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Heat with a Cool Heart

Inside: Course Guide

The Thai woman was teaching me to be aware of the air that was coming into my lungs, aware of that and of little else. She had a stillness about her that could change your life.

"In one," she said, ". . . out one. In two . . . out two. Follow your breathe."

She pronounced the noun as if it were the verb, a happy mistake since it made the lesson memorable, and I say it to myself now.

Follow your breathe.

Much of middle age is spent understanding what you have done wrong in life, but it's particularly humbling to realize that you have not yet learned to breathe. That appeared to be my problem. Take a deep breath. Told to do that, like most American men I respond as if to the drill sergeant and suck in my belly. That produces not a breath but a gulp. My instructor smiles with patience and explains that a true breath expands the stomach. There. Like that. She asks me to count my breaths all the way to ten. "Most people cannot do. They think of something else. So then start over."

We were going somewhere, it was hoped, into a meditative state, and ultimately to the place the Thais call nippan. What is nippan? "It is the vo-id." The vo-id? "Emptiness. Because suffering changes. Happiness changes. Nippan does not change."

The warm morning air of the tropical island of Phuket flowed through the door, soft atonal music played, and further off the Andaman Sea presented itself to the shore. I was not at nippan, but I was somewhere very agreeable.

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