Tonglen is one of my favorite compassion practices. I started practicing it in 2005 and have been teaching it as part of CCT since 2013.
Tonglen is quite radical and counterintuitive at the beginning, and it feels amazing! Here’s an example of what I mean when I say it’s counterintuitive: I love attending group fitness classes, specifically Barre3, yoga, and CrossFit. At the end of many Barre3 and yoga classes, the teacher will suggest everyone ‘breathe out stress’ or ‘breathe out something you don’t want.’
Have you experienced this? While the motivation behind it is understandable, I often imagine everyone is breathing a cloud of smog into the room. It’s like being asked to litter sludge into the space around us. Where does it go? Who has to deal with it now that I’ve breathed out my stress and the things I don’t want?
In Tonglen, we learn to breathe in negativity, stress and pain and transform them into compassion and strength that we send out to others. It sounds dangerous, but with good instruction and training it’s incredibly powerful.
Tonglen is an ancient practice for reducing the tendency to self protect, scramble after comforting experiences and avoid negativity. It reinforces the desire to be a force for good in the world and boosts our courage, power, resilience and resourcefulness.