Tonglen meditation is a tool used to find that heart expansion. When you feel suffering in your own situation, you use your in-breath to take in the suffering of others, especially those who are going through the same challenges as you are— be it physical pain, emotional anguish, debilitating heartbreak, unexpected death, etc. Then you use your out-breath to send out relief and comfort and love. It may feel counterintuitive to take on the suffering of others when we are already feeling so much of it ourselves, but the miracle that happens is that in so practicing, we become connected to our shared human condition. And then we remove our attachment to our storylines— Why did this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? Is it always going to be this way?
We realize what happened to us is not the world punishing us, but the way of living as a human being in this complicated world. And then we don’t have to take things so personally. And then we don’t feel as much suffering. And then we realize we have so much to draw from deep within that we are capable even of wishing others relief when we ourselves are in the midst of the difficulty of it all.
It takes practice. Maybe in the beginning we are only able to draw from that place for one second, and we are miserable the rest of the day. But in time, those spaces of freedom become wider and wider. Eventually, through consistent practice, it becomes our natural state. That then is absolute freedom. It is liberation.