For millennia, the breath has been a fundamental and integral part of Yoga and Meditation systems and practices, regardless of culture or geography. Breathing is our ever present companion, and is in fact the thin veil between Life and Death. Thus, it is no wonder that practically all mindfulness practices implore us to pay close and loving attention to that sweet sustenance — the continuous flow of Life Force.
When we emerged from our mother’s womb, we began our lives with an inhale, and we will end our lives with a final exhale.
Our time on this planet is limited and precious, and that alone is reason enough to develop a deep and profound bond with this magical companion we call the Breath. Cultivating intimate, moment-to-moment relationship with the breath is a core foundation of my own practice; deepening and evolving over time. It is a process of subtlety, mystery, and wonder, and is a direct path to awakening — a sacred gift that is always Right Here waiting for us to notice and explore its depths.
However, a word of caution — practitioners and teachers can make the critical error of conceptualizing the breath as an object, a “real thing unto itself”; and nothing could be further from the truth. In order for awakening to unfold and flower, it is critically important to recognize and stabilize the correct perspective — namely, our breathing is continuous process, nested within and open to, many other processes, including the process of Being Itself.
Whether we are sitting on our cushion, practicing yoga, running, or doing any of a number of activities, if we conceptualize the breath as an object, then we immediately separate ourselves from it. We make the mistake of imputing a conceptual layer onto the process of breathing which prevents us from having full, direct, and unfiltered knowing of it. This is a trap which is difficult to unravel once it gains momentum; and staying out of this trap requires vigilance and practice to stabilize the correct view.
We all must recognize the difference between experiencing the “Idea of Our Breath” versus the direct embodied sensations and feelings of Breathing as Open Process.
What is Open Process? It is the truth that all processes are permeable, open to, and nested within, other processes. In short, there are no Nouns or “independent things” in our reality — everything is a verb, constantly changing and interdependently arising in relationship to everything else. Relative Reality literally means that every point in space is in direct relationship, or open to, every other point; and this is easy to recognize if we look deeply. Let’s start with our physical bodies.
Cells are unique and complete processes in and of themselves; however, they are open to other cells and the body via the cell membrane. They do not exist independent of the body, but are certainly in direct relationship to the body. The organs (e.g., the heart) are made of cells but are also unique processes that open to organ systems (e.g., nervous and circulatory) and are interdependent as well. The organ systems are processes which are open to each other and the entire body; and the body is a process which is open to and nested within the Earth’s environment; which itself is a process open to the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, and ultimately the entire Field of Being. I realize this might be a lot to take in, but this is reality.
We can continue this exploration using ANY process, and we’ll quickly find it is nested within other processes. An assembly line is a process within a factory, which is a process within the supply chain, which is a process within the economy, and so on.
Everything is permeable and open to everything else; and this leads to a remarkable insight — there are no fixed boundaries between processes.
We recognize that our own boundaries are self-constructed through our individual and shared beliefs. This insight is the path to Real Freedom — where our self-imposed shackles of belief can be dismantled and we can operate as open, loving human beings.
What does all of this mean within the context of our Breathing? Of course, Breathing is also Open Process — boundless, boundaryless, and nested within other processes. As we explore our direct embodied experience, we’ll quickly find it is much, much more than the inhale and exhale; and that it actually has no discernible beginning or ending because the Body is ALWAYS Breathing. From a purely physical perspective, the inhale and exhale are just delivery mechanisms (much like a delivery truck) to provide oxygen to our cells and remove carbon dioxide. The pace, depth, and frequency of the inhale and exhale are dependent on the energy demand from the body.
Since oxygen is continuously circulating through the blood stream, breathing is always happening. The notion that we can stop our breathing is a false one. We may be able to stop the inhale and exhale for a few minutes; but this is only because we have calmed down and slowed the body’s demand for life giving oxygen. At some point, the Inhale/Exhale delivery system must begin anew.
If we examine more closely and try to find where the sensation of breathing begins or ends within our body we’ll be astonished to find that those boundaries are “unfindable”.
The undisputed truth is that we are all unique processes nested within the bigger process of the Earth’s Breathing; which is nested within the Solar System, Milky Way, and the Universe. Our Mother Earth breathes Holistically — Plant Life provides us with Life-Giving oxygen, and we return the gift with carbon dioxide — nested process, each completely open to the other and part of a much larger system and cycle. This larger process of Breathing is happening both inside and outside our bodies simultaneously. Mother Nature herself is Breathing, and we can consciously participate with Grateful, Loving, and Awakened Awareness in this Open Field of Being.
We’ll discuss some techniques and approaches to cultivate mindful, conscious, and fully embodied Breathing in Part 2 of this blog.