Time to Stop and Breathe

The piece I posed yesterday morning, Honoring a Daughter’s Spirit, and a Son’s, was short, but writing it took a lot out of me. Then I watched my readership statistics climb all day. It was by far the best day my blog has had in visitors and page views, with almost every reader drawn to that particular post. I felt honored by the response, and by the request from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to share the post on its Facebook page. But I also felt depression set in.

I felt as though I was capitalizing on the deaths of someone else’s 3-year-old daughter and my 27-year-old son. So now is the time to stop and breathe, and write the post I’ve been planning on stopping and breathing — on meditation. Meditation is as simple as stopping and breathing, but it’s incredibly complex. As Walt Whitman said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

meditating Buddha illustrationThe last six words in the quote from Whitman have been seen as egotistic, but I think the multitudes are in me as well, and they’re in you. They are our ancestors, and all sentient beings, and even the non-sentient world. We all have an opportunity to sense and touch those multitudes when we stop and breathe. When an ocean wave is busy being an ocean wave – look at me, I’m tall and fierce, and the best surfers are riding me — it forgets that it’s water, like all the other waves and non-waves in the ocean. When I’m busy tracking my blog’s future and worrying over the content, I forget that I’m a small clump of cosmic dust with a very short lifetime. That’s when I need to stop and breathe and live in the moment.

Why is it comforting to remind myself that I’m a small clump of cosmic dust? It’s comforting to realize that I’m part of everything else in the world, and everything else is part of me. My ancestors are still within me, as are all beings. And you know what? The world does not depend on the clump of cosmic dust I call “me.” It did fine before my clump was formed, and my clump changes second by second. I’d like to believe that my clump does more good than harm during it’s brief existence, but it’s not all about my clump. In that context, my guilt feelings and depression become a form of arrogance.

My usual practice is mindful meditation, which is similar to insight (vipassana) meditation. I sit comfortably, with my back reasonably straight, and focus on my breath. I notice everything I can about each breath without trying to control it. I accept it as it is. When thoughts come into my mind — worries, plans, regrets, etc. — I note them and let them go. I don’t exactly try not to think; I accept the thoughts before letting them go. I don’t judge what’s going on — how much thinking comes, what thoughts come, how much time they take, whether time moves fast or slow, whether my breaths are long or short — I just stay aware of it all.

All sorts of helpful techniques can be used, but I’ll leave them for another time. I’ll just add that I believe the Buddha nature (or whatever you consider holy) is in everything. Avoiding noises during meditation is pleasant, but for me the trick is to note and accept anything that happens during meditation. If the dog barks, it’s ah, barking dog rather than I wish that damn dog would shut up. The same goes for jackhammers, ringing phones, housemates dropping plates, and so on. I start with the assumption that it’s all good.

The effect is to slow us down and make us aware (mindful) of our breaths, our bodies, the world around us, not the thought world that exists only in our heads. Meditation helps us live breath by breath, moment by moment. Practice enough and you’ll find yourself experiencing life this way even when you’re not sitting in meditation. My teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says he knows the address of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the zip code, too. They are Here and Now.

Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine 

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