Awareness of our breath is an invaluable tool in aiding our contemplative practice. The major component of mindfulness of our breath is allowing the energy of our breath to freely circulate throughout our gross physical body as well as our surrounding subtle energy body. We’re learning to witness and accept all of our sensory experience flowing together, letting thought energy dissipate without fixating on any ideas about what is happening. Gradually we notice a softening of mind created rigid boundaries between our imagined separate identity and our environment.
This is where our conditioned mind meets the unconditioned boundless awareness of our real being. We’re cultivating our willingness to receive the collective energy of being itself without self conscious interfering. This allows the beginning of our identity shift to the body of infinite consciousness, which is our true body. Practicing mindfulness of our breath with diligence and perseverance, gradually dissolves the sense of separation born of the limited and confined personal body and mind.
When we sit together in a meditation hall, the air circulating through our bodies freely mingles with air breathed by everyone. The air we’re breathing is infused with the energy of our life force. We are literally breathing each others energy, and absorbing each others joy and pain. Then we are offering our compassion, joy, and tranquility back to each other. This is one way we can transform each others and our own suffering, while offering all of our experience to the sangha.
Our breath is the continual flow of our life force, and when we commit to just stop making efforts to control the flow, we begin to intuitively realize that it is always freely flowing on its own. We begin to actually sense in our physical body that even our self conscious attempts to control the flow, aren’t controlling anything. Our attempts at control are just an expression of the free flow. We begin to actually experience this more and more as we just allow the thought energy of our effort to arise and dissolve while flowing by.
One practice I’ve used in dealing with resistance is to imagine my breath sweeping the mind. When we are fixated on a particular idea, combined with a painful emotion, at first this process seems like there is something substantial in the feeling and thought energy being swept away into the flow our breath. As we continue to mindfully witness this experience, the conceptual content of the experience, which is traces of words, ideas, and sensations, begins to lose it solidity, actually begins to melt into the flow of experience. Our spirit of inquiry is infused with a deep joy as the conceptual haze we’re so deeply conditioned to be bound to, bursts like so many bubbles on the sea of awareness.
Zen master Suzuki Roshi talked about the practice of imaging ourselves as a swinging door when we breathe during zazen meditation. He said, “What we call I is just a swinging door that moves when we inhale and then exhale.” When we say I breathe, the I is extra. As we allow the door to swing freely, we are uniting the inner and outer worlds, both of which are limitless and inconceivable. We are just a swinging door, expressing this unity. The thought energy solidifying as the idea of ‘I’ dissolves into the swinging of the door that we are.
The swinging door is the gateway to the breath of universal life. Each of us is a unique expression of the breath of life. When we sit peacefully with our breath, we will soon discover that its vitality- its nourishing, nurturing quality-is expressed as a true love of life on life’s terms. We can always join the party, drop our fear, and live fully in the spirit of universal joy and love. Joy will dance and expand within us and without. We will know this to the extent that we drop our ideas and opinions about it. When the many forms of aversion to this vitality are sufficiently loosened up in our bodies, there will be much less fear sharing it with others, and much more joy in its continually changing manifestations. The more willing we are to share with others, the more we allow ourselves to consciously breathe.
Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful song, part of the lyrics express the joy of setting free all ideas of love.
A light came through the window
Straight from the sun above
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of love
In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see
Out of which the nameless makes
A name for one like me
I’ll try to say a little more
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door
Then love itself was gone