The Buddhist Tonglen practice is interesting because it’s the opposite of some new-age practices like breathing in positive energy and love and breathing out negative energy and suffering. Tonglen practice is a relative-level practice of giving and receiving, in which you are instructed to breathe into your heart the suffering of others with the wish to take away their ignorance and pain. Then you breathe out of your heart, sending good feelings, compassion, and happiness to particular individuals or groups of people.
This next practice is a version of an ultimate-level Tonglen practice. It is the same as the relative-level Tonglen practice, except that when you breathe into your heart, you don’t stop at taking the suffering into your body. Instead, you allow it to continue through your heart space to the support of awake awareness behind your heart. Then you feel the support of awake awareness coming into your body. Next, you feel the loving awareness go out to the person in front of you and connect to the awake awareness within and behind them. As you breathe in, you feel their ignorance and suffering coming back to and through your body—and then back to the support of awake awareness. The key experience could be summarized this way: Awake awareness has your back. We can learn to receive and give from here.
In this practice, take a few minutes to glimpse open-hearted awareness for yourself.
- Sit comfortably, eyes open or closed, and simply be aware of all your senses. Notice the activity of thinking in your head.
- First, unhook local awareness from thoughts in your head. Next, let it move down through your neck and into your chest, and know— directly—from within your upper body.
- Become familiar with this kind of direct knowing from within; it neither looks down from your head nor looks back up to your thoughts.
- Feel the awareness and aliveness together: rest without going to sleep and stay aware without going to thought to know.
- Feel that awareness can know both the awareness and aliveness from within your body.
- Notice a feeling of an open-heart space from within the center of your chest.
- Feel as if you have relocated from your head to this open-heart space, from which you are now knowing and aware.
- Notice that you can invite and welcome any thoughts down, so that you can remain at home in your heart and still have information from the office of your head come to you via Wi-Fi.
- Be here, receive light with your eyes, and look out from the eyes of open-hearted awareness.
- Feel how local awareness can move behind and through your heart space to become aware of spacious awareness behind your body.
- Surrender local awareness until local awareness merges with spacious awareness so that it’s aware of itself.
- Wait until you are knowing from within the timeless, contentless, thought-free awareness.
- Notice that as you surrender awareness, the field of spacious awareness behind your heart already includes your whole body.
- Feel how awareness knows itself as pure awareness behind your body, and as the aliveness within your body from your toes to your head. Feel the joy and lightness of this inner-body presence.
- Now notice how local awareness is also moving and looking out at the world through your heart space.
- Be aware from this field of spacious awareness—behind, within, and in front. It’s simultaneously spacious and pervasive: a continuous field of awareness, stillness, and aliveness.
- Notice that you don’t have to alternate being aware outside and then inside. Awareness is both outside and inside at the same time.
- Without going to thought ask, “What does open-hearted awareness know?”
- Simply let go and let be. Rest in this new knowing and flowing; see from being.
Notice the loving awareness happening effortlessly.
Adapted from Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness by Loch Kelly, published by Sounds True in September 2015. Copyright ©2015 Loch Kelly.
Loch Kelly is an educator, consultant, and recognized leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy who was asked to teach meditation by Mingyur Rinpoche and Adyashanti. The founder of the Awake Awareness Institute, he is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, teaching inner city youth and collaborating with neuroscientists to study how awareness training can enhance well-being. He lives in New York City. See lochkelly.org.