Tuesday, July 30, 2019


(The thoughts that follow were prompted by my current reading of "Love on Every Breath: Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy" by Lama Palden Drolma. This is not a "review", but rather a log of the thoughts and practices I have tried out for myself as I read the review copy I received from the publisher, New World Library).

I do not sit cross-legged. I came to meditation relatively late in life, at a time when my joints were already somewhat set in their Western ways! Nevertheless, I struggled with the zafu for several years at first, before concluding that too much of my meditation energy was being channelled into the struggle and decided on the chair instead. I have done my meditation sitting in the chair for many years now and have made my peace with the compromise.

That said, I do make the conscious effort to establish a straight spine from the start and to maintain it constantly throughout my sit, correcting it if (when!) I find myself beginning to slouch. Long-time teachers and practitioners agree that this is essential to optimize the breath energy in the body and my experience confirms this to be true. Also, I meditate with eyes gently closed--Lama Palden Drolma recommends meditating with eyes open, but I decided not to complicate things further by attempting to change this long-standing habit.

The Lama describes Step 1 in the eight-step practice of "Love in Every Breath" as "Resting in Open Awareness"--a term I learned a while ago and have come to love as a reminder to myself when the edge of my practice begins to dull, as it sometimes does. I wrote about this in The Buddha Diaries just a couple of days ago as the combination of complete relaxation of the body and the sharpened attention of the mind.

So I am working on Step 1, bringing my attention to the breath and allowing the breath to become one with the breathing body as I at once relax and expand the awareness, slowly, to include every sensation in the body. Once settled in this intimate awareness of what I think of as my self, I invite the mind's attention to expand outward to include everything outside of and around me, continuing to expand ever outward until it becomes a space of unrestricted openness where, as the Lama says, "Perceptions and thoughts, like birds, do not disturb the sky. The sky does not chase after them or judge them. They are simply there, and then they are gone."

The metaphor of the "big sky" is a pleasing and, in my experience, an accurately descriptive one; and the metaphor itself is a useful visual aid that can guide me, when distractions intervene, to the goal I'm striving for. It's a matter, as the Lama writes, of "keeping your mind at ease, open, and resting in the vividness of your experience." A good place to be.

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