Last week I was pleased and surprised to find peace and joy in simply breathing. I wasn’t doing special breath work, or trying anything new (although I experienced something I’d never felt before). I was just meditating and trying to settle down and get as quiet and still as possible. Let go. Soften. Allow. Relax, I told myself, repeating these words as a mantra. I also used, “Quiet mind, open heart.”
Things slowed down.
At some point during my thirty-minute meditation, I discovered that I could actually enjoy breathing! I felt my body rise and fall, observed the air enter and leave my nostrils, felt it fill my lungs, expand my chest, and then I felt it fall away ever so gently. It was effortless, as if the moving air was massaging my insides. Intimate and pleasurable, I marveled at this sensation. I also felt soothed by the sound of my own breath. Then I realized, Wow, this is what it means to slow way the heck down!
My mind periodically distracted me. It wandered into the past and future. Inside my head I encountered my engineer stepfather’s voice pontificating about the uselessness of artists because they do nothing but sit around and contemplate their navels. I also projected my thinking into the future, imagining scenarios about getting sick, or a loved one falling ill. This revealed my ego’s obsession with safety. It was busy planning, organizing, trying to figure things out, and wanting to control just about everything. Its energy was frantic, and its mission clear: stay safe!
Each time my mind tried to pull my attention away from my breath, I left the thoughts alone, let them spiral into the ether, and brought my attention back to my breath. This took concentration and focus, but eventually thoughts fell away and I was transported to a different reality. I felt the familiar feeling of losing myself doing something I love (like writing or dancing), but I was just breathing! I was in a state of flow, and completely present with my breath, a welcome refuge from my busy mind. I felt like I’d found myself.
While in this state, I witnessed my fear and suffering from a neutral perspective, which disempowered them. They became distant, as if they weren’t part of the real me. My distress also appeared illusory, a product of my mind’s vivid imagination. Old pain and insecurities dissolved, and I felt an expansive, irrefutable, all-consuming love. You are safe, I heard. You just think you’re not. Leave that thinking alone.
The next day I took a Zoom class called “Medicine Dance” with Fred Sugarman who said, “There is something unchanging that connects us all and has been here forever. Pause to connect to it. Exhale. Access this dimension.”
There are many ways to access this dimension. My way of doing so often involves meditation, writing, and creative movement. While dancing around my living room Saturday morning, I tried to break out of habitual ways of moving and let myself be guided by my body’s wisdom. How does my body want to move? What energy needs shifting? Releasing? After an hour-and-a half I was pleasantly pooped and felt like I’d released another layer of worry.
Still, if I’m being honest, I am amazed to see how much fearful thinking occupies my mind.
My creative, meditative practices remind me that I don’t have to be consumed by (or identified with) my scary thoughts. I can let them be, pivot, and look in a different direction. I can ask, What else is here? What can I think, feel, and understand that will uplift me? What’s underneath and beyond my fear? What’s true? Where’s my joy?
I have come to understand that my joy resides within. I’m hoping that the more I seek and find joy on the inside, the more ready I’ll be to lay down my stories of lack, my insecurities, my judgments, my self-righteous dichotomies of right and wrong and good and bad. When I’m in that other realm (and it doesn’t matter how I access it), I know that these things are also illusions.
It seems more obvious now than ever that we are all connected. Many of us are slowing down. Many of us are listening deeply. We are all witnessing heroic acts of courage. We are connecting through technology. We are caring for each other and ourselves. We are doing these things despite our fears, enjoying simple pleasures, and finding our way home to the things that matter most: love, health, hope, and faith.
Here’s a simple prayer courtesy of Rachael Wooten, PhD, author of Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha:
Please help me.
Please help me know and see that I’ve been helped.
Please help me be the help.
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