Recently I learned about the Tibetan word tonglen. It refers to a meditation practice in Tibetan Buddhism and roughly translates to “giving and receiving.” The concept is that we visualize with every inhale taking in the suffering of others, and with the exhale sending out love and healing to them.
My initial response to that idea went something like this: “I’m not going to take in anyone else’s trouble! I have enough of that on my own. Why would I want to poison myself with more negativity? Sure, bringing relief to others is nice, but if it comes at the cost of my own well-being, what good will I be to others at the end of this process?” The image I had in mind was a filter cartridge: it purifies the water but gets more and more dirty until it needs to be discarded. That didn’t seem like a great way to live.
Of course I soon found out that the tonglen meditation does not come from this zero-sum paradigm. Instead, we use the pain to grow our spiritual heart; in fact, our spiritual development depends on taking on other people’s distress. The word compassion comes from the Latin cum (with) and passion (suffering). Through suffering with others we are healed and redeemed.
Here are some songs for the month of June: