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All posts in October, 2014

This article about Tonglen was originally published on one of my Blogger blogs back in January 2007 and again in November 2009, but I have known of and have successfully used the practice since 2005.

 

Tonglen is an ancient healing practice that is getting some much-deserved publicity these days and deserves another “day in the sun” here. Though I wrote this over a three and a half years ago, and originally sent it to an email group I once belonged to, I do continue to use the practice when in need of self-healing. I hope you find it useful!

 

Tonglen (sometimes spelled “tonglin” for folks who would like to do some research of their own) is apparently a practice that comes to us from Tibet.

 

It is practiced entirely through breathing. As the fellow in the book (cited below) says, “If you can breathe in and out, you can practice tonglin.”

 

As you inhale, you think of people you want to help who are suffering. You can visualize those people if you know them, or think of their names and locations if you do not. You may work on specific problems, or do general work.

 

As you think of them, you inhale and bring into yourself their pain and suffering. Do not worry that you will somehow be contaminated by their problems; you will transform and exhale the problems almost immediately.

 

You exhale, and send with the outgoing breath healing, relief, or compassion. (Compassion is one of the most powerful emotions in the universe.) When you exhale, imagine and see your breath as flowing expansively outward, reaching all the people whom you are trying to help.

 

It’s not a forceful practice (you don’t “suck in” as much air as you can and then force it across the room as you exhale), but it is deliberate; you should pay attention to each inhale and exhale, and breathe with the intention and purpose of accepting suffering of, and sending healing to, others.

 

And here is a very interesting point about this practice if you are doing it for yourself. If you can breathe in the suffering and pain of other people who are experiencing the same thing as you, you are sharing the burden of your suffering and thereby reducing it (“a burden shared is a burden lessened” as they say). As you breathe out healing, you heal not only others with the same affliction, but yourself.

 

I believe the key here is to set aside the “I” and merge with the “us.” It is not recommended that you work on just yourself; you should include others who are experiencing the same thing you are. You need not do this on an individual or personal basis (you may not know the name or location of a person with the same problem), but there are 6 billion people in the world today: whatever you are experiencing, you are certainly not alone.

 

To work on yourself, when you inhale, say or think or intend something like “I breathe in the suffering of all of us who have a pain in their left arm” (or whatever your problem is.) Your problem need not be physical, this practice may be used to relieve anger, sadness, grief, or other emotions.). Exhale and say/think/intend “I offer (or send) healing to all of us.”

 

If, at the end of your practice for the day or session, you should feel that you are still connected to someone else’s suffering or problems, disconnect by saying “I am done now,” or simply “Good-bye!” Repeat if necessary. (Sometimes, if we are working on an emotional problem that triggers us, it will bring up troubling things which we must dismiss for the time being. You could always work on it again during another healing session if needed.)

 

FYI, I learned about this in a book by Andrew Weiss titled Beginning Mindfulness, New World Library, Novato CA, 2004, ISBN 1577314417. The book presents a ten-week mindfulness course, and the practice for the tenth week is tonglen. There is a Buddhist slant to the material, but the author incorporates other practices as well.

 

A couple of anecdotal stories:

I used the tonglen method four days ago (Thur, Apr 14, 2005) on my arm; I have carpal tunnel, and have had pain of one kind or another in my hands every day for the past three years. (I am having massage therapy for the condition. That helps quite a bit, but sometimes I move the wrong way, or grasp something the wrong way, and it aggravates the condition.) The other day, my left arm, from the heel of the hand to the shoulder, was just about killing me. I did this tonglen practice for ten to fifteen minutes, and my left hand has been completely pain free ever since….and I do mean completely pain free which is nothing short of a miracle! It may start bothering me again, but the last four days have been heaven as far as my left hand is concerned! 🙂

 

As an update (Sunday, May 22, 2005) I’d like to add here that I have been having some carpal tunnel problems lately (mostly because the keyboard is at the wrong height again…will have to fix that!), but a few minutes doing Tonglen relieves the pain admirably.

 

Further update (Monday, June 13, 2005): in the past couple of weeks I’ve also used this method to relieve an annoying tooth problem. I walk every evening for 10 to 15 minutes, and I practice this healing method while I walk, breathing in pain and breathing out healing. It’s an incredibly wonderful practice.

 

Here is some of the feedback I received on this post:

Massage therapy helped my carpel tunnel without surgery too. Due to neck & back problems from a fall from a tree when I was a child, I had been going to the chiropractor 2-3 times a week, then got it down to once a week or less….then realized my Buddhist practice, which includes some tonglen, relieved me of having to go to the chiropractor. I had learned of tonglen practice from reading Pema Chodron. She also has a CD which explains tonglen.

 

I like your version/explanation of tonglen best….. :-)……much more simplified than Pema Chodron’s. However, if someone wants to read/study Pema Chodron’s, I recommend her CD which, for me, was easier to understand than her book. Her book is “Start Where You Are”. The CD, book & daily inspiration cards are in a set titled “The Compassion Box.”

~SB~

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I just wanted to Thank You for this Tonglen Healing. This morning coming in from watering, I slipped on the tile and twisted a muscle in my shoulder blade. I thought, good excuse to go and do the Tonglen Technique. I did, I sat and did the breathing and letting it heal through. I like that you add others into the technique as well. It made me feel real good… The muscle now barley has any little twinge left in it at all. I am just taking it easy and continue to do the breathing. Thanks again and I will definitely add this easy technique to my list of uses!

~J~

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I tried Tonglen once, on my stomach ache, and it really did work!
Thanks for sharing with us that wonderful technique. 🙂

~ASP~