The breath is more than breathing
The cyclical rhythm of the breath is with us for a lifetime. We begin a life on the in breath, and we end it on an out breath. Between these two, the whole life journey is a series of breaths.
Every breath is a microcosm of that journey and an opportunity and invitation to enter more deeply into it. In the cycle of the breath is mirrored that of day and night, waking and sleeping, and beyond that perhaps even the cycle of lifetimes and the manifestation and dissolution of the whole cosmos.
In this very moment, attend to your breath and simply observe it and accept it as it is. Then, as you enter into it more deeply, let the breath (through the nostrils) become slower and deeper, dropping deeper into the belly. This is called diaphragmatic breathing, the natural way you breathed as an infant, before it became replaced by unnatural and contracted breathing (and living). Returning to this deep, natural breathing is a simple yet powerful way of returning to that deep connection. By entering into it consciously, what was once instinctual becomes conscious and awake without losing its natural grounding.
As you enter into this natural and effortless flow of direct experience beyond words, you enter into the stream of what has always been flowing. You enter into the deep mystery of life, the deep mystery of being. What had become covered over by the dualistic constructions and constrictions of language becomes obvious. “I am breathing” becomes, “I am being breathed,” and this in turn empties into the mystery of “presence breathing presence” beyond the sense of duality and separation.
Beyond the apparent subject/object obviousness of “I” breathing “air,” deepen into its experiential immediacy and discover the mystery of breathing presence. Ordinary respiration becomes revealed as spiritual inspiration. “Inspiration” is really being “in the spirit” and “of the spirit.” In many languages, “spirit” is linked to the breath. For example, in the Bible, it is said that God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul. You are that “Adam,” and “God” is the living spirit that is, in this very moment, breathing the breath of Life, and “you” become that very “living soul” that consciously participates in the living spirit, the living presence. This becomes like a second birth, a conscious birth, not for just one moment but as a way of living.
The cycle of inhales and exhales becomes a conscious expression of what outwardly seems to be the duality of opposites: on/off, yes/no, life/death. Breathing becomes an entry way for opening into the deeper nondual nature of life. Enter into the inhales as a deep receiving of the living presence, and enter into the exhales as a deep releasing, surrendering, emptying into that. It is a way of entering the stream of the mystery as conscious birthing and dying, or letting go.
In this way, conscious breathing becomes a practice of conscious living and conscious dying. It is not just a technique, and not just a preparation for the end of this lifetime, but a practice here and now, a sacred practice of entering into the life that is beyond clinging to life in fear of dying, beyond even living and dying. This is a way of entering into the nondual beyond any realization removed from “this here now,” while the seemingly ordinary is not removed from the living mystery. This is living nonduality.
Enter the inhales as an embodiment, a coming into form, and enter into the exhales as a releasing into the formless. In this way, enter into both the fullness and the emptiness of the one presence, just as inhale and exhale are two modes of one breath.
Enter into the one presence as the ground of all opposites. The breath, always in the present moment, becomes an entry point into the mystery of time, of becoming in the midst of being, into the sacred mystery itself. The obvious mystery was here all along, the “gold” of the obvious concealed in the “lead” of the obvious, the “unknown” in the “known,” the “spiritual” in the “natural.” It is an open secret as simple and available to everyone as the breath itself.
Ed Hirsch leads a small group in various practices to deepen into presence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at email@example.com.