This Mindful Monday, we’re talking about tonglen: what this meditation practice is, how to practice and why you should practice tonglen.This Mindful Monday, we're talking about tonglen: what this meditation practice is, how to practice and why you should practice tonglen.Hey guys,

Wow, it’s been a while since we’ve been together for Mindful Monday, huh?

As you guys might have guessed from some of my posts lately, life has been pretty crazy over here. Crazy in the best way possible, of course, but crazy none the less. In the last month or so, I’ve spoken at two conferences – one national conference in Orlando and one regional conference in Texas, I published my first e-book, Nourish Your Namaste, I attended a wedding, hosted friends and family in Boston and somehow managed to stay on top of other work projects. When shit gets busy, I have to prioritize my work for my sanity. Sure, I could spend late evenings or weekends writing Mindful Monday posts for you but that wouldn’t be very mindful of me now would it? I’m not perfect but I do try to practice what I preach to the best of my ability.

So Mindful Mondays are going to be one of those things that I write when I can and skip when I just can’t. I hope that you have those things in your life. The things that you accept you have to let go of when there’s just not enough time in the day. Because pushing yourself beyond your limits to the point of burnout just isn’t worth it in the end.

This Mindful Monday, I wanted to talk about a meditation practice that has come in handy for me lately as I dealt with the stresses of speaking at conferences, feeling overwhelmed by work and wedding stuff, launching an e-book, etc. It’s called tonglen.

What Is Tonglen?

Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice that is known as “giving and taking or sending and receiving.” On the inhale, you take in the pain and suffering of yourself and others and on the exhale you give space, compassion and healing to yourself and others.

When we experience pain or suffering, our default mode is to push it away. Because it’s just too hard to bear. So we distract ourself with work, booze, TV, food, you name it. We might have even been taught to breathe out our fears and anxieties and to breathe in all the good vibes. Well tonglen throws this theory on its head. Tonglen tells us that we need to sit with our suffering and be present with our pain, feelings and emotions. Tonglen is what any good therapist would tell you – that in order to move through pain and suffering, you must feel it first.

How Do You Practice Tonglen?

To practice tonglen, you want to sit in meditation for a few minutes and then begin to breathe in the pain/suffering you’re experiencing and breathe out space, healing or compassion to yourself. Once you’ve done that, think of another person who may be experiencing similar pain or suffering as you and breathe in their pain and suffering in addition to your own and then breathe out compassion and healing toward that person and yourself. The final step, if you feel ready for it, is to think about all of the people in the world who are experiencing your specific pain or suffering and breathe all of their suffering in and then breathe out your healing and compassion to the world.

What Are the Benefits of Practicing Tonglen?

  • By thinking of others who are experiencing your same pain and suffering, you expand your compassion and loving kindness towards others.
  • You reduce the ego and your attachment to your own pain and suffering.
  • Cultivate positive karma by giving and helping others.
  • Helps you realize that your pain is not personal and in fact it’s experienced by humans all over the world.
  • Cultivate a deeper sense of generosity.
  • Helps you to be present for your pain and the pain of others.
  • Develop more loving kindness and compassion toward yourself.
  • Reduce anxieties and fears by being present for them.

When Should You Practice Tonglen?

Tonglen can be practiced any time you are experiencing some kind of pain, suffering, fear or anxiety or going through a difficult time.

My Experience with Tonglen

I first learned tonglen during my yoga teacher training (YTT). Being new to the practice and being someone who feels things very deeply, tonglen was hard for me. During YTT, it became so much more evident to me how much pain and suffering exists in this world. Each and every one of us 30 some women in that room had a story to tell that was full of serious pain and suffering. I had already felt deeply the pain of everyone in that room so when it came time to practice tonglen, it was as if I had no space left. I couldn’t do it. You may find you have a similar experience when you first start this practice. It’s a practice that’s totally counterintuitive to what we’ve been taught in the past and how we typically deal with the hard stuff. If you find it challenging, stick with that first step where you just focus on yourself. Eventually, you will be able to expand that out to the world.

Recently, I found myself feeling pretty anxious with everything I had going on in my life, both personally and professionally. I felt like I was going to fail. That I wasn’t going to publish the e-book in time. That I was going to choke during my presentations. All of these anxiety-based fears reared their ugly heads and wouldn’t go away. My default mode is usually to bury my head in more work to distract myself from the negative thoughts. However, I was lucky enough to stumble upon tonglen during the midst of the storm. Truth be told, I had forgot about the practice. I started practicing it – breathing in my feelings of overwhelm, breathing in my anxieties about work, and then opening that up to breathing in everyone’s overwhelm and anxieties about work and breathing out space, compassion and healing to all those who were experiencing my current fears and anxieties.

It’s a beautiful experience being present for your emotions and not trying to bury them under the rug. If you bury them under the rug, eventually that rug is going to be ripped off the floor and all your accumulated unresolved stuff will still be there. But being present for your emotions and really feeling the hard stuff allows you to be more mindful, to learn more about yourself and to be able to watch your emotions slowly dissipate. And by practicing tonglen, you realize that these feelings are not your feelings but feelings shared by the world.

Tell me, have you ever practiced or heard of tonglen? Do you try to distract yourself from the hard stuff?  When would you benefit from this practice?

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10 Comments

  1. Love this! I’ve done a meditation like this before, but had no idea what it was called. Beautiful! You are a rock star in all that you’ve done this year! xo

  2. Marie-Eve

    This sounds like such a beautiful practice. Like you, I am in a very stressful situation right now, so I will definitely add it to my morning’s meditations. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  3. Very true and finding your own balance – essential. I hadn’t heard of this practice, but I’m a student of vipassana, which very much has you sit with the pain, physical or otherwise. A very nice post, thanks for the info.

  4. Love this! Thank you for bringing this to light, Kara. You are beautiful. xoxo

  5. Lee

    This is EXCELLENT writing AND advice. I have been working on accepting and feeling my previously resisted emotions for about a year now, but this takes it to a new level…and also makes the suffering seems a little less personal as well. THANK YOU!!!