Breath is Truth

Kaethe Kauffman, First Meditation Angled Black, ink on paper, 20”x16”, 2016

At ten years old, when an older cousin taught me meditation, I first noticed variations in my breathing. When I felt nervous or frightened I stopped breathing.  Because I rarely admitted to fear or anxiety, the only clue I had about my true emotions was when I became aware of holding my breath or gasping. When I tuned in to my breath, I became conscious of my feelings, and willing to face them. Over the years, as I continued to meditate and observe my breathing, I learned I could safely experience the reality of my emotions. 

When I remain aware of my breath, I find it easier to allow my thoughts to come and go without clinging to one. I don’t feel compelled to obsess about one or get angry about another. A meditation teacher tells me that thoughts naturally arise and disperse like clouds moving across the sky. I can allow it to dissolve naturally. He’s right. When I count breaths, I can observe this natural process without stopping at any one thought.

Another teacher pointed out that breathing takes place in the lungs, expanding the upper torso, part of the heart space. When I’m aware of my breaths, I’m automatically tuned into my heartfelt sensations. As an old hand at denying unpleasant emotions, it helps me to gently become aware of my feelings, accept them and release the negative ones as I exhale.

If my breaths are shallow, I’m usually worrying or having anxiety. It helps me to pause, take deep breaths and ask myself, Is it possible for me to let go of the mental grasping surrounding this situation? Amazingly, 99% of the time, my intuitive answer is Yes. With this realization, I feel deep relief and become able to emotionally release myself from stress and deal with the issue in an objective way.

When I count my breaths, I become aware of the spaces between them. Sometimes, when I breathe quickly, the breaths are tight together. But during meditation, I perceive pauses between breaths, an ideal time, my teacher tells me, to simply dwell in profound relaxation, free of all thoughts. He’s right again. Perceiving the breaks between breaths and resting there is uplifting, a sacred experience.

When I’m done meditating, I may decide to analyze a situation or work on it, but I can do so free of negative attachment, becoming more objective. While I work or analyze, I enjoy deeper breaths and the work is clear and efficient. Diaphragmatic breathing lowers blood pressure and raises endorphins, terrific benefits. This state is called “post-meditation,” and it spontaneously develops over time.

Over the years, I’ve learned many different meditation techniques, such as mantra (affirmations) and visualizations. They’re all beneficial, but breathing meditation remains special for me. By focusing on breath, I increase my gratitude for each inhale and exhale. One day in the future, I’ll pass away and I’ll no longer have the privilege of breathing. Breath expands my joy in hosting the life force (chi or prana) within me. However, through meditation, breath has led me to more – to finding a peaceful way to experience depths of emotional truth.

Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.

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