Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Unconscous Breath

 The following post is not to meant as an all encompassing introduction to the subject. It is simply the beginnings of an avenue of thought.

A few nights ago, I watched a disturbing and heartbreaking documentary titled The Cove, about the apparently, until now, secretive and ongoing dolphin slaughter by a group of fisherman in Taiji, Japan. Secretive, because the slaughter is held in a hidden nook of a cove after the "prize" dolphins are herded out and chosen to be sold into captivity as circus sideshows all around the world. The site is regularly patrolled by security and goons are hired to keep the horrific scene from being seen, photographed, or filmed by the public to avoid the event from being discovered and hence shut down due to the brutal inhumanity of the participants and immense suffering of an unfathomably intelligent sentient being, the dolphin. Fortunately, the efforts by the members of the team in the film attempting to get this slaughter on tape and out into the awareness of the world were successful, though the slaughter is scheduled to begin on schedule this month. I have several purposes for writing this; to express my sadness and anger at knowing that this is taking place annually and killing an estimated 23,000 dolphins every year, to promote awareness of the film and the bloody event, and to talk about something else that grabbed my attention while watching.
   The hero of this film, Richard O'Barry, began this history in an unknowingly inauspicious manner by being the trainer for Lucy, the dolphin star in the 1960's TV show "Flipper", which created an international desire for all things dolphin and set up what are now the Sea World style sideshows we now commonly associate the species with. A great illusion of nature, the smile on the face of the dolphin at all times has led us to believe that they are happy always and quite content with their captive situation. As I hope you will learn by watching the documentary, nothing could be further from the truth,
   At one point in the movie, Richard tells the story of the suicide of Lucy. Yes, he uses the word suicide. You see, what you learn, if, like me, you were ignorant before, is that dolphins, along with most other marine life requiring air, are conscious breathers, meaning they make a choice about their next breath, to take it or not to take it. If they take it they live, if not, well, they die. Lucy made the choice in Richard's arms to not take that next breath, the stress of her captivity and training gaining the best of her and sadly she chose to leave this realm.
  This was a startling revelation to me! Dolphins actually consciously make the choice to breath every time they take a breath! Or they are capable of deciding not to as Lucy did when overwhelmed with years of abuse she was unable to express to her human capturers.
   As humans we are certainly capable of deciding we do not want to breath anymore and we have devised  numerous ways in which to achieve this end, but think about it. If we decide not to take another breath, one, we will have to force ourselves into a situation where if we hold our breath for too long, we will physically be incapable of inhaling another breath, and two, the last event of our lives will be a final involuntary gasp for breath, for life! A science-minded person would likely tell you that this is because the muscles of your respiratory system are involuntary and therefore will try, possibly in vain, to provide you with air and hence continue your existence here in this present form. I believe they are correct, but I like to think that it goes much deeper than this, that there is more meaning to be explored here.
    A common idea that you will hear if you practice and study yoga for long is that you are not breathing but actually are, in essence,  being breathed. That the universe is gently blowing the essential air into your lungs is, of course, contrary to what we here in the West have been taught to know about the process of  respiring. We should also know by now, that that alone doesn't make it necessarily conclusive or correct.  What is the energy force that keeps your heart beating? What creates and sustains the fire of the sun? What energy created the universe? There are surface answers to these questions. Then there are more subtle ones. In yoga, we call this life force, this sustaining energy, prana. Prana gives life to the seed and beckons the stalk to come forth. Through subtle prana, the universe will attempt to give you breath, even as you decide you don't wish to have more. Perhaps this miracle alone would be enough to convince you that all breath is precious, that the action of you breathing is coming from the same source that sets the worlds spinning, that it is simply worth taking that next breath, time after time after time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

So It Is With the Lover

If you were to believe that the love I poured out to you were linear
and rolled forward along a direct line,
being a fading force moving away and not to return,
well, how could that be?

Does not the wonderer truly seek a way back home?
The thinker, who after saturating the mind in the thirst after knowledge, in the end, does she not then seek to empty it?
Does not the writer ultimately find beauty in profoundness simply stated?
So it is with the lover

If you would believe that the pulsations of my heart echoed in an empty chamber
and that it bled on unfertile soil,
that one so full, could die so empty,
well, how could that be?

Does not the harp gain a more robust sound with age?
The most beautiful lotus, it doesn't spring fully out of the murkiest water?
Never before has real truth in this world been in vain.
So it is with the lover

If you would believe that our hearts parted to no purpose,
that we are set adrift upon a raging chaotic ocean,
and that somewhere distant we did not walk arm in arm
Well, I ask you, how could this be?

Does not the faintest flutter of a butterflies wings set the worlds in motion?
Does not the mother, alone in her room,
yield to an aching heart for the distant weeping child?
When you peer into the palm of your hand,
are you not gazing into an infinite universe?
So it is with the lover

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mt. Tabor: Healing Space

   There is a neighborhood in southeast Portland, Or. known as Mt. Tabor, named after the extinct volcanic cinder cone which rises above the quaint houses and pine trees below it's skirts. The name originally is from the Mt. Tabor of biblical fame which is located in the Jezreel Valley of Israel and widely thought in Christian lore to be the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus, among other things. That however, is for another history and I digress. The former Mt. Tabor's old forest, hiking paths, serenity, fresh air and overview of Portland make it a favorite quick getaway for many urbanites seeking refuge from the grind of city life, relatively speaking. Some might say that Portland is not much of a grind at all, but I suppose that would depend on your perspective, like all things. Anyway, this mount is a special place for me as it was, one summer, the site of at least a part of my very own humble transformation, if not transfiguration.
   I began practicing yoga in April of 2005.The immediate impact that it had on my life and continues to have is something amazing and that I am grateful for every day. I remember the immediate serenity combined with sense of real purpose that I had always known was there but never quite knew how to tap into using just my own body, my own breath. I was hooked after my very first class which I took from a DVD, and immediately was practicing 5-6 days a week, which given my tendency to completely engulf myself in anything new and exciting, is unsurprising. There was something different about yoga though. Somehow I knew that I had found my way and that a path had opened up before me, a way to be, a way to live.
   It wasn't long before I began noticing changes happening within my body, and even more interesting, within my mind. Besides the aches and pains from the impact of years of snowboarding and skateboarding immediately being dispersed, being energized but calm, feeling light and loose, tranquil and serene,  I also, began a process of self-awareness. I began asking myself questions that had never occurred to me before.  Why had I said what I had said? Why had I thought that thought? Where do all these pinned -up emotions come from? And my favorite, why did I just have a ten minute conversation with someone who wasn't even in my presence, a conversation that hadn't and likely never would occur, at least not in the form I had just imagined in my head? Of course, looking back now, I can see these things more objectively, but when it is happening, it is very difficult to put it all together like some formulated math problem, i.e. I began doing yoga, look what is happening to me! I was just lost in it. Or maybe I would prefer to say, was found in it.
   Now, we come back to Mt. Tabor. I had just moved to Portland from Telluride, Co. in Febuary of 2006. I settled in quite comfortably and feeling great about starting a new life there, it didn't take long before I met and fell for an amazing girl, who as it turned out would not be staying but for two more weeks before she would be heading back home to Alaska. Damn it all though, we allowed ourselves to get swept along in the passions of the moment and had a dreamlike time before she left! We were inseparable for those two weeks, which seemed like so much longer at the time, but how short a span anyway.  Like all brightly burning, shooting stars, however, it was meant to flame out, and I was left to grasp at what was left of the tail, hurt, distraught and lonely.
  So, what were my normal tendencies? How had I always dealt with the sort of pain I was feeling now? In what would I seek solace and comfort?  How could I numb myself to the real experience of what was happening internally? Well, something shifted for me at this moment in my life. Instead of heading to the pub to belly up at the bar, drink, smoke and sulk, I began to take walks at sunset up Mt. Tabor. I would walk and think and feel. I found a bench and would sit, would allow the emotions of being hurt to sweep over me, to penetrate my awareness. I began to notice that the anger, the pain, my sadness were all very fleeting states of mind and would come and go, one melting into the other over the space of an hour or so until I was flooded with a sense of well-being, tranquility and peace. For the first time in my life, I was introducing myself to these emotions, was allowing myself to feel them, to KNOW and experience them.
  This went on over the course of that summer and I spent many an evening hour walking, taking photos, thinking, and what amounted to this early experience of meditation before I really had an understanding of what meditation was. Interestingly, this wasn't a conscious thing I was doing. I don't ever recall having the thought that I was using  Mt. Tabor as a healing space for myself. It was a completely organic experience and I was lost in the sacredness of what I was doing, with no real self-consciousness about why or where. It just happened and I just was. It was a beautiful time in my life and I know something very pivotal for me in my own becoming.
   Something else I find interesting is that I have always  at least thought I had an ability, though I know it's a fairly common phenomenon, to find or at least to know that there is a beauty in the experiences that we designate as negative or hurtful or sad. I actually can ENJOY feeling down, being hurt or dejected. But is it really enjoyment of these emotions that I am experiencing OR is it that when I am feeling these things acutely, is it that by feeling them, I am healing myself and THAT knowing is what I am  experiencing as serenity, tranquility, beauty?  When we allow ourselves to live a more accepting, open and honest life, even with our own inner turmoil, I believe that we free ourselves to encounter our lives more fully, with acceptance and compassion for our own unique experience.
  Occurrences like this tell me that we are, at least in part,  being guided by something outside of our own consciousness, though not something "outside" of ourselves, only outside of  the immediate awareness for most of us, depending on your experience with the more subtle levels of prana, or life force. They also inform me of how great our individual potentials can be if we can only learn how to tap in to our own subtle body, regardless of pre-existing notions of good/bad, painful/pleasurable and allow space for magic to happen.  How open we allow ourselves to be to the possibilities of what this implies is our own choice. The beauty of it is immense and beyond exclamation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Am

I am that hardened dust which made that rock
I am that rock
I am the splintered fibers which made the tree
I am the tree
I am the wetness of the water which made that river
I am that river
and I am the plates beneath the earth which made that mountain
I am that mountain

I am the invisible force which guides your breath
I am your breath
I am the shining color which illuminates your eye
I am your eye
I am the gifted eloquence which stirs your voice
I am your voice
and I am the inflamed passion which ignites your soul
I am your soul

I belong to the miracle of light radiated by the Sun
yet, I am the Sun
I belong to the sombre glow cast forth by the Moon
yet, I am the Moon
I belong to the heavenly azul delineated by Earth's sky
yet, I am the sky
and I belong to the eternal wonder, the firmament of the vast Universe
yet, I am the Universe

I am the father
I am the sinewy, strong shoulders of the father
I am the mother
I am the rich, nurturing milk of the mother
I am the child
I am the laughing, innocent reminder that is the child
I am the family
I am the tranquil, comforting home that is the family

I am the rose
I am the red of the petal which makes the rose
I am that nectar
I am the sugary, sweetness which makes that nectar
I am the bee
I am the black, and the gold, and the wing which makes the bee
I am the eagle
I am the glory, and the pride, and the nobility which makes that eagle

I tell you now that I am the roaring sea!
I am the ebb and flow movement of the tide
I am the awesome destructive power of the wave
within me is the womb of all life
I am the Womb
I am Life

~David McGough