An excerpt from Love on Every Breath by Lama Palden Drolma
At this time, when our human family is facing many challenges, it is more important than ever that we find peace and sustenance in our hearts. In the new book Love on Every Breath: Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy, author Lama Palden Drolma introduces a profound, ancient meditation that has been practiced in isolated mountain retreats in the Himalayas for centuries, which is now available to the modern world.
In the standard Tonglen, the meditator simply breathes in the suffering of others and then breathes out love and compassion to them, but this approach does not always work well for Westerners, who often find it difficult to get past the ego’s roadblocks. That is why Lama Palden prefers to teach the more user-friendly “Love on Every Breath” variation to Westerners, which comes from the Shangpa lineage of two enlightened women.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
Love on Every Breath is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana meditation from the Shangpa lineage that combines breath, awareness, imagination, and an energetic transformation process. The meditation brings all these components together in a powerful way in order to open our hearts, to reveal and cultivate our kindness, love, compassion, and wisdom. In Tibetan, this is called the Extraordinary Tonglen, since it uses special techniques of Vajrayana to transform suffering. The Tibetan word tonglen is composed of two words — tong means “giving or sending,” and len means “receiving or taking.” First, we open ourselves to receive and feel the suffering of ourselves and others, breathing it into our heart center. This is the “taking.” The suffering is then instantaneously and effortlessly liberated in the heart and transformed by a special method into unconditional love. At this point, on the out-breath, love and healing energy are sent back out to whomever you are doing the meditation for at the moment, whether yourself or another. This is the “sending.”
The primary purpose of the Love on Every Breath meditation is to cultivate our love and compassion, to transform and liberate our heart. When we come from a place of love, everything shifts for us.
The Love on Every Breath meditation is not an exotic Himalayan practice, but it is something that emerges out of us spontaneously and naturally. It is inherent in us to want to remove suffering — others’ or our own. The problem for many children (and adults) is that we absorb the suffering of others, and then it stagnates inside of us. Love on Every Breath gives a way for the suffering to be liberated in the body and the psyche and emerge as compassion. There is a felt sense as this happens.
Four Benefits of the Meditation
I see four major benefits of the Love on Every Breath meditation. First, it can crack open the hard shell of our ego-clinging.
Ego-clinging is our grasping onto the self that we think we are, but which isn’t actually there. Our sense of self is simply a collection of our perceptions, feelings, thoughts, memories, and consciousness; in part, it arises from the fact that we have a body. Clinging to this separates us from others, puts us first, and blocks our capacity to realize our true nature of wisdom and love. In cracking open our hard shell of self-importance and self-protection, Love on Every Breath allows our natural love and compassion to both be uncovered and grow. It allows our inherent wisdom to shine through. Letting go of ego-clinging is a process that needs to happen again and again. Then we can learn to take loving care of ourselves from a place of increased freedom.
All authentic gurus and teachers give guidance in order for their students to access their own innate wisdom. This is for the sole purpose of helping students awaken. It is not about the teacher. They are not in the business of being an autocrat. Teachers who have the style of a dictator are usually getting their ego’s needs met in an unhealthy way by having students idealize them and follow their every command.
Second, Love on Every Breath gives us a process to engage in when we are aware of suffering. It empowers us to transform our experience of the world, of others, and of ourselves. It empowers us to move from feeling overwhelmed or afflicted by suffering to a place of agency. It gives us something to do even when, on an external level, there may be no action to take. In highly developed meditators, and sometimes spontaneously with any of us, the Love on Every Breath meditation can have a significant effect on those people we are sending love to, in terms of alleviating their suffering and shifting their experience to one of being loved. In any case, when we let go of our fixed ideas of other people, the space that is freed up allows for new possibilities to emerge. Our relationships often improve and outcomes are better.
Third, instead of clinging to a fixated ego perspective, we can learn to love ourselves and others more deeply, to have compassion for ourselves and one another. A fresh, open space is created in our mind for the people we know. This shifts our relationships. We stop projecting the past onto others. Then enhanced skillfulness and effectiveness emerge in our words and actions.
Fourth, in shifting away from ego contraction, opening more deeply to love and compassion, and letting go of clinging to our negativity and fear, we can connect with our innate awakened mind, our innate buddha nature. This gives us a deeper sense of our fundamental or basic goodness. This is incredibly healing. We begin to realize that we are not our insecurities, we are not our unwholesome habit patterns, and we are not our neuroses. As we come to more clearly know our natural goodness, we can face and take responsibility for our shadow side, our unconscious material that sometimes acts out or erupts, since we know that is not who we are at our core. Then we can work more consciously and skillfully with our shadow material.
Lama Palden Drolma is the author of Love on Every Breath. A licensed psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and coach, she has studied Buddhism in the Himalayas with some of the most preeminent Tibetan masters of the twentieth century. Following a traditional three-year retreat under his guidance, Kalu Rinpoche authorized her to become one of the first Western lamas. She subsequently founded the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist teaching center in Fairfax, California. Visit her online at www.lamapalden.org.
Excerpted from the book Love on Every Breath. Copyright ©2019 by Lama Palden Drolma. Printed with permission from New World Library.