Monday, November 19, 2007

Thinking About the Breath of Life.

People can go for weeks without food, only a few days without water and... only a few minutes without air. It stands to reason that breathing is the most critical of human functions; of course... you can miss only a few heartbeats but let’s not confuse apples and oranges. You don’t consciously cause your heart to beat. You can control your breathing and you can do quite a few arcane things with the breath. Then again, the breath has a great deal to do with the heart rate and many other related events. Most people are okay with however they happen to breathe and don’t think too much about it.

Most people don’t observe what is going on around them with any degree of concentration. They don’t give much more thought to what is going on inside of them. They just react to discomfort and comfort, trying to avoid the one and achieve the other. Of course, many people think that the thoughts that enter their minds are actually their own thoughts. I find this a curious and tragic condition ...but that’s me.

If you were to observe other people you would find that they are in several breathing categories. There’s high breathing, middle breathing and low-breathing; one or more of these can include mouth-breathing which is the unhealthiest of the lot. You can find out why that is on your own, should you care to do so. High breathing types- those who only use the upper part of the lungs are often found with sunken chests and narrow shoulders. You know the consumptive type. Each type has its pathology and some types are generally healthier than others.

There are other ways to breathe. There’s complete breathing which uses all portions of the lungs in a fluid sweep and which is a source of great power and vitality to those who practice it. There are other forms of breathing tailored to specific results. There are some forms of breathing that perform literal magic upon the person and in the life of the practitioner.

Do people think about this? They probably think less about these possibilities than they do what they eat and, these days... it appears that they don’t think much about that either. There’s a breathing practice with which I am familiar where you cast out thoughts from your mind with the expelling of the breath. It’s a remarkable thing and has a large impact on the life of the practitioner. Remarkable is a good word for it.

Those of us who study the martial arts know a few things about breath control. Swimmers know some things about breath control, so do runners and others whose fields of endeavor call upon the breath for success in their efforts. Those who dabble in the areas of esoteric sexual congress also know something about breath-work.

You should ask yourself when the last time was that you thought about how you breathe. It’s a strong possibility that in most cases it has been a long time, if ever. Weird that so many would give so little thought to something they do all of the time. It’s the same with so many things that people have to do or want to do. We seldom give much thought to the effect of our behavior upon our life. Some of us are reckless in the extreme; I’ve been one of those people. William Blake once said something to the effect that the temple of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. That seems a little like the fool who persists in his folly becoming wise. Then again, William Blake used to answer his door naked so...

I often wonder about the lack of curiosity possessed by most people. I wonder about their extreme reactions to things they do not understand- counter-pointed by their capacity to be bilked and bewildered by every fast operator who comes along.

It is possible to breathe in such a way that by doing nothing else you can make your life exceedingly tranquil. Reactions to this statement will run the gamut between, “Bullshit” and “Really?” Yeah, really... It’s possible through breath control to perform remarkable feats. It’s possible to order your life in ways that many people cannot imagine just by paying attention to the way you breathe.

I’ve smoked very strong cigarettes through much of my life, nothing with filters to be sure. Of course, this is mostly naturally grown tobacco, hand rolled, but it’s still a breath stealer. Yet I can manage to do things that many non-smokers cannot and this is because of breathing. Is smoking bad for you? Life is terminal in the physical sense... keep that in mind. Still, it’s good to flow through it with a minimum of discomfort.

It’s not all in your breathing. Keeping a youthful mind is very important. Believing in what is real and making it a conscious part of your life is very, very important. As Paramahansa Yogananda once said (and I’ve mentioned this before), “If you don’t look for God in the spring time of your life, he won’t be there in the winter.”

The yogis know a lot about breath control. They’ve known about these methods for thousands of years. You need to find the right resource of course. These days everybody is a guru. Well, everybody is a guru of something or other, even if they are nothing more than a bad example they are teaching you something.

It’s not my place to teach people about the techniques of breath control, how to meditate or to expound upon practices that I may or may not know something about. I like to think it’s my place to remind people to look and to look deeper than they are accustomed to. I believe they will certainly find the information they need just by doing so. That’s how I found out much of what I have discovered and I suspect that holds true for many another as well.

I believe it is possible to breathe in such a way that God breathes in you. Where else would God be located? ...In the sky? ...In a church? What is the first temple? What is the true adytum? What does Emmanuel mean? Why would there be such a word?

Children are full of questions and so, it is useful to have a youthful mind. It is also good to come to a place where there are no longer any questions.

We’re all preparing for flight... for exit. We may be preparing by being ignorant and indifferent to it but that still results in whatever you are when the moment for flight occurs... and it will occur... There would be some sense in accumulating wealth and position here if... you were going to be staying here but you’re not. Making yourself well equipped to remain somewhere you are leaving, while ignoring and being unprepared for your pending exit strikes me as madness. Yet it passes for perfectly sane in these environs and those who focus upon the other are deemed mad. Millions deny the existence of God or accept him/her as some sort of strange anthropomorphic construct and yet they are riveted by the advertisements from corporations who constantly present themselves as god. Pay attention to the wording and intent of television commercials for a few days. Concentrate on what they are saying and you will see what I mean. You may have been unaware of this but it will become quite clear by watching with attention.

Breathing is such a simple affair. You’re doing it right now. How are you breathing? What does it feel like? How does it affect your posture and your vitality? Hmmm.

Breathing from the bottom up and smoothly flooding the apparatus... resting and breathing and resting... and going ever deeper into the experience can lead to some surprising results. This is probably less important to most people than whatever they’ve got lined up for the evening. Interestingly, the quality of the evening very much depends on it.

Breathe deeply... Seek deeply... Live deeply ...and bon voyage.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice. There's a saying...The breath is the horse and the mind is the rider. It's fascinating to pay attention to the correlation between your pace & depth of breathing to your thoughts and state of being. Having had asthma since I was 4, breathing has always been a factor worth paying attention to for me; that and the fact that it's been an object of meditation for me for the past 10 years. Recently I've switched over to a mantra style meditation but I guess due to habit I find it almost impossible to focus on the mantra over the breath. Thanks for this essay. In my experience the importance of breath awareness (and control) cannot be understated.

Ben

Anonymous said...

So good to see you back!
You speak good words worthy of note. At least, they sure help me keep correctly focused.
Anyway, thanks!

vyoma said...

This thing about breath being more vital to well-being than food really hit me. In our attempts to change diets for the better (no onion, no garlic), we forget about this one thing - right under our nose.

Food is on the gross physical level, but breath is on a subtler medium, and the most subtle medium of all is sound - because it is from sound that everything else is constructed. No wonder then, that chanting is prescribed as the best method for meditation in these chaotic times.