How Healing Yourself Can Help Heal the World
In the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, we all face fundamental questions that go beyond our reactions of grief, anger and fear. How do we create peace? How do we contribute to building a world free of anger, fear and hatred?
The World Trade Center attack made one thing very clear: we are all interdependent. We are part not only of a local and national community but also of a global community. Whatever benefits that global community will benefit us, and whatever harms that global community will harm us. Similarly, who we are and what we do will either benefit the global community or harm it. Each of us needs to be supported by our community�the earth. We also need to be individuals who support that community. We are cells in a larger organism. Each of us either brings vitality and health into the larger organism or becomes a source of weakness and illness. So where do we start? How do we become who we need to be?
Here�s a story that can provide an answer. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who helped save thousands of Vietnamese orphans, faced the devastation of war head-on. In the midst of bombings and chemical warfare, he organized his fellow monks in daily rescue operations of helpless children. Often his helpers came to him saying, �I can�t take it anymore, it�s too horrible, frightening, exhausting, I�m too angry and scared.� He would smile sweetly, and then say kindly, �Just breathe. When the pain or fear come to you, breathe. Feel your breath in, feel your breath out.� And somehow the monks found this healing, strengthening. They went on, they endured and did much more than that. They accomplished wonderful healing work, creating a safe haven for the next generation.
�Just breathe.� Such a simple idea, with such profoundly healing consequences, first for ourselves and then for others. Years ago, when I was crippled by illness, I began to pay attention to my breathing, just to notice it and follow it. Doing this daily, I gradually became calmer. I found an anchor for myself, a safe haven when my mind wanted to be obsessed by my pain or my anxiety. My breath helped refocus me. And then other changes began to unfold. By simply breathing, I began to enjoy the feeling of my body, to feel present, alive. I began to be able to stay compassionately with my own pains, hurts, loneliness, anger, to breathe through these feelings. Instead of running away from myself, or acting out my fears on others, I was for the first time a real friend to myself. I heard myself, soothed myself, listened and breathed, in much the way that a mother provides a compassionate presence for her children. And as I did this, not only did health and strength return. I also learned how to be calmer in the face of difficult events. I breathed my way through them, found a ground and center.
Then the next miracle happened. Because I was calmer inside, I could see and hear and feel where others were more clearly, without draining my own energy. I began to appreciate others more deeply, to care more, and to help, all without depleting myself. And if someone needed guidance out of their own fear or anger or other negative patterns, I could find a way to offer that more effectively than in the past, when I might have been critical, judgmental or irritable.
I discovered a simple, age-old truth. By learning to be with myself, to bring peace to myself, I could be more effective both in creating happiness in my own life and in offering a helping hand to others.
So, dear reader, the world needs you. It needs you to be at peace, and to bring strength to yourself and to the world through your peace. Take the time today and every day to sit quietly and do nothing but breathe. Follow your breath, feel your body, welcome yourself into feeling yourself, feeling your aliveness, being with you. No matter where you are, just breathe and be with you. Make no judgments. Just breathe, listen and feel, and accept who you are. This is the ultimate act of love. Loving kindness to yourself will eventually help heal the world. God bless you.
�2001, Ingrid Bacci, Ph.D., The Art of Effortless Living and the Effortless Practice Audio Program are available at a discount on