Isn’t that what we all want right now, to DO something, something that will soothe the Sandy Hook community, something that will prevent future tragedy, something that will make us and others feel better, safer?
We’ve seen horrors like Newtown’s play out, all too often, and we can predict how things will go for the next few days and weeks. There will be a call to do something financial — donate to the families, to the Red Cross, to a musical act that will perform a fund-raising concert. There will be a call to do something political, with discussions about gun control and mental health funding. There will be a call to do something local, to see if we can make our schools and churches and malls and theaters and stadiums and other areas we gather any safer.
And still we will feel helpless, as if there’s nothing really we can do, nothing to really make a difference.
But we can if we go hyper-local. I mean hyper-hyper local.
I’ve written before about big peace and small peace:
A child asked at bedtime, “Mommy why is there war? Why can’t there be peace in the world?”
“Well, to have peace in the world, we need peace in our country.
“To have peace in our country, we must have peace in our city.
“To have peace in our city, we must have peace in our neighborhood.
“To have peace in our neighborhood we must have peace in our home.
“To have peace in our homes we must have peace in our hearts.”*
So then, the thing we can do — the only thing really that there is to do, is to cultivate peace within. But how?
I’ve also written before about the powerful practice of tonglen, which harnesses the transformative energy of the heart using simple awareness.What is this practice? “Tonglen” is a Tibetan word meaning “taking and giving.” Practiced mystics do this on behalf of all humanity.
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher who attended prep school in Connecticut, says, “Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure and, in the process, we become liberated from a very ancient prison of selfishness. We begin to feel love both for ourselves and others and also we being to take care of ourselves and others. It awakens our compassion and it also introduces us to a far larger view of reality.”
1. Get yourself into a meditative state. This can be done while sitting, while lying down, while hiking in nature, while walking (have a labyrinth nearby?) , or while creating art or music or dance. Do what allows you to lose yourself.
2. First become aware of your breathing for a few moments. Follow your breath in and out of your lungs.
3. Tonglen breathing has three parts for each breath:
- For your inhales, imagine you are breathing in all the suffering there is. Allow this suffering to open your heart center further and awaken your compassion for all who deal with it. Ask God, Jesus, the Divine, your spirit guides or whomever to bless all the suffering that you accept into your heart. This is the opposite of the avoidance of pain — it requires the welcoming of it.
- At the top of the breath, pause for just a moment to allow your heart center to shift and transform the yuckiness it holds. Hold the intention to do so.
- For your exhales, imagine the suffering energy being cleansed and transformed by your heart center and sent from your lungs back to the world. Only now what was dark is now light, what was gunky is now clear. Envision this metamorphosis, as performed by your open and aware Heart Chakra. You willingly take in suffering, and joyfully send out compassion and healing.
- Keep up the three-part breathing, mindfully. Fill up your room, your home, your neighborhood with this magnificently pure, love energy.
4. Flow and transform for 5, 10, 20 minutes. No hard rules — just do it as long as you can stay focused on bringing in the “bad” and sending out the “good.” Don’t worry about doing this “right.” Make the practice yours and play with your heart center’s own transforming power.
5. Pat yourself on the back for setting aside some time to be conscious and still.
I practiced a few moments of tonglen this morning and will do so daily for the foreseeable future. I envision a wave of people doing the simple and private act of tonglen, of willingly taking in the grief and horror, of holding it in a moment of transformation, and of returning to the world the energy of peace and love.
Will you join me?
*vignette paraphrased from a story told by my Teacher, Ethel.
Image: painting by Lisa Marie-Olsen, used with permission