― Pema Chödrön
“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”
― Chögyam Trungpa
I even let slip in some settings that I've felt the Presence of, sometimes even heard the Voice of God -- although some folks may call this Shunyata or the Tao or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or a myriad other names for the Groundless Ground of Being that will always dance beyond our ability to name it.
Over the years I've learned to be a a bit discrete about yakking about these experiences, though.
I try not to mention these Openings where it is likely to lead to an embarrassed silence, furtive glances toward the nearest exit -- or maybe even somebody dialing 911! And although I say that lightly, in all seriousness this has been an unfortunate reality for all too many of my fellow mystics in a society that doesn't understand such things. I was quite fortunate, really. I was usually able to "pass."
Looking back, I guess I've always been a bit touched. Often dismissed as a dreamer or an idealist, sometimes with obvious scorn by those who considered themselves to be"realists," I had dedicated my life to attempting to be kind and helpful, to serve "all sentient beings." It was important to me even before I heard of the Bodhisattva Vow. It just seemed to make sense to be me. Why not be kind and giving rather than engage in the selfishness and cruelty I saw in the world around me?
For much of my life, I've stumbled ahead in a sometimes quite bizarre, sometimes crazed, effort to understand the Real Deal. I wanted to be able to lend a helping hand in a way that may make a difference. I wanted to get to the Heart of the Matter, to discern the Truth.
To be sure, I've often crashed and burned in the process, blowing a fuse trying, all too desperately, to serve. I hadn't truly appreciated how the natural inclinations to seek approval and security and defend myself from anything unpleasant had operated since childhood to distort my vision and "harden my heart" with layers and layers of frozen childhood trauma, sadness, fear and anger. Hell, I always thought I was a real softy!
Little did I know.
Live and Learn
Although my journey continues to involve a variety of practices emerging from several spiritual traditions, for the past decade one of the most useful tools in my roadside service toolkit has been Tonglen Practice as taught by American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and others. Like many of us 'back in the day," having experienced a number of compelling visions and rapturous openings of my heart chakra, I was convinced of the existence of a boundless and mysterious energy that I now call One Love.
Yet, in the day to day reality of my life I discovered that actually being a loving person wasn't all that easy. Blinded by the subconscious patterns of a deeply wounded ego, immersed in the energies of a patently neurotic society, I made a lot of mistakes. Much the time I could be a real jerk, failing miserably to help others, or even myself free themselves from suffering. Even after experiencing the Infinite Grace of Our Oneness, I still didn't have much of a clue about the sheath of armoring around my heart that operated to distance me from others -- and, perhaps more crucialy, from myself.
Although I was blessed to be able to attend retreats along the way with Stephen and Ondrea Levine and Joanna Macy that provided opportunities to access and melt that armoring in precious moments, our early conditioning and its constant reinforcement in the world around us are powerful. years later, I still stumble ahead noticing daily how quickly I can disconnect from boundless, tender, openness that always exists in our Heart of Hearts.
The Practice of Tonglen has been a godsend.
Tonglen Practice, like the Lojong Teachings from which it arises, turns what is seen by our highly individualistic and competitive society as "common sense" on its head. Rather than racing ahead in a continuous effort to strengthen and fortify our egos in a misguided attempt to achieve lasting happiness, we slow down and allow ourselves to Be Touched, to open to the soft, vulnerable, "achy-breaky', tenderness that exists in our Heart of Hearts.
Cultivating a gentle kindness toward ourselves and others, through Tonglen Practice we learn to turn towards and breath into our hearts the more "disturbing" emotional energies of the human condition with the aspiration to relieve the suffering involved in those energies for ourselves and others. Then, on the out breath, we send out a sense of release, relief, and healing towards ourselves and others. (There are many variations and instructions regarding the ways to conceive and visualize Tonglen Practice. Two YouTube presentations of Tonglen Practice by Pema Chodron are linked below. A simple Google search will bring you many more.)
Breathing in the Darkness. Breathing out the Light. In a way, it's just that simple.
Yet simple doesn't mean easy.
Maybe that's why I find myself rambling on about Tonglen again. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Taking It to Heart) At this point in the journey, I need to keep reminding myself that the thrust of my own conditioning leads me to turn away from fear and sadness, from anger and jealousy, from feelings of humiliation, shame, guilt, etc. Why would I want to feel that stuff? "Taking on" these energies, my own or those of others, seems counter-intuitive.
Yet, through Tonglen, as with the Lojong Teachings in general, I've come to see for myself, that as my heartfelt aspiration to heal expands beyond the narrow limits of my individual concerns to embrace the joys and suffering of others, something shifts. We connect with our hearts. There our essential Oneness becomes self-evident.
The Real Deal?
Over the past decade of working gently and persistently with Tonglen, I've come to see more clearly that my Heart and the boundless and limitless expanse of the One Love are inseparable. Breathing in, we Connect to the Boundless Space and Energy of the Sacred. Breathing out, we Connect to the Boundless Space and Energy of the Sacred. In the Embrace of the One Love, beyond our own personal agendas, Life with all its grandeur -- and all its messiness -- simply is what it is.
Although we will find ourselves closing again and again, experiencing ourselves as limited and disconnected beings, for some of us once we've been Touched by the One Love, we know it's the Real Deal. We realize that the Open Heart is both the means and the ends of our journey. It is our Connection to the Sacred Mystery of Life itself. Sound a bit touched in the head? Perhaps. IMHO though, Touched in the Heart is a bit more accurate.
Yet, don't take my word for this. If this resonates with you, check it out for yourself.