What can you do when you are overwhelmed with upsetting thoughts and feelings? I learned this practice (tonglen) and have used it to transform my feelings of sorrow, grief, anger, impatience, etc. It is the Buddhist practice of exchanging yourself for others- a “bodhichitta practice for activating loving-kindness and compassion” (from Pema Chondron’s The Places That Scare You). The practice of using breath and intention is very powerful and does work.
I am always relieved when I remember that I can use this practice. I have found I am able to access compassion for myself and for others when I do this.
A short-hand way to think about tonglen could be this: Say to yourself “I suffer (this feeling/thought), just like others do.” Or another way to cultivate loving-kindness is say “Just like me.” I have heard other spiritual teachers use this phrase, “Just like me” with the instruction for us to recall that others (in front of us, around us, around the world) are feeling and perhaps suffering just as we are.
But here’s the deal– you have to remember to breathe!! That part is essential. I know you have heard me preach about breathing in other posts. That is because I know your breath will save you. Especially if you take the time to notice you are breathing and purposefully SLOW your breathing, in and out. You will feel immensely calmer.
As you move into the new year, I hope you will consider using tonglen as a way to bring more compassion for yourself and others into your daily thought patterns. I wish you a beautiful New Year, full of love and joy. Namaste!