One of our favorite times to meditate is at the gym. This isn’t a formal eyes closed practice, visualizing big muscles or meditating on good form. Rather we have found the gym to provide the perfect forum to send compassionate well-wishes to those around us. We are practicing a version of Tonglen, a classic Buddhist meditation that means ‘giving and receiving’. During Tonglen we compassionately receive or become aware of another’s pain and strife and we lovingly give the intention to be free from this pain with peace in their hearts and joy in their lives. It may seem scary or counterintuitive to intend to take another person’s pain or give of our own good feelings. However, in Eastern thought, any fear about this is coming from our ego and not from love. Love is all powerful in its capacity to heal and transform. It has no limits, no borders and no boundaries. When we act with love we access an infinite source for giving and receiving and life becomes a spiritual practice
Practicing Tonglen has changed our lives. We look at all people with love and feel compassion for any pain or challenges they may endure. We see similarities more than differences and know that just like us, every being wants peace in their lives. This could be the clerk at the grocery store, teller at the bank, family member, friend or person next to us at the gym. It could also be someone who speeds past us on the freeway, cuts in front of us in line, has hurt us in the past or pushes our buttons of sensitivity. We visualize their personal freedom from any pain and the love they are radiating as a result of this freedom. Sometimes the visualizations lend towards seeing people doing their own ‘happy dance’. It is a powerful practice that lets us feel as though we are making a difference in our own world. Feeling helpless to do something positive is at times overwhelming and although we may not be able to stop the wars waging across the globe or heal the hurt people endure every day, we do believe by practicing Tonglen we can make an impact that spreads love all around.
‘This compassionate wish is called Bodhicitta in Sanskrit; bodhi means our enlightened essence, and citta means heart. So we could translate it as “the heart of our enlightened mind.” To awaken and develop the heart of the enlightened mind is to ripen steadily the seed of our buddha nature, that seed that in the end, when our practice of compassion has become perfect and all-embracing, will flower majestically into buddhahood. Bodhicitta, then, is the spring and source and root of the entire spiritual path.’
4 Steps of Tonglen
- Breathe in and acknowledge, just like me this person has experienced pain and strife.
- Breathe out the intention to awaken the hearts of all beings by being compassionately aware of our shared challenges and the desire to be free from them.
- Breathe in and acknowledge, just like me this person wishes to be free of this and experience joy, peace and freedom in their lives.
- Breathe out and wish this person well and that they may have peace in all areas of their lives.
Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness.