Saturday, December 31, 2011

Helping the Sun to Rise

      To start the new year, I wanted to do something simple. Just to breathe, and breathe consciously for a while. Let the mind participate, as it does all too infrequently. Usually my mind is anywhere but on the body's subtle processes, particularly breathing.  Nothing could be less interesting to my every day mind than the steady and elegant oxygen exchange that keeps me alive. When it is called to attend this self-regulating miracle, it swings in, like a dead-beat dad or a wayward child showing up at a holiday dinner. The mind expects to be welcomed as a long-craved link in the circle. As if the breath were hopelessly lost all those hours and days until that moment I remembered about it. Whatever the mind falls on, it gets busy with, so when it turns to the breathing process, it can't help wanting to take charge, or at least assist.  After years of practice with conscious breathing, I still feel my mind busting in on the subtle rhythm, eager and curious, stumbling around for something to do, as a toddler might "help" mommy fold laundry. I watch the ego leading, as useless as someone getting up early to help the sun to rise in the morning.

Early Morning, Buckeye Cove, near Asheville, NC (KMC)
       Unlike any attempt to help the sun rise, our minds can and do affect change in our breath. There is debate among yogis whether we're ever capable of watching our breath without altering it in some way. You can try it now if you want. The problem is, we don't know what the breath was doing before our mind began following it. Because....well, our mind was on something else. A meditative state is one of the many possible results of conscious breathing. Some Pranayama, or breathing patterns, might be in order. Using specific tasks during inhale and exhale that the involuntary nervous system really can't do on its own makes the mind happy; it feels needed. A brilliant invention, Pranayama. It gives the mind and body a place to interact with each other, a safe way to spend quality time together. And those clever ancient yogis even deciphered the specific health benefits each practice brings. Unfortunately, my mind gets impatient when the breath work at hand is slow - after just a few rounds it scampers off task, hoping the body will remember the pattern while it visits its favorite haunts: the worries, grudges and excitements of life. Fast or vigorous breath work offers more entertainment - the mind can pour its dramas into each push and pull, controlling the body in more familiar ways. In just a few minutes, the system is flushed with new oxygen and the brain gets a little high. In any case, physical and mental challenges are met, and the mind finds interesting ways to occupy itself. And under continued attention, the body may actually share a few secrets.

       This is the part I love. The secrets. And also why I wanted to do this on the first day of the year. In that inspire-ational interplay between the mind and body a trust begins. Sometimes little promises are made. The mind begins to sense that its job is not only secure, but increasingly interesting. The body relaxes as it slowly detects a genuine respect for its processes. Under this relaxation, judgement eases on the part of the mind, which in turn makes the body less bashful. The relaxed mind is quiet enough to notice that each of its thought patterns (and the emotions riding along with them) actually have a hometown somewhere in the body. Often I feel them bobbing on little quail feet, returning to their hidden breeding grounds in places like the heart, the belly, the throat, or the abdomen. The body starts to feel the benefits of a gentle consciousness smoothing along the mysterious aches and pains that have accumulated. With the proper focus, I might even hear the story of the past year, what really happened to me. Somewhere in all this, the mind and body come to accept that they are one and the same, and vow blissfully to stay together always. And if I'm really lucky, I may, within the stream of some slow, semi-conscious breath, hear a whisper of what they've decided to do together in the coming year. 

       If I do hear anything, I need to make a note of it very, very carefully. It will be my New Year's resolution. The hard part is to not disturb the bliss. The instant they catch me trying to capture any part of their intimate affair, they jump to their own corners like two teenagers caught in the headlights. Since the success of my new resolution is directly proportionate to the amount of time these two are at One, I tiptoe through the bliss. Once the union is broken, who knows how long it will be before they breathe together again. The mind gets so busy with important things, and the body carries on independently, regarding any mental assistance as useless as trying to help the sun rise.

Early morning 12-19-08, Buckeye Cove, near Asheville, NC (KMC)

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