Ritual for Release 2020

by Courtney E. Morgan

The following is a ritual which uses the powerful practice of tonglen meditation from Tibetan Buddhism to help us say goodbye to 2020. Tonglen means ‘giving and receiving’ or exchanging self with other. In this ritual, we take in the pain of 2020, transform it within our ourselves, and give or send out relief, compassion, love.

Pema Chödrön, an American teacher of Buddhism says of tonglen, “Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use what seems like poison as medicine.” We will use the poison of 2020 to make the medicine of our future.

  1. Gather a year of isolation, loss and pain, gather your grief, your sorrow, your rage.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Breathe in.
  4. Imagine the air as dark heavy smoke. Smell it as sulfurous and rank. Watch it enter your nose, your throat, your lungs.
  5. See, as the smoke fills your chest, the bright light of your heart behind it, beating, cracking through the shell that surrounds it and filling your ribcage with piercing fiery light.
  6. Watch, as the smokey air touches the fire of your heart; watch your heart burn away the darkness; watch it transform into clear, crisp air, or bright golden light.
  7. Breathe out. Breathe out the cleansed and clear breath, the brightness of the light. Send it to everyone who has suffered, everyone who is suffering now.
  8. Breathe in. Breathe in loss and grief. Breathe in avoidable, preventable death. Breathe in violence, systemic violence, police violence. Breathe in racism and anti-blackness. Breathe in the crying of mothers, of children. Breathe in xenophobia, breathe in nationalism. Breathe in children alone, breathe in their crying and their fear. Breathe in white supremacy. Breathe in homophobia, transphobia, sexism. Breathe in hierarchy, breathe in fear. You can hold it. Your heart can hold it.
  9. Watch the smokey breath, as it touches your bright white heart. Watch it transform into cool bright light.
  10. Breathe out. Send it to everyone touched by the pandemic, by systemic violence, by racism, by our current regime, by our centuries of unreckoned-with history. See them inhale in this shining light.
  11. Breathe in. Breathe in the loss and sorrow and trauma you have suffered, the stories and narratives that continue to harm you, this year, this lifetime. Imagine everyone in the world who is suffering from the same or similar pain or affliction. Breathe in their pain.
  12. Watch the black smog as it touches your shining heart. Watch it transform, transmute.
  13. Breathe warm golden light out, imagine it reaching everyone who has suffered like you. Imagine it filling their lungs, wrapping the space around them, holding them in light and warmth.
  14. Repeat three more breath cycles.
  15. Focus once more on the beating of your heart.
  16. Open your eyes.


Courtney Morgan editorCourtney E. Morgan is the author of the story collection, The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman (FC2, 2017). Her writing has also appeared in Pleiades, Lunch Ticket, American Book Review, and others. Morgan is the founder and managing editor of The Thought Erotic. She lives in Denver with her son and is writing a novel of literary speculative fiction. Find her at courtneyemorgan.com.