Category Archives: Visualizations

Exercise 20: Tonglen

Background: We spend so much energy running away from negative emotions.

In some ways, they are like a tiny dog chasing an enormous truck.  Meditation is when we wonder, “Just what is that dog ever going to do if it catches that truck?” And we stop running from it.

Today’s exercise: Buddhist Tonglen goes a step beyond merely accepting the inevitability of unpleasantness.  In some sense we master it, as we seek it out in others.

This exercise is going to ask you to think about the suffering of someone else.  If nothing immediately comes to mind, here are a few things to consider:

A) Can you take on the suffering of someone who opposes you, or who you have difficulty liking?

B) Can you take on the suffering of all those who experience a similiar issue to one you struggle with?

The Exercise

1)  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.  Fill you diaphragm with your in-breaths.  It can be helpful to place the hand on the abdomen as you do this, to feel its movement. 

2)  When you are ready to begin this practice in earnest, Breathe in feelings of heaviness, claustrophobia, pain, and hurt.  Do not assign this to any experience yet.

3)  Breathe out positivity, light, and joy.

4)  With your next in-breath, experience the unpleasantness as entering into you through all the pores of your body.  Feel it come along with your breath and travel within.

5)  When you exude positivity, feel this emenating from your pores, as well as you breath.  Envision this goodness going out into the world.

6) Continue this process for a while,.

7) When you are ready, apply your imagination to the experience you have chosen.  Take the pain and hurt from the person or group into yourself.  Take it through the breath and through the body.

8) Exhale whatever relief you feel is best:  Kindness, light and joy.

9) Continue to inhale their pain.  Exhale relief.

10) As your practice draws to a close, widen your compassion.  If you can, take on the pain in a more intense manner, or feel it coming into you from a wider circle.

11) Continue to exhale love to this widened, deepened circle.

12)  When you are ready to release your days practice, spend some time continuing to breathe.  Consider what the experience was like of feeling their pain.


Exercise 19: Riverside Meditation II

Background: It seems that there is some immutable center to us.  This has been called the True Self.  It can be the work of a lifetime to get past the things that seem like such an important part of who we are.  Roles, titles, jobs, even callings…  These are often good things.  But they are not the most basic measure of who we are.

Today’s Exercise

  1.  Relax.  Find your breath.
  2. Imagine a riverside scene.  Perhaps it is a place you have been.
  3. Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.  Then locate yourself there.
  4. Furnish additional sensory information.  What sounds are you hearing?  What smells are you smelling?  What is the temperature like?  Are you sitting?  What does your seat feel like?
  5. Behold the river.  See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.
  6. Calm your mind.  As thoughts enter into your awareness, place them on the river.  Allow the river to carry them out of your perceptions.
  7. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly.  As anything: feelings, memories, perception rise up to distract you from your breath, give them, gently to the river.  Place them as you might put a leaf on the water, so gently to be sure it is floating in the cool water.
  8. When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity.  Perhaps you are a football fan, or a lover of science fiction.  Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, give it up to the river.  Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
  9. With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity.
  10. Now, consider another aspect of your identity.  Perhaps it is a certain distant familial relationship like uncle or cousin.  Maybe it is a hobby you are very passionate about.  Give this part of yourself to the river, now.
  11. Experience life with out this fact about yourself.  Consider the ways you are changed.  As distracting thoughts and feelings arise, remember to give these to the river, too.
  12. Now, find something very important to you.  Perhaps it is a job, a title, or a degree.  Maybe it is your role within the family you live in (mother/father/ sister/daughter, etc…)  Give this role to the river as well.
  13. Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
  14. Consider that there is something within you.  Explore who or what this is.
  15. If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.
  16. You might even give your name itself to the river.  
  17. When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now.  Consider your relationship with the divine.  Think about what is left of you.
  18. When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
  19. Walk downriver.  Continue to not only see, but also hear and feel this world in your imagination.  Perhaps fifty feet down the river, you will find that a number of rocks and branches lie across the river, obstructing the flow.  
  20. As you walk among these, you will find that many of the parts of yourself that you gave to the river sit here, prevented from going to far away.  Consider each aspect of yourself.  The ones you wish for, you can have back.  Take them within you again.  As for the ones you don’t want?  Untether them from the rocks and branches.  Let them be washed free.

Exercise 15: Riverside Meditations I

Background: The novel ‘Illusions: Adventures of the Reluctant Messiah’ has a pretty amazing scene.  The protagonist is told to use the power of his mind to eliminate a group of clouds on the horizon.  He spends the afternoon turning the whole of his will to the task.  And he is thoroughly unsuccessful.

The man’s mentor explains that the main character is entirely to emotionally wrapped up in the task to have ever been able to eliminate him.  He would have done far better to withdraw his energies from the clouds than to invest himself.

This is a useful story.  Sometimes, as we try to overcome our thoughts and feelings we develop such an intensity that we will never be free from them.  Imagining that we are at a riverside, and seeing them all float by is a useful way to release these, to overcome our attachment to these distractions.

Spiritual Exercise

1.  Breathe.  

2.  Imagine that you are sitting by the side of a river.  Picture the temperature and the sounds and the smells.  Smell the air.  Furnish a picture in your mind of what it looks like.

3.  As best you can, clear your mind.  Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

4.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories will arise.  When they do, place them gently on the river.  Allow them to be carried away.

5.  Return to your breath.


Exercise 14: Flames, Clouds, and Waves

Background: There is something powerful about finding a slowly-changing scene to behold.  Perhaps it occupies just enough of our awareness to let us fully engage in the present moment.

The Exercise

  1.  Locate the visual stimulation by lighting a candle or other fire, laying down in the grass, or locating yourself at the ocean or beach, where you can watch and listen to the waves lapping the shore.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.
  3. Behold the sights before you.
  4. As intrusions enter, return yourself to the thing you are watching.