I often talk about breath with my clients—it is perhaps the most direct and immediate doorway we have for self-soothing and responding to runnaway or activated/anxious nervous system. It's why all of the world's oldest spiritual traditions include breathwork, chanting, and/or singing. It calms us, and it connects us—to breath and vibration and each other. Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening is a profound daily guide full of wisdom and simple exerices for practicing presence.
"As all humans in their last breath
drop all they are carrying,
each breath is a little death
that can set us free,
little freedom by little freedom."
-Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life you Have
When I read this daily meditation and practice for January 31st, it touched my heart and asked me to share it. I am excited by the places that modern scientific understanding (see: polyvagal theory) of how to heal our nervous systems overlaps with spiritual teachings. I expect the science of healing will point us in the directions of spirit, heart, and mindfulness more and more in time to come. I hope this touches some wisdom in your heart too, and inspires a quiet moment with yourself, or a way to bring yourself to breath next time you're on the table.
Breathing is the fundamental unit of risk, the atom of inner courage that leads us into authentic living. With each breath, we practice opening, taking in, and releasing. Liter-ally, the teacher is under our nose. When anxious, we simply have to remember to breathe.
So often we make a commitment to change our ways, but stall in the face of old reflexes as new situations arise. When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up, or remove oneself. Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves. Taking a deep meditative breath, precisely at this moment, can often break the momentum of anxiety and put our psyche in neutral. From here, we just might be able to step in another direction.
I'm not talking about external moments of anxiety here, but inner moments of truth. Certainly, when an accident is unfolding, we need to get out of the way; when a loved one falls, we need to try to hold them. Rather, I'm talking about fear of love and truth... fear of change and the unknown. I'm talking about how we all grip tightly to what we know, even if we hurt ourselves in the process.
Dropping all we carry—all our preconceptions, our interior lists of the ways we've failed and the ways we've been wronged, all the secret burdens we work at maintaining—dropping all regret and expectation...
Dropping all we have constructed as imperative allows us to be born again into the simplicity of spirit that arises from unencumbered being.
It is often overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took twenty-five or fifty years to build? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry instant by instant. Trusting that what has done the carrying, if freed, will carry us.