When we have strong feelings like fear or anger or grief or when we are in some kind of pain, it is hard to be kind or patient or to respond to others caringly. As Richard Rohr often says, if we don’t heal and transform our pain and suffering, we will transmit it to others. Making others hurt might give us momentary relief, but it will quickly make our suffering worse as we become further isolated from ourselves, from others and from God. Tonglen is a prayer practice that can help transform our suffering, making us more available for helping heal the suffering of others. We can practice it anywhere and anytime—when waking in the middle of the night, driving the car, walking the dog, in the elevator. One to five minutes can free us to be more present and more connected to God, to others and to ourselves.
In tonglen, we breathe in a particular form of suffering for all who are experiencing it—choosing the area of our own greatest suffering or pain in the moment and breathing it in for all others who are suffering it. Then we breathe out our deep desire for all those others to be released from this particular suffering. This practice can give us space to choose how to respond to others rather than merely reacting out of our own pain in ways that further the pain of the world.