In Latin, the word spirit means breath, as well as spirit, as well as air. In many ways, this word perfectly embodies the essence of this course “Mind, Body, Spirit”; for the term is as much about the breath in our body, as our spirit which is synonymous to breath, as it is to air, or in other words, the space to which illumination can occur.
One afternoon this Winter, I was walking with a friend who turned to me and said “Wake up!” Taken aback, I had no idea what she was talking about at first. As we began to banter about it, I realized this was the first stage of pre-contemplation. She had in fact initiated a conversation about something simple yet profound. That conversation in tandem with this course helped me to begin a process of contemplation.
My ambivalence came in the form of questions- Had I not been in touch with each moment of my life? In what ways had I been suppressing my own life? What does it really mean to be ‘in the moment’? As I continued to ponder these questions, I realized that certain events in my life had led me to believe that in some ways whatever I did or said didn’t really matter in the world. Perhaps it was a form of learned helplessness as a result of living without a father who wanted to spend time with me and a mother too busy to notice.
But through this interaction with my friend, I felt inspired to live a more conscious and present life. It wasn’t as if I had a follow up visit scheduled with her, but the next time we met I told her about my new sense of determination and asked for guidance. We walked to the bookstore together, and through the maze of many aisles, she selected a meditative book for me written by a famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk.
With the new school term well underway, work and a whole of host of other responsibilities, I admit the book made it’s way into some unnoticed crevice of my room with haste. I intellectualized many reasons why I could not have time to read a book that I didn’t really have much interest in. The most important reason of all being that “This book isn’t going to tell me anything I don’t already know” – a quick and seemingly logical conclusion at the time.
Then, one lone evening evening after our class, I found myself thumbing through the pages and I discovered I was right: this book wasn’t going to going to tell me anything I didn’t already know. It in fact, it told me everything I already knew…and how to know it better! Every story contained was about living in the present moment through even the most seemingly mundane of activities, and each became a story of relevance to me mirroring some facet in my own life. The risk of not ‘waking up’ began to seem more costly than I had anticipated and the possibility of living a richer life became a motivation beyond any extrinsic reward.
Taking action, I decided to begin with something really simple: my breath. Who ever though the act of conscious breathing could be so intensive?! I’d sit down on the floor intent on savoring every breath in my body. No sooner had I started to inhale the speaker in my brain would make an announcement – “Must wash my dirty socks, buy a dozen eggs…” “No!” I’d remind myself. “I should be focusing on my breath” I spoke in self-reprimand. I’d try again: inhale, exha- “The dog is barking outside and if it doesn’t shut up…”
Now it was staring to get personal.;) Noticing these cognitive distortions and with my emerging value for compassion as demonstrated in the storybook, I decided to let go of my self-judgments and reactive thought patterns. Instead, whenever I noticed myself falling into mental distractions, I gently refocus my intention on feeling my breath. There can be such an ease in the passage of air through our system, whether by way of our lungs or through our minds, and it enlivens the spirit. The more I practiced this meditation, the more I found myself noticing the breath contained in day-to-day routines.
A couple weeks ago I awoke and decided that rather than rushing to turn on the morning news, I’d stop and admire the view out my window. Instead of dismissing the tree that usually obscures my city view, I suddenly noticed myself feeling moved by the air circulating through the crevice of each leaf pair. I realized that I wasn’t the only one breathing in this moment, but that all of life reverberates together.
I shared my new found observation with my friend. As if she had already sat through each of our class lectures, she reflected back to me the new found sensations of my experiences. She kindly offered her support by suggesting a form of partnership in joining her weekly meditation group. I accepted. This is now my maintenance routine. Not one to be fueled by rote habit, but one of conscious choice to live without feeling helpless but able.