San Francisco author and longtime Zen practitioner Gary Gach had a goal during the five years it took him to write his new book “Pause Breathe Smile: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough.”
“It was a field that needed consolidation,” says Gach, describing how it’s been 40 years since the publication of “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation,” the influential volume by his teacher, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
“I wanted to establish a solid base from which to build out, and include ethical, everyday practice as well as the philosophy that has informed mindfulness from the very beginning,” says Gach, who speaks about the book on Sunday at Green Arcade in The City.
Calling it “the biggest self-help trend since yoga,” Gach, who also wrote the best-selling “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism,” says mindfulness has been a topic of focus in medicine, education and the military, and, most recently, business.
“There isn’t a big economic summit where mindfulness isn’t being offered,” he says, noting how it’s part of the ethos of 21st century companies such as Salesforce and LinkedIn.
“Pause Breathe Smile” also is, in part, a response to the beginning of a backlash, particularly a 2013 Huffington Post story called “Beyond McMindfulness” by Ron Purser and David Loy.
Gach, who wrote the easy-to-read volume for a general audience, says, “I wanted it to be a light book. You can dip into any section at any time.”
While Gach carefully describes the importance of simply breathing, being aware of breathing and of the emotional and physical impact of smiling, he also shares Golden Rule-themed training points: reverence for life (do not kill); true happiness (generous thinking, speaking and acting); true love (as opposed to indiscriminate sexual desire), loving speech and deep listening (avoiding petty gossip) and nourishment and healing (cultivating good health and avoiding toxins).
He says, “Compassion and wisdom can only be realized through action.”
While “Pause Breathe Smile” clearly promotes positivity and sobriety in today’s stressful times, Gach says the book isn’t a necessarily response to the 2016 presidential election. “We might think we have more suffering in the world, but maybe we’re [just] becoming more aware of it.”
The teacher of a Zen mindfulness practice group at the Aquatic Park Senior Center in The City, Gach himself practices what he preaches (although he says, “I didn’t write the book to tell people what I know”). But he adds, “I wouldn’t leave in a paragraph unless I tried it out for myself.”
Upon hearing that one person placed a Post-It note on her desk’s computer terminal with the book’s guidelines for conscious breathing — in, out; deep, slow; calm, ease; smile, release; and present, wonderful” — he said, “When you breathe you are alive; we recognize that there is no other moment available to us to be alive.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Green Arcade, 1680 Market St., S.F.
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 9
Contact: (415) 431-6800, www.thegreenarcade.com
Pause Breathe Smile: Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough
Written by: Gary Gach
Published by: Sounds True