Supportive Practice: Turning Poison Into Medicine

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said. But in case anyone hasn’t heard: Black Lives Matter and White people must do the inner and outer work that is necessary to dismantle the inhumanity that is White Supremacy.

To those out there fighting for justice there is a practice that can support you. I came upon it at the beginning of the pandemic while reading When Things Fall Apart by Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron. In it, Chodron describes the Buddhist meditation practice of Tonglen. Once I heard about Tonglen, I could not stop hearing about Tonglen. I listened to Sugar Calling where Alice Walker was talking about it. Then musician Devandra Barnhardt spoke of it on an episode of On Being. Tonglen seemed to be everywhere. I’m no dummy. I know a sign when I get smacked in the face with one. So I started to do it and have found it to be very helpful indeed. In her book, Pema Chodron describes Tonglen as, “Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use what seems like poison as medicine.” And well, we got a shit load of poison flying around right now and barely a drop of medicine in sight. So let's pahty:

Tonglen can be a helpful practice for anyone. But to the White people reading, I want to make clear that it is not meant to take the place of anti-racist action. It is meant to aid and support all who practice it. Tonglen is a way to transform pain and shift into a healing state. A state our world deeply needs. I also appreciate how accessible it is. If you find yourself overwhelmed by a feeling you can use it as a cue to practice Tonglen.

I also want to acknowledge that I am highlighting a white woman in this post at a time when amplifying Black voices is imperative. As a counter to that please check out and support Zen Priest Reverend angel Kyodo williams. She is a leading voice in anti-racist spiritual teachings and is the second Black woman recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage. I am currently reading and highly recommend her book Radical Dharma. You can listen to her speak here.

Sending medicine in the form of love and strength to you all.

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