Tag Archives: tonglen

Staying Awake


Staying awake
long enough
to breathe for my sisters,
my father,
my husband,
the world…
Feeling drowsy, peaceful,
almost nodding off,
but remembering
why I’m here,
why I’m doing this.
Stay awake
a voice says,
and I shake off my fatigue
for a moment longer.
And I realize
awakening is one thing
but staying awake is another.


Fire Meditation


Tonight I sat facing the fire
as I was privileged to do
being born into this culture
and growing up with an education
and having a job and a husband
and a family.
I have a fire to sit in front of,
because I have a home.
I have a home because–
because I am incredibly fortunate.
I practiced tonglen
as I gazed into the fire,
the delicious warmth
seeping into my bones.
I breathed in the delight of this warmth,
and breathed out
imagining that all beings who are cold
might receive this warmth
and enjoy it also.
I pictured a world
where everyone could be warm
and safe
like I am tonight.
I grew drowsy with my good fortune,
the heat lulling me to sleep,
my eyes losing focus
as the flames died into embers.

Watch What Happens


Each breath makes a difference.
Our minds are constantly churning with thought;
why not put them to good use?
Instead of polluting the atmosphere with negativity,
why not breathe positive thoughts into space?
Picture a loved one in front of you.
Picture their face; maybe you say their name.
As you inhale,
imagine taking in their suffering,
whatever it is,
breathe it in to lift it from them.
Take their suffering
into the vast space of your open heart,
larger than the clear blue sky,
where it dissipates
the way clouds dissipate in the sun.
As you exhale,
visualize sending them peace,
health, joy, freedom, confidence.
Send them whatever will help them,
whatever will comfort them.
Keep giving and receiving
on the medium of the breath
and notice how this practice
calms you.
After you’ve worked with
the suffering of others,
look what happens
when you turn toward your own suffering.
You realize that you are not alone.
You realize that suffering is normal
in this real, human life of ups and downs.
You can work with your own suffering,
breathing it into the open space of your heart,
breathing out the antidote to suffering.
Notice how it connects you
with the rest of humanity.
Notice how it’s not the end of the world.
Practice in this way every day.
Watch what happens.

Not Alone


Sitting here, trying to stay awake
I bring my attention back
to the give and take of the breath.
Faces of loved ones, friends, family
appear before me
and for each one in turn
I breathe in their suffering
and send to them peace, joy,
health, ease of well-being.
This practice reminds me
that we all suffer in one way or another.
It shows me how not to fixate
on my little self in the enormity
of this amazing universe.
And then, when I turn my attention
back to my own suffering,
it is with wider eyes
and a heart that remembers,
You are not alone.

Christmas Tonglen Meditation


The children are sleeping,
the presents placed strategically,
our bellies are full,
we lie in our beds warm and safe.
What an enchanted life this is!
On the medium of the breath
I send out the aspiration
that all beings
know safety and comfort,
that all beings be nourished,
that all beings experience the joy
of giving and receiving.
Some of the most important gifts
are the ones we cannot see or touch;
they are felt in the heart.
On the medium of the breath
I send out the aspiration
that all beings be loved
that all beings feel a sense of belonging
that all beings experience
true happiness, true fulfillment.
Breathing in I feel gratitude
breathing out I give thanks.
May all beings experience peace.

Tonglen for Parents and Caregivers


Breathing in the exhaustion
of every other caregiver
who is experiencing this very same fatigue
I’m feeling right now,
breathing out peace, rest, relaxation,
quiet, nourishment.
Breathing in the guilt and shame
of every other person
who was losing their temper
at the very same time I lost mine,
breathing out peace, calm, patience,
stillness, serenity.
Breathing in the regret
of every human being
who wants so much to be good
but often falls short
just like I–
breathing out self-love,
forgiveness, hope, acceptance
the willingness to keep trying.
Breathing in this desire to awaken
felt by every person on this path,
breathing out trust, perseverance,
humor, enthusiasm, support.
We will all one day arrive
at the same destination,
one breath, one step at a time.


I had a really tough day today. Both of my kids are sick and they were very needy and often whiny, demanding, and unkind to me.  They woke me up two nights in a row wanting comfort because they aren’t well–and I certainly did what I could for them–but now I’m feeling sleep deprived, at the very end of my tether. After a day of trying to meet their needs and not getting my own met, I finally lost my temper right at bedtime.  They weren’t cooperating and just going to bed so that I could just go to bed. The guilt and shame erupted within me after my angry outbursts. I finally meditated, barely staying awake because I am so tired, and I was in bed before 8pm. I decided to do a poem about Tonglen in case there is anyone else out there who was in the same boat as me today, whether they were caring for children, elderly, clients, patients, students, animals, colleagues–when you are called to give of yourself and you’re tired, it takes superhuman strength to maintain a positive outlook.  I just want to reassure you that if you lost it today, you’re in good company.  There were many people feeling exactly the same thing as you in the moment of your difficulty.  You are never alone.

The Cooling Waters of Compassion


Breathing in depression,
the feeling of loneliness, of heaviness,
of sadness,
breathing this in for myself and all beings
who are feeling this same way–
Breathing out clarity,
calm, confidence, motivation, joy,
letting this radiate out from me
to heal and bless the world.
Breathing in anger,
feeling hot, amped up, tense,
explosive, out of control,
breathing this in for myself and all beings
who are feeling this same way–
Breathing out peace,
stability, calm, clarity, slowing down,
choosing deliberately,
letting this radiate out from me
to heal and bless the world.
Difficult emotions are not reasons to escape,
to hide, to muffle, to change or to fix–
they are the very reason we practice.
They give us the reason we need
to see how our suffering is not unlike
the suffering of others.
We are linked in our suffering,
and recognizing this, we feel compassion.
When you feel pain,
feel it not only for yourself,
but feel it for all beings who are in pain.
Let your tender heart burst open
to shower an endless stream of compassion
on this world so thirsty,
so thirsty for the cooling waters of compassion.