I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed about a compassion-based practice I’ve been turning to quite a bit lately – Tonglen. Stephanie Gailing, an astrologer and wellness consultant based out of Seattle, had been noticing a theme among her clients and friends – they have been increasingly feeling overwhelmed by the amount of suffering they’re experiencing and witnessing. A highly compassionate person herself, this inspired Stephanie to explore Tonglen as a potential go-to practice for herself and others in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Below is an excerpt from our conversation on Tonglen, click here for Stephanie’s full article.
STEPHANIE: WHAT IS TONGLEN?
Ashley: Tonglen is a visualization meditation practice with roots in Tibetan Buddhism. It involves a special focus on the breath; with every inhale, you breath in the suffering of yourself and others, and with every out-breath you send out compassion.
HOW IS IT PRACTICED?
A: I learned how to practice Tonglen from Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist. It involves four basic stages:
- Take a few moments to simply rest in stillness.
- Explore the idea of the breath’s “texture”—breathing in hot, heavy, claustrophobic-type feelings and breathing out cool, light and fresh sensations.
- Consider a painful situation—for example, a loss or challenging health condition—that you or someone you care about is experiencing. As you breath in, imagine taking in this pain. As you exhale, imagine sending out recognition, compassion and love.
- After several moments of practicing in this way, then extend the practice out bigger—breathing in the suffering for everyone who might experience hurt in this particular way, while also giving compassion and recognition with your out-breath to everyone who may experiencing this painful situation.