Tag Archive | breath

“Nothing Special”

Snow on Mountain

“I have been there and come back.

It was nothing special:

The river at high tide,

The mountain veiled by misty rain”

                                                                        Zen Buddhist saying

Beauty returns most fully when I stop looking for something higher. When the remaining grey snow piles blink at me as if to say “what are we still doing here on March 28?,” I hesitate in my gnarling about their ugliness and see they are as at sea as I. And the two cranes that flew over my car as I tried to hustle home on the always-too-crowded and frighteningly fast highway reminded me to breathe, reminded me that their path might be straighter and less crowded but their return home no less important.

In the study of Qi Gong and the Tao, I have never felt even close to knowledgeable, so I deftly if dumbly escaped thinking of myself as a “Great Expert,” as Ken Cohen refers to the first stage of learning–that in which you know a little so, therefore, you feel you know it all. I skipped straight to “Banana Head,” that phase where you realize that, as he says, “knowledge is limitless and human life is limited.” I know I don’t know.

What I have started to feel are moments within my ignorance, that I begin to catch sight out of the corner of an eye, tiny glinting sparks of the final stage of learning, the stage where all nature is once again part of you and you, part of nature, so that all entwines and all becomes so special that it is “nothing special.”

May I never reach that stage fully for I know I would then be a “Great Expert” and I might not see the inch long tree frogs under the birdbath who are so special that they are “nothing special.”

The Meditation of the Stinky Feet

Sitting, my free ten minutes scrolling before me, I find the breath, acknowledge the sensation and happily settle into my meditation. When I meditate, I try not to shut out the world, try instead to let all sensation in, listening to not just my breath but the gentleman, using the term loosely, in the next office screaming into the phone, rather enjoying the way he can string profanity into argument. I feel the tingle in my crossed legs, the air from the heater on my face, or the scratch of my sweater on my neck.

All very relaxing, refreshing, reminding me to stay in this moment, this place.

Until the next sensation comes through, one that really makes me feel this moment all too vividly: my socks are smelly. Do you suppose the Buddha had this problem?

When The Cushion Doesn’t Call

Meditating CatWhen the zabuton is stretched out on the floor, the zafu cushion sitting atop, Mario comes in and takes his place, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. At times, he will stay for an hour or more seeming barely to move, content as a cat. Of course, Mario has an advantage in this: Mario is a cat.

Despite knowing that not much ever passes through his brain to distract him from the now, I envy him. Perhaps not “envy.” That suggests ill will which I certainly don’t feel: rather I wish I could channel his ability to stay in the present. Because I, instead, find the “now” almost indecipherable and indistinguishable from the “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and “forty years ago when I didn’t get invited to the prom.”

Although I love meditation time and my retreat from work and the world, I love it only sporadically. The rest of the time, it’s a struggle and sometimes even a bore. Days go by when I walk into my meditation room–which doubles as computer room–and instead of lighting incense and settling onto the cushion, I slop into the computer chair and meditate only on whether moving the Queen of Spades will give me a win in Solitaire. This I can do for hours.

Boredom leads to frustration which leads to guilt which leads to “Why the hell did I ever think I could meditate, anyway?” And so the cushion sits for days used only by Mario while I try to ignore its presence. Then one day, I’ll walk in the room, laugh at my own presumption as the thought changes to “Who the hell am I to think I can’t meditate? How much better than the Buddha do I think I am? Why, he could beat me at Solitaire, too, I bet.”

Back to the cushion I go, not displacing Mario but joining him and if I start to feel, as I inevitably will at some time, boredom or restlessness, I remember what Jack Kornfield said about naming the feeling and then “If you feel you’re so restless , you could die, well, just go ahead and do it! Look to the sky and say ‘Just take me now I’m so bored.’. . . And then go back to the breath.”

My Breath; My Enemy

In. Out. Follow theGreen Wave breath. Abdomen rises, falls. Pause at the top; pause at the bottom. Like waves on a shore.

Yes, but…

During meditation, keeping the mind still and in the present is the greatest challenge for most and while that’s true for me as well, what really brings me up short is my breath. My short breath. I’ve always been a shallow breather, not that I’m proud of it. At the doctor’s office, I’d be told to “take a deep breath in” and without fail would next hear “no, a deep breath.” Sorry, doc, but that was my deep breath.

Over the years I’ve been doing meditation and Qi Gong, my breath has lengthened and moved downward from my lungs to my diaphragm. A little. But breathing–breathing deeply, fully, into the lower Dan Tian, the lower abdomen–is still not natural, not comfortable. My inhale gets stuck at the sternum or my throat tightens. Sometimes I feel that my abdomen is expanding just fine but that no air is actually being drawn in. Pantomime breath that looks good from the perspective of my teacher or my students but isn’t doing a damn thing for my lungs or moving oxygen in, carbon dioxide out.

Sometimes the frustration leads, as expected, to even shorter, shallower breaths and there I am right back at the beginning, apparently in perpetual fight-flight mode. Why does it matter? Because without breath, full breath, I’ve never been able to sing, blow out all the candles, inflate a balloon. And never feel fully engaged in the now, sinking into the present moment in calm, quiet ease. I’m the Don Quixote of breathing, fighting the imaginary enemy, never able to rest under the bodhi tree, connected to earth and universe.

I’ll continue to offer my hand in friendship to my breath. Perhaps one day my breath will answer in kind, letting me feel the cool swirling at the nostrils, the natural rise and fall, the pause at top and bottom. Like waves on a shore…