(last updated on April 29, 2014)
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my friends of a spiritual nature, and today experienced an epiphany that combines my two current preoccupations: improving focus and maintaining connections with people:
- Angela, my music teacher, and I have been having some excellent discussions about Christianity and the nature of love with respect to the teachings of Jesus. We both agree that love is a vast and inclusive feeling. This is what “being connected” really is.
I have started making up rituals to get me focused in the morning, and this has led to an awareness of long-standing meditative practices. Breath control is at the root of many disciplines, I’ve realized.
Ashish had bought me that book I mentioned the other day, The Four Agreements, which has a prayer in the back of the book that equates the feeling of love with breathing: Focus your attention on your lungs, as if only your lungs exist. Feel the pleasure when your lungs expand to fulfill the biggest need of the human body–to breathe. Take a deep breath and feel the air as it fills your lungs. Feel how the air is nothing but love. Notice the connection between the air and the lungs, a connection of love. Expand your lungs with air until your body has the need to expel that air. And then exhale, and feel the pleasure again. Because when we fulfill any need of the human body, it gives us pleasure. To breath gives us much pleasure. Just to breath is enough for us to always be happy, to enjoy life. Just to be alive is enough. Feel the pleasure to be alive, the pleasure of the feeling of love…
p>I gave this a try, and found that mindful breathing is indeed pleasurable. As I reflected upon the feeling of being alive and healthy, I breathed deeply and felt thankful to the powers that be for that moment. I was actually in the moment, not thinking about lunch or work or whether I should ditch my old notebook for the shiny new MacBook Pro 17. To breath is the fundamental human need, primal and immediate. Not only is it a calming feeling, breathing is highly portable. I can bring this sense of peace with me wherever I grow, so long as I remember to be mindful.
When I was a kid, our family always said Grace over dinner. Our prayer was the old standard: God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for this food. Amen. As I grew older, the saying of Grace turned toward the silent bowing of heads, excepting special holiday occasions when the most wizened / least starving of us would launch into a meandering monologue of thankfulness. So we haven’t used the “God is great, God is good” prayer in quite some time, perhaps because it seems a little inappropriate to me as an adult. This is because I say it the same way I did when I was 9 years old, using a sing-song hop-scotch delivery that really tries to make the almost-rhyme between “good” and “food” work. I enjoy the playfulness, but as an adult I really can’t get away with it anymore and be sincere.
But what if I prayed actively saying anything at all? It occurred to me that I could just pray with air. That is, through mindful breathing. I called it The Air Prayer, and it goes like this:
- Take a normal breath, deliberately.
- Take a longer, slower breath, savoring the sensation of the air entering your lungs.
- Take a deep lazy breath, hold it for a pleasurably long while, and then exhale slowly.
- Say “Amen”.
It combines meditative breathing with the feeling of love and life that comes from it, presuming that you don’t have lung problems. Call it love, call it life, call it a meditative mind trick: it was the most basic affirming prayer I’ve made in quite some time. When I was feeling stressed today, I found that I was always just a couple breaths away from completing the prayer; I just stretched the next breath out and uttered an Amen of thanks for being alive.
And so, I thought I would share. Enjoy!