I use a chime on my iPhone to wake up each morning.
The chime has a message: “Breath is Spirit.” I say “Breath is Spirit” out loud into the early morning light. It is the first thought of each new day as my awareness rises up through the layers between sleep and wakefulness.
I wait until I feel the power of that phrase. I wait until I fully feel Breath as Spirit, before I begin my morning rituals. I do this day, after day, after day, after day.
Funny thing about repetition is that after a while, the meaning of the mantraa dives deeper and deeper. It starts off as a pleasant thought that spirals around, boring its way into the center of personality. It becomes a part of the fabric and furniture of my interior mind scape. Breath as Spirit becomes a living reality. I identify as Spirit, and not as my personality and body identity. That is how the day starts.
I light a candle and raise the flame up. There is a moment when I sense the vast majesty of what is going on. I let go of being the ”Doer” of all actions. The actions happen through the little me. Little me starts to dissolve into Breath.
I focus on the tips of the fingers. The changing finger tip sensations are grounding the attention in the present moment. It’s not a mental exercise.
Attention rides the physical breath. The physical breath awakens the praana, the life force. This is not scientific materialism. It is not just a machine breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Oxygen is an explanation of science and medicine that assumes material reality is the the one and only fundamental reality, and consciousness is an accident or unexplained “first question.” For the yogis, the one Consiousness was never born and never dies. It always has been and matter arises from Consciousness.
The physical breath is tied to the source of this Consciousness. The physical breath is the outer door that invites me into the inner door of Breath and the Mystery of being alive. As the yogis exclaimed, “Breath pervades the universe.”
“Breath is Spirit” is a useful mantraa that correctly orients little me to the bigger situation. Yogis for millennia have described the different ways of returning to the source of Consciousness. The physical breath has been a primary vehicle for revealing the “Breath,” (with a capital ‘B,’) the movement of Consciousness itself.
Back in Upanishadic times 1500BCE, the yogis asked the Big Questions of Life: “What is the source of this Self Awareness? Where does it come from? What is the source of this sparkly praana shimmering inside my body? Did ‘I’ put it there? If “I” didn’t put it there, then where does it come from? Who am I?”
Asking the right question is invaluable. These are the right questions. Asking the right question is most of the work of inquiry.
Almost everyone, almost all the time, knows who they are, or rather who they think they are: for example, “I am a woman. I am 40 years old. I work at the bank. I have two children who are the love of my life.” We believe we are a person with a name, and a job, and family relations, and maybe a certain religion and a citizen of this nation or that. And all of this is relatively true. “I am this personality. I am a body. I eat food. I am trying to survive. I avoid pain of all kinds. I seek pleasurable mind states, emotions and bodily sensations.” We walk through a conditioned existence full of presuppositions, dragging the past with us, groping around in the dark trying to make sense of it all. We wander through the day with these unexamined assumptions about this person we believe we are and the source from which it arises.
For thousands of years, yoga has not been about poses, but an investigation into the source of Consciousness.
Little me loathes when people say “Breathwork is another tool in your tool box.” Barf. You have no idea what you are talking about. Breath is not a tool! Breath is Spirit in disguise. You have demeaned the ultimate reality and reduced it to a fucking tool in your goddamn toolbox. (Little me speaking.)
If you want to make sense of it all, try starting your day with “Breath is Spirit.” Identify with that. Proceed into your day with a breath practice, especially anuloma viloma. Practice long enough, with devotion and grace, with uninterrupted attention and enthusiasm and the doors of Consciousness will open for you, as it has for countless yogis for thousands of years. And anybody can do it. You can do it.