breath in, breath out

The following is excerpted from the chapter “Unlimited Friendliness” in a new book “Taking The Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears” by Pema Chodron.

A question that has intrigued me for years is this: how can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves instead of guilt and depression?

One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method of embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked, you could experiment with this approach.

Contacting the experience of being hooked you breath in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed – anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not to push it away. Then still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breath out you relax and give the feeling space. The out-breathe is not a way of sending the discomfort away but of ventilating it, or loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.

The practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch the parts of ourselves that we are not proud of [maitri is defined previously as “unconditional friendliness towards oneself”]. We touch feelings we think we shouldn’t be having – feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage, all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain we feel for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addictions and phobias. We contact whatever we are experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue for a few moments, or as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it is very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate non-aggression, the ultimate maitri.