|Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice of meditation. The word means ‘giving and taking’, or sending and receiving. The practice involves taking in the suffering and pain of others, and then breathing out love, compassion and understanding. It’s a powerful practice that uses visualisation to help you develop compassion and unconditional love for all.
The practise of breathing in the suffering and pain of others seems to be a crazy thing to do. But it’s really about moving towards the things you would normally avoid, such as painful feelings. Avoiding a painful experience doesn’t make it go away; it just gets buried in the unconscious and causes problems for you and others. So tonglen is a way to make friends with your mind and the things that scare you.
Tonglen is practised on behalf of others but it can also be done for yourself. In fact, it’s a good idea to start the practice with yourself, especially if you need some healing – and most of us need a little more love! It’s extremely powerful and can be overwhelming, so it’s best to not do it if you’re feeling too vulnerable. Use other forms of meditation to work with your extreme emotions first, such as self-hatred or grief. When you’re feeling stronger, you can return to practising tonglen.
The basic technique is to accept on the in breath and let go on the out breath. Tonglen can be practised in meditation but it can also be performed whenever you sense the need for it, such as when watching the news or dealing with challenging situations.
Practise with the intention of healing your attitude towards yourself and with the aim of restoring your sense of wholeness. Inhale your own conflicted emotions, negativity, and suffering, and exhale compassion, love and joy directed at yourself.
It’s a good idea to dedicate this meditation to the benefit of all sentient beings before you begin and when you finish. It’s also important to remember something Andrew Harvey says in The Direct Path:
Don’t underestimate the power of this meditation. It can have extremely transformative effects. Whenever you feel powerless to help others who are undergoing some calamity somewhere in the world, such as war, famine, or extreme hardship, remember that you can always practise tonglen. Don’t think for a second that it won’t make a difference. It will and it does.
Tonglen forms part of a larger practice called lojong, which means ‘mind training’, that uses 59 slogans to train the mind. You can find out more about lojong and how to apply it to writing and creativity in my book: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers or visit the Free Your Pen blog to explore the slogans.
Explore more Meditation Practices here