Saturday, April 20, 2013
Body as Home, Breath as Being
Sometimes when you've been out on your feet for many hours, getting into the car feels like home. I've seen people pick their noses in their cars as though there were curtains through which no one could see. The car is a vehicle, a vehicle that moves through space giving a sense of enclosure and perhaps even a sense of security. Out in the world it is our own body that provides us with that home (complete with a fabricated sense of security) but on the body we actually do place curtains in a way: our clothing, styles, habits, the stuff of appearances. We dress ourselves as we hope to be seen, within the limitations of our ideas about our self and our willingness to put time and resources into the project. This physical vehicle in which we experience life does not really have an external life of its own. We can surely be judged by others based upon it, but if you judge me by my shoes, I become invisible as a living being. It is our breath that animates us. Awareness of our self as a living being can shift us away from this false sense of privacy or security into the truth of being fully alive in the world. The breath can help us feel and fill that space where we are authentic, alive and at home. No curtains needed.
So often it is the metaphorical curtains that seem to fascinate us, about ourselves and on others. We use the outer shapes and decoration to tell one story after another. Our mala beads, turban, yarmulkas, or veil all speak of the culture of our spiritual practices, reveal a bit about our desires and self concept. Our fashions show our grasping at affinity groups, and hint at our philosophy to avert the worst of our fears. We imagine physical condition as a reflection of character. All of this, like a silk wrap, falls away when we cultivate our focus on the breath itself. There is no strategy about being who we are when we are simply being a living being. There is no style or design to it, other than the human form that uses this continuous influx and outflow. Stories we have been told, and the ones we tell ourselves or another, can also be seen as shifting reflections in the windows.
The human form has a shape and that shape has its effects. Like any point of origin, it's influence is both subtle and deep. If we find ourselves living in a female or male body, or with chronic illness, or with acute sensitivities, it can shape us invisibly and visibly. Seems to me, though, that even these attributes are window dressing rather than the core of the living self. We can continue to see each other as these external forms, and ourselves as well, or we can begin to cherish these forms as expressions, and see beyond the curtains.
The mind is like a vast loom, constantly weaving all available strands into patterns. Each strand, if pulled, unravels only one part of this constantly shifting design. It is being, the presence of mind without attaching to the distractions of the curtains or the shifting designs, that unifies all of our life experiences into this life we live. It unifies this life into a much larger fabric comprised of all the lives around us, known or unknown to us, and in fact to those who came before us and will follow us. We do not make that happen by fingering our prayer beads, or covering our faces, but by breathing in and breathing out. It is part of the yogic path to draw awareness within, to cultivate a single-pointed focus, and to observe the workings of the mind itself. The breath is the constant, regardless of the strands, the patterns, or the curtains we use to cover to the changing reflections.
When a thread is pulled and parts begin unraveling, we are willing to take that which remains as though it were whole. This distortion is what we think we know. Operating from this is like imagining that the window is in fact the self, with or without curtains. It is easy then to ignore the space within the vehicle, shaped by the breath, that offers authentic wholeness, regardless of curtains open, closed, threadbare or missing. Standing on the subway underneath NYC, it is not my shoes, or my hair or skin color, or my language that define my life. I am using all of that to decorate, and perhaps convey that I am a person in a community with a task and appetites. it is my breath that defines me as a living being, something I share inarguably and intimately with every other living being on the train. It is the awareness and acceptance of this energy exchange that keeps my heart open, my mind alert, and gives me a place in which to be truly home anywhere.