Training the Heart Muscle

Have you ever thought about meditating but didn’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve given it a try? You’ve sat on a cushion breathing in and breathing out, trying to be all empty minded and what not.  And there it goes, there goes your mind wander, wander, wander. No fun – no apparent results.  Been there. Done that.

So. Since it’s just about Valentine’s Day, why don’t we learn a simple, powerful, heart meditation. The practice of  Tonglen is a traditional Buddhist meditation practice designed to help us connect with the openness and softness of our hearts.

We train for so many things in our lives, many of us belong to gyms and lift weights and run miles, and speak two languages and know how to use a spread sheet. But by golly, when it comes to knowing our heart? To using our heart to make good? We’re weak.

We need to train our heart muscle. And I believe (with all my heart) that if you can train, and open your heart, you can change the world.

And for everyone who has read this far and is still wondering, no this post is not about lacing up your running shoes and doing some cardio! Although, some of my best meditations do come on my runs 🙂

Here’s the caveat. I’m hoping to introduce the practice of Tonglen so that you might be curious enough to explore further. While I’ve been practicing for a bunch of years now, there are a lot of awesome resources to explore that can much better explain, and elucidate the nuances that make this method so profound.

And so. Here’s what it is. Tonglen.  You breath in the bad. Breath out the good. You breath in pain, and discomfort, and suffering, you breath out the good stuff, ease and pleasure and happiness. That’s as simple as I can put it. And I know. It sounds counterintuitive. Who wants to breath in pain? Don’t we want to avoid it? How can I possibly take in pain and not get hurt?

This is where it gets tricky to explain. But the best I can say, is have courage, and trust yourself and the compassion that will grow in your heart.

The way I understand it – is say you’re in a bad mood. Chances are you’re going to spread that nasty mood around. And nasty is infectious. You’ll probably manage to make some other people not feel so great. In your heart of hearts, you know that you really don’t want to do that. But how do you learn not to. How do you train yourself to not spread the nasty?

Breath it in. By breathing it in, you open your heart. You feel “it.” And I know that sounds bad, but it’s not. I’ve been doing it for a few years now. Leap of faith give it a try. Instead of making you feel worse, it allows you to feel your pain, sadness, anger, suffering, and to bring yourself compassion. And then you breath out that relief, that goodness. Instead of spreading pain, you are spreading relief, or pleasure, or ease.

I hope that makes a little sense.

So the way to begin. Is by sitting and settling for a bit. Feel yourself sitting. First you’re a snow globe that has been turned upside down. When the snow settles you can begin. Breath in the ick. Feel the dark hot, dirty smoke. Breath out the cool fresh air. Maybe your feeling the anguish of a terrible loss. Breath that in. Breath out the relief of compassion that you give yourself. And so on. And so on. Maybe fifteen minutes. Or just as much as you need. That is the practice of Tonglen, training to open and soften your heart.

And so. Thanks for reading to the end today. I’m going to admit. This took some courage for me to write. I am so moved by this practice that I would like to offer it to everyone I know. And yet – I understand, maybe it seems a little out there. And I also appreciate, that in the scheme of things I am only a beginner, and to dare to teach? But, in my heart of hearts, I know it can rock your world, so I offer it today, the best I can.


5 thoughts on “Training the Heart Muscle

  1. Great post. I will definitely try this. Also, in my training for the Mt. Hood 50-miler, I think there will be plenty of moments when I’m going to need to breathe in the bad, and out the good and have the courage and the faith, patience, diligence that it’ll all work itself out naturally. A lot of people are too impatient to work through bad emotions. The idea of ‘breathing in the bad’ and ‘breathing out the good’ does seem counter-intuitive. That’s because most people would rather sweep their problems under a rug and deal with them “never”. It’s more helpful to breathe it all in and deal with it NOW. Great post. Glad you had the courage to write it!

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