Breathing and Being Present
This is a dreamlike illusion, a temporary mirage, a fleeting fabrication. Let it go and rest. — Pema Düddul, “Freedom From Illusion”
At birth, we inhale our first breath. At death, we exhale our last breath. In between birth and death, we take our breath for granted. Our breath becomes a second feature outside of what we pay attention to. The reality is that we often don’t notice our breath.
Breathe is background function that rarely arises in consciousness. Think about how only occasionally you are fully aware of the cycle: breathing in, breathing out. When you do notice, the act of noticing is usually a compressed time/space phase we rarely allow to interfere with thinking about the past or the future.
We live most of that time in the past, reliving actions, events, relationships or the in the future planning new actions, events, and relationships. In neither the past nor the future will you ever find your breath. That a clue to understanding what it means for anyone to be present. Your breath only occurs in the present. When you become aware of your breath, you are in the present. What you experience in the present aligns with the inhaling and exhaling. Our monkey mind escapes the cage of the present at the first opportunity. The present has become for many a racetrack pit where the driver climbs into a new car. The purpose being to either drive back from where they’ve come or to find a new destination somewhere up the road. We breath unaware that we are dreaming away our lives. Most of the time, we failed to keep track of our breathing. Such a practice seems odd and uncomfortable.
One day we wake up to the reality of existence. We realize that our days and evenings are cluttered with the past or future memories or contemplations. When we separate our experience from the present. That’s why you occupy a different world, one experience, when you allow your breathing to rise and fall in your awareness.
The time you live in the same frame as your breathing is evidence of the role actual lived experience plays in your daily life.
Life are experiences that happens in the present. You see and feel them. Most of the time, we aren’t present for what is waiting before us and around us to be experienced. Our mind traveled in imagination to another time and place. Imagined experience is not the same of experience in the present. Colors, scents, sounds, touch, visualization create the sensory experience that occupies the present. You can feel or sense the presence just as you feel or sense your breath.
Cheryl Anderson at Dartmouth University, did the calculations: “On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year. Unless we get a lot of exercise. The person who lives to 80 will take about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime.”
At birth you have over 672 million breaths (if you make it to 80 years old). That’s the window for you to be present in the experience of life. Think of those large numbers as filling a treasure chest but the currency is only valid in the present. The lesson is to spend more time in the present where the true wealth of lived experience coexists with each breath. Not to be present is to exist without experiencing our biology, our emotions, our entangled connections that appear alongside with each breath. That is an unlived life, and a live unlived as nothing to examine. It was always becoming or had become in the past, but it didn’t have a presence where life is taking place.
Each breath is temporary and fleeting. You let it go. You can hold the experience any more than you can hold your breath. It is enough to feel the experience entering your body as something natural. Breathing is also our lifeline to the forces of nature. Nature evolves in us a way to breath and understand time. When we reside in the present, we find a way to exist in harmony with the grand natural cycle. Each breath rises and falls in the present as synchronous with nature. I think of breath as a metronome that sets the rhyme of my present experience. It keeps me aware of what I’m experiencing now.
It takes a lot of practice to pull your awareness back to your breath and focus on the experience where the inhaling and exhaling is a stage to experience what is in front of you.
Take a deep breath, then another one. Feel your body as the air goes into and out of young lungs. You are alive. You have tens of millions of breaths in your biological bank account. That makes you a breath multimillionaire. This endowment can only be spent in the present. It is wasted in mind travels to the past or future. You are sitting somewhere reading these words. Find your breath. It will lead you to the fortune of living the good life, the experienced life, and that’s the only life worth examining.
The challenge is how to focus on your breath. You have your routines, habits, timelines to check, kids to pack for school, appointments, bills to pay, work to do and your mind races from one to the other. Everyone faces the same obstacles. That why we are rarely found in the present. We are somewhere behind or ahead. It is hard. But it isn’t impossible. You need to carve a piece of your day for being present.
Start the day with 30 minutes of noticing your breath and experiencing yourself in your surroundings. That will set you on the course for the day. You will have noticed yourself in the present. At night, take another 30 minutes of breath awareness and your presence in that cycle. When you turn in for the night, you will have spent some of that treasure that only breathing provides and you will have enriched your experience of life. And you will have lived your life in the same place as your breath. Don’t go to your deathbed estranged from ever knowing your breath. That would be tragedy. A pointless life without meaning.