Meditation and Breath... a way Forward


I have been doing a lot of seminar work lately;  much of it around human development and how the “self” is formed. 

Simply and briefly stated our self understanding is a narrative compiled from layers of parental, sibling, playground friend, teacher, coach, professor, employer etc….stories we have picked up.

We hear all sorts of stories/comments/observations from these narrative weavers but we choose certain stories to delete, others to hide from, others to replay and that creates the playlist of what gets put into the iPod-of-our-mind that is on an incessant repeat loop. Most of us, most of the time, remain oblivious to this mental muzak.

What we are equally unaware of is the contours of these stories totally determines the scope, depth and shape of our life and what we can and cannot accomplish…at least in our mind's eye.  It is that simple. Unfortunately what we know is the stories most of us tell ourselves are often rather limiting, and in some cases down right untrue and toxic.  And most people, yes most statistically, remain in this debilitating feedback loop their entire lives.

There is a way forward though. Every major contemplative tradition and those in the fields of human development all say the same thing...Meditation helps us self reflect and get perspective on the “self” we have created.

What that means is I have had a lot of people ask “but how do I meditate?”  The idea so often feels esoteric, unreachable and even a bit weird. I have discovered the most primal starting point is best...breath.

Breath is primal. Breath animates our existence; no breath no life. 

Breath is our connection between the physical and the invisible quantum spiritual world, it is the “substance” between the material and immaterial world.  No coincidence that several ancient languages translate breath/wind/spirit from one word!

Interest in meditative practice seems to be on the rise in our culture and I think for good reason.  We are looking for a deeper connection to something.  We recognize our lives can superficially skim if we are not careful.  We also have an intuitive sense there is something captured in silence that can’t be found anywhere else.

In meditative practice our focus on something (anything) enables us to “go deaf” to other things around us.  When you are daydreaming for instance you go slightly blind, right?  That is how you miss an exit on the expressway!?  When you focus internally on breath or a repeated phrase or word, you nearly go deaf to the sounds around you. 

Directed attention creates focus, that is part of the very purpose of the practice.  Our ability to direct attention, notice when it wanders, and redirect it when necessary, is an acquired skill.  Few skills are as important in our world where the information assault with hypertext has our minds going at hyper speed.

So what do you say?  Are you willing to ACTUALLY DO meditation?  This isn’t the next sexy thing to utter to a friend in passing…”oh yea I do yoga, meditate and drink green tea each morning while reading Pantanjali.”

This isn’t about the next cultural “sexy.”  This is about life change…deep change…transformative change.

Do you really want to dive into a practice illuminating your current self-understanding? Want to be free of the iPod-of-your-mind?  Then it will take creating space and doing the work, and engaging the practices that create tectonic shift.

Practices are for the express purpose of doing through training what can’t be done by trying. That is why it is a practice.

WildyBetter Inner Action

Set aside time (20 minutes or so) daily for the following breath practice:  

Find a place free of distractions.  Early morning, late evening, or quiet locations you know you are intrusion-free.

Set aside the thoughts of the rest of your day.

Let go of list making, next steps, agenda creation, mental preparations!

Only when you have cleared the mind in this way, and set outside matters aside, are you ready to focus on the breath. Bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don't force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus. Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. You are in charge not your wandering mind, and yet since you ARE in charge you can gently take charge.

If you want, you can experiment with different kinds of breathing. If long breathing feels comfortable, stick with it. If it doesn't, change it to whatever rhythm feels soothing to the body. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing — whatever feels most comfortable to you right now...

Once you have the breath comfortable at your chosen spot, move your attention to notice how the breathing feels in other parts of the body. Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels. If you don't feel any motion there, just be aware of the fact that there's no motion. If you do feel motion, notice the quality of the motion, to see if the breathing feels uneven there, or if there's any tension or tightness. If there's tension, think of relaxing it. If the breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out... Now move your attention over to the right of that spot — to the lower right-hand corner of the abdomen — and repeat the same process... Then over to the lower left-hand corner of the abdomen... Then up to the navel... right... left... to the solar plexus... right... left... the middle of the chest... right... left... to the base of the throat... right... left... to the middle of the head...[take several minutes for each spot]

If you are meditating at home, you can continue this process through your entire body — over the head, down the back, out the arms & legs to the tips of your finger & toes — but, if your time is limited, you can simply return your focus now to any one of the spots we've already covered. Let your attention settle comfortably there, and then let your conscious awareness spread to fill the entire body, from the head down to the toes, so that you're like a spider sitting in the middle of a web: It's sitting in one spot, but it's sensitive to the entire web. Keep your awareness expanded like this — you have to work at this, for its tendency will be to shrink to a single spot — and think of the breath coming in & out your entire body, through every pore. Let your awareness simply stay right there for a while — there's no where else you have to go, nothing else you have to think about... And then gently come out of meditation.

Here is what we know….your ability to focus…and that is the point of this “practice,” the ability to do through training what you simply can’t do by trying, is critical to your ability to discern the "iPod-of-your-mind" story.  If you can’t find that story, then understand it’s layers, you can’t hit the edit button (or delete key if necessary) so you can change what is playing.