustible source of purity, generosity, and compassion.

2) Imagine in front of you, as clearly as possible, someone you care for who is suffering. Although this may be more challenging, you may also imagine someone you feel indifferent toward, someone you consider to be an enemy, or those who have hurt you or others. Open yourself to this person’s suffering. Allow yourself to feel connected with him or her, aware of their difficulties, pain, and distress. Then, as you feel your heart opening in compassion toward the person, imagine that all of his or her suffering comes out and gathers itself into a mass of hot, black, grimy smoke.

3) Now, visualize breathing in this mass of black smoke, seeing it dissolve into the very core of your self-grasping (ego) at your heart center. There in your heart, it completely destroys all traces of fear and selfishness (self-cherishing) and purifies all of your negative karma.

4) Imagine, now that your fear, self-centeredness and negative karma has been completely destroyed, your enlightened heart (bodhicitta) is fully revealed. As you breathe out, imagine you are sending out the radiance of loving-kindness, compassion, peace, happiness, and well-being to this person. See this brilliant radiance purifying all of their negative karma. Send out any feelings that encourage healing, relaxation, and openness.

5) Continue this “giving and receiving” with each breath for as long as you wish. At the end of your practice, generate a firm inner conviction that this person has been freed of suffering and negative karma and is filled with peace, happiness and well-being. You may also wish to dedicate the merit and virtue of your practice to the benefit of all sentient beings.

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