Breathe

August 28, 2010 § 16 Comments

Welcome to my 100th blog post!  Very recently, we’ve been talking about breathing, and about the beautiful experience that comes over us sometimes, especially in nature–wanting to just be in the present moment with the in breath and the out breath, knowing and accepting that we are part of a great shimmering whole of life.  In those moments, like my moment watching the wind make waves on Lake Ontario, it’s not hard to allow that there is a greater Presence behind all our striving.   But that beautiful, sun-dappled experience inevitably inspires an answering call.   Breathing in the beauty of being in the moment, we wish to be our true selves from now on–to express our true heart’s desire.  No more doing what we don’t want to do!   And so it begins again, that striving to be,  not to just be carried along passively by life, but to know we are alive.  I travelled a long way from that rocky coastline where I sat breathing because I wanted to draw closer to the flame of life.  And then I came back again, wishing to draw closer to the roots.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, is it nobler to try to be or not to try?  It is better to seek to accept the slings and arrow and the 1,000 natural shocks that  life throws at you.  Or to take arms against the sea.  Professor Harold Bloom of Yale and many books told me (as I rolled down Rt. 84, listening to my “Portable Professor”) that Shakespeare and brilliant Hamlet knew as well as any seeker on any spiritual path that a person stands little chance against an ocean, which is bound to keep on rolling in.  He made the intriguing point that Hamlet is like a preternaturally aware character dropped into the wrong play–given the lowly, bloody task of revenge rather than the loftier, more suitable job of discerning great cosmological forces.  Hamlet and Shakespeare knew the nature of life–that currents turn us awry, that there is a divinity that shapes our ends, try plan and act as we may.  I’m no Hamlet.  I was given no great or doomed task, just the vague persistent twin desires to be, to go out and make something of myself, and the desire not to be, to be no-self, to breathe, to come home to the present moment and the whole.

How can a person reconcile this?  When I interviewed Dharma teacher Gina Sharpe (mentioned a few blog posts back) she spoke of equanimity.  In Buddhism equanimity is one of the sublime emotions, the ground of wisdom and compassion.  The Pali word for it is “upekkha,” which means “to look over.”  Gina said this means observing the scene of a moment or a scene or a person so clearly that we see the big picture.   I discovered that a second Pali word is also used to describe equanimity:  “tatramajjihattata.”  Trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?   It’s a fusion of root words that fused together mean “to stand in the middle of all this.”   It means maintaining our balance in the midst of wild life and outrageous fortune.  It means being fully here and fully at home in midst of a Truth that is always moving, always now and now and now.

Thank you for reading this unfolding blog, friends.  It’s wonderful to meet you here.

§ 16 Responses to Breathe

  • artxulan says:

    I began intending to respond with some words of Michel de Salzmann. I opened “The Next Attention” at random and read. It didn’t seem appropriate. I opened at random again and it seemed ok. Then I realized that I need to speak from my own actual experience, …so.

    This morning while sitting I saw, another Attention could see, that uselessly, continuously I recall the past. This is sleep. What an odd way we humans live, in sleep, remembering the past. Even, why, to speak of an enlightening experience? If it is because we believe we can help others then perhaps the belief is an illusion. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to influence another in a helpful way is to be present. Doing, helping another, implies that we would have control over all our functions, the body, the intellect, the feelings and the emotions. And I would need to be able to see not only myself in the moment of relationship with another but through that seeing of myself also see the other to whom I am attempting to relate.

    I have experienced many times that I am a two natured being. The one, known as Jack, is the lower nature, world 48…organic life on Earth. The other nature, an Attention that returns when Jack is quiet, remains essentially a mystery. To what world does it belong, 24, 12, 3? And what is it of me that can witness, experience both these natures and stay present… not taken by either?

  • scott says:

    it is not nobler to not try. the glory of living is in overcoming the difficulties. that is what makes life interesting.

    • tracycochran says:

      I’m inclined to agree with you, Scott. But some of the most exquisitely difficult and rewarding trying includes trying not to try…trying to stop all our mechanical and driven doing and striving and just be.

      • Scott Pitz says:

        Another Scott here…I would agree that trying not to try is among the most difficult and the most rewarding of endeavors. The not trying points to a letting go of ego and the need to be in control which can lead to a greater awareness of the flow of life around you. Patience, the gift of advancing years.

        Also, there is an element of trust involved in this. For me, this means a letting go of myself and an invitation to God to make God’s work manifest through me in God’s own good time. A very difficult thing to do. Where is the balancing point between letting go and passivity? When am I sure I am discerning what is truly God’s will?

        It’s not easy…

        Scott Pitz

    • Nick_A says:

      Hi Art

      I have experienced many times that I am a two natured being. The one, known as Jack, is the lower nature, world 48…organic life on Earth. The other nature, an Attention that returns when Jack is quiet, remains essentially a mystery. To what world does it belong, 24, 12, 3? And what is it of me that can witness, experience both these natures and stay present… not taken by either?

      I’ve found this section from the Gospel of Thomas to be helpful to me. The higher that is observing the lower is a middle.

      (3) Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”

      I’ve learned it’s not easy being a middle. Simone Weil explains why:

      “There is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present too.”

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    Good Afternoon,

    It’s been a really busy week and I’m taking the next five days off from work, actually two days, that magically expand into five with the holiday on Monday.

    Anyway, if you have time to read it, I think this poem may tie nicely into what Tracy and everyone else has offered. Not-Self, No-Self, Feeling Alive, Breathing in and out.

    http://ronstarbuck-poet.blogspot.com/2010/05/mockingbirds-song.html

    Please have great holiday everyone. Be Safe!

    Ron

    • artxulan says:

      Scott I suppose that what you call God is what for me, in my tradition is the Absolute or the Creator-Endlessness, The Uni-Being – but in any case my view of the Source of All is not the same as that of Christians or even other Religions. My tradition is based on what Gurdjieff and some of his direct pupils have brought. I like what you say:

      “Also, there is an element of trust involved in this. For me, this means a letting go of myself and an invitation to God to make God’s work manifest through me in God’s own good time. A very difficult thing to do. Where is the balancing point between letting go and passivity? When am I sure I am discerning what is truly God’s will?”

      I too have these questions but I don’t view it as discerning God’s will but of a connection with my own higher parts to which I am oblivious. Madame de Salzmann’s understanding and statement of this is much better than mine.

      Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being : I have accepted the idea that I do not know what I am. But it is just an idea, a theory, and I do not understand what it means. In my usual state of consciousness, what I can perceive is limited by the functions that govern these perceptions. I perceive things with my thought, feeling and sensation, and with these try to become conscious. But the functions work on a level that is very ordinary, automatic. They are functions of the lower centers in me. What I wish to know is much higher, more pure, endowed with qualities that these functions cannot perceive. I want to know what I really am in my true nature, my very essence, in which all my possibilities are contained. I wish to return to the source of what is, of the only reality, of the “self.” The Self of the Absolute. And yet I consider myself as outside the Absolute, and I address it as outside me. I confuse the true self with the body and its functions. But the true self is like space-unattached, pure, infinite.

  • Cathrin says:

    Congratulations on your 100th post! I can’t believe how many I’ve missed, but I’ll try to appreciate the ones I’ve caught, with no regrets about what has been missed.

    This idea of equanimity is intriguing. It seems as if it is something that can be had even when tranquility cannot. It’s taken me many years to be able to snatch moments of the former without recourse to the latter. When I was young I hated the idea of growing old. But now I know there are real benefits to having sown the seeds of peace in one’s own life. And it’s hard to fret about the meaning of one’s existence in those instances when one is fully composed and at peace.

    Thankyou, Tracy, for sharing your journey in such a kind and honest way.

  • tracycochran says:

    Thank you, Kathryn. There’s wisdom in what you say. I think of equanimity as tranquility in action.

  • tracycochran says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Scott Pitz. Actually, the 100 blog posts imply impermanence. Be very well.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy

    I was given no great or doomed task, just the vague persistent twin desires to be, to go out and make something of myself, and the desire not to be, to be no-self, to breathe, to come home to the present moment and the whole.

    How can a person reconcile this?
    ****************************
    You raise this question if perhaps becoming no-self is the same as becoming oneself. Is it a contradiction?

    “When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door.” Simone Weil

    Well if it is a door, where can it lead?

    Jacob Needleman in his book “Lost Christianity” provides at least for me, the theoretical answer. He wrote:

    Acornology

    I began my lecture that morning from just this point. There is an innate element in human nature, I argued that can grow and develop only through impressions of truth received in the organism like a special nourishing energy. To this innate element I gave a name – perhaps not a very good name – the “higher unconscious.” My aim was to draw an extremely sharp distinction between the unconscious that Freud had identified and the unconscious referred to (though not by that name) in the Christian tradition.

    Imagine, I said, that you are a scientist and you have before you the object known as the acorn. Let us further imagine that you have never before seen such an object and that you certainly do not know that it can grow into an oak. You carefully observe these acorns day after day and soon you notice that after a while they crack open and die. Pity! How to improve the acorn? So that it will live longer. You make careful, exquisitely precise chemical analyses of the material inside the acorn and, after much effort, you succeed in isolating the substance that controls the condition of the shell. Lo and behold, you are now in the position to produce acorns which will last far longer than the others, acorns whose shells will perhaps never crack. Beautiful!

    The question before us, therefore, is whether or not modern psychology is only a version of acornology.
    *****************************
    Do we normally use the terms “to be” or “not to be” in relation to the husk of the acorn or the kernel within it?

  • tracycochran says:

    Thank you for this! It is a wonderful metaphor for the most of us–not just modern psychologists–worry about our precious selves…oh what a nightmare, or at least a very strange life it would be, if my childhood dreams for myself had come true….I would be diving for treasure all the time for one thing…not that I’m not in a way.

  • kirk crist says:

    we are all acornologist doing time in a concrete prisioned world of belief through the search for Truth from doctors and masters of Its out there somewhere university of Acornology

  • a.p.sipl says:

    sometimes the art of doing nothing is really something…
    waking up in the morning this is the first reading i see on a coaster that floats between my dressing area and a book shelf near by.
    recently, i had the opportunity to see how powerful “not to be, “and/or be still and make sure i can hear myself breath in my day to day living affected my anxiety level and then thought process.
    my, now 15 year old daughter, is at a boarding school for troubled teens. her father put her there and for good reason.
    initially, i cried out, “how dare you…i have 50% legal custody and you didn’t consult me first…she should have been sent here to live with me as an option first…”
    i couldn’t eat, sleep, or relax and have any fun…i even canceled a weekend visit with my son that is flown in because of the upset stomach i’d been having. not to mention the irritability i din’t want him catching the tail end of the grunt.
    long story short…i let go. i could have got on the horn and called in the attorney, made a stir…but waited. over time i’ve practiced “just for today.” sometimes it’s ‘just not for today…and i did that not for today, or no action until i could hear myself breathe and gather some unselfish and rational thoughts. Hence to say, it took me a month to let go of my selfish ideas…
    coming to the conclusion that my daughter is in the safest place for her behavior and that her dad has her best interest in mind. Knowing i can’t do any better over night to give her the much needed help my girl is getting now…
    I must move forward and be the best woman, amidst my ideas of what i think our family life ought to look like, and continue to thrive as the woman, mother, daughter, sister, writer, community leader, and friend I was meant to be.

    All the best,
    Ashley

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