“The reality is…the journey goes down, not up...At the bottom…right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”
― Pema Chödrön
The following meditation can be viewed by clicking the video player.
In her book, When Things Fall Apart, nun and teacher Pema Chödrön writes of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist prayer, or meditation practice, called Tonglen.
Tong means “giving or sending,” and len means “receiving or taking.”
As its name reveals, tonglen is a practice of “receiving or taking in” pain and suffering while “giving or sending out” the counter to that pain and suffering. With each inhaled breath, one is invited to breathe in that which they would remove from the world, and with each exhaled breath, to release whatever light, love, or peace is needed. Tonglen can be specific—focusing on that which we recognize as needing to be removed from our own lives as we wrestle with our own suffering and struggle…or on a friend, family member, or loved one and what we would release into their lives. Tonglen can also be broad—aligning us with the suffering of oppressed and tormented people as we breathe in and confront our oneness with their pain and breathe out the beginning of our connection to working for their good. Pema Chödrön writes,
“Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape. The reality is…the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain is pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of escaping the suffering, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We jump into it. We slide into it. We tiptoe into it. We move toward it however we can. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom…right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”
We should recognize this descent as the path of the Christ.
The One who came to serve and love and accept and identify and stand in solidarity with all.
The One who came to remind us of our breath—to remind us of the picture of a loving Creator taking dirt and filling it, inspiring it, with the breath of life.
That picture—found in the creation poem of Genesis 2—is not a small picture of historical or scientific fact. It is a big, hairy, transcendent reminder about who we really are.
We all carry around within us the breath of God.
That thing that makes us more than dirt—the thing that makes us alive—is the very breath of God. We are all bearers of the divine. We are all connected. We are all as close to the Source of All Things as our very breath. As Chödrön says, “It’s as if we had amnesia for a very long time and awaken to remember who we really are.”