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Hi - just tried this for the first time and not sure I've got the hang of it. I feel bit overwhelmed by taking in everyone's suffering. I've been practising breathing in the dark cloud of suffering and breathing out brightness and love to the person/people but feel bit overwhelmed by all the emotions. I'm naturally empathetic (bit too much so at times!) and not sure I'm managing this properly. Any tips? Or is this correct? Thank you!


  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    I'm a very empathic person too. We empaths naturally take in the emotions of others, for myself I found that tonglen practice, while helpful, increased this tendency. So I decided to stop tonglen and focus instead on the giving, metta part and then to get the psychological benefits of the taking (reducing self focus) contemplate how interconnected and dependent upon others I am for my life and well being.

    I don't know if this is the advice you'd get from an authentic teacher but its what I've decided to do.

  • I feel metta bhavna might be more appropriate as @person mentions.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Start small with tonglen. You are not meant to consider and take on the suffering of the world the first time you try. Choose a person you love already, and practice with them in mind. I started with my grandmother, whom I loved dearly but we struggled with some issues in our relationship. Because love was already the basis, it was easy to work on. Over time, I expanded it to more challenging people in my personal life. And then continued onward to include our community and eventually the world at large. There are days I cannot take it on. And there are days it is invaluable. But it has, and continues to be, a work in progress. Sometimes it helps to start just with yourself. Or with someone really easy to love whom you have no challenges with, like a child, parents, a best friend, a teacher, whatever. It is a process of learning how to extend the love we have for those most special in our lives, to all of humanity.

    We have a tendency to push away the negative feelings in ourselves. Tonglen is a way to instead face that and turn it around, and then be able to expand it to others. Being an empath is not something to be afraid of. But rather something to embrace. It will allow you to control it better, so that when you are amongst people, you can learn to practice Tonglen when you know someone needs it, without accepting their problems on yourself. You aren't acting like the man in The Green Mile. That is not the point at all.

  • Thank you all. I have been doing loving kindness for some time and find it really useful. First try at tonglen. Think I might have started with a tricky one as focusing really on a close friend whose husband is dying and ended up thinking about grief for everyone. I do need to manage empathy better and not get sucked in so as you said I need to control it a bit better - I'm either full on or run to the hills when I get overwhelmed! Haven't seenThe Green Mile! :) Lots to learn! Thank you all for helping.

  • You have to be quite focussed to ensure not being attached/swamped by tonglen.

    Your empathy is a useful quality but must be tempered by a disciplined mind ... Be safe. Don't suffer. <3

  • i do believe that the practice of Tonglen is to lead us to the understanding of the 'one taste', wherein we find the truth of Dependent Origins, and the innate lack of separation (which we so fondly imagine to not be so).

  • If you wish to weave Tantra into your practice, you need to understand its methodology ...

    Tonglen is considered an advanced visualisation by many schools. Others don't bother with it. Personally I would start working with positive visualisations and develop familiarusation there first.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    I was fed on all this new-agey affirmation literature about always only sending positive thoughts to myself, so the practice of tonglen felt completely counterintuitive to me.
    In fact, I rejected it for a long time before giving it a try.
    I feared that I would swamp in negative energy or that I would be overwhelmed under the suffering of the world.
    But as I began to practice it, I began to feel that it was extremely empowering.
    Sometimes we feel impotent at all the human suffering around us or that comes through the media.
    Taking in someone's burden and sending out our positive energy is a humble contribution that can positively affect the lives of the people we come into contact with or those we hold dear in our meditation.
    Tonglen is as simple as holding in our arms someone we know who is going through a bad patch, listening to someone's problems, giving a word of encouragement.
    I personally find it adds to our peace of mind, rather than subtracting anything from us.

  • smarinosmarino florida Explorer
    edited November 2016

    We do that at my Shambhala center. Or rather, they do it, I just do my usual Zen awareness meditation while everyone else does that, which works great. Afterwards, people sit in a circle and discuss how it went, which is something we never would have done at a Zen center.

    I like the circle thing (reminds me of the 60's), but I see no point in discussing a meditation experience.

    In fact, I've incorporated my not liking all this into my practice. When we do things that we don't want to do and practice mindfulness while it's going on, then, strangely enough, it doesn't bother us anymore.

    I don't like it, the whole tonglen thing, but that's just me. Not sure why. On some level it feels phony, and yes, new agey, which is how some of the Shambhala stuff feels. I have tried to do it, but every time my mind goes naturally back to my breath, and that's where I keep my focus. It's just how it is.

    I made my peace w/ all that by limiting my activities and concentrating on what always worked well in my Zen practice, along with the recent addition of mindfulness, which has really helped. In many ways we compliment each other in the sangha. A few of us are more of our own "boss", while others like to please the teachers. It balances out.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    One of our sangha members is a lady who has decades of experience studying the Tao. We practiced Tonglen as a group last weekend and she said for her, Tonglen is like a pivot point. Where you don't have to take on the energy, but more so recognize that you have the opportunity to take something negative and change it into something positive and put it back out there. So many people view it like the guy in the Green Mile where they are taking on the suffering of the world. But it's more so about seeing the chance to make something better. That doesn't mean there is magic involved. But it changes how you react. It changes how you experience things, and what you give back to any situation. And that is how the world changes.

    It can change your view immediately. I used to have a very difficult relationship with my grandma (who passed on a year ago) and I'd go over there just dreading the things she wanted me to do. But I would focus on tonglen as a way to change how I felt, and it worked wonders. For my perception of her suffering in old age, and for her reception of what I had to offer even if it wasn't always exactly what she wanted.

  • I find it difficult to breathe in other's pain. Happy to experience my own but I find it difficult to concentrate with taking in other's pain. Something to explore I guess.

  • @Tiddlywinds said:
    I find it difficult to breathe in other's pain.

    All we ever experience, no matter how sensitive and empathic is

    our pain/dukkha

    Who knew? :3

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @lobster said:

    @Tiddlywinds said:
    I find it difficult to breathe in other's pain.

    All we ever experience, no matter how sensitive and empathic is

    our pain/dukkha

    Who knew? :3

    An interesting contrast with the new age, who say what is universal is love. Personally, I find that if you tend your suffering, what is revealed underneath is bliss and love.

  • You are right @Kerome :)

    There are different ways to practice tonglen type practices, right up to and beyond the emptiness of bliss and love ...


    • Russian Doll tonglen, develop the positive metta self, then allow it to 'moult' as a shed skin, Russian wooden doll as a dana for others, other realms ... Keep revealing new Buddhas, more doll layers ...
    • Connect to, visualise, feel a body of light, pulse it outward. Did that formally yesterday.
    • Accept the good will, benevolent 'lineage blessings' of The Path. Resonate, increase the amplitude ... radiate ...
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