The Perfect First Post Ever

Since I just wrote a post on the importance of the Breath, I did a search for other posts which mention breathing. Up came my friend Liz’s first post, ever, from July, 2005. It’s called Breathing Room. One of my favorite quotes ever comes from the end of this short little post. Liz writes, “When I give my soul a little breathing room . . .everyone I know gets nicer.” Thank you, Liz, for your part in helping me find my way. ghl

The Cycle of Breathing

Breath HemispheresAs I lay in bed one night, unable to sleep, I decided to watch my breath as a mediation. Not only is breathing vital to living, it holds the path to relaxation and ultimately can help us gain control over our lives. Symbolically, it represents various cycles of life: birth-death, day-night, Summer-Winter.

The delicate complexity of natural breathing is easily flummoxed by attention from the breather. It needs to be observed rather passively. It’s like looking for a star in the night sky which can only be seen by gazing slightly away from the actual object of attention.

If you wish to observe your own breathing cycle, you first need to be “in the room”, completely relaxed, present in the space you fill. Be aware of the parts of the room you cannot see, to the sides and behind you. Now you can sense the three-dimensionality of your breath from the breath and body itself, rather than from any “ideas” you read in this post. Keep your mind out of your body’s way while you observe it.

While lying in bed, I relax my awareness into the room (with eyes open). I allow my body to soften to the point I feel I am melting into the mattress. I feel heavy. My mind stops thinking, and I allow my body to do its own thing. My eyes, nose, sinuses, throat, chest and abdomen relax deeply, sinking into the bed. All my limbs follow suit. (It is possible to do this sitting in a chair or standing, but it’s harder to allow the body to relax as deeply.)

I take a huge breath and sigh out. Near the end of this exhale, the breath seems to stop for a few seconds. It does not, in fact, stop. The breath naturally lingers at its end. The exhale slows dramatically, but continues almost imperceptibly for a number of seconds. So there is no “end” of the breath, really. It just slows to a dead calm as the body prepares for the next inhalation. Be gently aware of this beautiful sighing diminuendo and enjoy it. Let it linger as long as it needs to build the energy for the next inhalation. It may be surprisingly long, anywhere from one or two seconds to 20 seconds or more, depending on how relaxed you are and how deeply you are breathing.

Before the inhalation begins, there is a desire, a warm yearning behind the heart. This “need” is a wonderful, deep and satisfying feeling, especially just before the inhalation beings. It’s impending fulfillment gives it a glowing anticipation. As this need begins to fulfill itself, the breath will appear to fill from the inside out, as if by itself. The reason for this feeling is that the body and mind are not interfering with the process. The muscles are working naturally. When this happened to me, I felt giddy, as if witnessing some rare, shy bird emerge from hiding within a tree.

The breath will fill effortlessly. Give in to it. Relax into it. This is tricky during observation. Depending on how relaxed and calm you are, the back will expand and fill along with the stomach and pelvis. The breath will fill under the arms and up into the tops of the shoulders. Remember to “let” this happen, don’t interfere. It’s amazing how much the body can expand and open to accommodate a full, deep breath. You may notice the neck and spine “gathering”, shortening. If lying on a bed, your head will slide down the pillow as the body expands.

Remember, don’t “make” anything happen. Just notice. Keep the attention in the room as this miraculous process of breathing happens. Keep the chattering, possessing mind from scaring the shy bird away. If it does interfere, that’s OK. There are more breaths to come. Look forward, not back. This is a wonderful process. Enjoy it. There’s plenty of air to go around, at least for awhile longer.

Now we are at the top of the breath. The inhalation can take anywhere from 2 to 15 seconds. As with the out breath, it will slow as the lungs fill. What happens now?

The turn from inhale to exhale is subtle. It is merely a change of angle, not backtracking the path of inhalation. Again, the breath never stops, anytime. It moves in a circle, or perhaps a wave. Try not to hold the breath at the top. I think of this part of the breath as being at the top of a slow motion roller coaster ride. There’s a moment where you feel weightless. It’s fleeting but unmistakable. The greatest “lift” is right after the top. So it is with the breath. There will be a floating sensation at the curve from inhale toward exhale, and before you know it, you are deflating. Here again, the feeling will come from behind the heart, as if the air is just disappearing from inside you. There is no pushing, no effort.

As you ride the breath down again to the bottom curve, your may notice your body elongating as it closes into the next cycle. This is natural and normal. The speed of exhale will slow gradually as the lungs empty. We are again at the bottom of the breath, the sweet diminuendo before the next cycle turns.

There is no beginning, no end. The breath is like a wave, or a turning wheel. Learning to be aware of something so intrinsic to who we are can engender a calm attitude and deep satisfaction. From there we can direct ourselves almost anywhere.

May you Breathe Deeply and Live Deeply.

Anti-Valentines Day Celebration

White Bleeding Heart FlowersWatching some “boob tube” (as my mother calls it) on Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t help but notice the most common themes on sitcoms were pitiful rejections and absurd self-deprecation glorified by favorite characters on Will and Grace, Becker and Scrubs.

Though I have trouble understanding the comedy of some of those characters, I can relate to the anti Valentine’s sentiments. Valentine’s Day is perfect for lovers, who already have something wonderful in their lives, to masturbate the genie bottle some more, and for the greeting card and flower business to suck up love’s dysfunctional dollars. Love is often based on co-dependency, on passion rather than committment or understanding. Bottom line; Valentine’s Day crates a lot of pressure to love someone now, or else.

So what does it mean to “love” someone? Do you have to love them all the time, unconditionally, for it to be real love? Should you fake it when they need it and you don’t feel it?

Those who have read my two most recent posts know I was in a very passionate love affair which blew up, for good reasons, in the end. The passion was there, full Valentine’s force, 24 hours a day for two months; then, poof, it wasn’t. End of story. You can’t turn love on and off like a spigot. It comes and it goes on its on.

Last summer, I had lunch with a long time friend/acquaintance who was born on the same day and year as me. Through Junior and High School she was a steady soul in my often turbulent psychic life. Even at 15 or 16, she could look me in the eye and care deeply for me without expectation. No wonder she ended up becoming a psychologist.

Seeing her again after a space of 20 years was like coming home to an old, comfy home I had forgotten about. The same steadiness was there. I felt a natural trust I rarely feel with anyone.

At one point in our mellow conversation about our lives, I blurted out that I think I’m incapable of feeling love for someone. I really do feel this way, always at a deficit compared to the love I am given by so many close friends and family. I’ve been called all sorts of names: selfish, self-indulgent, petty, uncaring, unaware of others feeling, etc. Perhaps these are true at times, but it doesn’t make me an unloving person.

Her answer changed how I feel about love. She said something to the effect of, “Of course you are capable of loving. But no one feels love for someone all the time. I don’t feel it for my husband all the time, but I know I love him none the less. Just because you don’t feel it when you’re “supposed to” doesn’t mean you don’t love them in your own way“.

Feeling love and/or caring for someone has to come naturally, unforced. Over the years of feeling guilty for not feeling love when I was supposed to, I had lost touch with the times I really felt something for someone. Someone once told me that saying “I love you” to a person is like holding a gun to their head. Well, maybe it’s not quite that drastic, but it can feel forced.

So let’s call all the days of the year other than Valentines Day the “Show Love when EVER you feel it” Days.

Happy Show Love when you Feel it Days, all 364 of them.

Balance, Balance, Balance

Lovers Mouths Laughing
There’s really only one rule in life: balance. Think of the common image indicating Taoist thought, a circle with joined black and white “tadpoles” chasing each other. The whole is made of balanced opposites. Unbalance in one part affects the whole, no exceptions.

The past few months I’ve been tipping slowly off balance toward a slippery slope: addiction. Sexual addiction, in this case. I’ve always liked to play with fire. I knew what I was doing, but lost perspective in the heat of attraction. Lots of movies and operas feature this theme.

Sensual chemistry between two people creates a mystical bond which seems to blur the boundaries we all feel between ourselves and the world. We base our lives on protecting our bodies as separate from the world, feeding them, making them stronger, and finding pleasure with them. Civilization is based on these patterns of self protection. Rarely do we break free of this illusion of separateness, of “me” finding the way in a hard world, “fitting in”. To truly understand that we are not separate takes patience, forgiveness, self-understanding, letting go and proper knowledge of the truth.

One of the tools to learn this truth is love. Love brings us out of our shell and into the world. Caring for others and for life outside “ourselves” is the first step on the path to enlightenment. But sensual “love” is just as valid as a key to transformation, if more rare and dangerous. I felt physical magic, “Kama Sutra” love, for the partner in my affair. (I am reminded of Marvin Gaye’s song, Sexual Healing) But our lives had nothing else in common. So that’s all we did: too much of a wonderful thing. So much for balance.

From the inside, the healing pleasure of sensual love seemed to balance the risks. But my life became lopsided to maintain the amazing sensual stimulations I experienced. Using the image of riding a bicycle for balance, I was leaning to one side, not enough to fall over, but enough to spin in smaller and smaller circles. Being dizzy never felt so good! The funny thing about sex is that it’s natural. Such an ancient and primal drug is easy to justify with fuzzy logic. I forged ahead with my beautiful experiment.

Unfortunately, as much as I like to deny it, being a musician is more than a full time job. It’s a whole life style, a way of living, like being a monk. We are hothouse tomatoes. We are married to our instruments. Balance is crucial. My musical abilities flourished at first on the “affair”, stimulated by my flushed and vibrant mental and physical state. Little by little, however, concentration and composure at work slipped. The foundation of a delicate artistic state was eroding. But I couldn’t see the signs. Or didn’t want to.

In the end, some friends noticed my subtle decline. But this wasn’t enough to stop me. I’ve always been stubborn and independent. I tend to do things at a thousand miles an hour until I peter out or hit a wall. (gardening and blogging are other obsessions of mine) I was confident I could balance both worlds. It finally took a fluke, some food poisoning, to snap me out my my reverie life. (never eat salads at cheap restaurants) I got horribly sick for 24 hours, and had plenty of time to reflect on my ultimately foolish behavior. My career is the most precious gift I have, by far. Jeopardizing that for the continuing ecstasy of certain sensual pleasures would have been suicide.

Ultimately, I have no regrets. I am fortunate to have fate on my side, and a handful of forgiving friends who love me no matter what! My life is richer for having had the experience. I appreciate what I do have all the more. I am now more ready than ever to face my middle age (I’m 47) with grace and balance.

At least until the NASA Space Shuttle has an opening for a trip to the moon!