Breathing into Consciousness

How does one explain that we live at multiple levels of consciousness?

That our bodies, hearts and minds are each occupied with their own concerns, all at the same time?

That we need only learn how to direct our attention to each and a richer life will be available to us?

That the “four worlds of consciousness” in the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria is not a ladder on which we climb from lowest to highest? That it is a map of the many ways Divine energy moves in us?

Usually one tries to explain this with many, many words.

And even then, the listeners don’t grasp it.

Here is a breathing activity that demonstrates it all with few words.

Here, breathers separate out three strands of consciousness. They discover that, at any given moment, the three strands may or may not be moving in harmony.

If a leader takes a group through the activity, and breathers choose to report, everyone learns from the diversity of the reports. But sometimes the yield is too personal to share.

Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.

Become aware of your breathing.

As you breathe in, imagine that the breath is entering your body directly through your belly.

As you breathe out, your breath travels down your lower spine into the ground.

(Remember to pause after each breath out, giving your body a chance to use the oxygen.)

Enjoy these deep belly breaths.

Think of a word to describe how you feel in your belly, right now.

Now, as you breathe in, imagine that the breath enters your body directly through your heart center, a point in the center of your upper chest between your ribs.

As you breathe out, the breath travels down from your upper spine, and into the ground.

Enjoy these heart breaths.

Think of a word to describe how you feel in your heart, right now.

Now, as you breathe in, imagine that the breath enters your body at a point between your eyebrows, at the bottom of your forehead, a point that some traditions call your “third eye.”

As you breathe out, the breath travels down your full spine into the ground.

Enjoy these breaths.

Think of a word to describe how you are feeling in your forehead, right now.

Gradually, let go of the structured breathing. Gradually, return to normal breathing. When you’re ready – but only when you’re ready – open your eyes.

If you are willing and able, please say the three words that came to you.

When I first did this activity, three words came to me:
Grounded
Exhausted
Stimulated
Thus, I learned a great deal about how I live, about why I flourish and why I fall; why both can happen at the same time; and why I can fall quite far before anyone, including me, notices.

My life is deeply grounded in a strong family of origin and a strong family of choice.

My heart is exhausted from the too many people it is committed to.

And my mind is always spinning new observations and theories – which somehow seems to make almost everything else worth it. And that is how the fall into exhaustion happens, and why I forget to notice.

*This activity is modified from a breathing activity I learned from Lois Huey-Heck at Naramata Centre. I changed some of the breathing instructions to reflect my training in Hatha Yoga. Lois presented this as a self-reflective activity that grounds us in the now; I have also placed it in service of a shift in understanding consciousness. Thank you, Lois.

** Image: stress-management-for-peak-performance.com

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