After some quick brainstorming, our team decided on a hashtag for our 17th trip to Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad. We picked #Tools4Peace because it’s exactly what we’ll be working on. Preschool education and a soccer program are tools for peace. They provide specific skills and benefits that will help the kids and their communities pretty much immediately, but they also helps to build internal peace which can then lead to interpersonal peace, to family peace, to community peace, and from there expand even further into the future. Yeah, “some might say I’m a dreamer,” as John Lennon sings, but I believe that world peace will start from the heart and mind of each of those little persons we’ll be working with in the camps.
On this trip, some of our i-ACT team members — those going and those staying back home — will be working on our internal peace. It makes sense. We should start with ourselves. One of the #Tools4Peace we’ll be using is Tonglen meditation. For me, it will be at the very basic level, and I can’t really know if I’ll be doing it right (or even if there’s a “right” way to do it). Rachael is joining me on this also.
Here’s some of what Wikipedia says about the practice of Tonglen:
In the practice, one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings. As such it is a training in altruism. The function of the practice is to:
develop and expand loving-kindness and bodhicitta The practice of Tonglen involves all of the Six Perfections; giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom. These are the practices of a Bodhisattva.H.H. The Dalai Lama, who is said to practise Tonglen every day, has said of the technique: “Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense.”
I’m starting with just the simple breathing and visualizing. It’s actually far from “simple.” I’m right now on the plane from LAX to Paris, and I decided to do my first Tonglen meditation. A crowded, noisy plane might not be the ideal place for this, but on a trip to Chad, I cannot wait for the perfect moment because that might never arrive. I need to do it on the go.
For the breathing in of the sorrows, I tried to not think of anything specifically but to let images of the camps come in to me, the many faces of people telling me of their harrowing journeys — and images of the large camps also, from the air: open prisons. For the breathing out of the happiness, it was also images of the camps, but this time it was smiling children and families together, welcoming me to their homes. It was not easy to not think and drift to specific problems of specific people in the camps; or of my own problems and the stress ahead. It’s not easy to stay in the moment.
I was only going to do Tonglen for five minutes on the first try, but I relaxed so much and was close to falling asleep. I didn’t. I opened my eyes and about ten minutes had gone by. I felt so refreshed, as if I had slept for a long time. I’m not sure if this means that it worked, but it felt good — inside. That’s where peace starts.
OK, now I only have about another ten hours on this plane to Paris.