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Heart Meditation

by Xan

This meditation is loosely based on an ancient Tibetan practice known as Tonglen, and has been used by many generations to cultivate bodhichitta, or compassion. Once the steps have been practiced it becomes very simple. It can be used as a way to open and heal one's own heart, to develop the skill of living from the heart rather than from the head, for dissolving the feeling of separation and isolation, and for giving unconditionally to others, specifically or globally.

The description here is taken from Relaxing Into Clear Seeing by Arjuna Nick Ardagh, a modern teacher of awakening and transformation:


Step1: Get Comfortable Find a comfortable place to with with your back fairly straight and your chest area open. Now close your eyes and take a minute or two just to settle and tune in to the environment around you.

Step2: Fan the Flames of the Heart Begin to focus the breath into the middle of the chest in the "Heart Center" to the right of the physical heart. As you spend a few minutes focusing the in-breath in this way and allowing a gentle sigh on the out-breath, you will notice the Heart center beginning to change... to glow or radiate. You may find it useful to imagine that you are fanning the flames of the Heart with the in-breath and allowing the warmth of those flames to travel through the shoulders and down the arms into the hands and down the chest into the belly on the out-breath.

Step 3: Mount Form on the Breath Once you feel the Heart radiating in this way, you can start to imagine the Heart center as a window into the emptiness or vastness which is your true nature. You might even have the sense of being limitless and looking out through this window into the world of name and form. Now you can imagine breathing in form through the window of the Heart and allowing it to dissolve into formlessness, and then breathing formlessness back out through the window of the Heart into the world of form.

Step 4: Mount Thought on the Breath Notice thoughts now as you continue to breathe form through the window of the Heart into the formlessness and breathe formlessness out through the window of the Heart into form. You may also begin to notice the way that thoughts arise and fall spontanenously in consciousness. Sometimes we suggest seeing them like little children playing, sometimes squabbling, sometimes running, sometimes slouching. You can begin to use the in-breath as a vehicle to carry thought back through the window of the Heart into infinite silence, into formlessness.

Try it now: With the in-breath absorb thought through the window of the Heart into the silence that is free of thought; with the out-breath allow the same silence to burst forth and permeate the field of thought.

Sometimes people like to visualize this as waves on the shore. A wave breaks on the shore and then falls back into the ocean, drawing with it whatever is on the beach; then another wave breaks and floods the shore again. Continue to absorb thought back into silence with the in-breath and allow silence and form- lessness to permeate the field of thought with the out-breath.

The feeling is like a mother standing at the door of the house welcoming her children home at the end of the day. With the in-breath you open your arms wide, as if to say, "Come home, thought. It's okay to come home to that which gave you birth." Whether the children have been fighting or playing, lazy or pro- ductive, it doesn't matter, for they are all children of emptiness. With the in-breath you can bring them home to rest and dissolve like so many streams and rivers brought back to the ocean from which they originated. You are embracing thought with the in- breath, kissing it, hugging it. With the out-breath you are allowing vastness, silence and the mystery of formlessness to burst forth once again as Lord into the field of thought: fresh, original, spontaneous.

Step 5: Mount Emotions on the Breath. Take all the time you need to allow the previous step to become natural, like the waves breaking and disappearing on the shore. Now continue in the same way with emotions. First notice the way the emotions shift and change. Then with the in-breath absorb the emotions back into the stillness of love, and with the out-breath allow the vastness, the safety, the warmth of the Heart to permeate the field in which emotions arise. You may find your own images to represent this process.

Step 6: Mount Physical Sensations on the Breath Now continue in the same way with physical sensations. With the in-breath absorb all sensation back into the blissfulness of the Heart. With the out-breath, allow that same blissfulness to radiate into the body.

You will need to allow yourself plenty of time with each step to start to feel this becoming real.

Step 7: Mount Everything on the Breath Now you can continue to absorb with the in-breath, and bless and radiate with the out-breath without making any distinction between thought, emotion and physical sensation. All form is absorbed and dissolved back into formlessness. All vibration is dissolved back into stillness. With the out-breath the Heart itself is radiating its fullness back into form, permeating form with formlessness. You can continue to practice the Heart meditation with eyes closed, or you can open your eyes and go about your day, continuing this rhythm of absorbing and permeating.

Always start with yourself. Once you feel it flowing freely with yourself, you can extend it.


This meditation has been the greatest friend to many teachers and
practitioners in many traditions, not only in Tibetan Buddhism. Here, Bhagavan Sri Rajneesh (now known simply as Osho) comments on Tonglen in his excellent Book of Wisdom:

"If you can experience it - this is of tremendous importance - then start absorbing it. Don't throw it away. It is such a valuable energy; don't throw it away. Absorb it, drink it, accept it, welcome it, feel grateful to it. And say to yourself, 'This time I'm not going to avoid it, this time I'm not going to reject it, this time I'm not going to throw it away. This time I will drink it and receive it as a guest. This time I will digest it.' It may take a few days for your to be able to digest it, but the day it happens you have stumbled upon a door which will take you really far. A new journey has started in your life, you are moving into a new kind of being.....

"But start with your own self. Make a small experiement with your own pains, sufferings and miseries. The moment you accept the pain with no reject anywhere, its energy and its quality changes. It is no longer pain. And once you have found the key, then you can share it with the whole existence. Then you can take all the suffering of all the world, or all the worlds.

"Ride on the incoming breath and your small heart is bigger than the whole universe, if you know what miracles it can do. And then pour out your blessings. It is the same energy passing through your heart that becomes bliss, that becomes blessing. Then let blessings go riding on the outgoing breath to all the nooks and corners of existence.

"Atisha (aTibetan teacher of Heart Meditation in the second century) says: This is compassion. Compassion is to become a transforming force in existence - transforming the ugly into the beautiful, kissing the frog and transforming it into a prince, transforming darkness into light. To become such a medium of transformation is compassion."

When we teach this Heart meditation in gatherings, there is an intensity and wakefulness that fills the air. The beauty of the Heart meditation is that it is essentially natural. Rather than visualizing anything, we are utilizing the quality that the Heart already has, to absorb and accept unconditionally and to shine forth and radiate. If you try this on your own for a while, you will notice that it becomes second nature. The meditation simply brings your attention to what is already so.

Listen to what ordinary people like you and me have been experiencing, after practicing the Heart meditation for the first time.

"I notice that all the colors have become brighter, and there is a quality of silence in the air. The silence seems so much more real than the words and the movement."

"Everything feels like it has a sameness to it: the chair and the people and the carpet and the sound of the birds outside. As I absorb all these things as well as my own reactions to them into myself through the Heart, they all become a part of me, and with the out-breath they also become infused with me."

"Feelings of liking and disliking other people become less defined here. I have always had subtle likes and dislikes of different people. Now everyone seems the same! I don't mean that there's no differences, but everyone seems intimate to me in the same way."

"Waves of feeling coming in and going out. It is all me. As I absorb
myself back home into myself, in the same way I find that everything and everyone absorbs back home into myself, and is reborn out of myself."

"There is a peace and vastness deep inside myself. As I rest in that, I find that it has the capacity to embrace everything, and in that way to change everything completely. There is only love, these waves are love, this dissolving is love dissolving into itself, this blessing is love bursting out of itself. I find that I have been looking for love, but actually I am love itself."

from Relaxing Into Clear Seeing
Arjuna Nick Ardagh