How Breath can Lead us Back to Compassion

What can we do in these times of great pain to transform our raw emotions that may be stuck inside? What can we do for ourselves and others that are suffering from loss, isolation, and grief?

In the meditation practice of Tonglen, we bring others suffering to mind and exchange our happiness for their pain. Many people find this to be an outrageous thing to do. In times throughout history, when the temporary rulers have labeled this kind of practice in an unfavorable way, it has gone underground and withdrawn to the inner circles of initiated practitioners alone but never perished.

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It’s a transformative practice that is still with us today.

The courageous meditator who is ready to take on this practice of Tonglen – literally “sending & receiving,” will cultivate a healthy sense of exchanging oneself with others and eventually lead the otherwise habitually self-oriented ego to shift its focus.

Breathing for others in times of pain can offer relief from suffering in many kinds of ways. We can begin the practice gently by taking on the suffering of someone we know and love, someone who is hurting or in pain whom we doubtlessly wish to help. It may be a child, a partner, or a friend.

As we start the practice of Tonglen, it’s wise to begin with what we feel comfortable to engage in at the moment. Don’t aim for the most terrible of hell realms when you start this practice. Send someone a good cup of coffee, a good night’s sleep, a healed wound, or whatever else the person likes and needs who might be in a troubled place.

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As we deepen into this practice, we often face our own fear, resistance, and frustration, or whatever tightness we are currently experiencing.

When that happens, we can shift our focus to breathe for everyone else of those other millions of people who are suffering just like us, from similar kinds of emotional states.

Likewise, when we are enjoying something, for example, a peaceful moment in the sun, waking up safe in our home, or having a gorgeous dinner with friends, we can briefly close our eyes and say: may others too have this joy.

We breathe in for all who are caught with that same emotion, and we send our relief through every exhalation to all.

While staying with the breath, we are engaging in this meditation through contacting whatever raw feeling we are experiencing, and we breathe it in for all of us- and then send out relief to all of us. Yourself included.

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The awkwardness of Tonglen is that it goes against the grain when it comes to the habit of wishing the best for ourselves, no matter what that means to others or the environment, hoping that everything will turn out the way we want it to be, without having any concern for others. It helps us to turn our focus outwards.

This practice dissolves the tight crust around our hearts and makes us soft, receptive, and carrying. We keep on breathing without getting too entangled in whatever emotion comes up for ourselves, but focus on what is needed and be done for others’ well-being.

If you make this practice part of your life, it will eventually reverse the usual logic of avoiding suffering for ourselves and continually seeking pleasure. In that process, we begin to access radical acceptance for what is and love for both ourselves and others.

We become liberated from our ancient patterns of fixating on a self and starts to tip into the absolute void of wisdom and compassion inseparable.

By doing the practice, we begin to connect and open up rather than closing down and isolating ourselves. We can use our pain, frustration, and stuckness in a world of semi lockdown as a stepping stone to understanding what people in general are up against all over the world.

Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Please.

Breathing for the world – Widening our circles of compassion is a meditation-based in the Tibetan Buddhist Tonglen practice of “sending & receiving.” This meditation can be found on my Sound Cloud account and enjoyed for absolutely free.

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Published by Lama Chimey

Buddhist Minister, Meditation & Dharma Teacher

2 thoughts on “How Breath can Lead us Back to Compassion

  1. Wow, just what I needed! Beautiful way to do Tong-len finishing with the support of all enlightened beings and keeping the light with me throughout the day!

  2. Dear Johan, so happy that this guided Tonglen practice is inspiring you. May the light from the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas be with you throughout all days! <3

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