Releasing the Old, Welcoming the New: Tonglen for the New Year

By Beth O'Hara - January 2012

January often feels like a relief after the frenzy and expectations that accompany the holidays. November and December are a time when stress runs high for many, reactivity can be easily triggered, and feelings quickly hurt. It can be heavy seeing the suffering of the world in those we know and love, in ourselves, and even in strangers.

Being present to the suffering allows compassion to arise. Staying mired in the suffering however, blocks the experience of the joy, light, and beauty that is also in the world.  It is essential to release the suffering to welcome whatever the next moment brings. As we move into the New Year, Tonglen practice can be very helpful to release the old and welcome the new.

Pema Chodron describes Tonglen as a Buddhist meditation practice of transforming suffering into compassion through the breath. Through Tonglen, old energy is released and creates space for new experiences, new adventures, and renewed connections with those we love, with ourselves, and with humanity as a whole.

Tonglen practice is fairly simple. Sit comfortably in a quiet space and be aware of the flow of your breath. Begin with Tonglen for yourself. Visualize any physical, emotional, or mental suffering you are experiencing as a dense, hot, sooty energy. Inhale this heavy, dark energy and imagine that your whole body is a filter cleansing the energy as you breathe it in. The energy is transformed into cool, light, healing breath. Exhale that purified energy out to your entire body. Breathe several cycles until you are ready to move on.

Next, visualize someone who you care about who is hurting, and who you would like to help. In the same manner as before, breathe in the dense, hot, sooty energy of their suffering and exhale cool, light, healing breath. Continue this breath for several cycles.

If your own pain arises, you can return to doing Tonglen for yourself. There is no need to judge anything that is arising. There is no need to get rid of any feelings, thoughts, or sensations. Simply allow the experiences to arise and breathe.

You can also expand your Tonglen practice for the whole world and everyone who is feeling just like you in this moment. You can breathe in all the anger, sadness, vengefulness, pride, anxiety, judgment (or any other pain) that you and millions of other people on the planet are experiencing, and then exhale healing breath for yourself and for all people. In this way, you can be aware of your common humanity, feeling compassion for yourself and all the many others who share the same feelings.

You can practice Tonglen for anyone at any time – the homeless person, the crying child, the sick person, the dying person, yourself. Close your Tonglen practice with a few more rounds of breath for yourself and with appreciation for your ability to be present. May you experience the fullness of life and the connection of our shared humanity.

comments powered by Disqus
Website design, development, and content tools from NetCrafters - Cincinnati, OH