Free Your Pen

Buddhist Writing Prompt: Practice Sending and Receiving

Practice sending and receiving is the instruction for practising tonglen meditation where you’re encouraged to move towards pain and suffering with an open and compassionate heart in order to heal.

The original lojong slogan is: Sending and taking should be practised alternately. These two should ride the breath. Sending and taking, or receiving, refers to the practice of breathing in difficulty and suffering, and breathing out compassion. This seems counterintuitive because normally you try to avoid pain and things you don’t like. But this slogan is asking you to move towards those things instead and embrace them.

Normally your instinct is to turn away from pain in the hope that it will go away if you ignore it. But it doesn’t work, and the pain will hide in your unconscious and slowly drain your life of joy and love. Tonglen is a way to get back in touch with that pain and open your heart to healing and compassion. This meditation is practised on behalf of others, as well as for yourself, by dissolving the ego into the emptiness of bodhicitta and then breathing suffering into the open space of your true nature. Compassion will naturally flow out in response.

At first glance it might seem that the practice of tonglen has nothing to do with writing. But this is the essence of the process of freeing your mind. It’s hard to write well when you don’t trust yourself or even like yourself very much.

Apply this slogan to your writing practice whenever you feel blocked by negative emotions welling up from the unconscious. Your writing will be deeper, more honest and more powerful if you can go towards your pain rather than being scared of it. The practice of tonglen can help you to dissolve fears and blockages that stop you from writing or creating the way you would like, as well as deal with problematic relationships that can cause difficulties in your writing career.

Your writing prompt this weekend: Learn to practice tonglen meditation. The instructions are in the book, or you can follow the ones here. Write about what you discover during the practice.

More in the book: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers


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