Train your mind to see the good in others

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Sending and receiving is an imaginative visualisation technique that aims to retrain our ingrained habits when confronted with life's difficulties

By Nicolas Bommarito

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Published: Thu 23 Jul 2020, 11:05 AM

Last updated: Thu 23 Jul 2020, 1:08 PM

We all face negativity in life. We're confronted with people who are careless, selfish, and even malicious. Ideally, we could respond calmly, with grace and compassion, but in the moment it's easy to get carried away and respond in ways that are unproductive for everyone involved.
Sending and receiving is an imaginative visualisation technique that aims to retrain our ingrained habits when confronted with life's difficulties. It aims at altering how you respond to negativity and helps you to see yourself as a transformational force, one that changes hostility into compassion. In it, you imaginatively receive the badness out in the world and change it into goodwill and compassion, which you send back out.
Known in Tibetan as Tonglen, sending and receiving is sometimes also translated as giving and taking. It is part of a family of techniques for transforming psychological habits called Lojong meaning Mind Training.
The transformation of negativity is a common theme in Tibetan Buddhism. When starting out with this practice, you first focus on a particular person you know who is in pain or has a bad trait. Maybe it's someone you know dealing with illness or loss. Maybe it is someone who has a lot of destructive rage or hatred. As you progress you can expand what you take on, but it's best to be more focused at first.
Now imagine these bad traits as thick, black smog. Alternate versions of this technique have you picture it as murky, dirty water. What's important is that you picture it as a tangible and polluted substance, a dark cloud of smoke is very common and works particularly well with breathing since it's easy to imagine breathing it in.
As you inhale, picture yourself taking this dark smog into your body. Not just into your mouth and nose, but deep into your core. With each breath you take in more and more until you have it all in you. You imagine this smog eating away at the selfishness in you. Some versions involve picturing this selfishness as a hardened crust around your heart, which the smog dissolves, revealing a bright, white light.
As the smog touches this bright light inside you it changes. It turns from dark smoke into the same shining and brilliant light. Variations on the imagery are common: the smog might become white, fluffy clouds. If you pictured dirty water, it's changed into delicious nectar. As before, what's important is that you picture the smog changing into a concrete and tangible good thing. Picture the transformation as vividly and clearly as you can: picture exactly how the bright light looks and imagine in detail how the smog or dirty water looks as it changes.
Finally, as you exhale, picture sending this light or nectar out to the person you chose and to all others with the same difficulties. Your breath carries this healing substance out into the world, going everywhere and helping those in need. Some variations have you picture this light radiating out from each of your pores, lighting up everything. Whatever imagery that works best for you, it functions as a visual representation of accepting their misery and negativity, changing it into happiness and support, and sending back to them.
At its heart, this practice is about getting used to the idea of being a transformative force in the world, one with the power to change things that suck about life into goodwill and compassion. As you get more comfortable with this technique you can start to expand the range of negativity that you take in. You can expand beyond people you know to include those in faraway places or non-human animals. You can also expand the range of bad things you receive.
It will make you more open and connected with others, even those you don't particularly like. -Psychology Today



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