Tonglen at Death’s Door

Image credit: Tim Geers, Flickr

I have experienced violent assault more than once. One almost cost me my life. While I lay pinned to the floor, unable to breathe, my attacker’s arms tightly braced around my neck, I saw with hyper-real clarity through the words he shouted in my face: “I know there is a demon in you!”

At that time, I was practicing Tonglen, a Tibetan Buddhist technique where one breathes in the suffering of others and exhales a wish for happiness to all beings. In the moments that seemed like an eternity, I realized that I was about to die. His words floated by, like flickering illusions on a screen. Thinking it was my time to leave this Earth, I entered into a place where I was sheer space, full of possibility, completely open. There was no sense of “me” through which I could feel hurt. There was no thing towards which he could project his suffering.

In that moment, I saw with absolute clarity that his words were not only untrue, but not real. There literally was no thing to which I needed to react. Faced with my sense of profoundly peaceful emptiness, he had no thing towards which to react. I felt free. As though coming out of a spell, he spontaneously shook his head and said to himself: “What am I doing?” and let go of his grip around my neck. I then was able to talk my way into leaving that environment and get myself to safety. Moving beyond my habitual way of perceiving life through the lens of my ego and entering into the subtler reality that Buddhists call emptiness, literally saved my life.

I am alive today because I knew, not with force of conviction but with absolute clarity, that what he wanted me to believe was an illusion: not real. I was literally pushed to my very limit by the universe into seeing the true compassionate emptiness of reality and the way suffering comes from giving any power to the illusion of separateness.

I now believe that the painful incidents I experienced were the universe’s way of helping me find an unshakable place of inner wholeness that no one can ever take from me. This inner place is the substratum of Self that we awaken to through spiritual practices.

By seeing with absolute clarity how the abuser who was so convinced I had a demon in me was buying into an illusion, I was also able to clearly see that any thought of myself as broken or shameful was also an illusion. The abusers tried to overcome their pain by reacting to it. I too had to see that no amount of reacting to pain would ever help me overcome it.

These realizations challenged my core attachments to who I thought I was. They bring me to the heart of spiritual teachings that show us that we are not our limited, divided selves as perceived by our ego, but infinite beings beyond, unbroken, eternally free.

I bow down to the experiences that have helped me to find wholeness. I bow down to the magnificence that you are, beyond any illusion or pain. I bow down to all sentient beings, who are everlasting light.

Om sarvesham svastir-bhavatu
sarvesham shantir-bhavatu
sarvesham purnam-bhavatu
sarvesham mangalam-bhavatu
om shantih shantih shantih

May there be well-being in all,
May there be peace in all,
May there be fulfilment in all,
May there be auspiciousness in all,
Om peace, peace, peace.

Parvati is an award-winning musician (“I Am Light”, “Electro Yog”, “Yoga In The Nightclub”), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (“The Grace Mindset”, “Aonani of Avalon”, “The Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness”) and founder of the not-for-profit All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: