Breath is something that we can control, most of the time. We can hold our breath, pant or try to fill our lungs completely. We can whistle or hum or gasp.
When I sit down to meditate, I take a few deep breaths of intention. It’s a way to remind myself that I am here to follow the breath. Then, I let go of control and start noticing. It’s easiest for me to focus my attention on my nostrils. I feel the air making a tickling sensation as it passes in to and out of my body. Some people like to focus on their chests or their bellies moving up and down. Whatever holds your attention is fine.
Of course, if you are like me, your breath won’t hold your attention. Your mind will go off into fantasies of futures glorious or tragic, memories of pasts hilarious or tender and dips and dabs of anything else. My mind is an adventure ship, sailing on winds of neurochemicals. Watching it, I learn.
Thoughts and emotions move like clouds across my mind-sky. When I was younger, I imagined feelings were permanent and meant something about me. If I felt sadness, I would lose myself in it and thought I would never emerge, that I would never be happy again. Now I see that sad thoughts and feelings come and go. Rather than getting lost in rumination, I bring my attention back to the breath.
My breath changes. My breathing is controlled by my autonomic nervous system. It’s awe-inspiring sciencey stuff involving brain, nerves and muscles monitoring and responding to levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, lung expansion, pain and chemical irritants. Watching my breath, I find I can trust my body to do what it needs to do without my conscious interference.
Breath is life. When my mother was dying, the time between her out breath and in breath got very long until the time when there was no in breath. Various parts of my body are not working as well as they were, but my breath continues. It connects me to all living things. It will anchor me here until I move on to other possibilities.
Following my breath releases me from identification with thoughts and emotions, frees me from the illusion of control, reminds me to trust and strengthens my relationship with creation.