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.
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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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