Breath Work with a Willing Student
This post was originally written over two years ago, yet the topics are still relevant today. Join us for a guided practice to engage in when you're feeling overwhelmed, despondent, or helpless in the face of tragic current events.
Kenny has been observing my work for many years. It began as a coaching relationship through a client organization, then it slowly became something more akin to a mentorship. Actually, like most things in the world it defies easy categorization. Let’s just say Kenny is a very good student of life and living, and he looks for people who can provide useful guidance.
“Ron, I see you somehow manage to maintain positivity. But how do you do that with all the crap in the world?”
“Be more specific, Kenny. What crap?”
“Well lately politics is a real challenge for me given all the deception and vitriol. And the hatred that seems to boomerang everywhere is just painful to watch. Plus I keep waiting for the next mass shooting to strike way too close to home.”
“I get it. Let me walk you through what I do to keep my inner balance. Okay?”
“Yep,” he replied, "I'm ready."
“Close your eyes,” I began. “Bring any one of those episodes or concerns into your thoughts. Hold the thought lightly in your mind, don’t engage it or allow it to stir up. Just breathe gently as you keep a very light attention on the thoughts.”
Breathing, I could feel the calm growing within us.
“Now, use your awareness to scan all over your body. Notice what you feel and where you feel it. When you find something let me know.”
After a few breaths Kenny replied, “There’s a fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach.”
“Great,” I replied. “Now breathe with and through that fluttery feeling and notice what happens. Does the feeling change? Or move? Just pay attention to what happens as you focus your awareness, and if necessary follow any changes with your breath and your attention.”
Moments passed before Kenny spoke again. “The feeling moved to just beneath my chest and it’s like an ache with just a little bit of a stabbing sensation.”
“Okay. Shift your attention to it and breathe with it.” I closed my eyes.
A moment later Kenny announced it had moved again. “It’s a tension just above my heart and I feel agitated. Or maybe angry.”
“Good. Good. And breathe with that.” I opened my eyes to watch him.
It was a long silence as we both sat in the moment with the breath. Then I saw a subtle shift on Kenny’s face, and tiny tears formed at the corners of his eyes.
“Now what’s going on?”
He took a careful breath. “So sad. So damn sad.”
“Yeah. Now you’re where you need to be. Not in your thoughts, or impressions, or even the events. Just breathe with it.”
A few moments later Kenny volunteered another observation. “It’s softened now.”
“What do you feel?” I asked.
Long moments passed.
“I’m okay. Feels kind of settled. Kind of gentle. I feel a lot more present.”
I smiled. “That’s what I do to manage my heartache. The Buddhists would say that what you feel is compassion. A Course in Miracles might very well say you have experienced atonement. I have a Christian mystic friend who would say you just experienced grace. As for me, I call it releasing, though some would be more comfortable with the idea of letting go, or even forgiveness.”
“I would say you have been re-embodied. Welcome back.”
A well-known pain physician, Erv Hinds, says that heartache is the greatest untreated human malady. From my experience with this sort of work, I would add that much of the anger and pain in the world is likely a mask for sorrow. And it is only when we engage the ache within us, that a release becomes possible.
Seeing True™ in Action
There is great wisdom in the Al-Anon Family Groups on this subject:
I didn't cause it. I can’t cure it. But if I do not do my own inner work, I can contribute to it in a negative fashion.
Father Richard Rohr, the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, would urge us to allow for inner transformation of our injuries, lest we transmit them.
What can we do today to ensure we are not contributing to the problems of the world?
Updated February, 2018