Today the temperature in New York City is supposed to reach a sweltering 103 degrees. On the subway I watched as uncomfortable New Yorkers pushed past one another on the way from air-conditioned point A to air-conditioned point B with little regard for anyone else. Not only does the heat cause physical discomfort, it often turns us into hot heads—making us irritable and quick to anger. I myself find it hard to cool my mind when I can see the heat rising in waves from the pavement, so this morning I turned to the Tricycle archives for help. There I found “Hot and Heavy, Cool and Light,” a piece on the Tibetan practice of tonglen by Judith Simmer-Brown:
We begin tonglen by taking our seats in meditation with good posture, very simply and naturally. We ask, why would we want to do this practice? Fundamentally it is vast and choiceless. We recognize that the purpose of our human life is huge, to grow larger hearts and open minds, and we celebrate that we can do this in this moment. We are ready for transformation. Glimpsing this motivation begins the practice.
Then we become aware of our breathing, in and out, and establish the flow of the practice. On the in-breath, we breathe in thinking, “heavy, thick, hot,” and on the out-breath, we breathe out thinking, “light, bright, cool.” At first it seems only like words, but it is good to develop a literal sense of this. My teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, suggested that we think of ourselves as air conditioners. We breathe in the stale, smoky, fetid air of the room around us, and we breathe out fresh, clean, cool air. We gradually purify the room. When we breathe, we are breathing with every pore of our bodies, in with “heavy, thick, hot,” and out with “light, bright, cool.”
Judith’s article reminds us to be open and compassionate—an important reminder, especially when our bodies and minds overheat.
To read “Hot and Heavy, Cool and Light,” click here. May you have a cool and light day.