Why do you emphasize breathing so much? How does the breathing exercise function? Why is it so powerful, and where does it come from? How does it evolve?
Breathing is the fundamental act of being alive. One can go without thoughts, emotions or sensations, sleeping, talking or any other activity for a long time, without food for weeks, without water for days. But if you stop breathing, you’ll be dead before you finish reading this letter. Because it is the essence of life, some focus upon it seems appropriate.
There’s a long tradition in many disciplines regarding the breath, so I’m certainly not the first to suggest its importance. Unfortunately, though, having so much tradition, that gives the sense to many that there’s nothing really new there, nothing extraordinary to discover. The traditions themselves in most cases haven’t really evolved and haven’t succeeded in compelling the general public. Everyone knows to “take a deep breath” when stressed, but the immediate impact is minimal at best (actually, a deep breath is not much help; a long, smooth, slow exhale is, however). And the idea of another obligation, studying or relearning how to breathe, lacks inspiration.
Ironically, to “inspire” means to breathe, to infuse life by breathing. As with a lot of things that have the capacity to inspire, it takes some time to get past the apparent boredom and find the hidden secrets. I figure if I keep harping on it, maybe someone will eventually explore the possibility long enough to realize just how breathtaking it is.
The breathing exercise you refer to—gradually slowing and deepening your breathing; total engagement of only that—is a form of meditation/contemplation that parallels other forms of meditation, but with some important differences. Historically, techniques to attain altered states of consciousness, usually called meditation, or sometimes prayer, actually involve various forms of concentration, the first level of this kind of internal work. The linear scale of progression is Concentration, then Meditation, and finally Contemplation. Virtually all categories of meditation are, in actuality, forms of concentration. What makes them so are the innate “goals” or ambitions attached to them: to achieve a state or to acquire something, like relaxation, insight or “advancement.” This then constructs a dichotomy, or dualism, between the pursuer and the thing pursued. That is, you are conscious of or believe in something “better,” you are separate from it, and there is effort to attain it.
Meditation, in contrast, is the accidental moments of actual harmony that arrive anyway when you are trying to get something, even in trying to get harmony or calm. This often happens outside of the intention to meditate, and most people access the beginnings of this through other events, such as walking, working, athletic activities, or transitional moments, such as between waking and sleeping. The effect, in brief, is one of harmony and well-being, from which other insights or intuitive glimpses can naturally emerge. The moment you notice this, the meditation is over.
Contemplation is purer still, yet more sophisticated. This comes from a strongly developed base of concentration—basically, constancy—through any temptation, including altered states of consciousness, that leads one to meditation (effortless engagement), from which is born an intuitive connection to that which is being focused upon (often, the nature of being in the moment, which is the default “focus”). Some people can attain this state accidentally through some combination of surprising events, which is sometimes called revelation. Fewer still can cause this to happen intentionally, mainly because you have to surprise yourself to have it occur. In any case, it requires a real sense of the value of paradox. One leaves a single position behind (such as “I like this” or “I don’t like this”) and expands in comprehension to simultaneously experience its opposite as well. From there, one rises above the two through a creative burst of intuition, and looks down on them both. What you might call transcendence, although I prefer mildly amused.
In the breathing exercise, the first problem of concentration is solved, because there is no existing goal, but at the same time, you have a focus: the breathing. If this is done well, with nothing else attached, you assemble accumulating moments of meditation. This is where most people get lost, because they become satisfied with the state of peace achieved, and trade the breathing in for the indulgence in the state. You become pleased, and attach yourself to being pleased, at the sacrifice of that which is more essential—the breathing. If you sustain the engagement of the breathing through this, you open the process of intuition, and the longer you hold that, the more developed the intuition becomes and the greater your access to it. During this time, there is resolution, or clearing away of obstacles and problems, much of which is observable only later. Also, by developing a more constant grasp of the nature and process of intuition, this then naturally applies itself outside of the breathing exercise frame into all areas of life.
The breathing as focus, and the only focus, exists for two reasons. One, it is itself the most essential process of life, thus one connects easily to the more essential elements of one’s life and existence, such as purpose, priorities and the nature of being (yours, others, and more). Two, by accessing this through the breathing directly, one then has a similar access to high-end intuitive skills and perceptions whenever you later focus on your breath. Any breath then becomes a kind of mini-breathing exercise that produces the same thing, only with additional external temptations and variables to get past.
During any breathing exercise, there is no need to “note” or remember what one accesses during it. Indeed, it is essential to not trade in the breathing for anything else. What happens then is that the intuition itself is sublimated and continues to evolve during whatever else you may be doing and will produce itself more frequently and precisely. It then begins to guide you in your intentions and actions, which is observable externally, represented by the idea of being in the right place at the right time—intriguing events or things coming to you without effort on your part, or resolution of conflicts.
Anyone who has some experience of this, even with- out knowing so, has a process of accelerated evolution and resolution in motion. But it is important to remain simple in response to that, always coming back to the original engagement, to breathe graciously.
There’s much more to all this, such as the serious physiological benefits from doing the breathing exercise; the enjoyable advanced experiences, such as the sensation of being breathed; the fact that breathing is normally a subconscious activity, so focussing upon it leads one to that which we are normally not conscious or aware of; its value during confusing, stressful or urgent events, etc. But most of this you’ll know if you reflect and practice. Thank you for the question. Breathe well…
Re:, Darrell Calkins
© 2004 – 2016 Darrell Calkins