Tonglen meditation is a traditional Buddhist meditation often referred to as “taking and sending,” in which we take in the pain of the world with our inhalation, and breathe out our own comfort, healing, and goodness.
It takes the typically egoic way of wanting to avoid pain and gravitate towards pleasure, and turns it on its head. Instead, we learn to breathe in what’s uncomfortable and painful in the world, and breathe out blessings, comfort and happiness.
Tonglen meditation is truly transformative, putting into perspective the pains and pleasures of all living beings, while taking the attention off of our small egoic selves. It’s also an effective way to work with difficult emotions.
Meditation and Our Instinctive Reaction to Pain
As humans, we normally react to pain and discomfort by trying to avoid it or distance ourselves from it. We try to move towards the pleasant, the pleasurable, and the things and people who bring us comfort.
But as we progress along the spiritual path, we realize that our greatest teachers are often those who challenge us, who make us feel unworthy or less than, because they’re showing us where we haven’t mastered ourselves, where we haven’t cultivated that steady peace that only comes from within.
Things and situations do this too, and of course they’re simply par for the course as we live as embodied souls in a human existence.
The human experience is full of the entire spectrum of emotions and experiences, and by avoiding discomfort, we end up missing out on large parts of our lives.
If we create walls between ourselves and the emotional suffering of ourselves and others, we miss out on what it means to be human and the more isolated we become – from ourselves, from others and from the world.
How Tonglen Meditation Helps
Tonglen meditation helps us move towards the discomfort that we tend to avoid. It also opens us up to the reality that our personal pain isn’t personal at all. It’s pain that’s experienced by all humans across the entire globe.
One way to understand this concept is to label our pain as THE pain, rather than MY pain. Of course we experience suffering through the lens of our own personal experience and perspective, but we can come to experience anger, sorrow, grief, pain, etc. as part of the human experience.
Tonglen helps us experience the impersonal qualities of suffering, which helps us open our hearts to ourselves and to others. It cultivates compassion and loving kindness. Tonglen meditation helps us bring forth a greater level of generosity, which is essential to our growth as spiritual beings.
Have you tried Tonglen meditation? How was your experience?