How do I write about meditation without blathering about breathing when what I am learning, a little, to do is not, strictly speaking, meditation, but simply breathing?
For the last 18 months I have been exploring and expanding my understanding and experience of what I call breath prayer. Consciously being aware of the actions of breathing: the give and take of it, frequency and fervour, rhythm and pace, depth and demeanour. It gets bigger over time. Years ago somebody said, look at something you think you know until it tells you something new. I’ve been looking at, listening to, breathing with breathing, and I am learning some new things.
I could write that breathing is not new for me, is an addictive activity that I started early and never got over, but that just panders to my tendency to play the lounge act of the soul, go for cheap laughs, try to introduce profundity through the family entrance, but what I want to say, and here comes the pamphlet, is that the act of breathing can be the most radical thing in the world. Breaking the world, at least of my daily taken for granted, perceptions of it, breaking it all open to a whole new spectrum of interaction, instructions and experience of intimacy that is closer than right next door, just like the little girl in Poltergeist says, “They’re here!” And to begin to allow breathing to breathe you is to turn around the way we live and move and have our being. Don't be surprised if the pamphlet comes next.
There is a meeting place in the middle of my body where who-I-am meets something that is both bigger and finer than what I usually see as me, something else that challenges the way I separate the world into categories and choices, me and them, right and wrong, good and bad, all those inadequate and facile dichotomies that get lost and found in here and now.
But writing about breathing is about as difficult as writing about sex, drugs or good musical comedy. Because it involves everything you thought you were and more, it stretches you physically, mentally, spiritually, it is essentially unspeakable, unremarkable, simple and difficult, as easy as breathing and as easy to miss. So what I try to do is listen, with my breath, to where I meet the boundaries, and attend to what happens then.
Half my life ago I read a book called Sadhana which opens with a chapter on a simple breath prayer practice I still use. It is to visualise each intake of your breath travelled into various areas of the body, from the top of the head to the whole sitting posture, and easing tensions, meeting residual feelings, touching the pain of the day and letting it all go with each exhalation of breath. The process has changed over the years for me but it is almost the same; awareness of the breath moves successively from the head to the neck and throat, tops of shoulders, small of back, belly and spine, hips, seat, pelvis, thighs, knees and calves, and finally the whole breathing body.
It is both a tool for myself and a gift for others. I use it myself and can share it in fifteen or twenty minutes of shared practice that usually makes the experience available to a gathered group. I can walk them through it and afterwards people know it from the inside in a way that makes it theirs.