Practice Tonglen – an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion.
Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure.
We visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.
When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages:
- Rest your mind for a second or two in a state of openness or stillness.
- Work with texture. Breathe in feelings of heat, darkness, and heaviness—a sense of claustrophobia—and breathe out feelings of coolness, brightness, and light—a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, taking in negative energy through all the pores of your body. When you breathe out, radiate positive energy completely, through all the pores of your body.
- Focus on any painful situation that’s real to you.
- Expand Your Compassion. Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to all those who are in the same situation. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat.
Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, your compassion naturally expands over time, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought, which is a glimpse of emptiness. As you do this practice, gradually at your own pace, you will be surprised to find yourself more and more able to be there for others, even in what used to seem like impossible situations.