I take a two-pronged approach to my sacred self-care:
- Core daily routines (morning / evening practices to set me up for a great day and a great sleep)
- Self-care hacks (practices I build into things I’m already doing to infuse even more self-care into my day)
Most folks tell me that they struggle with making time for self-care. That’s why self-care “hacks” are important to me because they enable me to infuse my day with additional self-care without adding more to my “to-do” list or carving additional time.
That’s where TONGLEN comes in. It’s a sacred self-care hack you can practice as you go about your day!
What is TONGLEN?
Tonglen is a Buddhist principle, but you do not have to practice Buddhism to benefit from it. In fact, my version of TONGLEN is a little different than the Buddhist version, and that’s okay too!
The quick & dirty definition = TONGLEN is sending love to other people.
TONGLEN is rooted in the Buddhist concept of Bodhicitta, which is a kinship with the suffering of others. According to Pema Chödrön, “the inability to continue to regard it [suffering] from afar is the discovery of our soft spot.” That discovery is bodhicitta.
Bodhicitta = empathy / compassion
Bodhicitta means awakened or noble heart. It’s the ability to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes, to see outside of your own frame of reference.
For example, I am what new-age types would call an ’empath,’ which means bodhicitta is baked into my DNA. I can viscerally feel others’ pain when I’m around them. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to be around people who are in great physical or emotional pain because I tend to take it on as my own. That comes naturally to me and is both a blessing or a curse. So as an empath, I am well acquainted with bodhicitta.
However, not everyone is. If you want to develop more compassion or empathy, you can learn more about bodhicitta and how to bring more conscious awareness of it into your life.
To cultivate bodhicitta, you can practice tonglen.
Tonglen is the practice of sending and receiving love to other people. It’s designed to awaken bodhicitta, to put us in touch with our genuine noble heart. It’s a practice of taking in pain and sending out pleasure, and therefore it completely turns around our well-established habit of doing just the opposite.
Traditionally, to practice tonglen, you would breathe in the suffering of a group of people (i.e., a person(s) you are thinking about or whom are right in front of you), then on the exhale, send them all the love & blessings you can muster.
If you are an empath like me, you may not find it necessary to breathe in their suffering. I consciously erect that boundary because I can already feel their others’ suffering as my default mode and if I go too deep here, I could find myself curled up in the fetal position! If you’re sensitive, you can skip this step. However, if you’re someone who wants to develop their empathy / compassion muscle, I suggest you DO NOT skip it.
We’re launching From Molly With Love SACRED SELF-CARE CIRCE in January 2020. Sign up here to get more info!
Why (and how to) practice TONGLEN?
I adopted this practice before I knew it had a name.
Earlier this year, I spent a week inpatient at a psychiatric facility. In 2018, I suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, which damaged my frontal lobe. Depression & anxiety are common foes when one hurts their frontal lobe – there’s often no getting around it. Upon my release, I decided to try an experiment. I would send love & blessings to every single person I met and see how it made me feel.
Surprisingly, it made a HUGE difference in my mood almost immediately.
- If I were in a room full of people, I would imagine that room blanketed in a loving, sparkly, white light.
- When I would see another person, I would smile at them and send them a burst of loving energy from my own heart.
- Sometimes, if I was in a rush, I would just think, “Bless you,” when passing people.
- Occasionally, I would dedicate an entire meditation session to the practice of tonglen, especially when I REALLY needed to forgive someone… I’d imagine a loving light coming from my heart directly into theirs.
That’s it! Easy peasy!
These are just some ways I practice tonglen. It can be different depending on the situation or scenario. Very shortly after adopting this practice, I started receiving blessings and good fortune out of nowhere! My mood improved dramatically and I found myself waking up in a more calm & optimistic state in the morning.
Again, I did this without knowing it had a name. I just knew that I felt better when I put good vibes out to other people because of my fundamental belief that we are all connected.
While I personally do not think about physically taking on the others’ suffering, I do recommend doing this if you are a person who is working on how to become more empathetic & compassionate. YMMV – and I recommend that you listen to yourself when putting together your own practice.