We hope you’ll enjoy this Q and A with Lama Palden about Love on Every Breath.
You also say that the Love on Every Breath meditation gives us a process to engage in when we are aware of suffering. Tell us more about that please.
At times we can feel powerless in the face of aggression and suffering in our world. Love on Every Breath gives us something we can do to transform our despair into love and joy. This happens in the meditation through the series of steps, into the heart of the practice in which a crystal vajra of light or a drop of brilliant light is in our heart center. This light embodies awakened love and compassion. Then we breathe in the suffering and it is instantly transformed by the awakened presence into awakened love and healing energy. We breathe this out as white light into the person or people we are working with. As we imagine this filling and liberating the person or people in front of us, joy naturally arises.
The subtitle of your book is “Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy.” Please tell us about Tonglen Meditation and how it works.
Love on Every Breath is an unusual Tonglen. It works by first helping us to open to our awakened essence, and then from there we grow our love and compassion for ourselves and others. The suffering is transformed in the heart into love and healing energy and the meditation is synchronized with the breath.
The full Love on Every Breath meditation has eight steps. What are they and how long does it take to complete the entire practice?
1) Resting in Open Awareness, 2) Refuge in Awakened Sanctuary, 3) Cultivating Awakened Mind, 4) Stepping into Love, 5) Taking and Sending for Yourself, 6) Taking and Sending for Others, 7) Dissolving, 8) Dedicating. Once you get a feel for the meditation, you can do each step in 20-30 seconds in an On-the-Spot situation, or “off the cushion,” so to speak. Or you can do the same on the cushion. You can also do the complete practice on the cushion and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to as long as you like.
Tell us more about the first step, which is “Resting in Open Awareness.”
Resting in Open Awareness is basically letting go of thoughts of the past and future, and letting go of evaluating the present. Then you simply rest in your natural ever-present awareness and openness. The book outlines in detail pointers on how to do this.
In the fifth “Taking and Sending for Yourself” and sixth “Taking and Sending for Others” steps what are meditators taking and sending?
We are taking suffering, it is transformed in the heart into love and healing energy which is then sent back to the person or people.
What role does self-love play in the Love on Every Breath meditation?
Self-love is crucial; we need to open our hearts and love to everyone, and that includes ourselves! Otherwise our own suffering isn’t healed and liberated into love, and the love never fully lands in our hearts.
You say in the book that the primary issue that arises for people learning the Love on Every Breath meditation is, “I’m already overwhelmed by suffering –my own and that of so many. The last thing I want is to feel more pain!” What advice or perspective do you have to offer about that concern?
This form of Tonglen addresses this issue because it is not our small self, our ego, that responds to the suffering, but rather awareness itself, inseparable with awakened love.
You share in the book that you taught a 3-year old how to do this meditation. Tell us more about that please.
The full story is in the book, but I’ll give you the brief version. Sarah came to me distraught over two things ⎯ seeing dead animals on the road killed by traffic, and seeing children on the playground being hurt or in conflict with other children on the playground. I gave her two of the steps of the On-the-Spot meditation- Step 4, Stepping into Love, and Step, Taking and Sending for Others, to do when she saw these things or something similar. She reported back to me six weeks later that the meditation helped a lot. She felt that now she had something to do when she felt other beings’ suffering.
Please tell us the story from the book about Linda’s experience with the Love on Every Breath meditation as she was dying from ALS.
Some years back, I had a client, Linda, herself a psychotherapist, who was dying of ALS disease. Linda was concerned that before she passed, she wanted to do whatever she could for her six-year-old granddaughter, Laura. Her son, Laura’s father, was a drug addict. The mother also had issues preventing her from being a fit mother. A court hearing to determine who would take care of Laura was scheduled.
We decided to work with the Love on Every Breath Tonglen meditation for the time Linda had left in her body. Linda felt that at least she could meditate and pray. We started the meditation focusing on the child. Over some weeks we expanded our meditation to include the parents, the social workers, attorneys, foster parents, and all that were in the child’s life and court case. As the time got closer to the hearing, we imagined the courtroom with all the participants present. In Love on Every Breath, you eventually see everyone as healed, illuminated, and then awakened. We prayed for the best possible outcome for the child. Seemingly there was no person available who was appropriate to take the child on. Still, Linda was comforted that at least she was meditating and praying for her granddaughter.
The next time I saw Linda, who could barely speak at this point, she told me that an unexpected outcome had occurred. Out of the blue, a former wonderful foster mother for the child had come forward. Laura had bonded well with her and her family when she previously lived with them. They were now able and willing to have Laura. The judge awarded long term custody to this woman and her husband. About ten days later, Linda, at peace, passed away. Love on Every Breath sometimes has unexpected results.
What do you most hope readers will take away from your book Love on Every Breath?
My wish is that readers find the meditation to be a tool to help them more deeply open their heart to themselves and others, facilitating healing, transformation, and awakening.
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.