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Meet Tonglen, The Meditation That'll Make You Want To Throat-Punch People Less


Originally Published: 
Woman relaxing on bed — tonglen meditation
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When times are tough — like the last few years — we can all use some compassion and loving-kindness. Meditation is a fantastic tool that helps alleviate both stress and anxiety and helps us see the bigger picture. When so many things around us are uncertain, having a meditation practice can center and ground us back into the present moment while also giving us a much-needed sense of peace and contentment. If you’re struggling to find some compassion and feelings of joy right now (and who isn’t?), tonglen meditation is one meditation practice that can help.

You may be thinking, What is tonglen? And that’s fair. Like certain manifestation methods, this form of meditation isn’t exactly household knowledge. It can, however, be instrumental in helping you get out of a slump. Or starting a new year off on the right foot. And yes, that’s true even if you’re typically skeptical about all things “woo woo.” Keep reading to learn more about tonglen and how it can potentially enhance your wellbeing.

What is tonglen meditation?

Tonglen is a Tibetan word made from two terms: “tong” which means “letting go,” and “len,” which means accepting. So, when translated, tonglen means to literally let go and accept (we know, easier said than done!). Tonglen practice is also known as “taking and sending” and is a type of meditation practice that defies what your logic and egoic mind might think about suffering. Instead of avoiding suffering, like most of us tend to do, tonglen asks you instead to transmute in a way to help heal both yourself and others. It invites you to awaken the compassion within so you can find peace within and help make this world a better place.

The skeptics are probably rolling their eyes about now, right? Hey, this isn’t some Kumbaya #goodvibes stuff. Tonglen meditation is a Tibetan Buddhist practice dating back to the 11th century when leprosy ran rampant in Tibet. Meditation practitioners in India shared this type of meditation to help those who were suffering in their healing and so that they could help heal others.

Tonglen can be used by those in literal physical suffering and by those who want to remove themselves from any sort of negativity in their life. This is why it’s been practiced by people who wish to alleviate any depression, anxiety, and stress. It may also be useful when dealing with any bad feelings you might have about your in-laws, neighbors, or that jerk on the subway.

Why use the tonglen practice?

Tonglen practice involves visualizing taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. No doubt, tonglen requires a particular type of chutzpah when it comes to accessing our compassionate side, especially if we are meditating on a subject or person that irritates us or has even caused us pain and suffering.

When confronted with suffering, most people tend to ignore it or run from it. We might even disdain others for inflicting pain onto us. However, the practice of tonglen asks us to dig deep within ourselves to recognize how alike we truly are. We are all suffering in one way or another. We can use tonglen practice to understand what other people are struggling with to offer them some grace and kindness. In healing others, we often heal ourselves.

Are there examples of tonglen guided meditation?

While practicing tonglen meditation, it’s important to stay focused and anchor yourself to positive phrases. Below, we have a few examples that will help guide your mediation.

  • Having recognized the futility of my selfishness and the great benefit of loving others, may I bring all beings to joy. May I send all my virtues and happiness to others through the strength of my practice, and may I receive the suffering, obstacles, and defilements of all motherly beings in all realms.
  • May you feel safe. May you know your belonging. May you realize the truth of who you are. May you be free of fear. May you experience your fearless heart.
  • My affectionate heart radiates soothing, gentle light beams that touch, reassure and comfort me as I breathe out. I become confident and happy, cared for and loved.
  • I extend my meditation to other scared dogs, other caged animals, all beings stuck behind bars, and so on. I breathe in the darkness of their distress, breathe out the light of freedom and peace; imagine their relief and allow it to touch my heart.

How do you use tonglen meditation?

Tonglen can be as formal or informal as you wish. Since it requires you to breathe in one’s suffering and breathe out whatever they might need (like love or forgiveness), you can practice tonglen while running errands or while on the phone with someone. However, if you would like to implement a more routine practice, here’s a quick guide to get you started.

  • Sit or lie down somewhere quiet and comfortable. Make sure you’ll be undisturbed for a few minutes.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Connect with yourself and the present moment.
  • Imagine someone you want to help. Picture someone in your mind’s eye to whom you would like to offer some compassion. Hint: Typically, it’s the person we don’t want to offer compassion to.
  • Breathe in. As you focus on this person, focus on their struggles. Focus on what might be causing them to act out. Imagine breathing in their pain and suffering. As you do this, envision yourself taking away all that ails them.
  • Breathe out. Next, as you breathe out, imagine you are breathing out happiness and peace to this person, as well as to the rest of the world. When you think of your person, imagine what would bring them the most peace and joy and breathe that into them.
  • Repeat. Repeat this breathing in suffering and breathing out peace for however long you wish. Even five to 10 minutes is all you need.

Over time, this practice will help you spread positivity into the world, including yourself. And boy, could we use it!

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