Tonglen meditation is a simple practice of transmutation. It’s the process of breathing in “dirty” energy, thoughts, or feelings, and releasing them with compassionate non-attachment as pure light.
As opposed to the idea of breathing peace and calm into the body and mind, in tonglen we breathe in pain and suffering (dukkha) and transform it into peacefulness through non-attachment.
Tonglen is a world-healing practice. But when applied to the self, tonglen can have nothing short of miraculous healing effects.
When in pain, this form of meditation may seem like a counter-intuitive process. To breathe in your pain may feel like the last thing you want to do. Instead of breathing in that pain or suffering, it may feel more natural to push it away, stifle it, ignore it, or resist it.
But resistance is attachment, and the more resistance grows, the more the suffering you’re trying to avoid does too.
As a method of self-healing, over time the practice of tonglen can become an – if not the – automatic response to stress, anger, a bad mood, or general funk.
In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) there’s a tool called anchoring. An anchor is a link that is created either causally (naturally, or out of habit) or intentionally between an object and a state of emotion or consciousness, or between one state and another state.
Conscious, intentional anchoring can create the induction of a more positive state from a negative one, or it can be used as a way to remind you of tools that can help to transform that negative state.
In the context of application of tonglen as a self-healing practice, any negative emotion can be an anchor that will remind you to use breath to transform difficult emotions into pure compassionate release.
1. Notice your suffering. Allow this to be a reminder that you can release that suffering through practice.
2. Still or center yourself for a moment. With a breath or two, find a calm place in your experience of the moment.
3. Notice the negative energy (dukkha) as a cloud around your physical body.
4. With your breath, draw that cloud of suffering into your body.
5. Holding your breath in your chest for a moment, center yourself in non-attachment, and allow the suffering to transform into peace.
6. Release your breath as an exhalation of peace and clarity.
7. Repeat for as long as needed to clear your suffering.
Any practice of tonglen meditation is healing the whole. In the healing of the suffering of self is the healing of the world.
There is no self, and there is no other. As one of the innumerable sentient beings pervading time and space, the work you do to free yourself form your own attachment is work toward the liberation of all.
As you clear the skandas, aggregates, becloudings, the veils of illusion in your own life, the healing you create in your heart is truly the transmutation of the suffering of all beings.