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Remember to Breathe: How to Feel Calm, Peaceful, and Loving

Peaceful woman with surfboard

“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.” ~Gandhi

At some point during 2005 I discovered the sense that I am connected to everything, that nothing exists outside of me. This realization came while surfing with a friend of mine. From that moment, surfing became a religion for me.

I sat on top a surf board about 100 yards off the sand, just a little north of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in San Clemente, California, for hours on end every single day.

At some point during each session, the endorphins would kick in. My mind would empty and I would relax. The best word to describe it would be “bliss.”

Off the surf board, I spent most of my time at the public library reading books about the human experience—history, psychology, religion, and spirituality.

Each morning, as I sank into this blissful state, I allowed the information to pour over me in a manner that Thich Naht Hanh called “Dharma Rain.” I just breathed deeply and joyfully as my mind filtered information, looking for truth.

I could have easily stayed in that state of bliss had I not needed to go to work or interact with most of the people around me. I’ve never been much of a joiner. Monkhood was off the table.

I tended bar just a few nights a week. I had been sober for nearly a year but rarely became thirsty even working. It was a means to an end, and it afforded me more free time than any other job out there.

Tending bar also brought into focus the idea that all I observe is a reflection of me. I owe most of real growth spiritually not to the texts, not to meditation, and not even to surfing; I owe it to my time slinging drinks.

Working behind a bar, believe it or not, is a pretty high-stress job. The busier it gets, the faster I move and the less concentrated I am on breathing fully. The stress and lack of oxygen triggers my flight-or-fight defenses, and I’m prone to act unloving to the people I find offensive.

I’m snappy and sometimes rude. I get frustrated with people who completely lack situational awareness. I rarely take into account that the booze just removed that trait from them.

From the moment I made the commitment to stay sober, I began to take a personal inventory of all the qualities I didn’t like in myself. I knew that if I were to remain sober without going to AA, and without church, I would need to develop certain traits. Being a loving, patient, kind, and caring man was, and is, at the top of my list.

My job and the people around me posed a huge challenge. My money management skills wouldn’t allow me to quit. So I made sure to practice acceptance, and I developed techniques to help me heal and grow.

I knew I needed to remind myself to breathe. I tried to set an alarm on my phone. The amount of busyness made it impossible for me to notice when the alarm went off. So I developed the color game. When I was introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching, I found a similar exercise: Mindfulness Bells.

The first exercise I developed for myself was just to remind me to breathe. It’s pretty simple really. Pick three colors (if you’re color blind I can help you modify this).

1. The color of clothing.

Each time you see that color, use it as a reminder that you’re okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Smile. Feel love well up inside you.

2. A color on buildings and manmade products.

Same as before.

3. A color found in nature.

Every time I see a plant with hues in the range near purple, I smile. I breathe. I remember “It’s all good.”

I used this for traffic. Obviously, I had to adjust it for the bar. So I used the same three colors for clothing and accessories.

Think about the last time you bought a car. You began to notice that car everywhere. It’s called the reticular activating system.

When you practice this for a very short period of time, it becomes natural. You’ll be walking down the street, overthinking your life away, and then your brain will see someone walk by. The voice in your head will softly say, “Breathe deeply. Be still. I love you.”

If you want to stop reading here, go ahead. You now know all that you really need to know in life. Breathe deeply, relax, “It’s all good.” (Thank you, Alan Watts.)

The second exercise comes from my mind’s need to change the world. My mind was programmed to see everything that is wrong with the world and with myself. When I fix something in me, I almost want to demand that all of you fix it in yourselves.

I use that little ego-voice to my advantage. I allow it to run full reign. I use the following steps to guide my personal growth.

1. I project my negative observations onto a note card.

If I have time, I do it right there, but more often than not I just write down the person’s name or a description. Later, I spend time listing out all the things that make that person an “idiot.”

2. I reflect all the qualities I see back onto me.

I have yet to make a list without discovering that I possess each and every quality. At some time, I have felt and acted in a manner that, at that moment, I found reprehensible. Sometimes the actions are just in my mind. I haven’t actually slaughtered a bunch of people like the Third Reich, but my road rage has brought similar imaginings to my mind.

3. I empathize with the offender.

Because I take the list word by word and find each offense in my own experience, I am able to discover why someone would act like a complete idiot. I know the root cause of their actions, and I can release the resentment I feel toward them. My heart goes out to them.

4. I forgive them and myself.

I spend a little time with each trait and remember all the people I know, including me, who behave in such a manner. I bring them all in a group in my mind and offer each a hug. I say I love you. Breathe. It’s okay.

The above is the foundation for everything I do. Throughout the years I’ve noticed quite a difference when I actively practice this and when I don’t. And I’ve come to realize the wisdom of the bumper sticker that reads “Be the change.”

About Tim McAuley

Tim McAuley’s debut book It’s All About Me! Illustrates that we each have the power to live a lifealigned with harmony, happiness, and love; he freely shares his book, a 6 week video tutorial and weekly tips, to learn to ride the metaphoric waves of life at soulsurferschool.com.

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  • Awesome post, Tim. I love how you let your ego voice run free and use that to your advantage. I never thought of doing it that way. I usually just try to shut it out. Thanks and keep it up.

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  • Thanks for these creative tips Tim! Out of the two, I can see myself starting with the color one immediately. 

    Lately I’ve also been gravitating towards looking at my motives first instead of pointing a finger at others unthinkingly.

  • i agree with it – be the change you want to see in this world…  i will try the colour tip too 🙂
    Noch Noch

  • Whitney

    TIM!  Loved your post…it reminded me a lot of myself.  Being out in the water is such a precious gift to me and an example of stillness, and life, and love, and relation.  I live in Carlsbad and we are so blessed to live in paradise, swim with the dolphins, and ride the energy of the universe.  To me, the Earth, and its relation to the ebb and flow of the tides is the best example of unconditional love. 

  • Loved this post!  It is certainly one I’m putting this practice into my own new habits today!

    I can see how one could learn a lot about yourself doing this.  The reactions we ignore in ourselves.  I almost afraid to find this on out.  But the time has come.

    Huge mahalo for such an awesome post.

  • Thanks for sharing your great tips, Tim. One that especially struck me is the idea that not fully breathing triggers the fight-or-flight reflex. Very interesting — I’ll try to be more aware when that might be happening.
    Great piece! Great peace!

  • Web Dude

    Yea, good luck staying sober. Statistics say you are not going to make it by white knuckling it, no matter how sophisticated and complex a set of rituals you make for yourself. 

    Why avoid the most successful recovery path if you have faced your addiction to alcohol? Interesting, since by embracing buddhism you certainly have no aversion to to spiritual principles. Guess you have to control it, and “solve it” yourself. Good luck, but millions of addicts over centuries have proven it doesn’t work that way. I hope you don’t drink again. This is a rather ill-informed post with regards to how addiction works, and hopefully it will NOT inspire other people with real addictions to go it alone, it is like telling someone with cancer they can use magnets to make their tumors go away. No, you can’t. 

    Of course addicts hate to be told what to do, of course addicts tell themselves they can solve this problem on their own….but actually, that is the main problem. Working in a bar with no external support system is nothing but a countdown clock to ending up drunk again. It is inevitable.

  • JoyousJeff

    He never said he was addicted to alcohol.

  • Thislittlelark

    Beautifully written… wonderful reminder… Breeeeathe 🙂 
    ~this little lark

  • Whitney

    Breathe, web dude…just breathe…we are all on our own paths and we all find our own way.  There is no right or wrong…

  • Hey there Web Dude,

    My name is Lori, and I run this site (in case you aren’t familiar with me).

    I saw your comment and thought the same thing Jeff wrote (that Tim did not write that he was addicted to alcohol). That being said, I also know many recovering alcoholics, and some of them have been sober for decades while working around alcohol. It just goes to show that everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for someone else! Regardless, I appreciate your intention, to ensure people who are struggling know they don’t have to go it alone.

    Lori

  • You’re making a lot of assumptions here (ironic considering the subject of the post, but maybe that just points to how needed this post is), but nobody else is in his (or your) shoes.  What works for him might/might not work for someone else and vice versa.

  • Rutkmi

    I sure needed this post today Tim – thanks! My irritability meter has been offer the charts this week and this is a very constructive approach to channeling that energy into love. And breath.

  • This is such a useful and beneficial post, and I greatly enjoyed reading it today.  I often laugh at how my frustrations with others come out of the knowledge that I do the same things (and dislike those traits in myself).  It’s amazing to be able to step aside from irritations and see the commonality and turn that into compassion and sympathy.  It takes practice but is so beneficial.  I really love the steps you’ve shared here – so practical and easy to adopt.  Best wishes to you!

  • Absabs

    love this post a lot, related to my own situation. my job and people around me every single moment pose mountain-like challenge to me too, honestly, nothing you can do for this situation .  So, I too learn to acceptance, and have my mental maintenance daily in order to develop my skill to help me heal and grow.  this is so sooogood words  breathe deeply, relax, it is all good 
    thanks

  • Web Dude

    Working around alcohol is possible, sure. I also know many who are in recovery that do the same thing. But, what Tim describes is not recovery, it is someone trying to think and intellectualize their way out of not drinking. My point of reference is both the medical definition of addiction and recovery. The author has so far abstained from alcohol for about a year, thats it. That is not recovery, it is just abstinence. My take away from reading the article was that since the author explicitly said he did not want to use any external established recovery resources, that he must have felt his relationship with alcohol was one where pursuing those options would be the usual path, meaning, addiction. Otherwise, why bring those options up?

    If he doesn’t have an addiction, why does he need rules, rituals, and a set of seven different procedures to keep himself from drinking? A person who is not addicted just stops and does not continue the obsession. That is the very definition of addiction. 

    I cannot diagnose the author, but as I mentioned before there is a huge body of scientific literature about addiction, and thinking your way out of it by yourself is probably the least successful way of solving the problem that there is. And if there is a real addiction, there are much, much, more successful recovery strategies that are available. That is my message, if you are really addicted, truly, then just thinking about pretty colors is not going to stop you from getting high. It just won’t and it is a little silly posting that as any kind of advice for stopping ones triggers for using. Addiction is a extremely complex and compelling biological and psychological process and if this method worked, alcoholism and drug addiction would have been eradicated centuries ago. Doing it in isolation and working around your drug of choice in early recovery is an extremely dangerous place to be, and as I said, statistically speaking there are huge odds against the author achieving long term sobriety with this approach. That is not my personal opinion, it is the finding of virtually every study about addiction that has ever been conducted. Again, this is all predicated on there being an actual addiction. 

    So if you really are addicted, seek real help before it is too late, that would be the message that I hope to convey, and don’t think that you can do it yourself, because, you can’t. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called “addiction”, it would just be called  “a kinda bothersome habit I have decided I am going to stop doing now all by myself.”

    And Lori, I value your site a great deal, it has been a hugely inspiring and motivating site for me on a very consistent basis. However, this topic is delving into an area where misinformation is extremely dangerous and there is not the need for personal opinions, there are literally decades of research,  hospitals, and medical specialties exclusively devoted to this topic and there have been millions of hours of research published about it. Areas like this one, where peoples lives are absolutely at risk, should be given very serious consideration and there should be recognition of that existing information. Someone’s personal singular experience should not be positioned as a replacement for that body of knowledge. 

    This is a very polarizing and opinionated topic I realize that, but the facts are the facts and they are formed from the research and long term studies about effective treatment methods. I realize many people just do not want to hear that information, or discredit it,  but it is the best source of dispassionate hard data that is available to us.

  • Pingback: Wisdom Wednesday: Calm, Peaceful, and Loving « The Enlightened Path()

  • Silence is a virtue indeed.

  • Natalia

    Both of these exercises have put things into perspective for me. Thank you for sharing and reminding me that I am connected to everything.

  • Pat H

    What a wonderful post. Thank you so much.

  • Kboffuss

    Love the color/breathe activity.  Many times I’ve thought about setting an alarm on my phone as a reminder to sit back and breathe.  I’ve even put post it notes on my dashboard in my car but inevitably they fall off.  I’m starting this today and my color is orange, burnt orange to be exact since I find that a very soothing color already! Thanks thanks thanks.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

  • Beehoneyhive

    I too practice the color game and some of the other techniques you use and they help me to be more aware of my defects, and to work on changing them. It helps to be more tolerant, loving and kinder to others… I ask myself what do I see in them, that is me ,that bothers me. It helps to release the empathy for them in me…Brenda

  • Mick Wright

    Great post.  I like very much the color excercise and have started using it—even shared with a friend, who enjoys it as well.

    It provides a nice little oasis in a hectic day.

  • wow…thanks Dwayne!  I’m starting to see that a lot of what I experience is a result of my biology. 

    My brain has a way of firing…that silly voice that hates me is part of that process, so instead of “shutting it out” I listen to it like a little rambling 2 year old kid.  

    I get more amusement for the price of admission that way!  

  • Right on! I’m glad it help it you and your friend.  

    I was about to type something and thought of “Happy Gilmore”…..

    “Find your happy place Mick….”

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks Brenda.  

    I watched a great TedTalk a few weeks ago about the future of society. EMPATHY!  

    I think you’re on the right track for sure.  But, that may just be my confirmation bias kicking in.  

    Regardless, it’s nice to know I’m on the same page with someone!

  • There is so an APP for that!  

    No lie, man. You can download a mindfulness bell to your phone.  

    I hope this technique is working out for you.  

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    How awesome is Lori for letting me play on her website?  Very….

  • It’s my pleasure….in fact it’s kind of a mission for me.  

    Connection is a beautiful thing indeed.

  • ……………………………………..

  • It’s my pleasure to share these words. 
    Keep reminding yourself to relax.  Keep developing skills. 

    Remember …this too shall pass.  

    With practice the mountains turn back into mole hills, or you’ll learn to snowboard one or the other.

  • Best wishes back atcha Alannah Rose!  

    Thanks for commenting. 

  • Let me know if you need another “conceptual hug” Rutkmi.

    I’ve been off the charts many times my friend….many times…..

  • comment deleted due to it’s redundant nature….

  • I wrote metaphor about climbing a mountain in “It’s All About Me” describing the many different paths to the “peak”
               “How much easier it would
    be if climbers on their respective paths yelled out encouragement towards one another?
     How much more enjoyable would the assent
    be if climbers cheered the entire way up, not just for those who share the
    trail, but also for all whom climb the mountain?”

     

  • Nicely said Alannah Rose.  

    I’m not suggesting anyone do anything at all.  I’m just writing what worked for me, and sharing and comparing….
     

  • I am not in any way attempting to denounce AA as a viable solution to addictions treatment. I went to 3 meetings a day every day for the first 6 months (2004) of my sobriety. I regularly suggest that people who suffer with addictions find a meeting, get a sponsor, sit down and listen.  

    So to deduce all of what you’ve written above is a huge leap. 

    The relapse rate of Addicts with any level of support is very well documented. I agree with you there 100%. Relapse is an almost certain for any Addict: support system or not. addictioninfo (dot) org has a great article entitled Estimates of AAs Effectiveness.

    But, I already know first hand the reality of relapse. I’ve lost 4 friends to O.D.s, and my first sponsor called me when he needed help walking back into those rooms.

    So, yes I’m well aware that some hard data will tell you that I will. relapse. Only time will tell my friend.

    I’m not sure why it is you’re so upset with me.

    You’ve not spent one second in my presence before or after, yet you’re willing to write here that the way I live is not recovery? I don’t get that at all man.

    My family remembers, many of friends who are still alive today, they remember, and I remember the type of man I was in the winter of 2003, and none of them would agree with your assessment of my level of recovery or my personal growth.  

    My Mom just told me yesterday that she hopes I get the chance to be a father someday. She said “the man you’ve become in the past 8 years is amazing Tim. It makes me so proud to be your Mom.”….you calling my momma a liar? heheheh….

    honestly man, I didn’t write this article about addictions, although I briefly mention being sober for a year at the time.  

    You can read it any way you choose.

    The exercises I suggest have nothing to do with a choice I made not to get high or drink today. They are ways to remind me to breathe, be calm, peaceful, and loving.

    The second exercise is a way for me to discover the qualities of the person with whom I am upset and discover those very qualities in myself.

    My mind is not fixated on getting high, or drinking. That option is readily available for me if I ever so chose to walk that path again.

    But after burying my 10 year old nephew last year on the day that I would have taken my 7 year cake, then seeing 8 years roll on by, I’m pretty sure I’m good….but, hey who knows. I’m only living one day at time my friend.

    I hope you can read some of what I wrote and see if you can let go of some of the resentment you seem to have towards me….but I’m ok with it if you don’t. 

    I do want to suggest you re-read what I wrote and then read your comments.

    The tone of your comment is very angry and hostile, and you missed the whole point of the article entirely…that and you don’t seem to realize that the story took place in 2005.

    You just jumped in with that attack. “good luck staying sober comment.” DUDE really? Not cool man.

    I still love you anyhow man. I’m happy that you’re helping people who need you. I’m happy that you’re so passionate that you’re willing to post such a long statement diminishing the last 2,932 days of my life.

    I’m done with this cross talk. Lori, I am very sorry. If you feel compelled to delete this comment, I would more than understand. I mean no disrespect to you, tinybuddha.com, the author of this post, or anyone else for that matter….

  • It’s my pleasure Jeffrey.  

    That flight-or-fight one is gripper isn’t it?

  • JT…we’ve already met!!  

    I’m already a huge fan of yours. I’m going to figure out a way to get to the Big Island soon.  I have to meet you and your life partner and the pack.

  • oohhhhh…you had to mention Carlsbad now didn’t you??  

    I miss it so much.  I have a few friends that work at Hennessey’s …I think they’re still in Carlsbad.  
    Next time you’re out in the water please smile at the Pacific for me….I miss her so much.

  • I really do like when people agree with me.

  • I like what you’re saying here….

    Motives. 

    Very nice. 

  • You’re right…I didn’t. 

    I had no preferences, as long is it did the trick. 😉

  • Mind Body Soul Essentials

    Amazing. Thank you. Exactly what I needed at this time

  • Nelsi

    Nice post! And I want to try the color exercise!

  • Ciaoccgirl

    Just reading this post for the 1st time. Love your energy and your mind. I want to embrace my 2 year old brain and embrace empathy. I’m going to go look for red and breathe deeply relax and remember it’s all good. 🙂

  • thanks Nelsi!  I hope it works for you as well as it has for me.

  • Glad I could help!  

  • LadyBassMaster

    Tim, it’s been over a year since you posted this. I, however, am just now viewing. I wholeheartedly believe the color play will work for me, this is exactly what I was seeking. Not just someone else’s thoughts, but useful instructions. Thank you so much, I am excited to begin my journey first thing in the morning!

    Joyce
    Boise, idaho

  • I’m so stoked to read this!

    The internet is so awesome!!

  • YEAH!!

    This is a good way to spend my Sunday!

    Thank you for this comment

  • Staci Gullickson

    Creative piece , For my two cents , if anyone is wanting a MA CJ-D 301 L , my business edited a blank document here “https://goo.gl/gtGosg“.

  • Mpro

    It’s been 3 years since my divorce. The solid ground I once had, and took for granted has crumbled right in front of me.
    All of a sudden I realized I had lost control of my life. Losing myself in just being a single father and embracing only my daughters needs. I lost myself in the process. Drowning my pain and sadness with alcohol, only created more issues and fear.
    The daily anxiety has taken over, leaving me in such a negative state of mind.
    I no longer have a sense of security, or state of well being.
    Reading this post makes me realize self help is a journey, there is no quick fix to this.
    Habits and routines are difficult to change and I respect all of you who have made these changes in your life.
    For so long I just had a mindset it all would go away on its own. Though never addressing my sorrow or short comings.
    Well, a ball rolling down hill only picks up momentum. I have to chose the direction.
    I’ve been battling GAD/Codependency most of my life.
    Hearing the advice in this post is encouraging.
    I need to make deliberate changes and decisions daily to improve myself.
    I feel as though I’m not in the driver’s seat anymore and the negative has taken over.
    Living in this type of pain is overwhelming.
    I pray for all those who are looking for answers.

  • IRISH MCNEELY

    Good article, Thanks!