The key to the tonglen practice is when you feel anything unpleasant, that's the only way that you understand what other people are going through. So when I feel fear, and I don't want to feel this anxiety gnawing at me, instead of asking how to get rid of this feeling—this edgy, uncomfortable, nervy, speedy feeling—instead of how to get rid of it, you breathe in.
You can't be too exact about this—it's kinda more like finger painting. It's very poetic: you're feeling fear, anxiety, you breathe it in. It's like welcoming, opening to it. I've come to use this image: you breathe it into the heart, and there's a sense that the heart expands and expands and expands as wide as it needs to expand in order to hold it or open to it, relax with it. Not reject it is the main thing—it's a path of non-rejection, a path of acceptance.
Tonglen: The Practice of Compassion,
a free 11-minute excerpt from Pema Chödrön's upcoming online course