Awakening the Compassionate Heart with Tonglen Meditation

I’m here to share the beauty of meditation with you.
Meditation is a treasure.
It can teach us to find the most valuable wisdom.
That wisdom lives in our heart.
Our greatest longings for love, joy, and acceptance are all within us.

On one hand, this is great news! Because if everything we seek is within us, we have all the power and the capacity to realize our innate wholeness in any moment we attend to this truth.

And yet, it’s not so easy.

Layers of conditioning from the way we were raised, from the culture we live in, and from our own attachments, aversions, and unhealthy relationship with our own ego prevent us from realizing what is already here and now.

Tonglen meditation is a powerful practice to retrain the mind. Tonglen meditation is used for awakening bodhichitta which can be translated as the compassionate heart. This practice can be done during formal meditation sessions, or as you live your life in the world.

Tonglen meditation is a Buddhist technique attributed to Atisha (980 – 1054 CE) and later popularized by Geshe Chekawa in the 12th century. Chekawa reportedly taught this technique to many individuals afflicted with leprosy and it helped them to surrender to their condition and even heal it.

As you read the instructions and explanations you can see if you resonate with the technique.

The Four Principles of Tonglen Meditation.

  1. Flashing Openness:

The first step is to be aware! Your attention is everything. Mindful of body, mindful of emotion, mindful of mind and breath. It is essential to discovering your innate awakened nature to be present to what is arising…which means stepping out of the mental chatter, whether it be ruminations of the past or projections of the future. Be here now and meet yourself as you are, with honesty, and without trying to get somewhere beyond here and now.

  1. Working with the basic textures:

The instruction here is to breath in hot, heavy and darkness, and to breath out cool, white, lightness.

  1. Working to relieve the pain of a certain person, animal, or yourself:

In this step we direct our attention to a specific person and feel and breath in their pain, their suffering, their discontent, and then we breath out into spaciousness and relief for that person.

  1. Expanding the practice:

Expand your practice by maintaining your connection to your specific person and their respective suffering and then create an intention that all beings will be relieved of this same suffering.

Further Explanations:

In the beginning of Tonglen we practice mindfulness of the present moment. It is easy to avoid the present moment in our modern culture which involves a lot of external stimulation that can pull us from our center. By first coming into presence, we can meet ourselves where we are at.

The second part of the practice involves connecting with subtle layers of energy. This part of the practice will enhance your awareness of subtle sensations, it will connect you deeper to the breath and present moment, it will integrate more of your mind in your body, and balance your nervous system.

The third step is where the alchemy begins to work in the heart. By connecting our heart/feeling with another we are extending the scope of our sense of compassion. It is important that we connect with ourselves at the beginning of this meditation and work from our center outwards otherwise we will develop the tendency to put others before ourself, which may sound like a noble thing, but we cannot totally love another unless we do it from our center and love ourselves first.

As we connect with another, we are making this meditation personal, and yet, the basic emotion or suffering of that person is universal. The particular story is unique, but the fundamental energy of the emotion is universal and thus it connects us.
When you continuously breath in a sense of their suffering and an intention to have them relieved of this suffering you are encoding this information into your subconscious which is retraining your perceptions and actions.

By then expanding our intention to include all beings we are expanding our consciousness and sense of self to include all selves.
I love this technique.

It can take you from being stuck in your own stories, emotions, and problems to feeling connected to all beings with goodness in the heart.

The fruit of the practice grows with time…as we continually plant the seeds of intention in the subconscious, we start to alter our perception and actions and our life blossoms in a whole new direction. We decondition the desire to avoid discomfort and attach to pleasure by willingly moving towards discomfort with love. Through this we can gain a resilience and a love that guides our life.

As mentioned, you can practice this is a formal meditation technique (ei. Sitting on a cushion) or you can practice as you go about your day. I even integrate it into my qigong classes and 1 on 1 breathwork sessions which is a powerful way to retrain your mind towards compassion and awaken the love that is within.


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