The Gift of Tonglen

At times we may feel small, insignificant, and unable to help when people are suffering, or there’s a catastrophe in another part of the world. But there is something we can do.

Tonglen—Tibetan for giving and receiving—is an active practice of loving-kindness; a simple act of compassion that anyone can do. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Sit or lie quietly in your own “inner sanctuary” and imagine someone that you want to help.
  • Inhale the heaviness of their energy. Breathe in the condition, emotion, or suffering of another to make space for healing and comfort within.
  • Exhale whatever you feel will fill them relief. Breathe out hope, strength, joy, peace of mind, love, or ease.
IMG_5139

I took this photograph at the Boise Botanical Garden. In my mind’s eye, this is how I imagine my inner sanctuary.

Tonglen is a soothing and calming meditation that can be done by people of any spiritual tradition, or none at all. It’s a simple, non-denominational practice that acknowledges we’re all connected no matter who we are, or where we come from.

“There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you, and I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.” —John O’Donohue

What does your inner sanctuary look like?

© Laurie Buchanan

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49 thoughts on “The Gift of Tonglen

  1. I believe I have two inner sanctuaries. Although they look a little different from yours, like yours, they both speak of peace, love, and joy: on my patio just beyond my writing studio and a blue chair in my living room where I meditate and talk to God.

    By the way, my Facebook page shows how people can help victims in France, which you allude to in this poignant post.

    Your photos are beyond lovely and show what a good eye you have for perspective and detail.

  2. My sanctuary is a mess most of the time just kidding that was a beautiful post Laurie Happy Thanksgiving to you and Len and Evan . 😘💚💛❌💜

  3. Great subject for contemplation, Laurie. I don’t think I have ever visualized my Inner Space quite in that way before. My time spent with the Master of the Universe is not bounded by my earthly limitations but rather in a space set aside where I can open my heart, mind and Spirit wholly to Him alone without fear of intrusion. Kahlil Gibran said it best (IMO) when he wrote in his essay on Love, ” Say not that God is in my heart, but that I am in the heart of God.”

  4. Just what I needed to find and read.
    For two days my back as been in total stress mode pain for I didn’t know how to hold the space for the effects of what had happened, and the continued insanity of peoples reactions…

    Thank you and bless you!

  5. Laurie we share an appreciation for the Tonglen practice. To me it can be a transformative practice. It takes courage to breathe in the condition, emotion, suffering and then making space for the healing within. The breathing out is the gift to ourselves and others.
    Thank you for sharing it. We certainly need healing in the world. Namaste.

  6. Being still today Dr appointment with lots of tests. Wanting good results. Fasting for 24 hours and wondering if I am listening to one of my toes dying – lots of hip pain. I seem to be feeling much of the worlds pain right now. Need my sanctuary and peace but must go out into 50mph winds and rain instead. World is too much with me.

  7. I’m breathing in this beautiful post–so empowering; so positive.
    I walk my inner sanctuary every day. On Mayne Island, there’s a long, straight road flaked by trees that leads to a friend’s farm. With Bim on a leash walking beside me, it’s a slice of heaven. That’s where my mind goes when I need peace.
    Warm hugs to you, Laurie.

  8. My inner sanctuary is usually amid woodsy trees, with a lot of moss scattered all around. There are also hundreds of ferns glowing in the soft light that shines through the canopy of leaves. I see this sight in my mind’s-eye when I think sanctuary…more so than any manmade building I’ve been in.

  9. I have done that in my yoga group I love it … Thank you for the reminder.
    I suppose because , as you know Laurie , I am away with the fairies I am lucky enough to find santuary in small things , places anything really .
    Right now it’s looking out of my finished , yes , finished kitchen as the rain pours and the wind blows , I can see santuary in my rainbow mug and snug sofa because there is a book I can’t wait to finish …see you later I have very important stuff to do .🙃
    Cherryx

  10. Beautiful post. Your sanctuary is divine. Mine changes within my mind’s eye. Sometimes I’m walking on a sandy beach with the blue expanse of ocean by my side, the sun shimmering over my closed eyes. Other times I’m lying on a green lush hill with a stream nearby, the sounds of happy children mingling with that of the burbling brook, my heart swollen in love.

  11. A deeply moving and resonating post both for the holiday and the troubled times we are living in, and I thank for it Laurie. You have an enviable sanctuary there, certainly a model. I do try, but there is always room for improvement.

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