A Beautiful Practice of Compassion


When I first read about Tonglen practice in one of Pema Chodron’s books, I knew it was something I wanted to begin practicing. Like many things I read about, I tucked the thought away in the back of my mind with great intentions of beginning “very soon.” :)

Well, needless to say, I let that one go with all the others that get shoved somewhere in there to be sorted through “someday.”

This morning, I read the Rumi quote above and remembered that sacred intention of Tonglen practice.

Here is what Pema Chodron says about this powerful practice:

In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.

In particular, to care about other people who are fearful, angry, jealous, overpowered by addictions of all kinds, arrogant, proud, miserly, selfish, mean —you name it— to have compassion and to care for these people, means not to run from the pain of finding these things in ourselves. In fact, one’s whole attitude toward pain can change. Instead of fending it off and hiding from it, one could open one’s heart and allow oneself to feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify us and make us far more loving and kind.

The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be.  (Read more of her words about Tonglen here.)

I’m very used to the practice of breathing in love, light, and healing energy and breathing out all that doesn’t serve me, perhaps the blocks that have been stored within. I love the idea of breathing in the suffering and pain around us and within us, and breathing out love, compassion, and understanding.

At first it feels a bit strange. “Why would I want to take on all that suffering? Don’t I absorb enough already?” Then, after practicing just once, I realized that with the process of breathing in and breathing out, a powerful transformation takes place. The energy of suffering shifts and becomes love. Could that be because Love is all there really is? It puts things in a completely different perspective!

Sometimes, seeing and feeling the suffering around us can be overwhelming. We don’t know what we can do to help. Sitting in stillness, breathing in the suffering, and breathing out love seems so simple, and it is. It’s also extremely profound in how it opens things, shifts energy, and provides a remarkable feeling of connection, compassion, and Universal love.

Today, as I sit on the long train ride to Oregon, I will set the intention to practice Tonglen, and feel the difference it makes. What better way than on a metal tube filled with people, darting through the countryside? :)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline White January 20, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Wow Alia…that is an interesting concept. I know I have done the “breathing in” bit before…taking in others pain (& at times holding on to it for too long!) but maybe the breathing out of love and compassion is the key here.

I think I need to read & meditate on this one a bit more. Thanks for sharing this

xo Caroline


Alia January 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

It’s such a powerful practice, Caroline. I think you’re going to love it! Sending you love.


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