September 23, 2008

Pema Chodron: How to do Tonglen, a meditation practice for difficult times.

Pema Chodron teaches Tonglen, a practice for difficult times.

Tonglen, a simple yet counter-intuitive meditation practice for tough times. Reverse the flow of ego.


In times of things falling apart, duress, heartbreak, stress…a meditation practice to baitswitch our silly crazy mopey ego and engender happiness, compassion, equanimity.

This is great for tough heavy powerful times. Buddhist meditation.
You don’t have to be Buddhist.

If you do this, you do have to sandwich between simple meditation.

Pema Chodron​—she’s just amazing, soothing, for intense times.

I grew up knowing Pema Chodron (the second most popular Buddhist in America, after that Dalai Lama guy). Or, rather, she knew me (I was just a little kid running around not paying attention to anything). My first memory of her is at Whittier Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, where I attended kindergarten. She and my momma were, and are friends.

As I grew up, I got to know her a little (doing service shifts at her cabin at Shambhala Mountain in 1992, where she helped Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche teach his first Seminary) and was always struck at how strong and powerful this kindly, small woman was—what a leader.

Everyone knows she’s sweet (that voice!). But seeing her on Bill Moyers, not even nervous or blinking, then doing the same thing with Oprah—well I realized again and again that this woman knows exactly who she is, and what is what.

These days, I still know her a little bit, though I only rarely see her (recently saw her a little at the Karmapa’s first visit to America).

Here (below) she talks about tonglen practice, one of the fundamental meditation practices of Buddhism as taught by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It’s great for doing if a loved one is dying, or your mind is in particular tumult…you can learn how to do it from her books or at your local Shambhala Center, it’s easy to learn and actually very practical, powerful and easy to do. Video (or, click here to check out her and Oprah’s conversation).

It’s good to set the stage by meditating (click here for Trungpa’s classic instruction) for a few minutes before, and after, your tonglen practice—so that you don’t hold onto the black/hot/heavy inbreath or the white/cool/bright outbreath (you’ll know what I mean when you watch the below videos).

Bonus: Gampo Abbey video.

One more:

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Sean Maac Mar 3, 2015 8:33pm

This made me weep. What a shear delight to have read this…I understand more profoundly now than ever before your relationship to Buddhism. Simple joy! Thank you! xo

Cathy Feb 21, 2015 1:31am

I think “other people feel this” is likely to be a powerful thought for me because I often isolate myself from others and assume that I am looked down on in a way others are not. Remembering that whatever pain I feel is also felt by others will take away the isolation and make it clear (I hope) that I am having a painful experience, which will not last forever – rather than seeing myself as a rejected object which is alone and cannot be redeemed.

jack Oct 31, 2014 6:56am

This practice was introduced to me in my crisis communications class. The individual pain that I feel daily over a home life that is falling apart made me lose my center, lose my emotional core to a new practice that I was forced to try. After class I was overwhelmed with a horrible emotions of depression, anger and in less control over the sadness. Two days later I have decided to try this again, and today I still experience the same affects. I am an English Major, a title that I feel deserves capital letters, because of its importance to me. It is my Tonglen, it is my center and focus. Tomorrow I will try again.

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Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.