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Spiritual Preparation, Session 4: In Another's Shoes

In "Moral Tales," a Tapestry of Faith program

To prepare yourself spiritually for this session you may find it helpful to take a few moments to experience empathy in an adaptation of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation called Tonglin. The essence of Tonglin, in the words of meditation teacher Andrew Weiss , is "to breathe in the suffering of another person and to breathe out loving-kindness, compassion, and healing."

Find a place where you can sit quietly and comfortably and where you will not be disturbed. Take a few moments to breathe deeply, relaxing your face, shoulders and back, and wherever else you notice tension. Tune in to the rhythm of your breath as it flows in and out for several minutes. Identify an emotion that you are feeling, or a state of mind or body that you have been in today, or a problem that is concerning you. From a centered and kind place, breathe with that experience. Send yourself a wish for peace, or healing, or whatever you feel you need: "May I be healthy and at peace."

Then try to expand your awareness. Imagine how many of the six billion plus people on the planet might be feeling or experiencing exactly what you are, right now. Imagine who they are, all over the world in all kinds of circumstances. Join with them. Breathe in their feelings, and breathe out healing and compassion.

You may wish to say, "May all of these beings be safe and at peace." If you like you may end the meditation here, or you may continue to imagine people in circumstances that you are not experiencing, such as sickness, or poverty, or war, and join with them, breathing in the suffering that they are experiencing and breathing out healing and compassion for them.

You may wish to end the meditation by sending a prayer for peace and healing for all beings, and joining with them by saying, "May all beings be healthy and at peace." The Tonglin meditation can help us to experience how connected we are to others and that in our suffering and in our compassion we are joined.

You may also wish to read through the story, "The Wounded Seal," several times. Imagine that you are the Seal Hunter, rowing in his boat, eating his dinner. Try to feel compassion for this man who is doing what his ancestors having been doing for many generations. Then you may wish to step into the shoes of the large grey seal that is stabbed, and his family members that huddle around him, worried for his life. You may wish to ponder that the seals chose to teach the Seal Hunter rather than seek revenge against him.

Finally, you may wish to think about ways in which you practice empathy, and times it has helped you feel more respectful of others and to be more mindful of their perspectives, even if you don't agree with them. Think of the charitable works that you have done as a result of empathy. You may also wish to acknowledge the people who have shown empathy toward you, such as friends, counselors and loved ones.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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