Tightening the Tonal


In order to soar into the ecstasy of Light, to let go into the emptiness of Forever, the physical body must be grounded. When Milarepa was ready to die, after meditating tirelessly in a cave and starving his body by eating only nettles, he opened the letter Marpa had given to him with the instructions: do not open until you’re ready to die. He read the letter, and discovered his next task was to eat and nourish his body, and only after he was strong again could he return to his meditation practice. After taking care of his physical being, Milarepa returned to his meditation practice and realized Enlightenment.

Rama constantly reminded his students to keep their tonal tight so they could experience more light. What was he talking about? How does one tighten a tonal? What the heck is a tonal anyway?

The tonal is your physical manifestation. It encompasses everything you do in the physical world, from your appearance to your home to your relationships. By taking care of all the loose ends in your life, and keeping everything compact, you won’t need to worry about your physical life. With a tight tonal, you can completely let go of everything you think you know is true, and have a soft place to land when you return from the adventure into Light.

Returning to a not-so-tight tonal puts a spiritual seeker in chaos. Many times, all of the energy gained from a high meditation or spiritual power adventure is wasted on very basic issues, such as what to wear and wondering if the bills have been paid. Instead of being able to build on the life you had before the adventure, you must stop to put together the pieces left askew.

A spiritual experience reorganizes the core of your being. If your life is a mess, you won’t be able to integrate the spiritual experience and discover the new you. Instead you’ll be left struggling to find where you left the important parts of your life, and probably go back to being who you were before the spiritual experience.

Tightening the tonal is a never-ending process. Because you live and work in the world, you will constantly be acquiring new things and relationships. Fortunately, the act of tightening your tonal is also a spiritual practice – after all, what isn’t?

There’s a very old saying: “as above, so below; as within, so without.” If you look around your workspace and your living areas, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what your mind looks like. Is it full of clutter and dust? Do you have piles of old magazines sitting on the table? Or is it a clean, functional place? That is the surface of your mind, and can tell you a great deal about the mental patterns passing through you at any given moment. Now take a peek in your closet – that represents the deeper parts of your mind; how many things do you keep hidden in there? Are you holding on to things you no longer need? Or have you let go of everything except what is essential to running your life smoothly?

At first it may be overwhelming to see your life in these terms. Remember, it took years for all of those things and all of those mental patterns to accumulate. It may take some time to clean them out. Begin today.

Pay attention to how you dress; do you feel good in what you are wearing? Even if you’re only running to the market or staying home to play on the computer, the clothing you wear sends a message to everyone who sees you, including yourself. Energetically, you shift from one outfit to another. Try on different types of clothing to find out for yourself. Project the image most beneficial to your practice.

When you speak to others, are you concerned about their needs or only your own? Saying “thank you” to the cashier with sincere gratitude can give a lift to both you and the cashier. Your tonal extends to how your use your body as well. Treating others with love and respect at all times keeps your mind above the clutter of endless desire and egotistical conflicts.

Spend an hour removing worn out or ill-fitting clothes from your wardrobe. On another day toss out the old magazines and clear out the papers you no longer need from your filing cabinet. Balance your checkbook every month. Organize the files in your computer so you can easily find what you’re looking for without having to think about it. Approach these tasks with the intent to not only clean your home, but also your mind.

As the weeks and months and years go by, your home and work environment will become cleaner and clearer. You may notice an improvement in your meditation practice and the ease with which you make decisions. Physically, you may even feel lighter.

Continue cleaning and tossing clutter until even the closet you never use is spotless and well organized. Maintain your space by putting things in their proper place right away. If a task that needs to be done will take you less than a minute to do, do it now. Why wait?

Tightening the tonal is not about becoming neurotic about cleanliness and compulsive about having things in order. It’s about creating a smooth, grounded life where the mind is free to roam in endless fields of Light. This is an ongoing process of refinement. Like Enlightenment, there is no final state of being “done” – it goes on forever.

There is another option to all this cleaning: total renunciation. You could give away all of your earthly possessions, give up all of your relationships, let go of all your mental clinging to these things, and go live in a cave somewhere. Of course, even then, at some time, you’ll need to take care of your body so you have the strength to make the final leap into Enlightenment.

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4 thoughts on “Tightening the Tonal

  1. I appreciated this article – I’ve been trying to figure out how to include the teachings on ‘tight tonal’ as part of the 7-month course I’m teaching. For the purposes of not mixing traditions, I don’t want to use words like ‘tonal’ or motivations like ‘holding light’, which are too abstract for this course, but your article is very helpful in giving me ideas on how to talk about ‘tight tonal’ as ‘proof of accomplishment’ of practice, perhaps, and ‘indications of what needs attention’. Anyway, great article, thanks.

    • Jenna Sundell

      Hi Fushin,
      Thank you for the lovely comment! I’m always happy to be service.


  2. Mom

    What you say is very true, but some of us need to collect things like yarn in order to create something new. How do you know when you have too much?

    • Jenna Sundell

      I would say you have too much when your stuff gets in the way of creating the things you want to create… So if your yarn is tangling everything your life, you may have too much! 😀

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