As a beginning student of meditation and Tai Chi, the ancient art of moving meditation, I developed the habit of following my breath. In the twenty years that have followed, I have learned and practiced Yoga, Qi Gong, energy medicine, and Reiki, and advanced and expanded my spiritual studies. When we are spiritual seekers, when we have a deep desire to understand the mysteries of life and when we become practitioners of living spiritually, to where do we return? Always the Breath. Oh that I could give the gift of living fully to others.
The gift of life begins for us with our first breath as we enter the world. Our life continues and is sustained through ongoing breathing. Without our in and out breath moment-to-moment, our physical form would cease to exist; it would become rigid and perish. Dust-to-dust, back to the elements from which it came, earth, water, and air. These elements are the basis of material form, as are we, until we begin the breath of life. It is with this breath that we now hold the possibility of understanding our breath and the mystery it holds for us. Basic is the process of breathing, performed unconsciously by many until the end, when it may become a labor of love and determination. Through altering our relationship with our breathing, we have the power to alter our relationship with the life we live. Little did we know, when first we breathed, that we hold in our power - every moment - the key to altering how we experience life. The opportunity of living fully is literally a breath away.
The million-dollar question is - how does the breath transform our life? Let me provide example.
* When we are experiencing stress, our instinctive fight or flight mechanism engages. With this shift in our physiology, we become ready to act quickly and with as much power as we can summon. Our senses become hyper-alert, our breathing becomes shallow and our energy is being rallied internally to direct as needed for survival. Now translate this into a chronic condition, where we live perceiving constant stress, fear or duress of any kind. What happens is our fight or flight mechanism can become stuck in the "on" position. With this condition, our body is no longer relaxed, even at rest. Rather we unconsciously hold tension in our bodies as part of this readiness for action and reaction. When we are stuck in this condition we become reactors to life rather than creators. The antidote to this chronic tension is consciously learning to relax the body through relaxed breathing.
What could happen now is my providing a long list of examples about how this phenomenon manifests is myriad ways, in myriad individuals, leading to myriad illness and myriad misery. Is it necessary? I do not believe so. Of course, I am not the only person writing about this issue, the prevalence of it - perceived stress - in our culture. The manifestation of our stress' habitual expression is causing much unhappiness and illness in the world at large. Instead I urge the reader to reread the example above and seek its truth in whatever ways resonate for you. As you read the example, consider how you live with the perception of stress in your life. Look at resistance to what is happening in your life, presenting itself in the form of dissatisfaction, in any way - large or small. Accompanying this stress and dissatisfaction is tension within, whether you are conscious of its existence or not. You can offer yourself an example of experiencing the tension by thinking about something unpleasant for a time and then paying attention to how your body feels. Follow this up with just paying attention to your breath, relaxing it and relaxing your body as much as possible through relaxing muscles and skin. Now notice how your body feels. This relaxed breathing is truly powerful stuff.
In fact it is powerful and it is transforming. Oh that I could give the gift of living fully to others.
We give the gift of living life fully to ourselves. We control the quality of our breathing; and yes, ultimately the quality of our life. We like to think that we are stuck in particular ways, and of course there are some limitations inherent in survival, getting food, shelter, and water. As we move the qualities of needs beyond the physical, to the emotional, we need love, companionship, creative inspiration: on to the mental aspects we seek knowledge, perhaps skills related to interacting in the world and wisdom that comes from applied knowledge in experience. Finally, our spiritual needs seek a deeper understanding of life, the universe and ourselves. How we go about fulfilling all these needs becomes the artistry of our life, the telling of our story so to speak.
Telling the story of your life can hold great power. You are the hero/ine of your world. What is your story? Are you satisfied with it? Do you want other than what you experience? Are you bolding facing life, as it is in this day, and making good food of it for yourself in the ways you need - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual? If not, are you considering a plan to do this - to create experience that you desire?
When we feel stuck, it usually is because we are stuck. And whether we are comfortable thinking about it or not, the way we live inside ourselves is of our own choosing, we are not stuck with the quality of how we are living inside. How we are responding to the world, the thoughts we think, the feelings we experience are all under our control. It may not seem this way, especially at the beginning if we experiment to discover if it is the truth. As we move along in this experiment of seeing that we have ultimate control over our inner experience, we will encounter spaces and situations along the way where we feel certain things and want to say - this is because of him or her or work or my family or life or the government or whatever! You get the idea. But when we develop deep and dynamic commitment to discovering if, indeed, we have ultimate control over our inner world we find that, oh my, we do. With this knowledge of how powerful we are to create our inner world, we move into the territory of how this begins to transform our outer life as well. This is powerful knowledge to gain.
In fact it is powerful and it is transforming. Oh that I could give the gift of living fully to others. We give the gift of living life fully to ourselves. We control the quality of our breathing; and yes, ultimately the quality of our life. So, I invite you, fellow sojourner on this road of life, to begin, if you have not already, with your breath. Never underestimate the power of what directed, relaxed and focused breathing will accomplish in your world. With the consciousness of breath, your breathing, you can transform the quality of your life. And you, like me, will come to discover that we ultimately return to... Always the Breath.