The Most Transformative Technique for Love and Compassion

Guess what? I know what 80% of you are going to think once you read this post, which describes one of the most powerful meditations that I’ve ever come across.

“Ooh! Yes, this is a fantastic idea, and it will be awesome for me! I’ll have to try it sometime.” Or maybe – “Aww… what happened to him? Meditation, now?”

And boom it goes into the back of your head, and you’ll never get around to practicing. Am I right? This is a common tendency. I know I suffer from it a lot. And I can think of anything to overcome it – so I’ll let my friend prove my point.

The stereotypical cynical friend

My friend was no stranger to Self-Help and Personal Development. In fact, we had worked on developing self-esteem together in the early days. He knew the root of self-esteem was acceptance and compassion.

At the same time, he was a big cynic – he refused to go near anything that smacked of spirituality or religion. He was also a man who was cut off from his emotions.

And yet this meditation made him weep.

He had been feeling depressed and angry about his life. His finances were down, he wasn’t reaching his goals, he had a lot he hadn’t forgiven himself for, he felt needy, he hated his father, and despite being a smart and handsome young man, he wasn’t getting much luck with the ladies. He had begun to hate himself as a result. He felt worthless, and felt there was something fundamentally wrong with him and this was after more than a year of self-esteem work.

After a long chat, we figured out that what he really needed. The root of much of his pains and troubles was the lack of self-compassion, love and acceptance. So I introduced him to this meditation.

This was a few days ago, and already the changes are drastic. He wept many times along the way, bringing healing to the sorrow and pain deep inside him. His self-esteem is on the rise; his clinginess was dropping. His mood has lifted considerably, and he talks about the power of this meditation constantly.

Other benefits of this meditation

This is my own take on a Buddhist meditation named Tonglen. It literally means “giving and taking”. It transforms your pain, as well as others’, into love. It softens the heart, brings forgiveness for yourself and others, and after a while (for me at least) makes you feel completely blissed out.

It is a common complaint that modern psychology has always focused on what was wrong with the mind. It focuses on the negative and never tries to develop the positive, although this trend is starting to change. Therefore, people often have to turn to an older mind-science – in my case, Buddhism – for cultivating the positive. This meditation is one of the most powerful available for cultivating compassion, which is said to be the most positive emotion possible. That’s how powerful this is.

For those of you who’ve read the emotional mastery series, this is the start of the next step – building positive emotions. You didn’t really think that was the end of it, did you?

This is a good practice even if you haven’t fully cleared out your negative emotions. In fact, the old series cleared out 80% of my pain and this cleared out the rest. You’ll find the first step is similar to what we’ve been discussing in that series. This technique softens a heart made hardened by pain and hatred. As Lama Surya Das says in Awakening The Buddha Within, we’ve hardened our hearts with anger, sheltered it with sorrow, and covered it with armour and a hard shell. This leaves us cut off from the compassion and joy of life.

And it is no metaphor too. In working with my physical sensations, I could feel a softening of the tightness and heat around my chest – and these are sensations that I have associated with suffering all my life.

For those of you on the spiritual path, this dissolves ill-will one of the five hindrances to inner peace. It’s removed a significant portion of my compulsive thinking already. Also, realise that the ego is built on separation, self-protection, and hatred. Dissolve ill-will, and the ego goes with it.

For those of you who use positive affirmations to build character and manifest via that little law everyone’s talking about (I still refuse to call it by name), remember that you have to charge your thoughts and affirmations with emotions. And again, love is the strongest emotion possible. Clearing out negativity is also a necessary step in manifestation. If you’re interested in more on manifestation, the best book I’ve come across yet for this is The Master Key System. The system described in that book takes real work, and is not feel-good fluff.

Beginning Tonglen

Let’s get started. It helps to treat this as a form of meditation, so let’s prepare for it in that way.

  1. Relax your muscles.
  2. Keep a straight spine.
  3. Wear a hint of a smile on your face.
  4. Wear a big smile in your heart.
  5. If your emotions are strongly negative, consider purging them first.

The first step after preparation is the practice of loving yourself. This is a common misconception in developing unconditional love – some people turn into self-sacrificing martyrs. Whether that is right or wrong is outside the scope of this article – I’ll discuss it next time, so for now let’s take it step by step. When you are generating compassion and love for all beings in the universe, you have to remember that you are also a being in the universe. For now, ignore the stories of the self-sacrificing masters found in many of the world’s religions.

The first step: Love and compassion for yourself

Let’s begin! Simply imagine there are two parts to yourself. One is wise, loving , strong, and compassionate. The other part needs the love and compassion. Imagine the wise part sending all the love and compassion to the weak part of yourself.

And that’s the entire first step. Please give that a shot now.

I left the description vague because different things work for different people. Some might prefer visualisations. Some, like me, might prefer to work with pure feelings alone. The traditional method is to imagine breathing in dark energy, transforming it inside your body, and breathing it out as light.

Another helpful variation is to use statements. May I be well, May I be happy, may I be free of suffering.

If it doesn’t work, don’t worry. My friend couldn’t imagine it either. Besides being cut off from his emotions, he was also spiritually cynical. His scientific mind needed concrete techniques and tools. So, if this description gets through to that zombie, it should work for you too.

Please save it for when you can’t get the first step working naturally. If you can, skip this part.

The first step for emotional zombies

First I asked him to hold out his palm. I asked him to create a ball of loving emotions in it. Despite not being able to work up loving feelings internally, he managed to work out a ball of warm, loving fire into his palms.

Next I asked him to expand the ball as big as he could, and raise it up so it was like a miniature sun in his room, right in front of him. He felt a lot of resistance to expanding the ball, so I asked him to imagine him streaming love to it from his heart. (I know this sounds woo-woo, but please bear with me here. You know I don’t give out stuff that doesn’t work – besides it’s just a visualisation.)

At this point he began to feel fear. It has been a long time since he felt any love from anybody, and the thought of it made him weep. It stunned me to think that anyone would be so cut off from love, even from within himself. Even worse was that he was afraid of love – surely one of the most painful ways to live!

I asked him to imagine that he was relaxing, having a picnic on a hill. His ball of love was the sun, but instead of sending light it was sending love. He was lying on a blanket, soaking up the sun’s rays.

We all have physical sensations associated with our suffering. My old pains and memories felt like tightness, heat, and sometimes a feeling of nausea around my chest, neck and face. My friend had a sinking feeling of despair.

When I did it, I let the sun shine on my tightness until the sensations went away. I was careful, of course, not to push or penetrate my feelings – that would be denial or repression. The first time I did it, it took two hours until I felt peace.

My friend, too, said that it gave him a peace he hasn’t felt since childhood.

Deepening the first step

You can deepen this first step by mentally bringing up anything in your life that causes you suffering. This can be as minor as a nasty look a stranger gave you a year ago, if you still remember it. Let it bring up all the sorrow you can handle. Bring it up to the surface to be healed by the love.

You can use the three modalities of emotional mastery here to heal it. This one uses the Love modality, but if you prefer, you can use some of the other modalities that you have already been using.

You can also think of anybody you hate, dislike, or have any problems with at all – big or small. Let it all arise to be healed.

Then, you can also bring up any situations that don’t involve people. My friend, for example, was feeling down about his financial situation and a few failed job interviews. These can also bring up sensations or thoughts for you to love and heal.

And that’s the end of the first step. This in itself can take hours or days. Take all the time you need. Once you feel a sense of peace, love, or release – or that there is nothing left to heal, move on to the next step.

At this stage, I should say that it is normal for these sensations to come back. It is rare for one sitting to heal them completely. The same also applies if new memories have arisen – they’ve come to the surface for you to heal! Therefore, make sure you don’t skip any of the steps for subsequent sittings.

Preparing for the next phase

Before we move on to the next steps, I want you to understand something.

When you hate someone, who are you hating? When you swear at someone mentally or think of your unhappy life, who are you hating? When you think of someone swearing at you, replaying an old insult or injury, who is really hating who?

Do you think anyone you hate can feel your hatred? Even if you sometimes get to see (and yell at) them in real life, the rest of the time it’s all inside you. It’s all a part of your mental scape. You are not hating him or her, you’re hating a mental image. And where is that mental image held? Your own mind!

Can you see why hatred for anyone is actually hatred against yourself? You are cutting off a part of your own mind-stuff, putting a mask of the person you hate on it, and abusing that every time you think badly of someone. Who is the real recipient of all that hate?

Please think deeply on this. There are many schools of thought or philosophies out there. Some say we are all interconnected. Others say we are all one. This is not part of those philosophies. This is basic common sense, and yet one that somehow we have all forgotten. Even if you are the most cynical and scientifically minded person alive, can you see the truth in this?

And on that logic when you are healing and loving them, who are you really loving and healing?

With that said, let’s move on to the next step of the meditation.

Step Two: The pain from people you have difficulties with

Think of any one you might have difficulties with. Some of these jump to mind immediately – enemies and people who have hurt us or harmed us in some way.

Some, on the other hand, are not so obvious. My friend has often mentioned a young woman that he liked, but rejected him when he expressed his feelings. I asked my friend to start with her, and he couldn’t understand why. Despite the rejection, he said, he still had feelings for her and liked her a lot.

“The fact remains,” I said “that she hurt you, did she not? Not intentionally, and you are still good friends. But by rejecting you when you opened your heart, she still hurt you.”

So: Think of anyone who has hurt you in any way, big or small. Bring up the pain. Let the love shine on it and heal it. Take as long as you need, until it is gone, and you feel a sense of relief.

Step Three: The pain of people you have difficulties with

This is the beginning of altruism. You have healed the pain they have caused you. Now it is time to take their pain and heal it. Imagine their suffering, and take it into yourself.

Again, I kept that description vague. Please use whatever works for you. I work on pure feelings, and this step brings up the same physical sensations of tightness and heat that my own pains cause. My friend imagined a black steam of energy hitting his body. This caused the sinking feeling that reminded him of his personal pains. What is your meditation like? It can be something completely different. It might even be a mental statement.

Now, shine the love on to that pain and heal it. Do this until you feel a sense of relief.

Step Four: Healing the people you have difficulties with

This is the most powerful part of the meditation. It might be tempting to skip this part when you have done the previous steps, but this is by far the most transformative.

Imagine that you are sending your love and compassion to the people you have difficulties with. Give them your love and compassion. You’ve taken away their pain; now send them love so they can feel happy too.

Another helpful variation is to use statements, as mentioned. May you be well, May you be happy, may you be free of suffering. Try to imagine them smiling and happy, until it feels genuine.

If any of this is leaving you feeling drained, simply shine the light on yourself until you feel recharged. Make sure you have enough in your bank before you start giving out.

Certain circles believe the more love you give the stronger your own love becomes. It is the opposite of giving in the physical world. Work that into your meditation, if you can. Feel your love and light getting stronger as you send it out instead of decreasing.

Again, take all the time you need, and do this until you feel a sense of relief and peace from your mental image of them.

Step Five: The other people in your life

There are many more steps to this, but I’ll keep it brief.

Simply repeat Steps Two to Four for each person that you have difficulties with.

Once you have done that, move on to a neutral person. The man who sold you your newspaper yesterday, perhaps. The woman at your local burger shop. Just pick one of them at random. Obviously you don’t have to imagine every neutral person in your life. At this stage I find it faster to work with the entire group.

The next circle of people to move on to is your friends. Again, you can choose to do this as a group or as individuals. The latter is recommended if any of them are having troubles.

Next, move on to your family and loved ones. Again, group or individual?

Step Six: The entire universe

Finally, expand the group so it covers every sentient creature alive – or even the rocks and the trees if you wish! There’s no limit to this meditation. Remember that it is all part of your own mental scape.

Step Seven: True compassion

In the traditional teachings, they teach this in the opposite manner. You begin with your loved ones and work your way outwards towards your enemies. Still, we live in a fast-fix culture, and I’m an impatient man – so I work with the difficult people first.

But there is a good reason for the way they teach it. Therefore, I recommend that once you have a couple of days experience, reverse the order. Start with yourself first (always), then move out towards loved ones, then friends, and so on. Expand your circle of love until it encompasses all creation.

Why? Because it builds truer compassion. When you can send the same love to your most loved person in the world AND your enemy, you know you’re doing it right.

I know I sold you on the personal benefits of this meditation. But after a while, you’ll want to be doing it for the sake of true altruism, for that is the true purpose of this meditation – and its true power.

The perfect circle of compassion

An important note here: At some point in your meditation you might think of someone you really hate. Then suddenly you feel the urge to skip over him or her. You might balk at the idea of healing their pain, or letting them have some of your joy.

At this point, let me retell a story. A meditator asked his master once (or it might have been the Buddha himself, I can’t remember) – “Master, I can encompass all beings in my compassion. Every sentient being in the universe, even the rocks and the trees; there is none I do not feel love for. But there is one man, my neighbour, whom I cannot love for he hurt me too much. Can I exclude him?”

The Buddha’s answer was: “If that is the case, drop compassion for everyone and everything, and focus all your compassion on him.”

What does that mean? Think of a circle. The moment there is a little bend in the shape, or a break in the line, it is no longer a circle. By its very nature, it has to be perfect. It is the same with compassion – anything less than total completion is not the real thing.

Personal experiences

For me, after I get through these stages – or when I’m nearing the end of healing my enemies, I begin to almost overflow with love. The spiritual teachers say loving others can only begin when you fill yourself up with so much love that you begin to overflow. I always thought it was a metaphor, but now I’m starting to doubt it. It is a real physical sensation.

This is the true power of this meditation after a while you fill yourself up with so much love that you become truly compassionate. You start out doing it for selfish reasons. Then one day your love is so overwhelming that the cup overflows and it begins to spread to other people and to other parts of your life. You become genuinely happy, loving, and altruistic. Replacing self-concern with concern for others refines your spiritual journey. Please note that this happens as a natural result. Please don’t try to force it or skip to this level by willing it to happen – that is possibly fake compassion, and even worse, possibly unhealthy. I’ll explain in the future.

I used to keep up this practice for hours, if I have time, even after I have done all the healing work. I simply return to shining love on myself. It is one of the most blissful and peaceful feelings I ever had.

Even the stone-cold cynic I call my good friend is spending all his free time on this meditation after he’s felt its power. It’s bringing about rapid changes in his relationships with his family, his joy, and even the vibes I get from him when I talk to him.

Warnings and Follow-ups

I don’t know if I need this warning here. Hopefully you’re not a cynical little %@^@$ like my friend. After feeling its healing power, he began using it as some sort of surgical operation!

This defeats the true purpose and spirit of this meditation. Please, have fun and be gentle with it. It’s a soft healing influence, not a hard medical procedure.

What’s next?

This is the beginning of a series on love and compassion, so please give meditation a shot. Some of the other posts I have planned might not make sense otherwise. It’s just like science class – all theory and no practical application is useless. The other posts in this series will cover the more theoretical aspects, as well as more psychological mind-training techniques for those of you who dislike meditation.

Link Love

The past few articles have a strong Buddhist influence. The debate still rages – is it a religion, a philosophy, or a system of psychology? It doesn’t matter – all I know is that it works. For anyone who’s interested in Buddhism, then, please have a look at The Middle Way. It’s run by one of the closest friends I’ve made in the blog world, Wade Millican. The blog is not just on Buddhism, but also on psychology, philosophy, and other such wonderful stuff. His style is short and to the point – definitely something for those of you who are sick of my long rambling articles. He provides insights, videos, and links on a wide variety of topics, and is worth a read.