May the words of my mouth and the
meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.
Word sound is Power
I don't meditate much. Meditation is an important component to Buddhist spiritual practice, but its not the only one. Lately, I have read and learned through discussions that the focus on meditation is more of an Western tradition than it is part of the Eastern tradition. Whatever the case, at this moment in time, meditation is not the center of my spirituality. I find that other practices are more useful to me, and like Buddha says, take what is useful to you in the study of the Dharma.
I am currently reading Pema Chodron's The Places That Scare You. Well, that along with about 50-11 other things...but this book is the focus of my spiritual reading right now. I am reading it on a Kindle that was gifted to me by an ex, which is an interesting exercise within itself, for a number of reasons. But in terms of reading a spiritual book electronically, I thought at first it would prevent me from being able to easily go back and reread important passages. But I am learning to work with it, so we shall see.
Anyway, one of the practices that I have been working with is the tonglen practice. Tonglen means 'sending and taking'. In tonglen practice, you take in the suffering of yourself and others and send out happiness and the end of suffering. Its intertwined with compassion, which is perhaps the most important spiritual practice of all (to me at least). You have to have compassion to be willing to work with suffering.
Pema talks about 4 stages of tonglen; first where you are still or open; second where you are working with the energy of the suffering; third where you breathe in the unwanted and breathe out the relief; and fourth where you expand your focus to others who are experiencing the same. I think of it as energy, breathing in "negative" energy (even though I am not sure I should assign values to the energy) transforming it within myself, and breathing it out as positive energy that I transmit out.
A basic example: I take the Metrorail to and from work every day. Often, my train is delayed and there are tons of irritated folk on the platform. That coupled with the large crowds of non- Metro savvy tourists who often visit my city leads to a lot of frustration for myself and others. When I encounter this, I have made it a practice to put a slight smile on my face (which I learned about doing in another book by a Buddhist teacher), and I breathe in the frustration of us all and breath out patience and peace. I take a few slow, deep breaths, then I just breathe normally, visualizing the energy flowing through me and out to others.
I also practice this when I see frustrated service workers, mothers snapping at their kids, even pissed off people ranting on Facebook or in an online forum. Tonglen helps me to actively be compassionate and less judgmental. As a result, I contribute less to the suffering of the world. In particular, I then practice more right speech, which is the other spiritual practice that I focus on daily. I will discuss right speech more in Part Two.