Sunday, 2 November 2008

Breathing in the World

I'm not quite sure how to write about this - my ideas are not yet fully formed. But maybe that's ok. We'll just see how it goes.

Over the last few days I've been reading the short stories and articles in a book I picked up at my favorite used book store a while ago, called Best Buddhist Writing 2006. One of the first articles I read this weekend talked about how our the idea that we are separate individuals, distinct from other people and other things is an illusion. A delusion, really.

David Loy, author of the article "Ego Goes Global," puts it this way:

"The most fundamental delusion, individually and collectively, is our sense of a self/other duality -- that "I" am inside and the rest of the world is outside. "

In another article in the same volume, Judith Toy speaks about learning how to stop and enjoy her breathing, and how doing so was one step on the way to unexpectedly forgiving the boy who murdered three of her family members years prior. About breathing, she says,

"I was welcomed into paradise through noticing my breath. The breath became the gateway to my heart....the rising sun, the sound of sirens, a crying child, the squealing of brakes, a Mozart sonata, even a war -- reminds me to breathe, to breathe in a universe that, while full of anguish, will always, always breathe with me."

And there it was, the way to dissolve the delusion of duality: breathe. I breathed. Fully and mindfully for the first time, I think. As I breathed, I felt the air being shared by the universe and my lungs, back and forth. A cooperative ebb and flow with no distinction between inside and out, just a giving and receiving. No difference between "me" and "it," just unified flow of all things. I slept easily and well that night, for the first time in many years.

It reminded me the next day of an activity called "push hands" in Tai Chi. This is a practice where two people keep their hands and/or forearms touching at all times, moving forward and backwards as a means to develop responsiveness and sensitivity. To see people doing this, you would think it was a pre-rehearsed set of movements, but it is not. It is instead a balanced and dynamic flow of responsiveness to the movements of one another. It's hard to describe, but you can see a short video of what it looks like here. It's a transcendent thing - there's no you and me, just conjoined unity, sort of what the yin-yang symbol represents.

All I can say is, try it. Try breathing while being mindful of the flow of the universal atmosphere moving in and out and see if you can notice the dissolution of self into the myriad things. Imagine, now, the consequences if people could shed themselves of the delusion of duality and feel the very intimate connection with the universe, as we literally take in and release a part of it with each and every breath.

Push hands picture courtesy this tai chi website.


SoapBoxTech said...

I think this is why the powers-that-be like us packed into cities. The dirty, corrupted air makes it much harder to breathe properly, constant sensory distractions make it hard to focus on something so simple and basic as just breathing. All this and more make truly achieving the connectedness of which you speak. As you have mentioned tho, it is still possible.

I don`t mean to be a downer, it is a great post and an important subject.

EJ said...

Is this the anthology that has the US convict talk about being a buddhist in prison? That story comes back to me over and over (altho I've lent my copy of the anthology). He practices so well, so deeply in a prison yard that its breathtaking.

Theresa said...

I hadn't thought about it like that Soapbox. I would guess it is still possible to breathe mindfully and get the sense of connection though, since that is more about the mind focussing on the sensation of breathing itself, than on the air. But it will certainly be easier to enjoy the breathing if the air is fresh and clean, no doubt about it.

Ej, I don't think it is that anthology, but I haven't read each of the articles/chapters yet. I do remember reading something by a Buddhist in prison though in two of Pema Chodron's books. I remember in particular a story where he stops another inmate from capturing a bird, saying, "the bird has my wings." Beautiful :)

Green Grrl said...

Lovely post. thank you. I often wonder why I care so much about the environment. I mean, I don't have kids, what do I care if things get bad. I'll probably be gone before that happens.

But I care because everything in it (the air, water, birds, and flowers) is me and I am it. We are the same.

I'm going to make sure I take the time to breathe and think about that. Thanks again.

Hausfrau said...

I don't know if you ever read fiction, but I like Sean Russell's Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds. I'm not sure how accurate it is, but it includes many elements that you mention, such as push-pull hands, with a great story and fascinating characters. I read it every 5 years or so. If you're looking for a nice read, you might check it out.

Theresa said...

GreenGrrl - I don't have kids either and sometimes I wonder if that makes it easier to see things from a more abstract, bigger picture point of view, or harder because I can only see it from that point of view, not from the more concrete immediate one that would be tangible if I did have kids. Does that make any sense? At any rate, breathing is good :)

Hausfrau, thanks - I do read fiction but handn't heard of either of these. Sounds like they'd be right up my alley - and I've got six months of winter coming so I should have time to do some reading!

Maggie said...

Thanks for this post, I learn lots from people like you writing about their experiences.
I have had many experiences lately which have made me think about how we are all connected.
And somehow some of my needing to be the rescuer, or the parent, or what ever else the illusion is, seems to be melting a bit.
And I shall try to practice this breathing exercise, it sounds natural and a good way to connect and flow with life.

Theresa said...

I'm glad you found it helpful Maggie. Sometimes these things just hit me and I have to write them down somewhere -- and that's what this blog is for :) I've since done this mindful breathing a few more times, and it remains very profound for me.

Simply Authentic said...

This is great Theresa. As I read this, I focused on my breath and felt my entire body relax and just sort of slow down. Breath, air, is truly a major connection of all human beings. I always love these ponderings you share....