Sunday, April 19, 2009

Duck Tonglen

Mr. & Mrs. Mallard are back from their winter vacation. This year though, the Mrs. came home with an injured leg. She hobbles along, trying to walk, falling over again and again as the injured leg collapses under her weight. It's heart-wrenching to watch her awkwardly dragging herself along the ground eating the seeds that have fallen from the feeder. Mr. Mallard hovers around her with a sweet, worried vigilance. He leaves her side only to chase off aggressive suitors trying to win the affections of his life-long mate. I've gone into worry-hyper-drive. How will she survive? How will she lead her ducklings to water? And so for almost two weeks my husband and I have fed them, watching with cheering hearts and wonder as she made her way.

Some of you may not of heard of Tonglen. I guess you could describe it as a cheering heart. It's a Buddhist meditation practice also known as "sending and receiving" that focuses on the breath and awakening compassion. Simply put, we breath in the suffering we see around us, and breath out our own peace, joy, well-being to those who are suffering. As a meditation practice we do this consciously, with vivid awareness. We all have a natural capacity for this cheering heart that stirs whenever we encounter pain and suffering. Given a chance, the inner alchemy of Tonglen practice can profoundly affect our lives.

Imagine applying Tonglen to your painting practice. How many dimensions could be affected? Are you one of those painters who is filled with fear and self criticism? With Tonglen we breath in fear and self criticism felt the world over by artists just like yourself. And then we exhale, sending joy, peace and confidence to them. We take in all of their suffering, and we send out all of the happiness we can imagine to the artists of the world. It may sound a bit cock-eyed. Trust the inner alchemy. See what happens when you sit down to paint.

These past two days have me dancing with excitement— Mrs. Mallard can walk again! She can stand on both legs without falling. There is new strength in her gait. And there's an inner renewal for me as well— to remember to exhale...


  1. Kris,
    This came at just the right time! I am rewriting my book, deepening the characters and not only am I unsure I can do it, I'm afraid of the story. Don't want to go into that suffering. Yet that's where the story lies, waiting for me.

    Last night before going to bed I practiced tonglen and had quite the dream. I went to my wounded person and sat there, waiting for him to wake up, ready to bring him back to health.

    Maybe I have the strength for this story? I am going to keep practicing tonglen. It may get me there.