If you want to just immediately begin meditating, now, take a breath and notice what that feels like. Be alert to what is coming through your senses to inform you of the dynamics of your breathing right now. Find something to enjoy about breathing right now. You can start meditating by simply beginning to explore your own experience.
How do you know you are breathing?
Breathing is by nature an intimate act. We invite atoms of oxygen to come in to our bodies and circulate everywhere.
Breathing is global and world wide. The air as made of atoms of oxygen and nitrogen that have been breathed in and out by other beings – plants, algae in the ocean, dinosaurs, angels, birds, whales – for billions of years.
And as with any intimate relationship, issues arise that must be dealt with: fear of intimacy, control issues, dominance, coordination, synchronization, and more.
It helps to be grateful, to cultivate gratitude. If we truly appreciate breath, something wonderful is added. If we spy on ourselves, on how we breathe, and make ourselves uncomfortable by being critical—which is, unfortunately, easy to do—then something is taken away: the feeling of freedom, of breathing easily. So let's approach this business of being breath-conscious in a positive way. After all, an intimate relationship should be enjoyable, even if what that means exactly is unique to you
To start, if we were together I would ask you to tell me about breath. I believe there is little need for teachers to tell people things if they know what questions to ask. If someone came to me and said, "Lorin, tell me about breath," I would ask, "What makes you think there is such a thing? How do you know, by direct experience, that there is a process called breathing?"
This is not a trick. You have your own way of being intimate with breath, which is different from anyone who has ever lived. It is shaped by your favorite sensations and by your ability to love. It is limited by your fears, which are based on negative experiences in the past. We can safely assume that you are breathing as you read this, but how do you actually know? What informs you?
Become Intimate with Breath
Take a minute to entertain this question: How do I know I am breathing right now? Just wonder within yourself. You might want to rest your eyes on this page somewhere, or look at the horizon, or close your eyes completely. You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down. Just don't do it while driving or operating heavy machinery.
After pondering this question for five breaths or so, check how you feel. Do you want to continue? If so, close your eyes and pay attention for 10 to 15 additional breaths.
When you finally open your eyes or focus again, think about what you experienced. If you say to yourself, I could feel myself breathing
, exactly what did you feel? What kinds of details did you discern? People meditating say things such as this:
•I could feel the air touching the inside of my nostrils as it flowed in.
•I sensed the motion of my ribcage as it moved with the breath.
•As I breathed in, my body expanded,
•and as I breathed out, I contracted.
•I was conscious of the air sliding down the back of my throat.
•The flow of breath is very soothing;
•I felt waves of calmness spreading through my body.
•When I breathe out, I feel a great relief—
•I feel the fatigue washing away.
As you can see, the experience of meditation is often very simple, just the sensations of relaxation. From there you slip, often without noticing it at first, into sublime experiences of contact with life.
After considering this list of intimate experiences that others have had with breath, become aware once again of your own breath for another 10 inhalations.
Your experience will be different each time you do this exercise, even if you do it every day for the rest of your life. I always discover something new and surprising about breath. Part of this is because I am an explorer, and part of it is because my senses are so open to the world that I am able to perceive differences. What used to seem the "same" to me is now perceptibly different because I have more data.
Breath Taking is published by Rodale and out of print right now, but you can order it from amazon.com
Attack Of The Dreaded To-do List
What sometimes happens when you first begin to relax into your breathing is that you become aware of thoughts that you have been holding at bay. All of a sudden you remember the things you forgot to do or could have done better. Then you start remembering all the things you have way in the back of your brain but didn’t have time to think of in the past week. This process is painful, like being bitten by fleas or besieged by tiny conscience elves with their sharp little pickaxes. Ouch.
You have opened the door from the top of your mind to the next level in. Now what?
Say that you start doing one of the exercises in this book and within a few seconds you begin to feel relaxed. That sensation lasts for a moment but then you find yourself thinking of the many things you forgot to do today, yesterday, last week, and last year and feeling bad about them. There could be specific mental pictures, or it could be a vague sense of incompletion. What should you do?
Don’t fight the feeling, give it space and time. Allow the process to engulf you. The human brain is built to know that there are many things that need doing, and it seeks to optimize the rhythm for accomplishing them. The brain is built to take advantage of any quiet time and use it for sorting through its to-do list.
This briefing/debriefing function of the brain is essential for peak performance. In situations where people really care about doing their best—in athletic competition and in the military, for example—there is a briefing before and a debriefing after. In debriefing, you review all the mistakes as well as the successes so that you learn how to improve your game.
The regret and embarrassment you feel during this process is a necessary part of learning. It’s an aspect of your conscience: One of your instincts is saying, Hey, you are neglecting your health/social life/money/housing/playtime/rest/work. The intent is to help you bring yourself into balance. We are always neglecting some part of ourselves, some instinct, and that hurts. When we let this pain wash through us and we breathe with it, we stay connected to those neglected parts.
So accept every item on your mental to-do list and learn to breathe easily with them. Over time, the pain will pass and be replaced by pleasure, focus, or energy for action.
The above selection is brought to you by Breath Taking