Pause and Breathe

^z 21st November 2023 at 7:50am

In Chapter 6 ("Positive Insecurity") of Pema Chödrön's little book Practicing Peace in Times of War is wise advice that all boils down to a memorable manta:

Pause and Breathe

And in more detail:

You can think of insecurity as a moment in time that we experience over and over in our lives. When you feel insecurity, whether you're feeling it in the middle of the night out of nowhere or whether it's constant, there is a groundless and unformed quality to it. As I've already suggested, the Buddhist teachings suggest that this kind of insecurity can serve as a direct path to freedom—if you can stop yourself from setting off the chain reaction of aggression and misery.

You can think of the groundlessness and openness of insecurity as a chance that we're given over and over to choose a fresh alternative. Things happen to us all the time that open up the space. This spaciousness, this wide-open, unbiased, unprejudiced space is inexpressible and fundamentally good and sound. It's like the sky. Whenever you're in a hot spot or feeling uncomfortable, whenever you're caught up and don't know what to do, you can find someplace where you can go and look at the sky and experience some freshness, free of hope and fear, free of bias and prejudice, just completely open. And this is accessible to us all the time. Space permeates everything, every moment of our lives.

... whenever there's a sudden shock ... Before the chain reaction starts, before the aggression or the habitual pattern clicks in, there's a shock and open space ... the ground has just fallen out from under your feet. Before trying to get back on solid ground by following the habitual chain reaction, you can pause and breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Never underestimate the power of this simple pause.

... Whenever there's that sting of pain, I practice pausing, because I know that that moment is precious. ... If we pause and breathe in and out, then we can have the experience of timeless presence, of the inexpressible wisdom and goodness of our own minds. We can look out at the world with fresh eyes and hear things with fresh ears. In that pause—which is free of bias, free of thinking, just given to us on a silver platter ...—we can relax and open. The sting of that ordinary shock can lead us to a new way of living.

... When our lives become uncomfortable, rather than automatically watering these seeds of aggression, we can burn them up. ...

Someone once asked me, "What would it feel like to have burned up all those seeds, to be a person who no longer has any aggression?" ... I imagine that such a person would be great company. If you dissolved your aggression, it would mean that other people wouldn't have to walk on eggshells around you, worried that something they might say would offend you. You'd be an accessible, genuine person. The awakened people that I've known are all very playful, curious, and unthreatened by things. They go into situations with their eyes and their hearts wide open. They have a real appetite for life instead of an appetite for aggression. They are, it seems, not afraid to be insecure.

In order to change our habits and burn up the seeds of aggression, we have to develop an appetite for what I like to call positive groundlessness, or positive insecurity. ... we need to get curious about it and be willing to pause and hang out for a while in that space of insecurity.

One of the methods I've touched on for doing this is when you notice that you're hooked, don't act out, don't repress, but let the experience pierce you to the heart. Another suggestion I've made is that when you notice that you're hooked, just pause and breathe deeply in and out, knowing that this is a moment in time that's impermanent, shifting, and changing. This insecurity that you're feeling is nothing monolithic. It's nothing solid. It's not graspable. It's passing. And you can breathe with it and relax with it, and let it pass through you.

Shades of Andrew Weiss's mantra in Beginning Mindfulness: "Go slowly, breathe, and smile!"

^z - 2014-07-25