Exercise 20: Tonglen

Background: We spend so much energy running away from negative emotions.

In some ways, they are like a tiny dog chasing an enormous truck.  Meditation is when we wonder, “Just what is that dog ever going to do if it catches that truck?” And we stop running from it.

Today’s exercise: Buddhist Tonglen goes a step beyond merely accepting the inevitability of unpleasantness.  In some sense we master it, as we seek it out in others.

This exercise is going to ask you to think about the suffering of someone else.  If nothing immediately comes to mind, here are a few things to consider:

A) Can you take on the suffering of someone who opposes you, or who you have difficulty liking?

B) Can you take on the suffering of all those who experience a similiar issue to one you struggle with?

The Exercise

1)  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.  Fill you diaphragm with your in-breaths.  It can be helpful to place the hand on the abdomen as you do this, to feel its movement. 

2)  When you are ready to begin this practice in earnest, Breathe in feelings of heaviness, claustrophobia, pain, and hurt.  Do not assign this to any experience yet.

3)  Breathe out positivity, light, and joy.

4)  With your next in-breath, experience the unpleasantness as entering into you through all the pores of your body.  Feel it come along with your breath and travel within.

5)  When you exude positivity, feel this emenating from your pores, as well as you breath.  Envision this goodness going out into the world.

6) Continue this process for a while,.

7) When you are ready, apply your imagination to the experience you have chosen.  Take the pain and hurt from the person or group into yourself.  Take it through the breath and through the body.

8) Exhale whatever relief you feel is best:  Kindness, light and joy.

9) Continue to inhale their pain.  Exhale relief.

10) As your practice draws to a close, widen your compassion.  If you can, take on the pain in a more intense manner, or feel it coming into you from a wider circle.

11) Continue to exhale love to this widened, deepened circle.

12)  When you are ready to release your days practice, spend some time continuing to breathe.  Consider what the experience was like of feeling their pain.