Thursday, March 15, 2012

Out breath

There is a meditation practice known as Tonglen. The idea behind it is a bit difficult to explain because so much has become lost in translation, but the principle is that doing Tonglen allows us to embrace our shared humanity and awaken our natural compassion. 

As human beings we don't really like feeling uncomfortable or distressed. Emotions such as anger, fear or sadness get labeled as 'bad' and emotions like joy, happiness and excitement get labeled as 'good'. 'Bad' emotions are considered unpleasant and unwelcome so the natural thing to do is reject them. We do any number of things to not feel bad. We buy stuff, we smoke stuff, we drink stuff. All of this might make the bad feeling go away for a bit, but ultimately it doesn't eliminate it. It just sort of masks it for a little while and we get a temporary 'good' feeling. 

When we feel good about something we hold onto it really, really tightly. And generally this makes it last half as long as it could. We get convinced that something was perfect so we try to recreate it so we can experience that joy again. We can become formulaic as we seek what makes us happy. And we can get quite greedy about it. When we find something that makes us feel good we can cling to it selfishly, as though sharing it might mean there is less for us. 

But happiness is unlimited, as are joy and excitement, glee and amazement, contentment and passion. There is more than enough to go around because it is limitless. But it doesn't last forever. And neither do anger, rage, fear, sadness, or grief. They are like passing clouds and every emotion is an opportunity for us to become more aware. 

The practice of Tonglen is about flipping our clinging and pushing tendencies around. Instead of doing whatever you can to get rid of an unpleasant feeling, Tonglen asks you to breathe it in. To sit with it, experience it and know it. It asks you to embrace it for the sake of every other being on the planet who has or does feel the same way. 

 But this blog entry is about the out breath. Because the out breath is when we breath out the pleasant feelings we would normally cling to. The idea is to share that feeling with the world in the hope that it benefits others. Often this out breath is accompanied with classic lovingkindess phrases such as 'May all beings feel this joy' or 'May all beings feel this contentment'.

And it can be from anything - the pleasant feeling that may arise when you have a perfect cup of tea or the absolute thrill you get from receiving tickets to see your favourite artist perform as a gift. The idea is that the experiences which give us pleasant feelings can vary but the emotions themselves are universally understood. What makes me happy might not necessarily make you happy but the feeling of being happy is the same. 

This is my Out Breath post. 

 A fog so thick I couldn't see the Thames. It filled me with a calm sort of awe at how absolutely beautiful the world is. The thick, white blanket of fog transformed a familiar view into a thing of mysterious beauty.
 May all beings everywhere feel this sense of wonder. 
 A patch of bright daffodils on the edge of Hyde park. They were grown in a square, their lovely yellow faces turned towards the spring sunshine. It made me want to skip like when I was a kid, giving me a sense of freedom and delight.
 May all beings everywhere find joy in small things.
The bare twisted branches of the trees spiralled up into the perfect, clear blue sky. The sun was warm on my skin. The music on my iPod was a perfect soundtrack. The breeze was a perfect accompaniment to the sun.

May all beings everywhere find contentment. 

The idea I like best about this out breath is that you can give these feelings as you would give a gift. This was my day and I offer it to each and every one of you.

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