Let Everything Breathe

As you sit here reading these words, you are breathing … stop for a moment and notice this breath.

You could control the breath, and make it behave as you like … or you can simply let yourself breathe.

There is peace in just letting your body breathe, without having to do anything about it.

Now imagine letting the your hands breathe. Just let them be, without having to control them. Just let them breathe.

Now look around you, and notice what else is in the room with you. See each object, and let it breathe.

If there are any people in the room with you, in your building, or in nearby buildings our houses … see them in your mind and let them breathe.

When you let them breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to change them, don’t need to control them, don’t need to improve them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept that. You might even smile at this breathing.

As you go through your day, let everything breathe. Let yourself breathe.

There is no need to do anything. You don’t expect anything from anything or anybody. Just let them come as they come, let them go as they go.

Just appreciate everything and everybody as they are, miracles of existence, breathing in the soft air of the world, and smile at this joyful manifestation of love.

Let Everything Breathe was first published on Zen Habits on 2/4/16.

What’s the Most Loving Thing You Can Do?

The question I’ve been asking myself lately, before I do anything, is a deceptively simple one: “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?

Now, that might sound corny to some of you, might seem irrelevant to most of you. But give me one minute of your time to explain.

I’ve been experimenting for awhile with letting go. Not running when I have uncertainty, fear, discomfort. Not acting on my fears or frustrations. Not letting these things drive me, but sitting still with them instead, and facing them with courage.

That’s wonderful, but what if you actually need to act? You could sit still all day, but then you’d never help anyone, never create anything, never do anything.

So there’s a need to not act, to sit still … and there’s a need to act. How do we determine which is which?

By asking that question. “What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation?”

When you’re about to take an action (including running away, going away from uncertainty to comfort, procrastinating, going to distractions or comfort food) … stop and sit still.

Turn inward and see if fear or stress is coming up, see if you’re feeling uncertainty and wanting to cope by getting control. See if you’re trying to comfort yourself, or to lash out, to close down.

In this case, the most loving thing you can do is nothing.

The most loving thing you can do, for yourself and others, is to sit still. Face the fear and uncertainty. Not act out wanting to control these emotions, wanting to comfort yourself.

But in other cases, you want to take action. Doing your work, for example, could be something that helps you or your team or the world. Taking care of someone, talking to them, being there for them, serving them … those can be very helpful things to do.

In these cases, acting to help yourself or someone else is the most loving thing you can do.

If I’m going to read with my kid, take a walk with my wife, clean the kitchen for my family, write a book for my readers … these are loving acts.

If I’m running to check email or social media because I want something easy to do instead of writing that book for my readers … the loving act is to sit still and face this discomfort, fear and uncertainty.

When I’m talking to someone out of frustration, the most loving thing I can do is to refrain from trying to criticize or control them or be defensive. Instead, I can face this frustration. When I calm myself down, I can talk to them in a loving way and try to help them, try to empathize with them, try to be there for them.

Each time I’m about to act, the best thing I can do is ask that question: What’s the most loving thing you can do in this situation? I might not always remember, but when I do, it is always a helpful question.

What’s the Most Loving Thing You Can Do? was first published on Zen Habits on 9/23/16.

Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything

When we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening … and at the center of that narrative is a single person.

Ourselves.

When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s OK to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood … I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.

I’m sure you can relate — you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.

But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:

  • We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us … giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want. But their actions aren’t really about us — their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
  • When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves … we then feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it … we could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.
  • We interpret everything else around us — from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks — by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about us.

Again, it’s natural and normal to interpret everything this way … but you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.

So what can we do?

First, become aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

Next, see that we are putting ourselves at the center.

Then see if we can remove ourselves from the center of the story.

What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:

  • Things are happening — how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
  • Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
  • There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?

When I remember to do this — and I very, very often don’t — it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shift my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.

Of course, I’m not really removed from the story. I’m still there, but just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and see that they have supported me in becoming the person I am, and that I can support them as well.

Removing Ourselves From the Center of Everything was first published on Zen Habits on 8/10/16.