Zen Says Breathing

Greek refuge

I want to write a new post… 

but a television writing project is keeping me busy 14 hours a day.  Nevertheless, I don’t want to be one of those bloggers who don’t publish.  So here’s something which, while short, may still be meaningful.  It is to me.


Let me tell you a story.

Earlier this year, finding myself without a long-form prose project, something akin to an existential crisis occurred.  So, I took to breathing.

Let me try that again. 

I purposely avoided beginning another novel because it felt habitual.  To be buried again in a new work of fiction, the urge was powerful, like an addiction.  So I fought it, hoping something new might enter my life.  A diplomatic posting in Buenos Aires, for instance.  But nothing did.  So there I was in the vacant place people dread, and which Zen monks and mystics worship. 

So I took to breathing.

I say breathing, Zen says breathing, yogis say breathing, but of course it’s more than that.  As the breath in-came, I had to follow it very closely.  This was no new-agey thing; it was urgent.  If I didn’t focus sharply on the breath’s journey, my addiction would seep in, then inundate me.  Breath-consciousness was my water-tight refuge.  As long as I stayed with the breath, my old cravings couldn’t drown me.  I was safe there.

Sure, we all meditate and know this to be true.  Except this wasn’t recreational breath awareness; this was keeping me sane.  Oh-so-sane.

Being breath-attentive was the ‘be’ in the BE; the ‘here’ in the HERE; and the ‘now’ in the NOW.  And I could go there anytime – while the gamut of habit, thought and opinion that hijack the organizm was left out in the cold.  It soon dawned on me that this oh-so-accessible space was the end-all.

This uneventful ‘practice’, for that’s what it became, was bringing the background of my being to the foreground.  I don’t know how else to say it. 

The foreground is colourful, exciting, seductive and addictive.  The background is nothing, boring, but full to brimming with absolute presence and sanity.  

And that’s my story for this week.  Maybe next week I’ll have time to go deeper.

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  1. Sarah says

    I often wondered if there was a soul comfort in the somewhat controlled breathing of the smoker…

  2. says

    I too have wondered the same thing. I’ve seen “meditative” smokers, and lo and behold (am I imagining this?) their smoke doesn’t smell. I may take up the sport when I’m 75. What would I have to lose?

  3. Don Mius says

    Hey Po Jo,

    You wallow to long in your breathless funk. Think of the humour and expire and not inspire.
    These amusing words I leave:

    i used to have a life
    until it passed me by
    i used to have a wife
    until she up and died

    i used to have a life
    based on fears and lies
    i used to have knife
    wherewith my soul to scibe

    i used to have it all
    in delusion’s empty eyes
    i used to have daydreams
    under young sunny summer skies

    now all i have is gone
    and i am alone with sighs
    and all i had is gone
    and i cease to wonder why

    Zen comes falling slow, though jittery, in whatever breathes, so I am much as you, though I’m not sure why. I don’t care why.

  4. says

    You’re the same as me because we’re all the same. We’re all inching toward understanding what can’t be entirely understood. Understand?

  5. Adam says

    I love addressing activities common to everyone. Nothing as common as a simple breath. I like the tack you took on the subject. Cool writing.

  6. says

    Thanks, Adam. I’m happy to hear you describe the subject matter as “common to everyone”. I aspire to that. Problem is, many people don’t acknowledge many of life’s facts as applying to them. The human organizm has an amazing ability to turn a blind eye to much about the human condition. I love prompting people to see what`s really what. Of course, I could be wrong. But I could also be right. Examining conventional wisdom — it’s a kind of sport for me.

  7. says

    So enjoying catching up on some of your posts from the last couple of months. Speaking of breathing, I enjoy inhaling the atmospheres you’re creating in your offerings here. I once helped host a conference of speakers that included Stephen Jourdain, a spiritual teacher of sorts, author, eccentric advocate for Reality. The book “Radical Awakening” is an interesting account of his perspective and details some of his less than usual “enlightened” activities, such as excessive TV watching, consumption of cola, coffee and the smoking of cigarettes. As host during his many hours of presentation at our event I was responsible for keeping the coffee and cola coming and trading out his ashtray for clean – every 40 min or so as he chain smoked while speaking. I sat in the front row and never was able to catch a whiff of the usual stink from the haze that hung around him. Nor when changing out the ashtrays was there any stench or odor of any kind from the butts, ash or charred surfaces. Don’t know how or why. Experienced the same thing when in the presence of Indian Saint Yogi Ramsuratkumar, another perpetual smoker who clearly operated beyond the usual physics and physiological effects of the act. Back to presence as a tangible force, when actions are committed with the full force of being-ness then those actions often defy our theories about right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. Without awareness, being, and presence we suffer the hell of confining ourselves to “right” or “good” action that, though all looks perfect on paper, produces dissonance in our relationships, mediocrity in our efforts and separation in our hearts. With presence even weapons become tools of connection, sins become doorways to praise, and bad behavior glorifies the beauty of the human spirit. Easy to wield weapons, sin and misbehave while telling ourselves we’re doing it “consciously”, not so common or easy to have the force of soul that generates truly transformative action. But it’s worth dabbling in the department as long as we’re ruthlessly self-honest about our purity, clarity and motives.

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