- Tonglen meditation practice means "taking in and sending out." In Start Where You Are, Buddhist nun Pema Chodron describes it as a way to "let ourselves feel what it is to be human" and by doing so to "widen our circle of compassion." In the first stage of the practice, you rest in a state of openness or stillness. In the second, you work with texture through breath awareness, visualizing that you are breathing in dark, heavy, and hot (claustrophobia or fixation) and breathing out white, light, and cool (spaciousness, freshness) through every pore in your body. The third stage works with a specific instance that you are aware of. You breathe in the pain of a person, animal, or a distress you are personally feeling, and you breathe out something to relieve the pain —a good meal, kindness, confidence.
In the fourth stage, you breathe in the pain of all those suffering like the one you have just cared for — all hungry people, all hurting animals in the world, all those feeling inadequate. You breathe out whatever will lighten their load. Chodron advises always working both with the immediate suffering of one being and with universal suffering of all. In this way, your practice is both heartfelt and visionary.
- Create a Compassion Collage. Gather pictures of people, places, and things for which you feel compassion. You may take photos yourself, cut them out of magazines and newspapers, copy them from books, or find them in the direct mail appeals from service organizations. Look for strong pictures to which you have an emotional response, no matter how painful. Include examples of the suffering of animals, nature, and things. Add words or symbols to represent others areas of concern — "Earthquake" to remind you to feel compassion for victims of natural disasters, "Incest" to recall those suffering from sexual abuse, "Prison" for political prisoners and those who have committed crimes, "Garbage" to note the suffering caused by wasteful consumption. Leave one area of your collage blank for what has not yet touched your compassionate heart. Keep your collage in a place where you can contemplate it at least once every day. One or more images may become the focus of prayer or a catalyst for tonglen meditation described above.
Other Spiritual Exercises
- In When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, Ayya Khema offers a metta meditation for the practice of loving-kindness.
- Thich Nhat Hanh writes about a compassion practice that can be used at the dinner table.
- Sharon Salzberg shares a practice of guerilla compassion.
- Rabbi Terry Bookman suggests a compassion practice that can be used anywhere.
- Judy Carman demonstrates a brief spiritual exercise of compassion.
- Rabbi Rami Shapiro outlines a process of inquiry that includes an accounting of the soul on being compassionate.
- Jean Smith presents a Buddhist aspiration practice on compassion.
- Marc Ian Barasch shares an experience of being compassionate with a cashier.
More Spiritual Practices about Compassion