The Practice of Tonglen

I haven’t wanted to proselytize about Buddhism, but I really thought that this practise, called Tonglen, might be of help to anyone who is having a ‘me versus the world’ moment (week/month/year/lifetime).

Basically it is a meditation practise, but if I can’t sleep I do it. It brings a sense of peace that, if nothing else, makes being awake with my personal demons in the middle of the night, more bearable.

So you sit or lie comfortably and then you focus on breathing in and out. When you breath in you magine that you are breathing in a big, black, hot, claustraphobic cloud of heavy-feeling pollution and smoke (weird beginning, I know, but stick with me..).

This smoky cloud represents the pain and suffering of anyone who you know who is going through it at the moment. This could be a single person who is sick, or stressed, or dying, or a whole collection of people. Often it helps to start with someone you know and care about, but you can extend it later to people you don’t know, or people that you actually don’t like very much.

So you breath in all their pain and suffering and make a big spot for it around your heart. Welcome it all in and let it fizzle around there and melt and mix with your own pain and suffering. Then just breath it all out. Your pain and everyone else’s pain. As you are breathing out, imagine that your heart just converted all that black smoke into bright light that is cool, airy and fresh. Imagine it just radiating out of every pore and reaching the people whose suffering you just breathed in. For example, if you are feeling inadequate, breathe that in for yourself and anyone else in the same situation. When you breath out send out confidence and relief.

It is really amazing the sense of calm it creates and, even if you don’t believe in the positive impact that people’s thoughts can have on the universe, it will help you to manage your own bad feelings by putting them into perspective with everyone else’s and doing something that feels proactive.

If you’d like to read moe about it Pema Chodron’s site has a lot to say about the practice of Tonglen under the ‘teaching’ menu. This web site is also a good starting point with links to other references as does this one.

I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who has practiced this to hear about their experiences.

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