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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blow out the candles -- and send out love

Saturday, July 14, is Pema Chodron's birthday. Ani Pema is one of the faces of western Buddhism, even though she wears the traditional monk's robes and a haircut that's just barely avoids having a shaved head. She's been interviewed by Oprah and Bill Moyers, and her books have sold millions of copies.

Before she was Pema Chödrön, she was Deirdre Blomfield-Brown. Born in New York City, she attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California.

Part of her brilliance lies in her ability to translate ancient wisdom to modern life, to identify with the worldly world while living in a remote abbey. Her teachings are tonglen are one example of this. There was a time when tonglen was a secret practice, given to advanced students. Now it's widespread in meditation circles.

For a detailed description, go here.

Essentially, it's a compassion practice in which the meditator takes on the suffering of another person and gives something beneficial -- peace, health, ease, love. It's sometimes called taking and sending or exchanging self and other. It's a way of dissolving the boundaries we erect around the self we want to protect and the messy world outside.

I learned it as a four-step process:

Flash on openness -- get a sense of space, of the wide blue sky, an open plain, a place without walls.
Imagine that you are breathing in thick, smoky, oily, polluted air. Breath out clear air.
Call to mind someone you know -- personally or through the news -- who is suffering. Please in their pain; breathe out an antidote. (Breathe in sadness; breathe out joy.)
Expand that to all beings who are suffering in that way.

When you're finished, do shamata or some other practice for a while to settle back into your being.

I know from experience that this is a heart-opening practice for the person who performs it. I've been told that the recipients also feel the compassionate energy, even if they don't know the practice is being done for them.

Ani Pema's on retreat for all of 2012, but she's invited everyone to join her in meditation and practicing peace today. Details are on her website

I think I will picture a birthday cake with 76 candles, breathing in the smoky air from all the burning colored wax.

Breathing out, I wish that all beings may know the joy of clear-seeing.

Here is a video of Pema teaching tonglen: