Breath is the highway and also the blowing wind. And as the tumbleweeds tumble head over heels along the dusty miles of our time here on earth, our senses are our SUV’s—or perhaps we have to get by with a limping-along Pinto, that sighs with each mile marker we pass.
“In a sense, we might say they have abandoned us, looking outside in search of nourishment we have not been able to provide, leaving us dependent on objects and events outside our control.
“It is important to attract mind and senses back to their natural home, where we can tune in to our own inner resources for meaning and satisfaction. We need to connect heart and head, so their energies can cooperate and flow freely, unifying soul, spirit, and self into a new sense of being.” Joy of Being, page 30
Ah, a new book, a fresh way of paying attention and focusing awareness and perchance replacing the loose windshield wiper blade that mostly just smears the damp mud across the window pane through which I see my world.
The thinking mind seems to be the driver, the body the car, the heart the passenger, and the countryside the world we see out our windows.
It seems that few of us realize that the cars we have been given are not only incredible machines but, like “self-driving vehicles” they continue to drive when we are asleep at the wheel.
Asleep or awake, our hearts keep beating; our lungs keep breathing; our organs keep processing nutrients and oxygen, delivering them to our 30 billion cells; and our minds keep dreaming up worlds for us to care about.
As with all metaphors and allegories, as well as with all the conceptual nets we weave in our minds, our potential as human beings cannot be completely captured by such patched together imaginings.
A dolphin must experience her relationship with the world and with her embodiment, in ways that are more integrated than for us land-locked emigrants from the sea. As we totter across the hard surfaces of tectonic plates, our senses are constantly reaching out for information and for confirmation that we belong here. While for a dolphin, the roads are not paved by the waves passing overhead; the breath is not missing in action but must sound a constant call for the life that can be ended at any moment by a drifting web of plastic webbing preventing her from reaching the air. Every muscle is at play every moment of her life. Time is measured out with each breath, which during deep dives can last for 20 minutes—but not forever.
We too can live in our breath if we don’t forget to pay attention, because the breath, for us also, is the source of our life and our energy; breath is not just a lungful of air but is the life force that travels along the byways and tributaries, which connect every cell, organ and chakra in a vast inner landscape. We don’t need to be merely a passenger sitting in the back seat of a car stuck in traffic, peering through a windshield caked in dust and grime. We can follow the breath inside, and let it introduce us to this wonderland of changing vistas and magic transformations; this parallel universe in which nothing is as it seems from that passenger seat; where undiscovered suns burn, and light is everywhere.
This book (“Joy of Being”, by Tarthang Tulku), which recently arrived on my doorstep, is allowing me to discover how I am a latecomer to the emotional reactions that determine the quality of my life, emotions that carry me away from my own inner being and from my capacity to be aware (as if the passenger has been kidnapped on his way home). Whether it is a burst of anger or a wave of grief, by the time these emotions take over my consciousness, it is already too late to really see what is going on inside me or to learn anything about what it means to be a soul in this changing world, living in a body with an unknown date for recall.
To be finally introduced to this inner landscape in which sensations, feelings, and waves of non-verbal knowing are at play (behind the stage curtains, they are engaged long before our minds get caught up in emotional reactions fed by mental associations, memories and unacknowledged wounds); to finally learn to recognize those sensations, which quicken the pulse and lay heavily in the belly; to realize that those sensations don’t have to be inevitable steps in the direction that we have always blindly followed before, and welcome them as rich inner experiences in themselves; to know that, this time, we don’t have to be led blindfolded into the familiar regrets for the past and fear of the future: that is the road less travelled that I hear calling out to me.
A book that understands that path and offers an alternative to my helpless reactivity is better than a brochure offering a trip to the Moon or a safari to a lost kingdom hidden in the Amazon jungle.
“Senses, nerves, chakras, breath, and mind work together to generate a continual flow of experience. The senses receive stimuli, the nerves transmit them, the chakras connect them with our vital organs, the breath vitalizes the body systems, and the mind identifies and interprets.” Joy of Being, page 69.
Ah, the mind, the heart, the body, the soul . . . what good companions to have as we cross the field of our lives, sometimes rocky and sometimes alive with wild flowers.