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Do Something

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.The transformative power of the heart centerWhat 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

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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26 Responses

  1. Yes. I haven’t been setting aside the time to breathe mindfully lately, and I need to. You’re right, it helps me be a better person, which affects my family, which affects our community, and so on. Thanks, Lori.

  2. I’m in. I am always trying to put this into action, a kind word, a smile, letting things go, to both strangers and those close.
    ((HUGS)) Thank you for this, Blessings to you and yours this holiday season, and in the New Year, Martha

  3. I will. Thank you for sharing and for the reminder that we truly have the most power to do good when we begin inside ourselves.

  4. Thank you for this, Lori. It’s an important message. Despite how simple it seems, peace is a hard thing to obtain. It needs to be nurtured and promoted. Though it may seem impossible, it can begin with just one person. From one person, it can grow and when it grows, it can change so many things.

    Wishing you and your family peace during this time.

  5. What a beautiful practice, Lori. It sounds a lot like yoga nidra, which, oddly enough, we practiced on Thursday night, before the massacre. And the same principle: one person sets and intention, and the intention is large: world peace, etc. For some reason, I felt called to make my intention “the eradication of loneliness.” I don’t know why, but it seemed so important to me at the time.

    Indeed. Let peace begin with me.

  6. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,
    Let there be peace on earth, with peace that was meant to be
    With God as Our Father,
    Brothers all are we,
    Let me walk with Brother in perfect Harmony.
    Let There be Peace on Earth,
    Let this be the moment now.
    With every step I take,
    Let this be my solemn vow.
    To take each moment,
    and live each moment,
    in peace eternally!
    Let there be peace on Earth,
    and let it begin with me.”
    From Wikipedia: “Let There Be Peace on Earth” is a song by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller written in 1955.[1] The song is usually associated with the Christmas season and appears on the album of the same name by country singer Vince Gill. Jackson, who had been suicidal after the failure of a marriage, later said that she wrote the song after discovering what she called the “life-saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.”

  7. Yes, I will join you, part because I want to and part because my pelvic physical therapist just prescribed that I practice my yoga breathing at least 10 times an hour, every hour, for the next few weeks. I do agree/believe that peace does begin inside each of us and there is a huge ripple effect.

    I know that since I heard the news on Friday I have been more patient with my children when they have gotten on my nerves, as I keep telling myself how blessed and lucky I am that they were not victims of such a horrific and heartbreaking tragedy.

    I am also trying to help remember the names of those who died, I got the idea from Juyla, who Mel linked to on her blog post yesterday, who suggests each person choose the name of someone who died, other than the shooter, and make an effort to never forget their name.

  8. I woke up with a headache this morning. Last night I learn that my jerk brother in law didn’t buy my kids Christmas presents and they I dreamt about him all night. This isn’t the first time he’s let them down and it was stressing me out.

    I just did the tonglen breathing and let all of those feelings out.

    I feel so much better now!! Thank you!

  9. I really like what you said here: “we can predict how things will go for the next few days and weeks.” – because in times of tragedy and crisis, some people really do rise up and show love to others. Sure, some will run their mouths about their soapbox issues. But some heroes always rise up, and we see the good in humanity.

    But how to prevent burning out – either physically or emotionally? How to prevent being exhausted by the effort of doing enough good to overshadow mountains of bad? How to avoid even getting into that mindset? You’re probably on to something here 🙂

  10. I had no idea that I’ve been practicing tonglen. I thought it was just a mental game that I used to entertain myself on my daily metro commute. It must work…on the usually name-less, face-less metro where people rarely even look at eachother or *gasp* speak to eachother…I frequently find myself exchanging honest smiles with people or even engaging in companionable conversation.

  11. I have been doing this practice myself every day. Every time I see the next terrible news story, it’s like the sound of a bell, reminding me to return to the present and let go of attachment. I’ve been ending every night with Pema, and playing it in the car with the kids instead of the radio.

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