A Meditation Practice to Transform Fear

The Tibetan Buddhist practice known as tonglen can help transmute fear, anger, and other forms of suffering into peace and love. Here’s how master meditation teacher Sally Kempton teaches the practice. This version is focused on fear, but you can substitute another emotion.

  • Begin by breathing into the heart, feeling as though the breath flows directly into it. Then gradually become aware of the area behind your heart. Sense the presence of a divine energy, or Shakti, behind you. Feel that this large, loving, sacred Presence holds you from behind. Breathe into that Presence for a moment or two.
  • Now, visualize the most fearful aspect of yourself sitting in front of you. Feel the fearful feeling. On each inhale, imagine that you’re breathing that fear in through your heart, from the front of the heart to the back of the heart. Then allow that fearful energy to be breathed through the back of your heart into the sacred Presence behind you. Feel or imagine that this Presence takes in fear and breathes out love, peace, and fearlessness into your being. Continue breathing in your own externalized fear, and breathing out the Divine’s love and peace, for several minutes.
  • Next, visualize someone you’re close to—someone whom you sense or know is experiencing fear. Imagine that you’re breathing their fear through your heart, until you sense the Divine Presence that lies behind the heart. From that place, imagine that you’re exhaling the Divine’s love and peace to this person. Repeat this visualization for several minutes.
  • Finally, bring to mind a group of people who are in fear. Breathe their collective fear through your heart and offer it into the divine Presence behind you. Feel that this sacred Presence breathes love and healing back through your heart, and into the hearts of these people. Feel that this is real. 

The key to tonglen, Sally says, is to remember that “you’re using your own heart as a conduit into the Divine; you’re placing the energy of fear in the great mind of the Divine, whom you imagine as a Presence behind your heart. Then you breathe out the love and peace of the Divine.”