Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: take a deep breath

breathe journalToday’s 30 Days of Love prompt is about the sacred pause. The breath, in other words. Breathing in <> breathing out. Buddhist & yogi Teo Drake reminds us that mindfulness needn’t be limited to sitting and following the breath. Just taking a single breath between what happens and what we do about it —  inhabiting that space of feeling, of impact — is a critical beginning.


I love this. We can do this, y’all! How hard is one breath? Just breathe in, deep and calming, when you remember. Not just when hurt comes calling, but whenever you remember. Maybe even set your phone to go off hourly? And just inhabit that one breath.

But of course, it’s also the best possible first step towards true compassion — my beloved practice of tonglen. As Pema Chodron details in her explanation of the process, you breathe for those who feel as you do. Which means, again, anyone can do this. You certainly don’t have to be enlightened. :) In fact, you can be mired in fearfulness.breathe


Once, at a meditation sitting, we were asked to think of what terrified us. Just one thing, that we were deeply frightened of, or worried about. I chose Alzheimer’s, which killed my mother, her elder sister, a few great-aunts, and looms on the horizon for me and/or my sisters. At that point in my life, it was a profound fear for me. Our meditation facilitator told us to locate that terror, and then breathe in, thinking of how it felt, and all the people who share it. Then we breathed out, sending peace to those others. Never thinking about our own fear except as it was common to all of us who fear losing our identity, losing our loved ones. Losing our memories…

tonglen2That pause, between breathing in my private, personal fear and the comfort I breathed out for everyone who shared a similar terror, was sacred, as Teo Drake notes. Not simply because I stopped to take it — that’s sacred enough, the intention to do good. But also because in my fragile, battered, too often inadequate, human heart, I transformed shrinking terror into the outreach of peace. Like a kind of spiritual alchemy. And all it took was that pause, the recognition that my terror is not unique, but shared by millions.tonglen3


Any of us can do this. We all have our private fears and troubles that can be transmuted into peace. But even joy can be recognised, affirmed, celebrated for the moment it is with us. Stop in the now, breathe in what is happening, and recognise it. Once you’ve done that, you’re well on the way to tonglen. Plus — you’ve created a moment of sacred space in your everyday life. How amazing is that?

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