Tonglen is a breathing meditation practise from the Buddhist tradition. The word means Giving and taking, and the technique is a practise of active compassion.
We’ve all seen the memes ‘Breathe in the Good, Breath out the bad’ tonglen turns that on it’s head. We Choose to breathe in pain and suffering, to acknowledge and transform it within our own hearts.
Every story on earth involves some degree of challenge, pain and difficulty, these give our lives the context and depth that is required to rise to our highest potential and create meaningful lives. In a world can often seem overwhelming in its complexity, Tonglen offers a simple yet powerful tool to begin the process of transformation.
The power of the heart is not to be underestimated, if we want to change our lives and our worlds there is no better place to begin.
“On the in-breath, you breathe in whatever particular area, group of people, country, or even one particular person… maybe it’s not this more global situation, maybe it’s breathing in the physical discomfort and mental anguish of chemotherapy; of all the people who are undergoing chemotherapy. And if you’ve undergone chemotherapy and come out the other side, it’s very real to you. Or maybe it’s the pain of those who have lost loved ones; suddenly, or recently, unexpectedly or over a long period of time, some dying. But the in-breath is… you find some place on the planet in your personal life or something you know about, and you breathe in with the wish that those human beings or those mistreated animals or whoever it is, that they could be free of that suffering, and you breathe in with the longing to remove their suffering.
And then you send out – just relax out… send enough space so that peoples’ hearts and minds feel big enough to live with their discomfort, their fear, their anger or their despair, or their physical or mental anguish. But you can also breathe out for those who have no food and drink, you can breathe out food and drink. For those who are homeless, you can breathe out/send them shelter. For those who are suffering in any way, you can send out safety, comfort.
So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.
Do this for an individual, or do this for large areas, and if you do this with more than one subject in mind, that’s fine… breathing in as fully as you can, radiating out as widely as you can.”
“Love is profoundly political. Our deepest revolution will come when we understand this truth. Only love can give us the strength to go forward in the midst of heartbreak and misery. Only love can give us the power to reconcile, to redeem, the power to renew weary spirits and save lost souls. The transformative power of love is the foundation of all meaningful social change. Without love our lives are without meaning. Love is the heart of the matter. When all else has fallen away, love sustains.”
~ bell hooks, Salvation: Black People and Love