||Breathing In, Breathing Out
I was reminded recently of a subject I’ve written and taught about often. It has to do with the fact that the very air we breathe, the oxygen that gives us life, constantly circulates around the world. Our breathing in gives us the gift of oxygen from the earth’s plant life and our breathing out gives the earth’s plant life the gift of carbon dioxide. This reciprocal relationship unfolds in every moment of our lives, from our very first breath until our last.
Awareness of the presence of each breath allows us to be even more deeply conscious of the inevitable and constant reciprocity that is part of our everyday life - a process of give and take that characterizes the most fundamental fact of our existence. Without the plants, we wouldn’t have oxygen. Without the bacteria that inhabit our gut, we wouldn’t digest food or absorb it properly. There are unseen partners that take the journey with us throughout our lives.
There are also visible partners, as the people we encounter every day, in one situation or another, where we offer them something in exchange for something they offer us. We pay money and someone gives us a product or service. We offer a service or product and someone gives us money. We reach out to a friend for support and he or she offers us comfort in response.
The give-and-take process of our lives offers constant sources of support and, in challenging times, we may overlook the amount of support that’s right here, right now. And so, for this week’s experiment, I invite you to notice that each and every breath you take is a gift, is support for your life. No matter what else may be going on, you have your breath and the gift of oxygen. No matter what else may be going on, each time you exhale, you offer the gift of carbon dioxide to the earth’s plant life. Each breath acknowledges your participation in a global process of give and take, as air and carbon dioxide circulate around the planet.
As part of this week’s experiment, I invite you to take a few moments each day to consciously focus on your breath. Become aware of your in-breath and consciously receive the gift of oxygen. Then, become aware of your out-breath and consciously become aware of fact that you give back carbon dioxide. If you find yourself frightened about your current financial situation, or some other challenge in your life, take a moment to come back to the breath and focus your awareness on the gift of oxygen and on the natural, inevitable give and take in this present moment, right here, right now.
The experiment isn’t intended to have you overlook what’ may not be going right in your life at the present time. Instead, it offers a way to shift your conscious focus away from fear or worry and, instead, literally take a breath to refocus on the availability of oxygen, right here, right now. It can be very powerful to be able to shift out of fear, and coming back to the breath has been a way to focus on the present moment in many traditions for many years.
As you know perhaps all too well, fear tends to generate more fear, whereas ease tends to generate more ease. Practice with coming back to the breath, and an awareness of the give and take of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and notice if it helps you break the habit of hanging out with fear. In fact, the moment you become aware you’re caught in worry, allow the awareness of the worry to become your signal to return to the breath. The worry itself becomes like a meditation bell that calls you back into the present moment.
As with all the experiments, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion. Rather than judge your progress, give yourself permission to make a commitment to focus on your breath at least one time during the day, recalling the global give and take unfolding each time you breathe in and breathe out. Then, notice what happens when you commit to shifting to the breath at least one time during the day when you find yourself caught in fear or worry. Creating a new habit takes time and repetition, so be gentle and patient with yourself. By consistently coming back to the breath when you’re captivated by fear thoughts, your brain learns that this is an option. One of the great gifts of living more consciously is that you can become aware of options that may otherwise go by unnoticed.