River of Sorrows and Tonglen

Last time [http://weallhavesouls.com/2017/04/07/river-of-blessings/] I wrote about mixing the River of Blessings and the River of Sorrows to create beauty. One of my observations was that we have lost the ability to empty the Rivers so they rise up and overwhelm us. This time I offer a brief look at tonglen, which is a way to empty the River of Sorrows.

Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist breathing meditation practice that helps us compassionately open our hearts to care for and reduce our own and others’ suffering.

The exercise opens our Heart to the pain of those around us and helps us and others heal. It is especially powerful because it breaks down the walls we put up to keep from feeling another person’s pain. These walls also keep us from feeling our own pain.

Tonglen puts us in touch with the River of Sorrows. The practice is like dipping into the river and tossing a bucket of grief and pain toward the River of Blessings. It’s not mixing the two to create beauty, but it does help to balance the rivers.

To do this exercise effectively, we accept the pain before we send out the healing. In simple terms, it removes our selfishness, so we can offer help to others. It also lets us know that our problems aren’t really as bad as we thought they were. You can find more details in Pema Chödrön’s “Transforming the Heart of Suffering.” [http://www.lionsroar.com/transforming-the-heart-of-suffering]


To perform this exercise, sit or lie in a comfortable position in a quiet and safe place. Think of someone you know who is hurting. While breathing normally, notice your breath. As you inhale, breathe in the person’s hurt with the wish to take it all away. As you exhale, gently send the person happiness and freedom from pain and fear. Continue for at least 10 minutes.

At another time you may want to try this exercise for something you and others are feeling stuck with or miserable about. For example, you might work on poverty or oppression anywhere in the world. It could be as simple as working on how disrespectful and mean people can be to each other. As you inhale, breathe in the pain for all the people, including yourself, who have the feeling. As you exhale, send out relief and whatever else helps you and all the others.

You are likely to find that doing this practice regularly lightens your own load.

— adapted from We All Have Souls and I Think We Can Prove It


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