The air we breathe
It has been said that God is as close as the air we breathe.
In ancient Hinduism, the breath is everything. It does not just begin or support life, the breath is the totality of life. It is life, far beyond the simple movement of the lungs in the bodies of mammals. Every single movement in the cosmos is a movement of the vishwaprana, the cosmic breath.
In our own personal cosmos of the body and mind (including their subtle levels), nothing occurs that is not a movement of prana-breath. Every life process is breath itself, the substance of which the inner and outer universe is constructed, as well as the power within it which causes it to move and live. (This was the teaching of Zen Master Hogen, as well.)
In teachings of spirituality, a basic premise is that there are two aspects to the universe, the physical and the nonphysical. In our current experience of living and being in the physical and having bodies, we relate well to our common physical world, language and dealings with everyday life. Our common thoughts are based on time, distance and space. We talk about things being big and small, how far away a destination is and how long it will take to get there.
With few exceptions (mainly Sanskrit), the languages of the world are based on the physical experience. Therefore, it is challenging to describe or talk about the attributes of the nonphysical in physical terms.
The nonphysical is void of time, distance and space. So, common phrases such as your inner self, your greater consciousness or a larger part of self may convey the idea of what we are saying but cannot adequately do so. Since there is no time, only the “now” in the nonphysical, terms like “later,” “it happened a long time ago” or “please do it sooner” do not apply.
The breath is considered a gateway between the physical and nonphysical. The breath is essential to life but cannot be seen. We can only see evidence of the breath. It cannot be put into a container because if it is contained, it is only air, not breath. The breath is the energy of life.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, the breath is used to move energy, or “prana,” up the spine and to the pineal gland or “God-Head” (as it is termed in Hinduism) in the body. This process helps us to experience a greater connection to, and experience of, the nonphysical life force.
The English word “spirit” has its roots in the Latin word spiritus, which means “breath.” We find a similar connection between breath and spirit in many other languages. The Hebrew word ruach means “spirit,” “wind,” “breath” or “mind.” The Greek pneuma, means “air,” “breath,” “soul” or “vital force.”
The Sanskrit word prana refers to both the breath and the cosmic life force that permeates the universe. The ancient Hindu sages developed the yogic discipline of pranayama (“breath extension”), a series of breathing exercises designed to work with this divine, life-giving energy to achieve enlightenment.
Although pranayama is a highly evolved and complex technique of using the breath to raise consciousness, the simple techniques of conscious deep breathing, or becoming aware of the breath, can be very effective.
The breath is the primal connection between the physical and nonphysical and can deepen our meditative practice, help keep us centered, enhance our body energy and raise our awareness. Sounds like inner peace to me.
Happy (deep) breathing.
Jim Hatton is the author (under the name James Apollonius Alan) of “A Spiritual Master’s Guide to Life.” Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.