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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Time of Unveiling
A Time of Unveiling

A Time of Unveiling: Weekly Summary

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Time of Unveiling

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Week One Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 3—Friday, January 9, 2021

The beginning of the new year seems like a good time to pause, “pull back the veil” and ask, “Where is this all going? What is the end goal for all of us, and—for that matter—for the cosmos in its entirety?”

Contemplative prayer is a form of unveiling, because it reveals what is going on beneath the polished and busy surfaces of our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.

Only in “the cave of the heart,” as the mystics are fond of calling it—does a person come in contact with his or her own direct knowingness. And only out of this direct knowingness is sovereignty born, one’s own inner authority. —
Cynthia Bourgeault

While in the midst of an epiphany, the more accurate statement would be, “Eureka! I have just awakened to a long-standing reality that an inner unveiling has finally allowed me to see.”
—Barbara Holmes

The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.
 —Brian McLaren

If we trust the universal pattern, the wisdom of all times and all places, including the creation and evolution of the cosmos itself, we know that an ending is also the place for a new beginning.


Practice: Tonglen

When the veil is lifted and we see things as they truly are, we might experience sadness or anxiety. Tonglen is a method for facing our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness in our hearts. Today I share a version of this meditation from Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you try this practice. As we tell our Living School students when we practice this together, we are not holding or healing the pain of the world ourselves; we are simply breathing in and out with the one breath of our loving God. As Chödrön describes:

Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age-old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. . . . Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. [1]

When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages:

  1. First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness. This stage is traditionally called . . . opening to basic spaciousness and clarity.
  2. Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy . . . and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light—a sense of freshness. . . . Do this until it feels synchronized with your in- and out-breaths.
  3. Third, work with a personal situation—any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. . . . If you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.
  4. Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation. . . . Make it bigger than just that one person. . . . You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Pema Chödrön and other teachers often close their practice times with the traditional words of the Buddhist Metta (Lovingkindness) Prayer: May all beings be filled with lovingkindness. May all be well. May all be peaceful and at ease. May all be happy.

[1] Pema Chödrön, “How to Practice Tonglen,” Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time (August 26, 2020). Available at

[2] Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, 20th anniversary ed. (Shambhala: 2016), 95–96.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020)

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003)

Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
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