flower in a vessle, beign held by a buddha statue - a symbol that relates to tonglen.

Transmutation of Suffering: The Magic of Tonglen

Tonglen meditation is a healing practice. The word tonglen is Tibetan, and means “giving and taking.” It is also translated as “sending and receiving.” Rooted deeply in Tibetan Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and service, tonglen is designed to transmute and transcend suffering, not only on the personal level but on the global as well.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama practices tonglen daily.

Seeking ease for ourselves is not always synonymous with working toward the liberation of all beings. But, in the case of tonglen, the transformation of discomfort is a path that allows for healing, transformation, and liberation on all levels. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that he practices tonglen everyday. This is what he says of the practice; “Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.”

Tonglen is a practice I’ve found to be helpful when I’m feeling the need to create change in myself, or in the world at large. And lately I’ve been feeling that need a lot. Perhaps you have been too? Tonglen is part of my spiritual process around social justice, because it contributes to the liberation of all beings. It’s part of my mental health plan and my self-care process because I find it to be a valuable practice for centering, releasing attachment, and increasing presence. Perhaps you will find through practice that tonglen has immense benefit for you as well.

The Pali word dukkha is often translated into English as suffering, but has many other more subtle and complex meanings. In an effort to be more accurate and inclusive of meaning, I will use the word dukkha in this article instead of one of the various translations.

The practice of tonglen may at first seem a counter-intuitive method for creating healing if you are used to the concept of breathing in “good” energy, and releasing the “bad.” The practice of tonglen instead allows us the opportunity to consciously take dukkha into ourselves, and using our consciousness, to transform dukkha to resourceful states such as nonattachment, peace, ease, joy, love, or other states that encourage healing, release, relaxation, and well-being.

Tree with reflection and starry sky. Tonglen is about creating balance.

Tonglen begins with becoming conscious of the moment. Then, as opposed to the meditations or visualizations that invite you to breathe in peace and breath out pain, you breathe in dukkha and breathe out resourceful states. Like a tree converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, you become the filter that purifies the air for others to breathe.

While the idea of breathing in spiritual exhaust may not appeal at first, this practice is also designed as a way to overcome selfishness, or the act of cherishing oneself above other beings.

When taken to the pragmatic level you can see that the practice of tonglen serves; when we become willing to transmute suffering it allows us to actively “be the change we wish to see in the world,” whether the suffering we transform is truly only our own or is a more global suffering.

The magic of tonglen is a simple yet profound process of spiritual alchemy. By converting the suffering of yourself and the suffering of all beings through your consciousness and breath, you are contributing to conversion of the clouds of attachment, which can be visualized as clouds of spiritual exhaust. This spiritual exhaust is created by attachment, which, according the many spiritual philosophies, produces suffering.

The practice of tonglen touches and purifies all occurrences of attachment that arise in the experience of being.

flower in a vessle, beign held by a buddha statue - a symbol that relates to tonglen.

How to Practice Tonglen:

  1. Become conscious of the moment you are in. Don’t grasp at attachment to a purity of awareness, but be exactly where you are. Every moment of experience, be it joyful, blissful, angry, exuberant, sad, or frustrated has equal opportunity for your coming fully present in awakening.
  2. Breathe the dukkha, or spiritual exhaust, in. You may imagine the dukkha as smoke, haze, or as a having a color if that helps. If it helps, you may also or alternatively visualize one who is suffering, or the cause of suffering itself. You may visualize breathing in the dukkha surrounding the one who is suffering. Remember, this may be you. You may visualize your own dukkha and breathe it in, or the dukkha of others.
  3. In your center, allow the dukkha to transform. You are transmuting that spiritual exhaust to pure spiritual oxygen, like a tree transforms exhaust to clear air. Create this transformation by allowing the dukkha to dissolve into the nothingness at the center of everything. Or, as my friend Durga Fuller says, allow it to dissolve into “the emptiness that we are essentially.”
  4. As the transformation occurs,  the dukkha transitions to nonattachment, joy, bliss, ease, peace. Allow yourself to fill your center with whatever of these states is within your reach. All merit you have accrued through the enactment of practice in the world will help to power this transformation.
  5. Breathe out the cleared and resourceful emotion or state, and send it out into the world in the form of non-attachment, bliss, joy, ease, happiness, peace.

Sometimes healing of the self is more challenging, so it may be easier for you to practice tonglen for the healing of others. Or, it may be easier to start with breathing in your own dukkha. Wherever you start, know that healing suffering is an ongoing process. And, healing suffering through your own selfless practice is work towards the liberation of all beings.

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Space for Fragility

68_-_strength__fragility_judith_battersby_4655250313Hey lefties and radicals, let’s make room for folks not doing everything “perfectly,” yeah? What I see is that those who are new to radicalization are being schooled so often that they leave instead of becoming empowered to continue on the path.

I am not saying that we need to make room for white tears, or that we must cosign people’s frailty. However, making fragility a sin is removing our humanity.

What if instead of shutting down fragility we, as a movement, made space for it? There need to be places where it is safe to be wrong. To take action imperfectly and still be welcome to arrive at the conversation at whatever state we are capable of reaching.

Expecting perfection from beginners will kill this movement. Hell, expecting perfection in general will kill it. None of us are perfect.

Yours in solidarity.

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Silencing Is NOT What We Need

img_2996Stop policing people’s expressions of anguish. Stop telling people – and especially women – to shut up. To seek unity. To let it go. To move on.

I am afraid for and in my queer AF, female assigned at birth, gender nonconforming body. I am afraid in and for this body. AND afraid for my trans kid and my daughter – who may have to undergo an illegal abortion in her lifetime because OUR bodies – the bodies of women and the bodies of queers – are on the line.

The bodies of #yesallwomen – and especially the bodies, as always, of Women of Color, trans women, queer women. But, #yesallwomen.

I totally get that my vantage is flavored by white privilege. And this does not remove the fact that this body – my body – is currently at risk too. The rights of ALL WOMEN and queers are newly – AGAIN – under open fire. Again. (And again, and as always, it is Women of Color, queer Women of Color, queer trans Women of Color who are most at risk. And Muslim women. And women who are not able bodied. And women who are poor. And women who are homeless, or drug addicted, or neurodivergent. And again, most at risk are the most marginalized. Women of Color, who are Muslim, trans, homeless, neurodivergent.)

I am looking at the areas where recent hard-won victories in gay rights and trans rights, and at the constant battle around reproductive rights and reproductive justice, and I am painfully, shakingly aware of the work we are going to need to shore up, defend, and re-do.

It’s overwhelming. It’s undeniable.

THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS IT EVER WAS. This is NOT business as usual. This is something that is different than it was a few days ago. It is not “status quo;” it’s a roll-back. And it’s real. Those are the actual words that man used. “Roll back gay rights.” “Overturn Roe v. Wade.” These are things we would not be expecting if she had won. This is a true loss. This is frightening.

And it’s breaking my heart, and shaking my spirit. For all of us. Because the days ahead are uncertain. For me. For mine. For us. And I am steeling myself for them.

Anguish is an understandable response. Perhaps even a necessary response. May our anguish lead to action.

It’s time to pull out Our Bodies, Ourselves, and remind ourselves of our herstories of resistance. Time to relearn self-administered gyn health care. Time to secure long term birth control – maybe even if it’s not ideal.

And there is an unconscious/semi-conscious move to silence women. As always, people are telling women what to say and what not say, how to say it, what’s permissible. There is lateral aggression and blame and shaming and pointing of fingers.

Silencing is NOT what we need. Not now. Not ever. (Calling in, yes. But not silencing.) Right now, more than anything, we need to rise up in voice, in thought, in deed. We need to raise our voices not as a unified front even, but as a multiplicity of voices from a multitude of positions. We need to be seen and we need to be heard and we need to start looking for the actionable common ground.

#yesallwomen #anguish #fear

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My Plans for the trump Presidency

wildheart logoMy plans for the trump presidency:

* Keep loving like (and whom) I do.
* Keep fucking like (and whom) I do.
* Keep talking like I do.
* Keep dressing like I do.
* Keep writing like I do.
* Keep working for social justice like I do.
* Also, even though it won’t be free, nor cheaper, as I had hoped (and as it may have been with Clinton in office), I will continue pursuing that degree. And when I get it, I will use my paper to fight back.

All of these are acts of resistance.

What are your plans?

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Get Out The Vote

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Eight years ago I spent days on the phone with GOTV projects for Barack. Four years ago I did it too. I haven’t done that for Hill. And I’m not even sure why. I mean, I’m busy, but that is not an adequate excuse. We make time for important things.

I am honestly excited about having a women POTUS. VERY. It’s been a long time coming. And she is, all faults accounted for, the most qualified for the job. The job of POTUS – which is an imperialist, colonialist position.

My own sexist attitudes that hold women to a higher level of perfection than men may be to blame. In my heart of hearts, I believe we are collectively – and personally – holding Rodham Clinton to a purity expectation that we never have – and likely never will – held a male candidate to.

When Rodham Clinton wins I will cry tears of victory, just like I did when Obama won. Electing the first woman president of the US is a victory, after all. An uneven, imperfect one. A victory, as has been point out by friends who are Women of Color, that is first and foremost for white women.

But, if we’re being honest, almost all truly are imperfect victories.

So I will cry and celebrate. And then get to work on holding her accountable.

May our internalized sexism make us better, more engaged citizens. And may her ways, and the ways of women (and I do not mean that in any essentialist sense – I believe the ways of women are probably inculcated – that said, they have differences from the ways of men), make our input more welcome than it has been before. May her listening and her orientation toward positive collaboration and integration of feedback be a hallmark of her presidency.

Now, I gotta get some work done, and then volunteer to GOTV.