Posts Tagged ‘tonglen’

English: A zafu, the pouffe-shaped traditional...

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From Tonglen:  The Path of Transformation  By Pema Chodron

“When you practice by yourself, be sure to do some sitting meditation both before and after tonglen.  If you only have a short time to practice, it would probably be better just to sit.  Here is a possible schedule for a one-hour practice session:

To begin, you could chant the Four Limitless Ones, Bodhisattva Vow, and/or Friendliness.

Sit for at least 15 minutes.

Practice tonglen for 10-15 minutes.

Sit for at least 10 minutes.

To end, you could chant the Dedication of  Merit.”  

Maybe you don’t have an hour a day.  I know I often don’t with everything I have going on in my life.  So, maybe use this as a guideline for a weekly 1-hour schedule, a mini-mini retreat for yourself.

Studies in neuroscience show that even 1-2 minutes a day makes a difference so don’t ever feel like if you don’t have time you should just pack it in for the day.  Take your 1-2 minutes.

As you become familiar with the practices, you will start to do some on-the-spot practicing in the moment it’s needed.

Also, remember this is from her book on Tonglen.  (More about the actual practice later this week).  You can do 5 minutes of metta meditation or 3 minutes breath counting.. a few minutes of deep breathing, etc.  The opportunities for practice are endless.

You can also check out Meditations in a New York Minute:  Super Calm for the Super Busy by Mark Thornton at http://www.soundstrue.com.  He was a bit fast-paced for me and my life isn’t anything like that of a former investment banker.  But if time is not your ally, check it out.

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English: Dinas camping Tent near stream at Din...

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Please forgive the length of this post… I know from the start that it will most likely not be a quick post.  I get frustrated with long posts when I am tired and can’t concentrate so I beg your pardon for my indulgence…

I’ve been re-listening to an audiobook by Pema Chodron.  I’ve actually decided to spend my evenings,just before bed, listening to the library of Ani Pema books I have.  Her talks give me great comfort and always impart such wisdom.

I used to listen to her audiobooks a lot when I had a 90-minute commute round trip every day and now that my commute is 5 minutes each way, I don’t unplug and listen to retreats as often as I would like.

Usually I am heading out-of-town toward Madison or Chicago and will listen to one.  But, I’ve been missing sangha and I thought that listening to the books and then coming home and doing the practices would be a smart thing.

I took today off from my full-time job to focus on school related tasks.  It was a cold and snowy day and I found myself inside and very introspective tonight.

I received word tonight that someone I know who has been slowly dying is going to be leaving the hospital after a lot of heroic measures and is going to finally be given the peace and dignity of being allowed to rest easily and have hospice take over her care. Needless to say, my heart is quite relieved.

I don’t understand our need to think everyone is Frankenstein and that people should be kept alive at all costs.  It’s not something I want for myself.  It’s not something my family members want nor has it been what family who has already died has ever wanted so the whole experience has been unfamiliar, disjointed, and confusing for me. . .  sometimes, it has felt un-compassionate at times though I know people are doing what they think is right.

I’m trying to have respect for both sides of the issue… themedical professionals need to do their job and keep someone alive at all costs and the very personal side for me of knowing that as a person transitions into their own dying, it can be a beautifully peaceful, compassionate time where a tremendous amount of love and light can be shared.

I guess for me, I question how much compassion and tranquility there can be hooked up to machines and having the body be forced to do things that it isn’t willing to do on it’s own.

After finishing the last bit of Ani Pema’s audiobook, I decided to wrap up in some warm blankets and sit here in my chair and do some tonglen for this person who I have mentioned. I cannot imagine what she is going through as she has not had a lot of time of being conscious and being able to communicate to people.  Does she know what’s going on?  Does she understand where she is and why people are doing things to her?

My hope is that what she is experiencing, despite the pain,the fear that might be accompanying the inability to breath, etc is the real experience of the love of the people who go to visit her.  I hope that can be experienced in a palpable way that can sustain her through these difficult times as she moves in and out of consciousness, as her abilities to move and be awake wax and wane.

I find illness, dying, and grieving (or re-creating our lives after loss) to be such a rich time for our practices of compassionate meditative and contemplative practices.

There is so much to practice for… for the person who is ill,the people who love that person, the professionals making tough decisions, the caregivers who feel helpless, and the outward ripples of all who are affected in the situation of illness and dying.

So tonight, I decided to do some tonglen for the person who is ill and dying.  There are a lot of other people I could do it for in this situation but I guess in my heart I get concerned for a natural tendency of the patient being overlooked while medicine is “done to them”.

I want to spend my energy, even if it is far away, focusing on the humanity of that person who is in that bed… the life they had prior to their hospitalization and the connections and history that comes with them.

In keeping with Ani Pema’s instructions, I focused on my breathing, some samatha vipassana practice to begin with of allowing my attention to rest in my body and to become aware of my breath.

I invited my Tibetan bell to ring and allowed any experiences to wash over me, allowing them to just happen and not try to orchestrate them.

As the bell sounded, I began to breathe in the sensations of darkness and tightness.  I breathed in the feelings of being cramped and claustrophobic.

That’s how I imagine being in a body that is trying to shut down, unable to breathe on it’s own and having organs that are failing except for the artificial support.

As I breathed out, I focused on the sensations of lightness, coolness, and vast spaciousness, like the sky in Wyoming. . . free of anything that might hinder that kind of vastness.

I breathed in fear, confusion, exhaustion and breathed out comfort, warmth, and unconditional love. I breathed in heaviness of body, clumsiness of body, and disorientation of mind.  And I breathed out experiences that I knew were really important and satisfying to this person’s history. . .dancing, camping, visiting loved ones.

This is how I spent part of my hour. . . giving and receiving for this particular person that I know.

And then I spent time breathing in these sensations and thoughts for people all over the world, throughout time and space, who have been in their bodies, suffering from being trapped and not being able to be free.

And I breathed out all of the things that I would hope for each of them. . . the awareness that their lives mattered, that they had touched someone’s heart, that they had made the world a better place, and that other’s had grown more compassionate and loving for having known them.

I realized after my meditation that I wish I had been able to do this for those who I loved who had died and at the same time, I realized that I could do that practice for them right here, on the spot, as there truly is no such thing as time and space.

I also realized that some day, when I am in this position,as we all will be, somehow, someway, that I hope that there is someone in some remote part of the world doing similar practices for me… and if time and space are not real, at least I know that tonight, I did those practices. . . when it is my time, I will know that at that very moment, the me that is tonight will be doing these practices for the me who is living my dying.

I know that there are many people who have heavy hearts tonight, surrounding this woman’s situation of living her dying.  And that pain and grief will most likely grow more intense as her dying comes closer.

My plan is to spend time each day, even if it’s only ten minutes, doing this kind of practice for her, for those who love her and for all beings everywhere who are living with a similar experience.  I might not be there by the bedside or holding the hands of those who grieve her dying but I can spend time in my practice to focus tonglen meditation for them.

I found tonglen to be a very useful and healing tool with some of the groups I had done while I worked at hospice.  I hope that this explanation of how I am using tonglen in the situation of dying and grieving will help those of you who read this post.

May the merit of our practices extend out into the world and bring about joy, compassion, equanimity, and lovingkindness.

Metta, Jennifer

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On 12/13, I published the first part of this post.  If you did not get to read it then, here is part I:


What I want to write about tonight is, how does healing on the grief journey,(healing the layers of primary and secondary losses), relate to mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful way of learning to be with what is.  What does that mean?

It means that when we practice mindfulness meditation, we simply sit (or stand, walk, lay down, etc.) and allow our attention to be aware of what happens from moment to moment.  It’s an act of self -kindness and anytime we can allow ourselves to be more compassionate, we not only help ourselves but we help the whole universe with which we are connected.

By practicing mindfulness meditation, we learn to not go for a ride with our thoughts; we learn to just observe them.  We don’t let them carry us into dark places or ecstatic states.  Moment to moment, we label that we are thinking, feeling, having a sensation, etc.   We learn to not hold on to our judgments, criticisms, or attachment to these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  We label them and allow them to pass by.

You might be thinking that mediation might be a good way to relax or “zone out” but you might not see how mindfulness meditation is an appropriate way of living with our loss.  But think about what happens when we start to review the deathbed scene with the person we love.

We may think to ourselves that we didn’t do enough for the person who died.  “Why didn’t I make him take his pills?  Why didn’t I insist she stop smoking?  How was it that I did not see him declining?  If only I had. . .”  We do so much damage to ourselves when we think these things, casting so many judgments and showing ourselves no forgiveness while our hearts our broken.

But imagine if you had a tool to help teach you to find that mercy for yourself and as you practiced, with time, you could extend that mercy out to the whole universe?  Guess what?  Such tools really exists, tonglen and metta (lovingkindness).  Tonglen which means sending and taking or exchanging self and other, but what does that mean?

When I was a counselor for hospice and facilitating groups all the time, I would often suggest tonglen as a way out of our self-hatred and condemnation, a way out of our isolation, and a way to feel empowered, having the ability to affect all beings.  I especially liked to use metta in my parents’ groups because of the different level of isolation that accompanied the loss of a child.

Tonglen allows you to slowly learn to have compassion for yourself.  By being mindful of the breath, we breathe in all of the fear, hatred, doubt, grief, anger that we have and breathe out compassion, care, empathy, kindness, companionship, or love for ourselves.  We start with the inner most layer of our universe – ourselves.

Then we focus our attention out to someone we love.  We breathe in the negative aspects that they may be going through and breathe out the same positive intentions for them.  And then, a further layer out. . . to someone who is an acquaintance or someone we have neutral feelings towards.

One year when I had a lot of dental work done and was practicing mindfulness in the chair and I came to this point, I focused on the collective group of our hospice census.  I could imagine any of them feeling things that I was feeling – fear, pain, anxiety, dread, dis-ease, etc.  And I breathed that in and breathed out for them a sense of being supported and loved, ease from pain and suffering, and something pleasant for them, such as the sound of their grandchild or favorite song.

By practicing metta and tonglen, we extend beyond our own confines, beyond our viewpoint, beyond those we love or those we have little feeling for, and connect with all beings everywhere that are going through what we are and having compassion for them and for ourselves.  We allow our hearts to expand through those layers.

So in going back to all the things we may face about the deathbed scene, we can even do a simple form of tonglen meditation and breathe in all of the doubt, second guessing, confusion, and pain of not doing enough for the person who died.  We may breathe out light and grace for those people in the world who are feeling those things at that exact moment.  Too often we believe that our pain is so big because we are the only ones who have ever gone through it or ever will.  Tonglen allows us to clean off that lens and see that we are not the only ones who have or are experiencing these things. . . we are one with all those who have travelled this path throughout time.

I believe that mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways.  For instance, there is a link at the end of this post to a gentleman reading a metta meditation.  Listen to him and allow him to guide you until you are ready to try on your own.  If you have unsettled or unresolved issues with your loved one, try practicing metta with them, starting with yourself and your feelings, moving on to the aspects of the person that you most love, that you are indifferent to, and lastly those with which you still struggle.

As you practice metta with the recording, please stop back and share your experience with us.

May you be free of all suffering.

May you find comfort and sustenance.

May you feel deeply connected to all that is.

Namaste, Jennifer


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