Inspiration: 27 Vital Aspects of Breath

    —
July 17, 2019

Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach

Have you ever paused to consider how amazing your breath is? Here’s a list of some inspirational aspects of breath. (The word inspiration itself means to breathe.) Some might already be familiar to you. You may feel drawn to appreciate some more than others. Devoting close attention to any one will lead to all the others. It’s all there – in a breath.

 

1  Present-ness

My mind wanders. My thoughts drift off. Sometimes, I could drown in regret, lost reviewing the past. Meanwhile, my breath is always precisely in the present moment.

2  Happiness

When we drop our worries and hurries, we can fully connect with our aliveness. Breathing with this joy on our lips, we learn a deeper, more enduring happiness. It’s our birthright. Conscious breathing can be a great relief, having nothing else to do but be – and a reminder there are enough simple reasons for happiness in this present moment.

3  Leadership

I’m a follower of my breath. Following my breath can tell me volumes about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking; where I am and where I need to go in my life. When I notice my mind has wandered – I simply draw attention back to my breath.

4  Constant Companion

Since my birth, no one and no thing has been as close to me, without fail, rain or shine, as my breath. No sensation has been as familiar to me. When I follow my breath, I feel myself coming home, where I’ve always belonged.

5  Best Friendship

Ultimately, no one may love me as much as I do. To remain faithful to my part of the relationship, I pay utmost attention to my breath. Sometimes, I need to take time for us to get to know each other better.

6  Relational

I say, “my breath,” but I could b breathing in your out-breath. The simple implication of breath’s merging of within and around can dramatically shift my perspective.

7  Inspirational

We have many muses in our creative life. They may take the form of rituals, people, or substances. My primary inspiration is breath.

8  Nature
Through my breath, I observe my connection to Nature and her processes. The in-and-out of breath mirrors the natural cycles – the tides, the sun and moon, life and death.

9  Slowness

Nature reminds me to slow down, since my observation reveals how slowness tends to predominate our surroundings. Paying attention to breathing, it tends to deepen and slow, of its own, naturally. Living in a culture addicted to an ever-accelerating pace, slowness can feel like salvation.

10 Calm

Paying attention to breath allows it become as deep as it wishes to be. When I feel my belly soften and breath grow deep, my vestigial instincts of flight-fright-or-fight have gone away: less stress! I am aware of how calm I feel.

11  Solidity

Without calm, my strength can dissipate, disperse, and scatter. Without calm, I cannot engage in gentle inquiry into the nature of self and reality. My reserve of calm assures my presence has solidity, even in emergency. I can show up, and be present when I show up.

12  Silent

Paying attention, I notice breath is slower than thought. Nor does it obey the restrictive patterns of verbal language. I pay close attention to each quiet breath, from beginning, middle, and end – and with a blank space, in between. This silence is not blind.

13  Anonymity

My breath is totally unconcerned whether or not I am up with latest fashion, or what I look like. I don’t need to cultivate an identity. Breath accepts as I am. In that complete acceptance, I could be nobody – or anybody. This is anonymity is a passport to the undomesticated world of the wild.

14  Impermanence

Breath is a living example of the impermanence of all things – a reminder of the importance of flow. You can never breathe the same breath twice.

15  Focus of Awareness

Meditating, I could focus on sound, which is also ever-present, but I like breath best.

16  Emotional Self-Regulation

Being intimate with how a breath arises, manifests, then falls away is a transferable skill, applicable to emotions and thoughts. These too arise, take form, and pass. Besides my recognizing they’re impermanent, it’s great to also be able to catch negative thought forms and destructive feelings at their inception – before they’ve pulled us along by the nose – learning to step away from their pull on us, understand them, and heal and transform their energies.

17  Direct

Breath isn’t symbolic nor abstract. There’s no need to look behind breath, searching for hidden meaning. Beyond anyone else’s words or labels, connecting with breath is to see for one’s self, through direct experience.

18  Intentionality

Wanting to change my behavior – my thoughts, my words, and my deeds – conscious breathing is wonderful training. To be conscious of just one breath immediately sets intention into motion. Conscious breath provides a space where I can consider how to respond, rather than react.

19  Universal

Like the wind that encircles the planet, breath is everywhere. It knows no religious denominations, national boundaries, ethnic differences, or social classes. Languages vary but they all tend to point to the vital connection to life of breath.

20  Vital

Mindful of breath, I return my attention to the fountain of life. Dead people don’t breathe. Many languages equate our personal breath with a connection to something greater than ourselves.

21  Centering

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once likened breath to a hinge between mind and body. In present-moment awareness of breath, my body and mind find each other. In the vital spaciousness of breath, body mind spirit can align as one.

22  Interconnection

Scientists tell me my breath nourishes the green world of vegetation, and vegetation nourishes my breath. I know, first-hand, such interdependent interconnection of all things through my breath. I can feel how body conditions mind … mind conditions body … breath conditions both.

23  Letting Go

Breathing out teaches me a central lesson: letting go. I can’t breathe in without breathing out.

24  Ineffable

Breath is invisible. It has no color, no shape. It’s invisible. Breath – like mind, like life – is ineffable.

25  Selflessness

Breathing out, I let my exhalation simply fall away from my body, as if as far as to the horizon. Then I wait. I am as still as a hunter waiting for a deer. I don’t summon it, nor try to will it into existence. My next breath comes, nevertheless. As if of itself. Without fixed identity, lacking any separateness, empty of ownership. In this, it is perfectly open to anything and everything, as limitless as a big clear sky. Selfless.

26  Prayer

Mindful breathing can be a form of prayer.

27  Engaged

Breath can’t be confined to a monastery. It’s actively engaged in the world.

 

Gary GachGary Gach hosts Zen Mindfulness Fellowship weekly in San Francisco, since 2009. He’s author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism and editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop. His most recent book is PAUSE   BREATHE   SMILE ~ Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. This brings mindfulness full-circle, back to its roots as a spiritual as well as secular path for complete awakening. It’s available in both paperback and as an audio book. His work has also appeared in over 150 periodicals and a couple dozen anthologies, including The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Huffington Post, In These Times, Language for a New Century, The Nation, The New Yorker, Technicians of the Sacred, and Yoga Journal.  More info : GaryGach.com.

 

Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach

Buy your copy of PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Gach.

 

Author Info for Gary Gach Coming Soon

Also By Author

Inspiration: 27 Vital Aspects of Breath

Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach

Have you ever paused to consider how amazing your breath is? Here’s a list of some inspirational aspects of breath. (The word inspiration itself means to breathe.) Some might already be familiar to you. You may feel drawn to appreciate some more than others. Devoting close attention to any one will lead to all the others. It’s all there – in a breath.

 

1  Present-ness

My mind wanders. My thoughts drift off. Sometimes, I could drown in regret, lost reviewing the past. Meanwhile, my breath is always precisely in the present moment.

2  Happiness

When we drop our worries and hurries, we can fully connect with our aliveness. Breathing with this joy on our lips, we learn a deeper, more enduring happiness. It’s our birthright. Conscious breathing can be a great relief, having nothing else to do but be – and a reminder there are enough simple reasons for happiness in this present moment.

3  Leadership

I’m a follower of my breath. Following my breath can tell me volumes about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking; where I am and where I need to go in my life. When I notice my mind has wandered – I simply draw attention back to my breath.

4  Constant Companion

Since my birth, no one and no thing has been as close to me, without fail, rain or shine, as my breath. No sensation has been as familiar to me. When I follow my breath, I feel myself coming home, where I’ve always belonged.

5  Best Friendship

Ultimately, no one may love me as much as I do. To remain faithful to my part of the relationship, I pay utmost attention to my breath. Sometimes, I need to take time for us to get to know each other better.

6  Relational

I say, “my breath,” but I could b breathing in your out-breath. The simple implication of breath’s merging of within and around can dramatically shift my perspective.

7  Inspirational

We have many muses in our creative life. They may take the form of rituals, people, or substances. My primary inspiration is breath.

8  Nature
Through my breath, I observe my connection to Nature and her processes. The in-and-out of breath mirrors the natural cycles – the tides, the sun and moon, life and death.

9  Slowness

Nature reminds me to slow down, since my observation reveals how slowness tends to predominate our surroundings. Paying attention to breathing, it tends to deepen and slow, of its own, naturally. Living in a culture addicted to an ever-accelerating pace, slowness can feel like salvation.

10 Calm

Paying attention to breath allows it become as deep as it wishes to be. When I feel my belly soften and breath grow deep, my vestigial instincts of flight-fright-or-fight have gone away: less stress! I am aware of how calm I feel.

11  Solidity

Without calm, my strength can dissipate, disperse, and scatter. Without calm, I cannot engage in gentle inquiry into the nature of self and reality. My reserve of calm assures my presence has solidity, even in emergency. I can show up, and be present when I show up.

12  Silent

Paying attention, I notice breath is slower than thought. Nor does it obey the restrictive patterns of verbal language. I pay close attention to each quiet breath, from beginning, middle, and end – and with a blank space, in between. This silence is not blind.

13  Anonymity

My breath is totally unconcerned whether or not I am up with latest fashion, or what I look like. I don’t need to cultivate an identity. Breath accepts as I am. In that complete acceptance, I could be nobody – or anybody. This is anonymity is a passport to the undomesticated world of the wild.

14  Impermanence

Breath is a living example of the impermanence of all things – a reminder of the importance of flow. You can never breathe the same breath twice.

15  Focus of Awareness

Meditating, I could focus on sound, which is also ever-present, but I like breath best.

16  Emotional Self-Regulation

Being intimate with how a breath arises, manifests, then falls away is a transferable skill, applicable to emotions and thoughts. These too arise, take form, and pass. Besides my recognizing they’re impermanent, it’s great to also be able to catch negative thought forms and destructive feelings at their inception – before they’ve pulled us along by the nose – learning to step away from their pull on us, understand them, and heal and transform their energies.

17  Direct

Breath isn’t symbolic nor abstract. There’s no need to look behind breath, searching for hidden meaning. Beyond anyone else’s words or labels, connecting with breath is to see for one’s self, through direct experience.

18  Intentionality

Wanting to change my behavior – my thoughts, my words, and my deeds – conscious breathing is wonderful training. To be conscious of just one breath immediately sets intention into motion. Conscious breath provides a space where I can consider how to respond, rather than react.

19  Universal

Like the wind that encircles the planet, breath is everywhere. It knows no religious denominations, national boundaries, ethnic differences, or social classes. Languages vary but they all tend to point to the vital connection to life of breath.

20  Vital

Mindful of breath, I return my attention to the fountain of life. Dead people don’t breathe. Many languages equate our personal breath with a connection to something greater than ourselves.

21  Centering

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi once likened breath to a hinge between mind and body. In present-moment awareness of breath, my body and mind find each other. In the vital spaciousness of breath, body mind spirit can align as one.

22  Interconnection

Scientists tell me my breath nourishes the green world of vegetation, and vegetation nourishes my breath. I know, first-hand, such interdependent interconnection of all things through my breath. I can feel how body conditions mind … mind conditions body … breath conditions both.

23  Letting Go

Breathing out teaches me a central lesson: letting go. I can’t breathe in without breathing out.

24  Ineffable

Breath is invisible. It has no color, no shape. It’s invisible. Breath – like mind, like life – is ineffable.

25  Selflessness

Breathing out, I let my exhalation simply fall away from my body, as if as far as to the horizon. Then I wait. I am as still as a hunter waiting for a deer. I don’t summon it, nor try to will it into existence. My next breath comes, nevertheless. As if of itself. Without fixed identity, lacking any separateness, empty of ownership. In this, it is perfectly open to anything and everything, as limitless as a big clear sky. Selfless.

26  Prayer

Mindful breathing can be a form of prayer.

27  Engaged

Breath can’t be confined to a monastery. It’s actively engaged in the world.

 

Gary GachGary Gach hosts Zen Mindfulness Fellowship weekly in San Francisco, since 2009. He’s author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism and editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop. His most recent book is PAUSE   BREATHE   SMILE ~ Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. This brings mindfulness full-circle, back to its roots as a spiritual as well as secular path for complete awakening. It’s available in both paperback and as an audio book. His work has also appeared in over 150 periodicals and a couple dozen anthologies, including The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Huffington Post, In These Times, Language for a New Century, The Nation, The New Yorker, Technicians of the Sacred, and Yoga Journal.  More info : GaryGach.com.

 

Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach

Buy your copy of PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Gach.

 

MINDFULNESS 24/7: 5 Simple Everyday Practices

24/7 Mindfulness, Gary GachMindfulness can be defined as the clear and calm energy of an intelligent alertness, spacious and awakening. The good news is it’s present all the time. It’s inherent in our human inheritance. We need only to remember this. Here are five simple everyday reminders for mindful living to try for yourself.

[You don’t need to take them on all at once. As you learn to incorporate each into your daily life, gradually, any one can be a model for all the others.]

1) BREATHE, YOU ARE ALIVE!—Conscious Breathing

Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the grandfather of modern mindfulness, gives us this brief reminder to remember: “Conscious breathing is my anchor.” This thought stops me in my tracks. With breath now as basis of my awareness, I have returned to the present moment. Even when my mind might wander elsewhere, I can feel my breath in my body is in the present moment, my underwater anchor supporting my awakening mindfulness.

Allowing body, mind, and breath (spirit) to find each other helps me live fully. Paying attention to What Is, as it manifests right in front of my nose, lets me see things as they are, rather than through colored lenses of fantasy and personal cravings, invisible filters of cultural conditioning, and frames of ideology.

Conscious breathing doesn’t require taking a full breath, or any particular kind of breath at all. Rather, just being mindful of breath can amplify concentration which can, in turn, awaken full awareness. This can even lead to the cool, lucid plateau of meta-awareness: awareness of awareness.

See for yourself. Enjoy just three conscious breaths—right now!—and feel yourself solidly grounded in moment-to-moment awareness.

2) PAUSE—Intentional Conduct

To enjoy just one conscious breath means to pause. Pausing opens up a vital space. Between stimulus and unconscious reaction, I have space to discern how I might best wisely respond to what’s at hand. What can I do, right now, that could be harmful, and what might be beneficial? This too is spiritual practice, making evident my values via concrete action.

Throughout the day, I remember to pause, return to my breath, and check intention. A wonderful reminder is to smile. Aware of your breathing, notice what happens if you also give yourself the gift of a smile. Just a faint smile can help me realize I have enough reasons to be happy in the present moment. Earth beneath me, blue sky above, air in my nostrils—life itself! My smile also arouses my sense of taking responsibility, truly being author of my life, to live the life I was meant to live.

Plus, a smile can be contagious. Here is a fulcrum, so to speak, that can facilitate deep transformation. That is, to my intentionality I add relationality. It’s my intention for myself—and for others. I know my well-being is intertwined with the well-being of everyone else. We’re all in this together.

The Dalai Lama sometimes refers to his “selfish altruism.” That’s an honest way to view relationality. Who wants to live in a world where everyone’s depressed, burnt out, and close the edge!? I recognize I am not free unless everyone else is too.

To check how I’m doing, I use my life as the clear mirror of my practice. For instance, I look in the rear-view mirror of my actions. (I consider actions, by the way, as including thoughts and words, as well as deeds.)

As the East Bay Meditation Center reminds us all, there can be a difference between intention and impact. If my actions have good intentions but are triggering destructive emotions in others, it’s a good cause for engaging in self-examination as to what I still need to work through.

3) DEEP LISTENING—Awakening the Mind of Love

Now you know the three primary reminders I engage with in my everyday life: breathing, smiling, pausing. From that base, I am glad to offer three more.

Living in an Information Age, I feel like I’m being asked to get a glass of water off an open fire hydrant. It’s this way with stimuli in general—too much. Instead, I listen to what’s really important. I hear what’s not being said, as well as what is. This way, I can connect with info more deeply.

How does this work? I listen without my interrupting what’s going on. I’m simply present, without agenda or labels.

I train this skillful listening by being aware of each breath—arising, manifesting, and falling away. My body has been breathing all my life. Now I’m learning to be intimate with it. This awareness then becomes the model for my listening to my emotions and thoughts, as they too arise, take form, and fade away into other phenomena. I pay attention to whatever’s coming up within me, openly, with a nonjudgmental, gentle curiosity.

Just this morning, I had to stop my meditation midway. Difficult emotions and thoughts were arising, and I wanted to quit. Then I remembered not to look away. After all, the only way out is in. After setting my intention to give myself enough self-care to make it through, I returned to my meditation, and listened until I soon heard the key to where I need to go next with some of the current sensitive, vulnerable, juicy, meaty stuff in my life story.  [To Be Continued.]

With the clarity of mindfulness, our heart opens to the realization we all want the same thing: an end of suffering and a life of happiness. When we liberate ourselves from our prison, the prison of the illusion of our separateness (“the skin-encapsulated ego,” as Alan Watts says), the eye in our heart can open: the eye of true love. Then we can see and hear ourselves and life around us as it is—a miracle.

4) SLOWLY, SLOWLY, STEP BY STEP—Walking Meditation

Sitting still may be the most commonly known posture of meditation in the world. You can see it in ancient South Asian statues and Mayan, alike. Yet the body has four basic postures: laying, sitting, standing, and walking. Being aware of our body, whatever position it’s in, is an everyday meditation anyone can practice.

Walking meditation is simply meditation walking. Try it—walking from a car to a door, or walking down a street. Notice your body and its posture. Is it relaxed, yet alert? Can you notice your breathing?

As you walk, notice how many steps for an in-breath; how many for an out-breath.  Maintaining awareness of present-moment breathing, I’m no longer marching, marching off into a fictive future, to attain some abstract purpose. Instead, I’m permeable to what is. As it is. Within me, and all around. With each step, I’m arriving in the present moment—the only moment ever available for me to live.

Rather than trying to get anywhere—I’m almost aimlessly experiencing the miracle of walking. Zen ancestor Rinzai tells us the miracle isn’t to walk on water, nor to walk on coals. The real miracle is to walk on this green earth.

As with sitting, formal walking meditation can take a good 20 minutes before you can feel it digging a well of peace for you to draw from throughout your day. Such formal meditation might be just walking slowly for twenty minutes, as slow as synchronizing your left step to you inhalation, and your right step to your exhalation. Remembering to smile. Being aware of what it’s like to be stepping into the unknown, with eyes born for wonder.

5) SLOW FOOD IS SOUL FOOD—Mindful Meals

I practice sitting still in the morning and evening, and walking meditation before lunch or dinner. Plus, there’s a meditation you can practice three times a day: mindful meals. When I teach this, I begin with Raisin Meditation: experiencing the whole universe in a single raisin. And mindfulness meditation is as light and common as a raisin.

Anyhoo—you might try out these five basic steps the next time you’re alone at the table for a meal.

First, pause. Look. Smell. Take it in.

As you feel your gratitude arise at the generosity this meal represents, take a moment to express it. Even if it’s just “Thanks!” or “Grace!,” “L’chaim!” or “Bismillah!”—everyone knows how to do this. (And the food knows too, and will respond by tasting better when you give thanks for it.)

Second, as you bring it to your lips, pause to regard each bite.

Third, as you chew, please consider how this is a messenger of the whole cosmos. In any slice of food is present the gift of earth, rain, air, sun, and many hands. Awaken to the marvels of the interconnectedness of all things—interbeing—enabling this meal.

Fourth, remember to put down the fork. (Don’t reach for the next mouthful while still chewing the present one.)

Fifth, from time to time, pause between bites. Be mindful of how your body knows how to perfectly extract the nutrients from food . . . exchanging enzymes and aminos . . . adding to and supporting your life and your practice of the way of awareness. (Will somebody please say, “Amen!”?)

So, whether you’re a newbie, or wish to take a deeper dive, I hope any or all of these simple practices will water your roots and extend your wingspan.

Enjoy the journey!


Gary GachGary Gach has hosted Zen Mindfulness Fellowship weekly in San Francisco since 2009. He’s author ofThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism and editor ofWhat Book!? — Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop. His most recent book is PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. This brings mindfulness full-circle, back to its roots as a spiritual as well as secular path for complete awakening. It’s available both in paperback and as an audio book. His work has also appeared in over 150 periodicals, including the Christian Science Monitor, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, the Huffington Post, In These Times, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Yoga Journal, as well as a couple dozen anthologies, including Language for a New Century, and Technicians of the Sacred. More info: GaryGach.com. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Gach. The author wishes to acknowledge Nick Aster for publishing a schematic draft of this listicle in GatherLAB.

Buy your copy of PAUSE, BREATHE, SMILE at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Pause, Breathe, Smile by Gary Gach
Pin It! 24/7 Mindfulness, Gary Gach
 

Gary Gach: Pause. Breathe. Smile. Spiritual Awakening ...

Gary Gach is a writer, meditator, and mystic who draws on his diverse life experiences to inform his nonfiction and poetry offerings. He is the author of What Book!? and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism. With Sounds True, he has most recently published Pause, Breathe, Smile: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Gary about the titular process of pausing, breathing, and smiling—how it can center you immediately, plant seeds of awakening, and help light the way on the path to peace. They talk about the “mouth yoga” of the half-smile and why meditation is only “part of the menu” of daily mindfulness practice. Gary and Tami also discuss what it means to exist in three kinds of awakening reality: the spaces of impermanence, interbeing, and selflessness. Finally, Gary shares his love of reading and writing haiku, offering a spontaneous haiku poem that arises in the course of the interview. (59 minutes)

You Might Also Enjoy

Dilip Jeste, MD: Wiser, Faster

Dr. Dilip Jeste is a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences and the director of the Center for Healthy Aging at UC San Diego. He’s spent the last 20 years studying aspects of healthy aging and the neurobiological roots of wisdom. With Sounds True, Dr. Jeste has written a new book titled Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Jeste about wisdom—what it is, how we can cultivate more of it in our own lives, and how we can grow into a wiser society. They explore a new definition of wisdom that incorporates neurobiological and evolutionary components of what makes us wise, as well as the social and cultural ones we might be more familiar with. Dr. Jeste and Tami also discuss the future of wisdom, including the potential of a metaphorical “wisdom pill.” Finally, they speak on the importance of helping our society become wiser, faster.

Tools for Cultivating Supportive Friendships & Re...

Tools for Cultivating Supportive Friendships & Relationships:

CHRISTOPHE ANDRÉ:

For this toolbox I’d like to put forward a little bit of theory about how we are supported by relationships — that is, to offer an overall look at what we receive from our relationships with others.

The five benefits of relationships. Studies show that social support can be broken down into several families of benefits:

  1. Material support: Others can help us in concrete ways. If I’ve broken my leg, I will be glad if somebody will do my shopping for me. If I have to move, I will be happy to have my friends help me transport the boxes.
  2. Informational support: Others can advise us, give us useful infor- mation, and play the role of human search engines — as intelligent as Google but alive and compassionate — and they won’t resell our personal information afterward.
  3. Emotional support: Others are the source of positive emotions; they give us affection, love, friendship, trust, admiration.
  4. The support of esteem. Others can remind us of our value and good qualities, tell us what they like about us, and sustain our self-esteem at moments of uncertainty.
  5. The inspiration of their example: This is more difficult to evaluate scientifically, but it’s quite real, as we have indicated.

The four varieties of relationships. Another important point is that it is helpful to cultivate varied social relationships, just as it is important to have a varied diet. There are four families of relationships, distributed in four concentric circles:

  1. Our intimates: the people we live with, whom we touch and embrace practically every day. This means mostly our family and best friends.
  2. Our close relations: our friends and colleagues, people with whom we regularly have close and regular exchanges.
  3. Our acquaintances: the whole network of people with whom we have a connection, even occasional, and who we keep track of and who keep track of us.
  4. Unknowns: those who we might also have relationships with, depending on our character. This includes people we might speak to on the street, on public transport, in stores. They can also be sources of help or information for us, as we can for them.

Specialists in social relations remind us that it is important to draw sup- port from these four circles — not only from our intimate and close relations—and to sustain our connections with these four relational spheres by giving and receiving help, information, support, eye contact, advice, and smiles. Because the idea is not only to receive but also to give, by speaking to unknowns and maintaining warm relations with our acquaintances, neighbors, and shopkeepers, we do ourselves good. And we embellish the world, improve it, and make it more human!

 

MATTHIEU RICARD:

The importance of social connection. We should choose to live in an environment where people are warm, altruistic, and compassionate. If this isn’t the case in all areas of our living space, we should progressively try to establish these values or, if it’s possible, we should leave the toxic environment.

In this connection, I like to cite the case of a community on the Japanese island of Okinawa, which claims to have one of the world’s highest concentrations of people aged a hundred or over. It appears that the main factor in this exceptional longevity is not the climate or the food, but the power of this community, where people maintain particularly rich social relationships. From cradle to grave, they relate very closely with one another. The elderly people in particular get together several times a week to sing, dance, and have a good time. Almost every day they go to schools to greet the children (whether they have familial links with them or not) at the end of the school day. The elders take the children in their arms and give them treats.

Draw inspiration from the righteous, from people who, in our eyes, embody the values of impartiality, tolerance, compassion, love, and kindness. In these times of the migratory crisis, I think of all those who have taken great risks, and I remember those who protected Jewish people during the Nazi persecutions of World War II, particularly those who hid Jews in their homes. These people have since come to be called “The Righteous.” The only common point that emerges from their many accounts is a view of others based on recognition of their common human- ity. All human beings deserved to be treated with kindness. Where we saw a stranger, they saw a human being.

Meditate on altruistic love. Studies in psychology have shown that meditating on altruistic love increases people’s feelings of belonging to a community; it enhances the quality of social connections and compassionate attitudes toward unknown people, while at the same reduc- ing discrimination toward particular groups, like people of color, homeless people, and immigrants.

Draw inspiration from friends in the good and spiritual masters. I recommend that everyone see a historical documentary made in India by Arnaud Desjardins at the end of the 1960s, in which we are shown the most respected of the Tibetan masters who took refuge on the Indian slopes of the Himalayas following the Chinese invasion of their country. The film is called The Message of the Tibetans.

 

ALEXANDRE JOLLIEN:

The audacity to live. Existing, opening oneself to the other, is running a risk. It means dropping one’s armor, one’s protective coverings, and opening one’s eyes and daring to give oneself to the other and to the entire world. There’s no way you can invest in a relationship, so throw out your logic of profit and loss! What if we were to embark on our day without any idea of gain or of using our fellow human beings? What if we stayed attentive to all the women and men it is given to us to encoun- ter on that day, looking to find among them masters in being human? 

Identify our profound aspirations. Helping others can often amount to imposing a view of the world on them without really paying any attention to what they really want in their hearts. A man bought an elephant without giving any thought in advance to how he was going to feed it. At a loss, he was obliged to turn for help to those around him, and what he got from them was, “You never should have bought such a big animal!” What does it mean to help others? Does it mean committing completely to being there for them? Does it mean going all the way with them?

Authentic compassion. A will to power might enter into our move- ment toward the other—a thirst for recognition, a twisted attempt to redeem ourselves. Daring a true encounter means quitting the sphere of your neurosis and walking the path of freedom together. There’s no more “me,” no more “you,” but a coalescent “us,” a primordial solidarity.

Coming out of the bunker. As a result of having been burned in our relationship with another, the temptation is great to put on armor, to completely shut ourselves up in a bunker-like fortress, even to the point of suffocation. Don’t our passions, our griefs, our loves, and the fierce- ness of our desire remind us that we are essentially turned toward the other, in perpetual communication? Is there a way to live the thousand and one contacts of daily life without our ego appropriating them?

This is excerpted from the newest book from Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André, and Alexandre Jollien, Freedom For All Of Us: A Monk, A Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on Finding Inner Freedom.

Copy of MatthieuRicard-AlexandreJollien-ChristopheAndré©PhilippeDanais2017

 

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, a photographer, and a molecular geneticist who has served as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama. 

Christophe André is a psychiatrist and one of the primary French specialists in the psychology of emotions and feelings.

 Alexandre Jollien is a philosopher and a writer whose work has been attracting an ever-growing readership. Together, they are the authors of In Search of Wisdom and Freedom For All of Us.

picture of the book titles Freedom for All of Us

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Meet a Coauthor of . . . Freedom for All of Us

The Author

Christophe André is a psychiatrist specializing in the psychology of emotions. His books include Imperfect, Free, and Happy, and Meditating, Day after Day. He lives in France. For more, visit christopheandre.com.

Freedom For All Of Us

The Book

With their acclaimed book In Search of Wisdom, three gifted friends—a monk, a philosopher, and a psychiatrist—shed light on our universal quest for meaning, purpose, and understanding. Now, in this new in-depth offering, they invite us to tend to the garden of our true nature: freedom.

Filled with unexpected insights and specific strategies, Freedom for All of Us presents an inspiring guide for breaking free of the unconscious walls that confine us.

 

Translated from the original responses in French.

Send us a photo of your sacred space or workspace.

Here is the view from my home office in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France. My writing space is situated on the top-most floor of the house, just underneath our roof, and each time I lift my head to look out the window, I see the beach, the ocean, and, further away, the ramparts of the old city. The ever-changing nature [of this place], the sky and the tides forever moving (and morphing), the memory of all the corsairs (pirates) of Saint-Malo’s past … all of these things are what inspire me and bring joy to my life.

What is something about you that doesn’t make it into your author bio? It could be something that impacts your work, or something totally random and entertaining!

[There’s] nothing necessarily odd or extraordinary, but perhaps a rather banal fact [is my] being a parent. For me, becoming a father is the event that has most changed me in my life (and has most encouraged me to better myself). It has truly enriched my life the most.

There are two key moments (or memories) that for me [define] being a parent. Firstly, those moments where we realize our children are watching and judging us; and this moment can be very moving and also uncomfortable as a parent, because you feel like your children have discovered all your limits or your faults. (How can we hide it? Impossible, they will see them! At least once, or from time to time.) The essential lesson is that we don’t try to constantly hide our true selves, and this encourages us to transform ourselves. The watchful eye and judgments of our children can feel like a challenge for parents, but a fruitful challenge [nonetheless].

The other key moment is when we realize that our children are more skilled in ways we are not (and sometimes in all ways)! It’s that moment when we discover that we, as parents, are learning from our children; their intelligence, generosity, and enthusiasm. It’s the moment that we allow ourselves, discreetly and with great humility, to let them be our teachers.

If you could invite any three transformational leaders or spiritual teachers (throughout time) to dinner, who would they be and why?

I imagine I would probably be too intimidated to actually have dinner or a conversation with the following three people! I would probably prefer to follow them, like a shadow or a small mouse, and to watch them live and work over several days. To observe their intimate, everyday routines, and listen to their discourse (which in a way is possible with all of their published works). It has always seemed to me that wisdom arises, above all, through example and embodiment.

I would love to follow the everyday life of Etty Hillesum, [the writer], who was a stranger to hatred. Even when she would have every reason to hate the Nazis, who had her executed [at Auschwitz], she still spoke of grace even in a world where only fear, violence, and injustice seemed to live.

I would love to follow alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a day in his life. I admire him for his choice to fight for civil rights without the use of violence. I remember, vividly, crying when I visited his memorial in Atlanta.

And finally, I would love to shadow Henry David Thoreau when he was living in his cabin at Walden. I admire his decision to live a life filled with only the essentials: nature, spirituality, and few material possessions, which is in stark contrast to the mistakes and values that we hold in this modern day.

Freedom For All Of Us

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | IndieBound

>
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap