Here are the ways to practice Tonglen meditation as taught by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. in Pocketful of Miracles, © 1994, pg. 422-423:
Dr. Borysenko takes us through stages of using Tonglen – starting with self, then using it with a loved one, then using it for a stranger. You can also use it with “someone you hold in judgment” and even extending into areas of the world where there is suffering.
Let’s start with using it for ourselves and for a loved one:
Start this meditation with an open heart. If you need assistance getting into this feeling state, it may help to recall a happy or sacred time you experienced. Perhaps a baby’s smile or laugh; a beautiful place in nature; an animal that is dear to you (either wild or a pet); a moment of beauty (a sunset; waterfall; rainbow; ocean waves breaking over a rocky shore; the view from a mountaintop or a beautiful garden of flowers). As you recall this experience, notice a warm sensation in your heart area and allow this to expand. Breathe in and out gently, allowing yourself to be fully present in the sensation of peace, beauty and love.
When doing Tonglen for yourself, after you have accessed the open heart, you then imagine yourself sitting facing yourself. Observe how you appear in this moment of love and beauty – radiant, peaceful, compassionate. Then become aware that there are pains, illnesses or beliefs that keep you out of touch with this sacred loving being. See that aspect of yourself as the being sitting across from you. Picture all this pain, in whatever form it may take – physical, emotional, mental or spiritual – as a thick, black smoke that surrounds the heart in the picture of yourself sitting across from you. Breathe the dark smoke into your own heart – the loving, compassionate, heart filled with beauty – then exhale, sending the peace, love and happiness into the smoke you are releasing. For me, often the dark smoke becomes light and sparkly, or sometimes even a fireworks-sort of energetic release occurs – but it may be different for you. Perhaps you just receive a “knowing” that the release has happened. At this point, that portion of the black smoke you inhaled has been transmuted into positive. You can then repeat this as many times as you wish (personally I don’t think I’ve ever done more than five times).
When doing this for a loved one, the loved one is the person sitting across from you and you visualize the black smoke around their heart. As you inhale, take in part (or all, if it all comes) of the smoke from around their heart, filling it with the love from yours, then releasing this smoke into Love and Light until it shows you in some way that the darkness is released. Repeat as you wish.
Susan C. Moyer, MSW
Is a sound healer and transformational coach. She has 25+ years experience in using alternate states of consciousness to access deeper healing on all levels: physical, psychological, mental and spiritual.