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The French Art of Not Giving a Sh*t
Cut the Crap and Live Your Life
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- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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Be calm… Stop stressing… Embrace the universe… Try yoga… Be fulfilled… and that’s an order! We’re overwhelmed with these sorts of commands, and we often torture ourselves to “try harder,” yet somehow we never feel we’ve done quite enough. It’s about time we stop pushing ourselves to do what we think we’re supposed to do, and instead simply allow ourselves to be angry, be tired, be silly, be passionate–to stop giving a shit, and just be.
An international bestseller (now in English for the first time), The French Art of Not Giving a Sh*t by Fabrice Midal explains why the key to true mindfulness is freeing ourselves from social and often self-imposed stresses — and highlights how we can embrace life more fully by giving ourselves a break. He gives readers permission to:
Stop obeying — you are intelligent
Stop being calm — be at peace
Stop wanting to be perfect — accept life’s storms
Stop rationalizing — let things be
Stop comparing — be you
Stop being ashamed — be vulnerable
Stop tormenting yourself — become your own best friend
Stop wanting to love — be benevolent
One of the world’s leading teachers of meditation and mindfulness, Midal offers us a new solution to the perennial problem of our too-much, too-fast modern life. It’s OK, he urges us, to say no. It’s fine to quit the things that don’t fulfill you. It’s necessary, in fact, to give ourselves a break and say, simply, c’est la vie. In The French Art of Not Giving a Sh*t, Midal gives each of us permission to stop doing the things that don’t make us happy … so we have room in our lives for the things that do.
I have been hosting conferences and seminars in schools, businesses, and hospitals for many years now, and I always inevitably come away with the same conclusion: We spend all day tormenting ourselves.
We torment ourselves into adopting norms, rules, and models that don’t necessarily work for us. We torment ourselves because we want to do better, but we feel as if we never actually achieve the best result. We torment ourselves because we’re sure that other people know how to do better than us. We often torment ourselves even without anything being asked of us.
We are caught up in frenetic activity that completely blinds us. Gripped by the need to do, we no longer see that in reality we’re doing nothing; after getting all worked up, we forget what’s truly important. We forget how to live.
So, it’s time to stop giving a shit! My experience has taught me that there is no better way to rediscover our potential and the forgotten possibilities that lie within us. Just stop! It’s time to break free from unnecessary protocols and procedures, to take a leave from self-imposed stresses. And when you do, you will discover a well of energy enabling you to go that extra mile.
You don’t need to escape to the top of a mountain or the depths of a cave to think: Stay right where you are and stop forcing yourself to think so hard. Give yourself a break; it’s the best way to get by in a world full of suffering, misery, and inhumanity. We need to make a change now. You can start today, by not giving a shit…
Never ask your way from someone who knows it. You might fail to get lost.
—Rabbi Nachman of Bretslov1
Do I meditate? This is something I occasionally think about when I see the avalanche of books and conferences that all exhort us to practice meditation, endeavor to teach us its techniques, and glibly reel off its benefits.
Do I meditate? No, not as such. I never force myself to do so, and when I don’t feel like meditating, I do something else.
I don’t use a specific technique, nor do I rely on any set of instructions. I meditate to free myself from all forms of command.
And my aim is not to become wise, or calm, or patient. I have no aim, no objective, not even the idea of starting or finishing the day in any particular state of mind.
I’ve been meditating for more than twenty-five years, and I have been teaching the practice for almost fifteen, but I have no techniques to hand over or empty promises to make. When I started teaching, many people actually predicted that I would fail. What could I possibly teach when the groundwork for my practice is that meditation is unproductive, that it doesn’t make you more efficient, it doesn’t make you wiser, and that, deep down, it has no “purpose,” in the common sense of the term? But in fact, it’s precisely because meditation frees us from being enslaved to the modern demands of usefulness and profitability that we are lucky it exists.
Over the years, I’ve seen this obsession with performance turn toxic in the world around me. Profitability and usefulness have become the world’s mantra…and meditation is in no way exempt. I have witnessed countless new manuals and exercises guaranteeing results after ten or twenty sessions of mindful meditation, almost to the point of prescribing a proper dosage. We are told that meditation should be used in companies to improve profitability, in schools to heighten students’ concentration and efficacy, and at home to feel less stressed.
I see beginner meditators confused, then disgusted, because their apprenticeship has failed: They haven’t been transformed, nor do they even feel less stressed. Presumably, they tell me, they haven’t concentrated hard enough, or they have failed to detach themselves from their thoughts. They’ve been distracted, they haven’t been sitting properly—or maybe their chosen technique, which was in fact quite difficult, wasn’t the right one for them. In fact, they’ve worked themselves up to a state of nervous anticipation, as if they were about to take an oral exam. But as we all know, the tenser you are, the more you focus on the need to succeed, the greater the risk of showing up with a knotted throat and sweaty hands. You experience more fear than enjoyment, and thus you have a higher chance of failing.
This type of meditation is not mine. Meditation, as I see it, is not a technique or an exercise, and there’s nothing mysterious about it: It is an art of living. The art of not giving a shit. I prescribe nothing, I guarantee nothing, I provide no tricks or tips. I don’t suggest you observe your thoughts as they pass by without lingering over them, like clouds that end up fading away. This kind of technique is not inherently wrong, but in practice it quickly turns out to be tedious and downright boring. And when you’re bored, you’re no longer alive. I have no desire to torture myself over some idea that I need to meditate. I’m more interested in the intelligence and humanity of those around me. I know that what I have to say will raise some eyebrows, but I deeply believe it’s true.
In the end, you meditate only when you stop trying to meditate: when you rid yourself of the absolute need to achieve, to accomplish, to meet a goal, and thus to be anxious about failing. Of course, I have my moments when I’m uptight; but ordering myself to relax is the best way to get even more uptight. And to torture myself. I don’t even have to wait for someone to tell me to relax in order to feel stressed, because I’m very good at torturing myself on my own. Like most people, I tend to want to do things well. So well that I put extreme pressure on myself. I set challenges and then panic about not being able to live up to them. Yet I know from experience that when I simply observe that I’m uptight, and I sincerely allow myself to continue to be so—in other words, when I don’t give a shit about being uptight—then funnily enough, I usually end up relaxing very quickly.
Daring to give yourself a break—which is at once so simple and so complicated—and having the audacity to actually not give a shit, that is what I call meditation.
I remember how my grandparents used to spend ages silently staring at a fire smoldering in the fireplace. As Communists, they had distanced themselves from religion and spirituality. They were far from being mystics and had never heard of meditation, but their evenings in front of the fire were as close as you can get to what I call meditation. For them, it was a form of mental hygiene. An act that was natural, banal, but indispensable. As natural and banal as walking, moving, getting tired, or doing what we call exercise—which now involves expert advice, machines, instructions, and devices used to measure our performance, which we then use to compare ourselves with others. Our great-grandparents didn’t need to go for a run to stay fit.
I was fourteen when I first heard about the practice of meditation, which at the time was virtually unknown. It intrigued me, but I was afraid that I’d turn into some kind of vegetable if I took it up. Doesn’t doing nothing for a moment imply calling it quits? What’s more, if such a simple method really worked, I told myself, then wouldn’t everyone be doing it? So, I turned back to the books I was reading and the poems I was writing. But deep down, I was still intrigued.
At the age of twenty-one, I took the plunge. I had started studying philosophy, and my disappointment was as great as the initial enthusiasm that had led me down this path. To be honest, I couldn’t cope. I had taken up my studies of the great philosophers in secret, while my parents thought I was studying law. Lying to them left me uneasy, but I also hoped that I might finally succeed in doing something that appealed to me. My grades, however, were mediocre. I found it impossible to read the assigned books, and when I did make the enormous effort to do so, I immediately forgot about the concepts I was supposed to master.
One day, I rang the doorbell of a group of Americans whose address I’d been given; I was feeling completely overwhelmed. An extremely affable man welcomed me and, in just a few words, introduced me to meditation: All I needed to do, he said, was sit down comfortably on my cushion and be present, attentive to what was happening. To put aside my knowledge and skills, and not try to understand, because there was nothing to understand. I couldn’t believe it: This time I really didn’t have anything complicated to do. That was how I meditated for the first time, without yet realizing that I’d been fortunate enough to be initiated by Francisco Varela. The friendly man who’d opened the door was in fact one of the modern world’s greatest neurobiologists and a pioneer in exploring the link between science and mindfulness.
On my cushion, I finally experienced true relief. It came as a shock! I was a poor student whose report cards were always full of comments like “could do better,” “needs to be severely punished,” and “has his head in the clouds.” I wanted to do better, but I didn’t understand what was required, nor what that had to do with life itself. In elementary school, things weren’t so bad. Whenever I had a problem or was sad, I went to see my teacher and then felt better thanks to the caring and trusting relationship we had. But in junior high, we had so many teachers…I had no personal relationships with any of them. I no longer understood anything. We just had to do this or do that. Learn the lesson. Well, I couldn’t do it.
But now, for the first time, I didn’t have to succeed in accomplishing anything: All I had to do was to be present to what existed, to return to my bodily presence, my breathing, my sensations, my perceptions, what was around me.
At last I felt at home, and I started to attend these group sessions regularly. Sometimes I put a lot of intensity into my practice, even if I was basically being asked to unwind. I experienced sessions during which I was afraid of failing. There was nothing to fail, but I didn’t really know that yet, and I found it hard to believe. I experienced times when I was worried about being judged, even though no one was there to judge me, and in those moments I felt let down and lost. I could barely breathe because I was focusing so hard on doing well. I didn’t yet know that there was nothing to do. I’d have liked someone to tell me “Just stop giving a shit,” but that wasn’t something people said at the time. I could glean it on occasion, but I still thought I’d misunderstood. Despite myself, I reverted to the mechanisms we put into action whenever we have a task to perform in our everyday lives: I was “paying attention.” Attention to not making mistakes, to sitting properly and breathing well. But that was when, suddenly, things would get mixed up, and I’d lose all sense of meditation.
It took me time, and trial and error, before I could finally accept that meditation quite simply means not giving a shit. And that not giving a shit, the golden rule of meditation, should be the leitmotif of any existence. We’re conditioned constantly to “do”: to cook, work, love, watch a movie, answer the phone. Even when we say, “I’m not doing anything,” in reality we’re doing many things: We channel surf, we talk to ourselves, we shift from one thought or activity to another, discontinuously, in fear of a moment of silence. Our attention has become fragmented, and we get the impression that if we take a pause we’re unproductive, that we’re wasting our time rather than accomplishing something vital or fulfilling.
Deep down, meditation is quite simply the art of being: stopping, giving ourselves a break, no longer running but remaining in the present, and anchoring ourselves in our bodies. It is a school of life. Being requires no specific knowledge. Nor does meditation in the way I understand and practice it. In fact, there are no meditation skill sets; the Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who lived and taught in the United States in the late 1960s, often repeated that many times beginners are the best at meditation, while experts tend to get lost in overcomplicating it. Meditation, in a sense, means remaining a beginner. Open and curious. You do nothing, and yet plenty of things happen.
I have been trained in a practice that sees meditation as a form of freedom rather than as a technique based on methods or protocol. This is what is now called, quite appropriately, the practice of mindfulness, which implies a total presence rather than a total consciousness. In this respect, meditating is as simple as cleaning your teeth or staring at a fire in a fireplace.
Try it. Sit down. On a cushion, or a chair, it doesn’t matter. No posture is imposed or outlawed. Sitting down is not a technique, it’s just a very simple way of managing to do nothing, and not being preoccupied by anything. I might also add some commonsense advice: Sit up straight to remain alert, present, and available. Rather than a constraint, I see this as a natural posture: When you watch a movie or attend a conference, it’s quite natural to sit up at the most important moments when you don’t want to miss anything.
Being upright opens the mind to the fullness of the present. It’s no coincidence that we sing more naturally while standing in the shower than when slumped on the couch! Funnily enough, researchers are now exploring this phenomenon. For example, in a recent study, participants were divided into two groups. Researchers asked the first group to slouch with drooping shoulders, as if apologizing. Meanwhile, the second group had to stand up straight, in a posture of success. Then both groups had to carry out the same exercises. In the first group, the participants got stuck and made mistakes. In the second, those standing upright succeeded brilliantly.
Staying upright while meditating can be uncomfortable at first. It takes some time to get used to it, but you must be daring enough to try! You may end up with an aching back or sore legs. Then you should allow yourself to recognize—with care and kindness, and without feeling guilty—that you haven’t been sitting “badly,” you haven’t “failed”; your back or legs just hurt, and this pain doesn’t need to be judged. The point is not to torment yourself: If you change your position after a while, you don’t deserve to be punished. I’m sometimes asked by meditators if they are “allowed to…” Forget this idea of what’s allowed and what isn’t, and replace it with freedom. Then who cares if you don’t manage to stay upright?
Are you awash with thoughts? So be it. I don’t force myself to empty my mind—all that would happen then would be the opposite effect, leading to an uncontrollable flood of images and worries. Instead, I acknowledge what is happening, taking my thoughts as they come. I don’t dissect them, nor do I declare war on them or push them out. I consider that all my thoughts, all my perceptions, are a part of meditation. Ultimately, I don’t do anything. I just am.
Meditating doesn’t mean becoming detached or disembodying yourself. On the contrary, it means opening yourself to the world through your senses, and thus through your body. It means feeling the contact of your feet with the ground, your hands on your thighs, your clothes on your skin. It means hearing a car as it brakes, a passerby who speaks, without trying to understand, or judge, or even put words on what is happening. All it means is being aware: You hear, you see, you’re hungry, you’re engaged, and soon the sound becomes amplified, it becomes infinite, it becomes poetry…
We can forget that it’s not always necessary to explain, understand, justify, or criticize ourselves and others. I view meditation as very simple, easy training to embrace this attitude. I don’t see this training as an exercise, nor as working on oneself. It’s not a rule or a challenge; rather, it’s an invitation to let oneself go. It isn’t a method for introspection or self-improvement. It isn’t about “me, myself, and I.” Because “me” isn’t just some isolated individual meditating only to stare into my own soul. By meditating, I discover the extent to which I belong to the world. I engage with what is, myself included, in an action of kindliness that life has taught us to forget.
Stop meditating…and breathe. Breathing is a natural action that requires no effort. But at the same time, it is an extraordinary phenomenon, the very act of life. Simply by giving myself a break and by breathing, I am alive! Meditating is similar. It is a natural act that allows me to let life return, and through which I become alive once again. It is above all an action that can be adopted at any time, an action that consists of a kind of attention and benevolence, beyond any judgment. Am I sad, or annoyed? Then I stare my sadness or annoyance in the face…and then I stop giving a shit. Meditation is a form of breathing without guidelines or sanctions. And therein lies its healing power. Breathing means becoming resynchronized with life. Meditating means not giving a shit and allowing ourselves to become human once again.
You are intelligent
Resolve no longer to be slaves, and you are free!
—Étienne de La Boétie1
When I was a child, my family and I went on vacation in the south of France. At the beach, my parents entered my sister and me into a sand-castle competition. We had an hour, and I set about building a real castle, with keeps and drawbridges. I didn’t even finish half of it. My sister, on the other hand, decided to sculpt a ladybug and dot it with strawberry jam (she’d brought a jar from home). She won first prize. I was hugely disappointed: not because she’d won, but because she hadn’t followed the instructions. The competition’s organizers had rewarded her creativity and, of course, her ability. I do have to admit her ladybug was pretty good.
This anecdote comes back to me every time I’m tempted to blindly follow rules, which inevitably end up just holding me back. Whether these rules have been given to me by others or, even more frequently, are self-imposed (these I call habits), I end up needlessly confining myself to what I think is the right thing, when in fact what I’m doing is actually quite absurd…
Obeying often seems to be the simple and safe solution. When we conform to the rules, we are no longer afraid of getting things wrong; by following instructions to the letter, we’re sure of doing well. But without even realizing it, what we’re actually doing is consigning ourselves to servitude.
In 1549, the French writer and philosopher Étienne de La Boétie wrote an extraordinary book titled Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
- On Sale
- Dec 19, 2017
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Hachette Books