How tonglen works

Let Love Rule

As I keep experimenting with the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen this week, I am reminded that taking in the suffering of another will crush me if I do not keep returning to Sourcing myself in a heart of compassion. As I was practicing this weekend, a phrase for loving-kindness meditation came back to mind: “I fill my heart with loving-kindness to dissolve the suffering in me.” After meditating with that phrase and its inward truth for a few minutes I shifted to the second part: “I fill my heart with loving-kindness to dissolve the suffering in ________” (someone else).

When I am able to carve the time, I need a lot more than a few minutes for the practice of filling my heart with loving-kindness. Yet there are times and situations, like when we are staying with our grandson, that the usual schedule is changed and the days start early. The little dude is almost always up and at ’em by 7 am.

So in times when there are not longer periods to practice cultivating the loving-kindness within, the option I choose is to open my heart to the presence of the Great Love in simple moments throughout the day. I work to stay in the present moment, attentive to the little man and his happy smiles and contagious laughter. I keep calling my mind back into the present with a hug or look or touch of a short little man, because the mind often jumps forward into a flood of fears about the future. I have to keep at this work. There is no end to the power and presence of fears, so there must be no end to my practice.

When I take his hand in mine and we stroll together, sometimes racing forward, sometimes balancing on the curb of the street, sometimes imagining we are some of his super-powered action figures, I seek to draw loving-kindness into myself even as I express it toward him. This is an active meditation, it is needed during the act of expression. In those moments the loving-kindness might be sliding out as quickly as it comes in, and that is okay. There will be time later for filling up my inner reservoir.

But I must not wait too long. I must fill my heart with loving-kindness today for the sake of expressing it today. Tomorrow will be another day, and if I miss practicing today I will be starting tomorrow empty.

The gate of heaven is always near, and to be careful not to miss it, I fill my heart with loving-kindness to dissolve the suffering today.

For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through; and of a blog on, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (, adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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