Monday, January 16, 2017

Tonglen, Kenosis & The Song of the Sea

Last night, the kids and I watched "The Song of the Sea" on Amazon Prime, a 2015 film that is both visually beguiling and psychologically immersive. The filmmakers, who also produced the equally enchanting "Secret of Kells," demonstrate a profound mastery of archetype, leaving the audience riven as the mythic journey tangles and unfurls with the seamless ease of its wise-fool, the Great Seanacha√≠'s, incandescent hair.
The storyline follows a brother and sister duo, Ben and Saorsie, who are whisked away from the cliff-perched lighthouse where they live with their father and into the city with their Granny, who forbids them to entertain any negative feeling. After a grand adventure resplendent in symbology and deep magic, the Granny is recapitulated into the Matcha Witch, who dwells in a treehouse lair where she bottles up feelings and turns her victims to stone. 
But Saorsie is possessed of the unique power and destiny to reverse the curse, shattering bottles of stormy sadness, tornadic anger, cheery rainbows, lightning fear - and freeing its stoic victims - with Ben's help.
This tendency to reject and bottle-up negative emotions calls to mind the opposite Buddhist practice of Tonglen meditation, something I've been dabbling in this month. Tonglen teaches us to first empty our minds of excess thought and focus on our breath in order to create emptiness - a space within our souls to mix poison into an elixir of healing.


You use your own pain "like a stepping stone... tonglen starts with relating directly to specific suffering--yours or someone else's--which you then use to understand that this suffering is universal, shared by us all," writes Pema Chodron in her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (p. 42).

Chodron describes Tonglen in four stages:
"1. Flashing openness
2. Working with the texture, breathing IN dark, heavy and hot and creating OUT white, light and cool
3. Working with relieving a SPECIFIC, heartfelt instance of suffering
4. EXTENDING that wish to help everyone" (Chodron, p.43)

The painful feelings that we bristle against and reject, we learn to entertain as guests. We enter into them, feel them viscerally at the micro level, then absorb them into our souls during meditation like a cosmic vacuum, cleansing the world at large.

Tonglen meditation shatters the Matcha Witch's bottles, and imbues the world with a higher pitch of compassion and love precisely through the act of entering without resistance into suffering. Is this not also the kenosis of Christianity, emptying oneself upon a cross, and absorbing not its agony alone, but the suffering of all creation - drinking the bitter vinegar of the cosmos?

The wisdom of Buddhism and Christianity teaches that the elixir is contained within the poison. The Resurrection of life, contained within the Crucifixion of death. 

This is tonglen. 
This is the cross.
This, too, the Song of the Sea.