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When you blow out the candles, send out love

Happy Continuation Day, Ani Pema!

Today is Pema Chodron's birthday. Ani Pema is one of the best-known faces of western Buddhism, even though she wears the traditional monk's robes and a haircut that's just barely avoids having a shaved head. She's been interviewed by Oprah and Bill Moyers, and her books have sold millions of copies.

Before she was Pema Chödrön, she was Deirdre Blomfield-Brown. Born in New York City, she attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California.

Part of her brilliance lies in her ability to translate ancient wisdom to modern life, to identify with the worldly world while living in a remote abbey. Her teachings on tonglen are one example of this. There was a time when tonglen was a secret practice, given to advanced students. Now it's widespread in meditation circles.

For a detailed description, go here.

Essentially, it's a compassion practice in which the meditator takes on the suffering of another person and gives something beneficial -- peace, health, ease, love. It's sometimes called taking and sending or exchanging self and other. It's a way of dissolving the boundaries we erect around the self we want to protect and the messy world outside.

But to practice it, you first have to feel compassion for yourself. You can, in fact, start with yourself -- your pain, loneliness, or confusion -- which others also are feeling.

I learned it as a four-step process:

Flash on openness -- get a sense of space, of the wide blue sky, an open plain, a place without walls.
Imagine that you are breathing in thick, smoky, oily, polluted air. Breath out clear air.
Call to mind someone you know -- personally or through the news -- who is suffering. Breath in their pain; breathe out an antidote. (Breathe in sadness; breathe out joy.)
Expand that to all beings who are suffering in that way.

It's generally done in the middle of a meditation session.

I know from experience that this is a heart-opening practice for the person who performs it. I've been told that the recipients also feel the compassionate energy, even if they don't know the practice is being done for them.

Ani Pema's on retreat for all of 2012, but she's invited everyone to join her in meditation and practicing peace today. Details are on her website www.pemachodron.org

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Love the One You're With

Thanks darling Nancy. Happy Birthday, Pema!

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