In my own breathwork practice, I have noticed that the experience is different when breathing in a group of people compared to breathing by myself. Not that one is “better” or more important than the other – just different. I’ve come up with various explanations for this difference, e.g. something to do with “energy in the room”. But recently, I came upon a reading that shed some light on this question, at least for me. This reading helped me to see why I am drawn to certain circles of people, as well as what I hope to create in breath circles that I lead. It has to do with the connection between kindness and authenticity.
The great and fierce mystic William Blake said, There is no greater act than putting another before you. This speaks to a selfless giving that seems to be at the base of meaningful love. Yet having struggled for a lifetime with letting the needs of others define me, I've come to understand that without the healthiest form of self-love—without honoring the essence of life that this thing called “self” carries--putting another before you can result in damaging self-sacrifice and endless codependence.
I have in many ways over many years suppressed my own needs and insights in an effort not to disappoint others, even when no one asked me to. This is not unique to me. Somehow, in the course of learning to be good, we have all been asked to wrestle with a false dilemma: being kind to ourselves or being kind to others. In truth, though, being kind to ourselves is a prerequisite to being kind to others.
Honoring ourselves is, in fact, the only lasting way to release a truly selfless kindness to others. So, the real and lasting practice for each of us is to remove what obstructs us so that we can be who we are, holding nothing back. If we can work toward this kind of authenticity, then the living kindness—the water of compassion—will naturally flow. We do not need discipline to be kind, just an open heart.
When we bare our inwardness fully, exposing our strengths and frailties alike, we discover a kinship in all living things, and from this kinship a kindness moves through us and between us. The mystery is that being authentic is the only thing that reveals to us our kinship with life.
In this way, we can unfold the opposite of Blake's truth and say, there is no greater act than putting yourself before another. Not before another as in coming first, but rather as in opening yourself before another, exposing your essence before another. Only in being this authentic can real kinship be known and real kindness released.
It is why we are moved, even if we won't admit it, when strangers let down and show themselves. It is why we stop to help the wounded and the real. When we put ourselves fully before another, it makes love possible.
From Mark Nepo’s, “Book of Awakening”, excerpts from January 26 and January 27.