Yesterday I introduced a mind training technique for writers designed to dissolve the fears that can block you from writing. It’s based on the Tibetan Buddhist practice of lojong which uses 59 simple slogans to cut through the ego’s fears and hang-ups, and helps you to make friends with yourself by developing compassion. In this post, we’ll have a closer look at the practice and some of the ideas that underpin it.
The traditional practice of lojong is about training the mind in compassion and resilience, and is rooted in the Buddha’s teachings. The word lojong is usually translated as ‘mind training’, but the meaning of the Tibetan word is closer to ‘refining’ rather than ‘training’ the mind.
The original lojong teachings were brought to Tibet by the Bengali spiritual master Atisha Dipankara in 1042. But the 59 slogans were written in their current form by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje in the 12th century in his commentary The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind.
There are various translations of the slogans and many commentaries, from both east and west. You’ll find links to these and more resources for mind training on the slogan randomiser here: Lojong for Writers.
In Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers, I’ve created my own versions of some of the slogans to make them more accessible to writers and easier to remember. You can see the original slogans listed on the randomiser here: Original Slogans.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from this practice. You don’t even have to meditate on the slogans if you don’t want to – although it will help you more if you do!
Working with the slogans and meditating on them as part of a daily practice can help to shift your perspective and reframe your experience to stop you getting caught up in your ego’s stories. It’s a way to move towards your problems with compassion, rather than avoiding or blocking them. The slogans work as antidotes to the negative thought patterns that cause suffering and are designed to awaken your heart.
In the traditional system of teachings, the slogans are divided into seven sections or points. The first two points introduce the foundational teachings, while the remaining points take you through how to apply the teachings in your daily life.
The foundation of lojong practice is the development of compassion – or bodhicitta – and this is achieved through the meditation practice of tonglen. Let’s have a look at what these terms mean.
Bodhicitta is the desire for enlightenment or awakening. The Pali word bodhi means enlightenment, while citta means mind, so bodhicitta is usually translated as ‘awakened heart or mind.’ Developing bodhicitta is the foundation of lojong, and it’s divided into two types:
- absolute (or ultimate) bodhicitta
- relative bodhicitta
Absolute bodhicitta is your true nature or Buddha mind, which is pure awareness. This is the goalless goal of the path to enlightenment. You’re already pure awareness and the teachings of the Buddha are designed to help you realise that truth and remember who you are. Reconnecting with your true nature will help you to dissolve the fears that cause blocks in your writing, as well as overcome the suffering inherent in having an ego.
Relative bodhicitta is compassion and loving kindness. Relative bodhicitta arises spontaneously when you recognise your true nature as pure awareness. It brings the teachings down to earth and puts them into practice in your daily life. Relative bodhicitta is practised using a meditation called tonglen, which is also known as ‘sending and receiving.’
Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation where you breathe in suffering and breathe out compassion. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive because it’s the opposite of what you would normally do when you’re in pain or unhappy. But the practice is about developing compassion so the idea is to move towards your pain rather than avoiding it. This helps to keep your heart open and transforms your suffering into happiness.
Tonglen is practised for yourself and for others, and involves recognising that everybody suffers in the same way. It dissolves the boundaries that the ego places between the self and others, and this gives rise to compassion. Tonglen uses your problems as the raw material to awaken compassion for others and heal your own wounds at the same time.
What does all this have to do with writing?
It might seem that practising tonglen and developing compassion for yourself and others has nothing to do with writing. But these ideas are the heart of the process of freeing your mind. You can’t write well – if at all – when you don’t trust yourself or even like yourself very much. So this practice helps to heal the parts of yourself that disrupt your ability to write the way you would like.
Next time we’ll look at how this process works in: How to Practice with the Slogans
Extracted from Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers – available here!