Tag Archive | breathing

I Am I; I Am Not I

The small pond is clear, not blue-sky clear but the grey-white clouds of winter clear, so I see deep into the water with nothing reflecting back at me, not my face, not the small trees surrounding the pond, just the water. And the stone at the bottom. This is my stone, the one I threw in last spring as an honor to the koan I was given: All you desire and want from life is contained in a stone at the bottom of a pond. How do you retrieve it without getting wet?

I’ve revisited the koan many times but this is the first time I have revisited the pond and the stone. Has the stone changed? When I threw it in, the light gray of dry stone bloomed into gradations of grays and browns and greens of wet stone. But what would it look like now? Surely, what I believe the stone to contain has changed; those original imagined desires of the perfection of life are not the desires of today. Change comes to all. So I wonder whether my stone will somehow reflect that. Will it now have mud dulling the tones of green and gray? Or will the pond have cleansed it even more, so that it shimmers jewel-like in the clear winter-white water?

And most of all, will I still want the stone. And will I still be faced with the puzzle presented in the koan: how do I retrieve it without getting wet?

As I watch the solid and quiet rock drawing no breath at the bottom of the pond, far beyond my reach, my own breath catches in the winter air. I feel my toes ache, snow sinking through the lining of my boot; my fingers tighten as if palsied, thinking of the icy water that would grip my hand if I reached for the stone. Without getting wet. Without getting wet. There is no way to retrieve it without getting wet.

Unless.

Unless, as I do when I use the mantra, I see that I am both “I,” the physical body that exists with and within the world. And “not I,” the ego-less detachment of spirit and breath. To reach the stone is to not to reach for the stone but to detach from the ego and let the stone come to me if it so chooses.

I look into the water once more. The stone is still the stone, just as it was when I threw it into the pond. And I am still I…and not I.

IMG_0083“Wo shi wo; wo bushi wo.”

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…