Author: Tanna Pesso, with Penor Rinpoche (2010)
Training the Heart and Mind for Peace and Compassion
Tana Pesso’s meditation manual, First Invite Love In, is a collection of forty exercises for cultivating a more loving attitude. In this sense it does offer an entirely new concept. It follows in the footsteps of other published guides focusing on themes in meditative practice (in this case, love and compassion). Most manuals have systematic methods of developing wholesome qualities of mind, but it can be difficult to progress through them if one has difficulty with their general approach. Thanks to Penor Rinpoche’s guidance, however, I think Pesso’s guide is quite user-friendly not only to Buddhists but also to non-Buddhists who happen to pick it up. As she clarifies about her methodology (for the non-Buddhists): “We are just playing with the ability of your mind to imagine things” (p. 28).
The book’s method utilizes one central, basic exercise – the very first, which is appropriately named “First Invite Love In” – and builds her entire book around this concept of “dwelling in a space of love” that is generated by a “spiritual support figure”. The way this is achieved is by visualizing and mentally coming into contact with a spiritual figure (such as the Buddha but also more recent ones such as Martin Luther King Jr.) whom one understands as unconditionally all-loving. This foundational meditation is followed by “Seal with a Vow and Rejoice”, in which one promises the spiritual support figure to do one’s best to cultivate this love. In return, the support figure is visualized as radiating pleasure at knowing of one’s commitment.
What follows from this foundation is a series of meditations, some original and some drawn directly from Tibetan sources, which augment and support the initial exercise of inviting love in. “Seal with a Vow and Rejoice” is to be practiced after these more advanced meditations. On the whole, the offered exercises involve very happy situations where one is in a position to generate love without sentimentality. At the same time, there are also several exercises that train one to bear compassionate witness to suffering. It also offers a simplified version of the “exchange of self” for one’s enemies as taught by Shantideva, one of the foremost masters of the Vajrayana tradition. But other exercises are inspired by older forms of Buddhist thought, such as the meditation of sympathetic joy (to counter feelings of envy at another’s good fortune). It would seem fair to say that Tana Pesso’s book focuses on the theme of love while providing an “umbrella” over most of the more well-known meditation techniques across all traditions of Buddhism.
This book is beginner friendly. At the same time, it should not be taken lightly because the advanced exercises within demand a reasonable degree of energy and commitment (especially those that imagine a painful situation). Even though Pesso peppers passages of soothing encouragement and comfort if the practitioner struggles with the exercises in terms of progress or results, the reality is that these exercises are not necessarily easy. After all, the final one has the deep but vital objective of dissolving the dualistic mindset, which is conventionally no mean feat.
As mentioned above, two things are needed even before one sits down to begin meditating on these tools. The first is creativity or imagination, and the second is consistent visualization. If one can bring these tools to the table (or at least develop them while progressing through the book), the practice of inviting love in will be much smoother. This book is recommended for anyone seeking practical and follow-able signposts on developing compassion.