This One Breath

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“…before an assembled group of monks, a zen teacher asked, “What is the most important thing in life?”
“Food,” said one.
“Work,” said another.
“The pursuit of truth,” said a third.
The teacher signaled for a monk to step forward. Grabbing the monk’s head, he dunked it in a tub of water and held it down until the monk came up gasping for breath.
The assembly got the message: we can live days without food, years without work or a lifetime without truth, but we cannot go more than minutes without a breath.”

– From the book, 24/7 Zen, by Philip Toshio Sudo

Our breath. How easily we take it for granted. We usually pay little attention to it. Yet as basic and routine as our breathing is, nothing is as vital to living as our breath.

Our breath is our constant companion. It is the best indicator of how we are doing and it is our greatest ally in any moment of stress. Our stress, sadness, joy and calm show up in our breath before we are even conscious of such feeling states.

Someone dear to me once pointed out, “Did you ever notice how it is the only part of the autonomic nervous system that we can consciously control?!” This opened up a whole new way of thinking about the breath for me. I began to see that hidden within the quiet whispers of my breath – this in and out, in and out – is an invitation. An invitation to more deeply regard my breath and develop a relationship with it.

Why? As we more deeply know, bring attention to, and tune into our breath..

~ we have access to a powerful, healing force.

~ we touch the Divine – or whatever word you use for that “something” that’s bigger than us.

~ our distracted minds learn to focus on what matters most and our anxious bodies relax.

~ we recognize that with each inhale and exhale, we are deeply connected to our Source and each other.

So whether you want to calm that mind chatter, find more focus in your day, feel more connected to your own Source and dear ones in your life, or abide in a deep peace, it is found right here in this breath. As the poet Kabir wrote:

Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
Our shoulders are touching.
You will not find me in the stupas,
not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans,
not in legs winding around your own neck,
nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly —
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.

On Wednesday, May 7, we will gather for our last Mind Body Connections workshop of the academic year. It will be all about the breath. Together we’ll explore and deepen our relationship to our breath. You can register here.

This post was written by Lisa A. McCrohan, MA, LICSW, RYT, Wellness Workshop Facilitator and founder of the Barefoot Barn.

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