Tonight we will be exploring the practice of giving and receiving – Sending and Taking should be practiced alternatively. These two should ride the breath. I have been reflecting on this section of the book over the last few days. I believe this slogan was one of the most freeing of all the slogan for mes. This is the practice of Tonglen. It is the practice of breathing in suffering and torment and breathing out goodness, ease and peace. With each inhale we take in more and more pain. We let the natural circulatory wisdom of the body transform the suffering into light, becoming increasingly expansive. Then with each exhale we send release. This is similar to our traditional. The taking and sending comes and go continuously in relationship to the rhythm of the breath.
You can start with breathing in darkness, letting the body transform it into light and breathe that out completely. Then again with each breath. When ready, we breathe in our own suffering, transform it into peace, ease (etc.) and breathe out it’s release. We do this continuously. If you began obsessing over your problems you are not riding the breath. There’s not enough time to dwell in the story when you are riding the breath. There is only time to feel the pain and the release. Finally, we breathe in the pain and suffering of another. We try to breathe in all their pain, let it be transformed within us and breathe out peace.
I think it was because I had never conceived of breathing in the suffering of another that this practice was so intriguing to me. After reading Chogyam Trungpa’s commentary, I had a lot of anticipation around the nature of this practice. I held a deep belief that the practice could change my life. I was so full of expectation that I spent much of my early years just thinking about the practice but never actually doing it. I basically became afraid of the practice. It seemed too powerful and painful.
Then one day nearly 10 years later, I drove my sister and mother to a department store. I didn’t want to go in so I agreed to sit in the car until they returned. While sitting alone in the car I decided to take on the suffering of the people who walked past the front of my car while leaving or entering the store and to send them joy, kindness, compassion and ease of wellbeing. At first it seemed kind of boring and I thought maybe I had conned myself into believing the practice was more than what it actually was. But then a couple walked into my view. They walked side by side with their heads down. They looked weary and tired. I focused on them and began to breathe in their heaviness and breathe out joy. I did this breath after breath. After a bit, I noticed them look at each other and began to laugh. They put their arms around each other and walked into the store. That moment changed everything. I began to focus on people – taking and sending – over and over. I must have been in the car for close to a half hour. The people ceased being random. They became my kids, my mom, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends, etc. It was truly amazing. I have now been practicing Tonglen for over 15 years and I love it. It truly is transformative – mostly because of the riding the breath.
We will explore this idea of taking and sending tonight. The similarities and differences with Metta. We can even practice a little if you are up for it.