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March 11 & March 18

by Christina Honchell

The first time I heard the word “Tonglen” was in an Ed Bacon sermon, and when he described it, I almost fell out of my chair. My first thought was “he must have this wrong.” My second thought was, “oh goodness, I’ve been doing this wrong all my life.”

Well I was incorrect about both assumptions. Ed had it right and there really is no “doing it wrong” in meditation. My meditation had always been about breathing in love, the love of God, the love of the universe, the beauty of nature – depending on where I was on my spiritual journey. And letting that love do its healing thing, and then breathing out my love for God, the universe, the natural world. The concept of breathing in pain and suffering? And then breathing out comfort and healing? Oh Jesus, that never occurred to me!

Tonglen is Tibetan for “giving and taking” or “sending and receiving.” In the practice of breathing in suffering and breathing out joy we cultivate empathy, compassion, and in a particularly appropriate-for-Lent posture, the exchanging of our self for others. I’ve copied a very brief description of Tonglen by Pema Chodron below. I’ve also given you a link to a video of Pema’s that helps to explain the practice.

Last year and the year before during Lent, I facilitated groups that read the books of Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. The titles might give you an indication of what this season of my life has been like. In both books, Pema teaches about the power of Tonglen to transform and heal ourselves and the world. This practice is so wildly practical that it can be done ritually or done in any moment when suffering or pain are encountered. This Lent I wanted to offer an opportunity to learn and practice Tonglen, because I need it and I’m just guessing that others do also.

We have scheduled two sessions on Saturdays in Lent: March 11 and March 18. We will gather in the Guild Room at 9 a.m. and be together for a couple of hours. Caitlyn Conlin, a Tonglen instructor who led the meditation sessions in the book groups, will give us a little teaching, some instruction and guidance, and we will then spend the bulk of the time in meditation as a group. With time for questions and concerns after.

You are welcome to come to both or to just one, whichever works for you. I think that Tonglen is a powerful tool to take into the sacred resistance we are being called into. Here is the link to register (there is just one link – use it whether you are coming to one or both):

I wish you blessings as we enter the holy ground of Lent. May we join our prayers and meditations and heal the world.

On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person… maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying.
But the in-breath is … you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.

And then you send out – just relax out… send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.

So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.

Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine … breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can.