Thursday, August 9, 2007

A method of beginning the day

How can we begin to pay attention to how we are? After all, there are so many competing parts within us, it can get downright confusing. No matter where we turn it seems like our “inner space” is already occupied by usurpers who claim a pressing need. We get up groggy, disconnected: by the time we suit up, kick start the engine, and hit our inner highway, the motorcycle gangs are already out,

…and they don’t use mufflers.

Like Gurdjieff’s Karapet of Tiflis, we need to get there first. And as he so handily discovered, the best time to do that is the very first thing in the morning.

One useful effort in regard to connection with breath is to try and see how it is immediately upon awakening. We can attempt to make it our first thought and experience of the day. We can try to know that we breathe before we know anything else.

Can we see at once the weight of this body, the inevitability and demand of inhabiting this “bag of skin and bones?”

Perhaps we could say to ourselves, lying there in bed,

“Life begins here.”

One way to approach this might be to set a personal “stop” exercise to be implemented the moment we awaken: to stop and precisely sense just how the relationship between breath, body, and mind is.

The method I use is to wake up and intentionally settle back in bed, lying on my back with my arms folded, hands on my chest—like a corpse, or an Egyptian mummy—and then intentionally do nothing but sense my breathing and my organism for a few minutes.

In doing so, I turn my attention to appreciating how the breath itself feeds the cells in the body—I rediscover the experience of breathing in relationship to the sensation of the left and right side of my body—I remind myself physically that I live in this organism, from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet.

Within the breath, I can attempt to discover how “I am” without any “I am.”

This “bird gets worm” approach is useful because it’s possible to study the relationship before the majority of the associative parts of the brain get going and contaminate the experience, that is, cover it up with dense layers of thinking. It can be an intensely personal and private moment: this study is all about our personal relationship to ourselves. It’s an opportunity to establish a greater intimacy between the psychological experience we call “life” and the physical experience of our life, that is, the root of the psychology.

You may sense you are doing yourself a personal favor if you take a few moments to sense in this manner before letting your feet hit the floor. The act of developing a relationship with breath is an act of friendship towards ourselves.

I have observed many times before that we are vessels. What does that mean?

Developing a connection with breath, with sensation, is an effort in the direction of cultivating the organic sense of being a vessel. There can be no understanding of vessels until there is an experience of vessels, and that experience isn’t mental. It has to be sought within the rooted nature of the vessel itself.

This brings us to the question of attention used as a means of discrimination. New wine—the wine of impressions, of air—cannot flow into an old vessel. Consider this:

First, the experience of the vessel itself must be new.

If we do not know how to discriminate between old and new vessels, where will we store our wine? And it is above all in the discernment of small, immediate, and practical matters that we can begin to learn how to apply discrimination. Such experience is born not of the concept, but of the moment.


If we just begin the day knowing we breathe, and that’s all we know, it’s already a big thing.

Go for it.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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