I’m reading this book called “Think Like a Monk” by Jay Shetty. He describes an encounter I keep thinking about: One day at the Ashram, Shetty sees a child no more than ten years old teaching a group of five year olds. When he asks the child what he’s doing, the child explains that he’s just taught the younger kids their first class ever. The child asks Shetty what he learned on his first day of school. Shetty answers as most of us would– numbers, alphabet, etc, and then turns the question back to the child, “What did they learn?” The child responds: “how to breathe– It’s the only thing that stays with you from the moment you are born until the moment you die…When you get stressed– what changes? Your breath. When you get angry– what changes? Your breath. We experience every emotion with the change of breath. When you learn to navigate and manage your breath, you can navigate any situation in life.”
From the breath of babes.
I couldn’t have crossed paths with this book at a better time either. A couple weeks ago I was having an abusive relationship with a small commissioned portrait– you’re wonderful! You’re horrendous! I love you! I hate you! Why can’t you just do what I want when I want!
And so on. After a few days of this roller coaster, I was ready to call it quits. Like the villain in a horror movie, I was clutching my palette knife above the surface of my victimized painting. I was going to stab or scrape the whole thing away. I had the same size canvas prepped and waiting for version 2.0. I got out the tools I needed to sketch the face on the new surface and start from scratch.
But I was tired. Frustrated. Knowing that my best art comes from neither of those places, I took a breath. A nice long, deep one. And in that breathe I realized there were no universes that hung in the balance of this painting. Then I boldly declared: I hereby grant you permission to start over IF you still feel like you need to… tomorrow. With that, I put down all my murder weapons and went to bed.
The next morning, I went into my workspace fully prepared to carry out the previous day’s nefarious intentions. Might as well get to it, I thought. But somehow, miraculously, when I approached the canvas, I saw that it had completely transformed. Well, more accurately, I had transformed. I saw the painting with new eyes. Ones that had rested. Ones that had taken a break from staring at all the little pieces and saw the whole thing.
What a joy and a surprise it was to not to have to start over after all. I took another long breath and let gratitude settle down somewhere in my gut a little.
Sometimes this story happens in reverse. I love the painting, and then when I pause and come back to it, I realize I need to begin again. It doesn’t bother me when I make that choice from a place of calm and honesty. It’s when I’m making those choices out of frustration that I typically go astray.
I haven’t mastered my breathing yet, and I don’t know if even monk school could ever get me there. And yet I am amazed at how much of a difference a small change can make in even one tiny instance. Breathe. Just Breathe.
The painting in this story just happens to be of a child studying a flower in that way only small children really can– with fresh and curious eyes. The kind of vision just breathing and walking way can help us cultivate.
Have you had the experience of seeing the same thing differently from one day to the next? Was it because of your mindset, your inner monk-ness, or some external factor? I’d love to hear about it!