I’ve shopped the mall of meditation since my early twenties. I’ve tried Vipassna, guided visualization, and Transcendental Meditation, among others. Vipassna helps empty my mind, but I find it punishing. It’s taken me a long time to admit (lest I appear spiritually whimpy,) that Vispassna isn’t for me.
Guided visualizations can be useful, but you have to be sharp-minded. Guided imagery can manufacture illusions of grandeur.
My choice: Tonglen, a breathing meditation. “Tonglen” is Tibetan for sending and taking.
There are all kinds of reasons to meditate – which is why it’s good to have a few different techniques. Knowing WHY you’re meditating is a great place to begin. And maybe you don’t know why – that not-knowing is also a brilliant starting point. Whether it’s to calm down and ease anxiety, to peek into possible future scenarios, to heal, to hear the Truth – every form of inner exploration is an unfolding of your essence – some times by just a smidgen, sometimes by quantum leaps. Every route points to knowing the nature of reality.
I meditate to expand. There are all sorts of layers and interpretations to that. But the concept of expanding my heart, my mind, my consciousness captures what I long for most: communion, freedom, and creative empowerment. And that’s the experience that Tonglen gives me.
Breathe in suffering – yours, others, the world’s.
Breathe out compassion – for yourself, for others, for the world.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. It may shatter you. But wouldn’t that be grand? To be shattered? To be so immensely open that you’d feel the truth: that you’re really as selfless as Mother Theresa, as loyal as an ecstatic dog at the feet of the world, as powerfully creative as a cosmic super hero?
Breathe in suffering. The worst thing that ever happened to you. That sunk feeling. That thing you wish you could take back. Recapitulate it in breaths. The blackness, the sickness, the fibrous seething rage, the sticky-scratchy, inconsolable weight of it. Take in the unbearable-ness. You may want to escape. Press on. Go beyond the embrace. Inhale the pain in to your every cell. You won’t die. You’re going to expand. Keep breathing in the misery.
You’re on the verge of a miracle.
Now breathe out joy. Soothing golden warmth. Luminous flying birds of clarity. Electric rays of smiling karate chops. Feel your lungs as powerful creative engines of healing and righteousness. Pulsate rapture. Let happiness emerge from the fractures. Let scar tissue become bridges that lead to a festival of relief and dancing. See joy. Feel joy. Hear joy. Sing joy. Breathe love into every cell of the situation.
Now do it for other people’s suffering. Please. For that homeless man on the street, in winter. Cold and demoralized. Inhale his agony. Exhale comfort and transformation. The jobless folks with families to feed. Cancer patients fighting to live. People gone mad. Soldiers who kill and the families they destroy. Take in the wreckage. Turn it into light and give back compassion and tenderness.
When your heart is heavy, when you want to feel alive…
Acknowledge the dark. And take the light into your own hands.
Danielle LaPorte is the outspoken creator of The Desire Map, author of The Fire Starter Sessions (Random House/Crown), co-creator of Your Big Beautiful Book Plan and soon-to-be publisher of DANIELLE Magazine, launching in early 2014. An inspirational speaker, former think tank exec and business strategist, she writes weekly at DanielleLaPorte.com, where over a million visitors have gone for her straight-up advice — a site that’s been deemed “the best place on-line for kick-ass spirituality,” and was named one of the “Top 100 Websites for Women” by Forbes.