Can you detail what pranayama is, this art of breathing that you practice?
This discipline consists of going to see what is behind the breath and discovering what it makes us think. Unlike breathing, which is dependent on the body and our physical condition, breath follows consciousness. For example, some grandmasters who suffer from serious lung problems have an immense breath, far greater than their lung capacity; for this, they use their “prana”. In Sanskrit, "prana" means universal vital energy. If I had to explain it in an image, I would say that the breath would be the horse and the "prana", the rider. Breathing is not just a simple mechanism, made of inspirations and expirations, it is a way of taking and giving.
Concretely, how do you optimize your daily prana?
Not only do I pay attention to it through daily training (yoga, meditation), but I also observe what it says about me. Some days, I get up tired, I only have 30% of my energy, so my practice consists of optimizing the 30% of breath I have: how to save it, direct it so as not to waste it. This idea joins the Dharma: we observed that slander costs us three times more breath than if we were in silence or spoke with compassion. An unconscious breath is a lost breath, while a conscious breath is a living breath.
In your book, you refer to the teachings of Zen masters Dogen and Shunryu Suzuki. What is your connection to Buddhism?
My Buddhist practice has changed a lot. I didn't study Buddhism to find a label for myself, I immersed myself in it because I couldn't imagine how I could live with so much suffering, both physical – through hepatitis C, a disease chronicle that accompanied me for thirty years – and morals.
“As my mind tries to explain the concept of impermanence to me, my breath brings it to life. »
The first noble truth of Buddhism, that life is suffering, gave me relief in the sense that I understood that what I was experiencing was real and that I could free myself from it. I followed this path for fifteen years, during which I studied the Dharma seriously. I meditated for about an hour a day, but found that for the remaining 23 hours, nothing changed. One day, I met a professor who, in two words, literally put my practice into perspective. Stephen Levine (1) said to me: “Have mercy”. Have kindness to yourself. The whole character that I had built for myself was demolished: I understood that the real way consisted in softening my gaze towards this part of me that was in resistance and in pain. I started from scratch and gradually compassion became my main practice, whatever tools I used. What I call the “breath of compassion” allowed me to ask myself this fundamental question: what if life was not a fight? If I were able to welcome the present moment, the breath that is there, that would allow me to split the armor.
Finally, Buddhism taught me to change “why” into “how”. No longer ask "Why the suicide of a child?" », « Why the betrayal of a spouse or a friend? because there will never be satisfactory answers, but rather "How am I going to get through this?" ".
How does meditation act in this dialogue with oneself?
I meditate every day, sitting; I start by Samatha to calm my mind and be in full presence with what is and what is not, this is the heart of my practice. We have six senses, the sixth being the mind. He is the one who leads us most often. Now, under this mind, there is a body. I understood that if my body was sick, it was my mind that transformed these pains into suffering. And that if I worked on my breath, I could rebalance myself. Yoga is a tool, the purpose of which is to arrive at the principle of equanimity. While my mind tries to explain the concept of impermanence to me, my breath makes me live it. Taisen Deshimaru said, "We can't train the mind with the mind, it's like trying to put out fire with fire. »
According to you, the breath would be the gateway to spirituality. That's to say ?
The breath is an inhabited silence. It is my link with the body, with life, but it is also a connection with the invisible, with greater, larger than oneself. In my book, I illustrate it with the legend of this Zen master who must choose between two disciples, of equal skill, who will assist him at the head of the monastery. To decide between them, he simply asks them to breathe: the first, annoyed and full of arrogance, takes a huge breath as if pulling out his muscles; the second, on the contrary, exhales calmly to create a necessary space and welcome this breath. This exhalation has an important spiritual function, that of freeing oneself from mental tumult. In Zen, it is said that inspiration is equivalent to birth, expiration to death, not physical, but that of illusion, of the ego...
Faced with the hardships you have gone through (cocaine addiction, illness), what has Buddhism brought you?
Buddhism kept me alive! Besides, it's still a great help to me today, especially when I'm well and I'm under the illusion that it will always be like this. This allows me to remain lucid, to realize that the path is endless.
About drug addiction: I don't call it "my" but "the" addiction, because Buddhism taught me not to identify myself, that it affects a part of oneself, not the whole of What am I. This post saved me!