Marc de Smedt: In times of confinement, meditating helps to regain more inner freedom

- through Sophie Solere

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A recognized editor in the field of spirituality, Marc de Smedt is also the author of numerous works, including a classic, praise of silence, well adapted to our times. After discovering meditation half a century ago with the Zen master Taïsen Deshimaru, he continues to practice it in a secular way. His latest work, The Roots of Meditation and Awakening Practices, has just been published by Albin Michel.

It is difficult to put words to the current period as the Coronavirus crisis places us in an unprecedented situation, to say the least troubled and anxiety-provoking... How do you view it?

We were aware of the positive sides of globalization which have allowed interesting advances, with the free circulation of ideas and people, the possibility of discovering other cultures, practices, etc. There, we take the full brunt of its dark side: an international pandemic, which intervenes violently on all levels: personal, societal, economic and the threat of a major crisis... Suddenly, the system is torn apart with, moreover, the remission question of our habits and a potentially deadly threat!

Let's try to live this moment in a serene way, because it surely has a lot to teach us. The confinement also confronts us with big questions: will this situation make me half crazy or, on the contrary, wiser? Will I end up depressed or rather learn from it allowing me to go further? It's a real challenge, far from being easy, but it forces us to confront these questions.

Doesn't the emergence of this crisis symbolize the manifestation of the idea of ​​impermanence, dear to Buddhism?

Obviously, this illustrates that everything remains incredibly fragile, that nothing is ever fixed, that everything is transformed, sometimes with brutality... There is this very beautiful Buddhist phrase, which says: "You who have had the chance to take on human form, don't waste your time". This adage has always had a dazzling effect on me: too often, we spend a lot of time worrying about small, futile details on a daily basis. In life, there are many things that tend to restrict us, to narrow our minds. This is precisely what meditation is for: to broaden our field of consciousness. The act of growing oneself is another definition of the word "meditation". So yes, you have to learn to live with and manage perpetual change, whatever it may be...

Can meditation be an effective remedy in this period of confinement?

Of course, this is the time to develop introspection. It is a question of learning to no longer be the compulsive actor of one's existence, in order to accept becoming its spectator. Meditation will help to better understand this period, to see things from another angle. This is the famous oriental metaphor that compares the human being to a glass of muddy water: if you leave the glass on the bottom, the mud settles to the bottom and the clear water appears. This is exactly what happens in us in meditation: the mind becomes clear! Admittedly, the mud does not disappear, it stays there, but before, it was in dispersion, everywhere, in the consciousness. And the wise tell us that it is because it settles at the bottom of the pond that the seed of the lotus, which represents wisdom, can take root in the mud... Here is an absolutely magnificent example which perfectly tells what happens in the process of meditation.

At a time when confinement imposes strong, long and unexpected deprivations of our freedoms, could meditation be a way to reconsider and reconnect with the very essence of the word "freedom"?

the zen master Deshimaru, during his teaching that I followed for eleven years (1), insisted on this, constantly: he repeated that meditation helps to cut us off from the illusions that permanently inhabit us. We live imprisoned in a universe of fantasies from which meditation helps to free ourselves. There is like a therapeutic process, which consists of cleaning the mind and then offering a completely different connection to reality, thanks to another look at what surrounds us, at nature, at people... Depending on the circumstances, the confinement can therefore help us to develop a form of inner freedom within us. This is the first mission that meditation gives itself! In Zen, there is this formula which says that one must “be free like the bird in the sky or the fish in the water”. It is the word “free” that is used: meditation invites you to breathe, but ultimately aims for freedom!

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to try meditation during this time?

Even if there is noise, even if the situation is difficult, there are plenty of small moments of tranquility that are offered to us, each day, to meditate: at bedtime, on waking, between two tasks , at night… And then, you don't need to meditate for hours! I am a fan of micro meditations: as soon as I feel carried away by anxieties, doubts or too intense an emotion, I breathe deeply with long exhalations, I calm the game and I put myself in a state of "spectator". And this phenomenon of muddy water becoming clear occurs in me. This is what must be applied today!

How to make with the children so that they feel that?

There is, for example, the so-called “Vowels” technique, which I particularly like: you sing each vowel, three times in a row, until the end of your breath and respecting a small silence of a few moments between each. You come out completely clean, it's like a small indoor shower! It sounds very simple, but it works very well with an immediate effect. This is typically the kind of exercise that seems appropriate to me at the moment: very accessible, young and old can practice it, at least once a day, and it allows you to look at reality differently while breathing deeply.

“Meditation is the famous oriental metaphor which compares the human being to a glass of muddy water: if you leave the glass on the bottom, the mud settles to the bottom and the clear water appears. This is exactly what happens in us in meditation: the mind becomes clear! »

In general, we must rediscover the pleasures of reading or playful creation, music, painting, gardening, if we can... This can also be the time to experience moments of media starvation: we must know how to cut our thread in the paw and take distance with all this mass of news which has a rather terrifying addictive side: listening to the news over and over ends up generating a kind of anxiety which confines us even more!

Can meditation also help to better manage confinement with others?

If I walk into a room feeling angry or anxious, it will be felt by everyone present. If, on the contrary, I arrive smiling and relaxed, the atmosphere of the room will change positively. From the moment when our perspective of the world changes, when we are no longer in a fearful but peaceful perspective, then inevitably, we evolve differently in the world. We never come out of a meditation the same as we entered it and therefore our relationship to others suffers. It works by concentric waves, in short.

On a personal note, have you changed your meditation practice since the arrival of the Coronavirus?

My meditations are, in any case, all imbued with it, that's for sure. We cannot ignore such an upheaval! It's all the more interesting that there is precisely a lot of work to be done in relation to that: if we start to meditate in the face of this anxiety, it falls away. We find ourselves in our body and in our being - in our "here and now" - and as we breathe, we find an inner calm, and all this is diluted... Basically, it's the same for every moment of our life: after an argument, our meditation is bathed in this confrontation. The challenge is precisely to be able to change your outlook and clarify your anxieties by going deep within yourself. This is how you develop the best of yourself, which is the ultimate goal of all these techniques. "Be your own torch, your own light", said the Buddha, in one of his last formulas, sublime: this means that the solutions are also within us.

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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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