Breathing Peace

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 10 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I wanted to say something about peace, because I did this experiment. Tom was talking about, “If you’re in a state of peace, then doesn’t life get boring?” You’re not pissed – peace.


You can go and have a piss if you want.


So I did this experiment where I tried doing really slow, deep breathing all day, from when I woke up till I went to bed, and I realized from the effect of that that what it does is – it’s like your emotions affect your breathing and your breathing affects your emotions. So if you breathe with that particular breath, you feel that emotion.

I found that that breath is the breath of peace. It’s very, very slow, and very smooth, and very consistent. And it’s the breath of peace, so I moved into the state of being in peace. No matter what happened, no matter what I was doing, I felt peace. And it was amazing. It was like everything happens like a gift, and I just felt very content and very peaceful.

And then I thought, why not do this every day? And one of the thoughts that came was, well, if I do that, then I won’t really be alive, because I will just be feeling peace all the time.

But then I realized that peace is like an emotion that contains all the other emotions. So when I’m stuck in anger, I’m in anger. And when there is anger, or when I’m in sadness, I’m in sadness, and really know sadness. But peace contains anger and sadness and all the other emotions, because the effortless way to peace is acceptance of everything, including all these other emotions.

And so even though you don’t get lost in anger, or lost in sadness, or lost in jealousy, instead of peace, I can understand and fully empathize with those states, and so I can kind of act angry in an authentic way. I can be angry without being lost in anger, when I’m in a state of peace.

CTT: I think one of the things you’re illustrating also is that the word “peace” is kind of broad gauge and probably contains several different things within it, some of which are desirable and some of which are not.

So for instance, suppose you are a reckless driver. You know, you move over between lanes too fast, speed too fast, and so forth. I could make you a better driver by tinkering with your engine so most of the cylinders didn’t fire and you could only creep along at five miles an hour. You wouldn’t be very reckless at five miles an hour. Or let the air out of your tires, or something like that. That’s a kind of peace you can get by forcing your whole system into a slow mode or a defective mode, and I think some of the tranquilizing drugs do that in a way, too. Just turn the whole system down.

But in the long run, I’d rather teach you to be a better driver than have to disable your car that way. This is a hint – the spirituality of the future will be couched in analogies about cars, for that’s where our real souls are! None of these chariots like in the Hindu scriptures!


Maybe motorcycles for some people! 😉

Student: I’m not sure if you’re implying that the practice was like taking a drug. To me, it seemed like the result was the same as if I’d done a lot of Vipassana, basically. But the thing is, it was ethical in that I had to effortly concentrate on doing that breath in order to obtain that state, whereas I would imagine after a lot of Vipassana, then I would both breathe in that way and I would experience that state without having to actually do it consciously.

CTT: You wouldn’t do Vipassana that way.

Student: No, no. I mean the result of having done Vipassana. Because I would have no – because Vipassana would result in me having more automatic peace, because I would have integrated more of Vipassana.

CTT: This is tricky here. Okay? The goal of Vipassana is not peace. Or at least if it is a goal, it’s a way-long-term, “let it happen by itself” kind of thing. You can do meditative exercises to induce the peace directly, such as long slow breathing, or something like that. That’s a very powerful procedure, actually.

But you don’t want the peace with a price of ignorance. You could wear blinders when you drove, and that way you wouldn’t feel threatened by those people who zoom up on the side of you. But you really better know when those people are zooming up in case you need to take evasive sort of action.

You don’t want to cut out your capacity to respond with feelings like fear or anxiety and the like. You want to keep from being irrationally carried away by them.

Let’s say somebody would say something to you that could be taken as insulting. Gurdjieff would say that a person who was really normal would have a flash of anger or fear. You got the message – maybe this person is being aggressive toward me – and you could now act intelligently on that message, but you didn’t have to keep dwelling on the message.

But what happens in most people is that when an emotion like that is induced, it triggers off related memories. It starts distorting your perception, and you start seeing this person doing other things that are obviously aggressive signs, when in fact they’re not, and it reminds you of all those people who ever picked on you anyway, and it wasn’t fair, and someday you’ll blow up the whole world, and blah blah blah.

We get into these emotional loops as a result of something that only lasts a fraction of a second, a lot of times. That’s the emotional system, or the bodily system, or the intellectual system running away with itself instead of giving a mindful response to what’s actually there. Stay in touch with what actually is. And then if you need to make a decision about it, you need to make a decision.

So you don’t want to cut that sensitivity out, but the peace comes as a side effect of not “going away,” of not cocooning yourself in dullness or ignorance.

Student: And it’s because you have these negative emotions very briefly, and then you go back to peace, and so then you don’t spend a long time in this stuck emotion.

CTT: I think most spiritual systems would say our actual, natural, resting state is peaceful. They might not want to say peace with a big capital P and an ecstatic connotation, but a kind of calm, open – peaceful is the word that keeps coming to mind – state.

It’s when these other things start…. I mean, an indication now might be how often is it that somebody said something hurtful to you in the morning and it ruined your whole day? You just spend the whole day going over it and over it. Not that it got you anywhere except to make you more agitated.

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