“This is a fictional story based on real life experiences of women who have experienced domestic violence.  The threads of loving kindness and healing throughout the story are based on the work of authors and spiritual teachers such as Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and James Redfield.  Tonglen is a form of meditation that reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure.  During the practice of Tonglen, one visualizes taking in the suffering of others on the in-breath, and sending out spaciousness and relief on the out-breath.  Residents of Anselma House have found the practice of Tonglen to be very helpful on their journey of healing.


A kind and loving woman named Tonglen once stayed at Anselma House. Tonglen’s body and heart experienced much hurt throughout her lifetime. Intuitively, she knew it was time for healing. It was time to move forward. For the first time in years, she felt safe. She was no longer waking up in fear. She was no longer falling asleep in tears.


One morning Tonglen experienced what can only be described as other-worldly. While sitting at the kitchen table she took a moment to pause. And in that moment, she became aware without thought. She became the observer of her thoughts, her feelings, and the sensations in her body. All of her senses were heightened. And her eyes, oh what her eyes could see – surrounding her body and the bodies of the other women, Tonglen could see endless shades of vibrant colour. Somehow she knew that the colours represented all the hurt that she and the other women had endured. Then with one in-breath, she inhaled all that hurt. And in her body, she held it – she held it until it no longer had any power, until it no longer had any control. And with one out-breath, she breathed out love and compassion. Love and compassion for herself and for the other women.


Since that morning, Tonglen’s life and the lives of the other women were never the same. They embraced each moment with gratitude – gratitude for safety, gratitude for simple comforts, and gratitude for the kindness of others. No longer weighed down with hurts from the past or worries about tomorrow, they moved forward in life with an ease and a grace that touched others. Each woman who experienced the gift of Tonglen that day, continued the same practice of the in-breath and the out-breath. The result has been far-reaching and has spread far beyond Anselma House.


Tonglen’s practice continues today. Whenever a kind and loving woman like you takes a moment to pause, to breathe in all the hurt, to breathe out love and compassion, Tonglen’s practice carries on. The purpose of it all? you might ask. Well that’s simple – it’s called healing.


Jennifer Clarke, Child and Family Therapist, Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region

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