Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bad Buddhist vs. Breathing

I have no doubt I'm a very bad Buddhist, but I'm going to try to fix that. The foundation of Zen meditation, my practice of choice, is sitting while breathing. This is harder than it sounds. So, for the last couple of weeks I've been practicing breathing, of all things. This is not something I thought I'd have to learn as an adult, you know?

Turns out I'm pretty lousy at it!

In Zen, the idea is to "follow the breath." You don't try to slow it down or make it deeper; you just notice it, without judgment. Counting is encouraged because it helps focus the mind — or rather, it helps wrest the mind away from all the monkey-chatter it wants to get stuck in, over and over and over. (That's another topic altogether.) But that's all: just counting, no trying to change anything.

Just breathe.

This is meant to give you a chance to see what's really happening in your mind and in your body. Most of us rush straight into trying to make ourselves what we think we should be, without first noticing what we are right now. Really noticing, that is — being fully present with the experience, without distancing from it by making judgments or making plans or efforts to change.

I've definitely noticed something about my breathing: the instant I stop and notice it, I need to yawn. Repeatedly. I can't stop; it just goes on and on until I get distracted from thinking about my breathing.

So I bring my mind back to my yawning — oops, I mean my breathing. Then I also notice that I breathe pretty shallowly, and that my throat is pretty tight. I tend to talk fast and loud (I'm a teacher, so I'm trained to project my voice over noise) and not breathe enough, which results in extreme fatigue and a frequently sore throat. I knew that already, but I didn't know that I was doing much the same thing even when not talking, even when sitting in one spot doing nothing but breathing.

And yawning.

So it looks like I'll be starting my better-Buddhist project at an even more remedial level than I thought! Respiration 101. But I think that's OK; don't want to build my house on a shaky foundation. If it starts with re-learning to breathe — or rather, it starts with experiencing what happens now, when I haven't yet re-learned to breathe — then that's where it starts.

No problem. But it is just a little embarrassing.
Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

click image to play, or download heredyingfish
This is one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen or heard of: a sushi delicacy consisting of a living fish — the novelty is that you can watch it breathing. I don't know what this says about our species. Yes, I do. But I wish I didn't.


  1. Stephen Curran Says

    I read sidartha when i was in highschool and i tried to do some of the practices that he explains in the book. Meditation is gnarley I can not do it at all.

  2. I have read some of these blogs, and the last one was particularly fact, forget breathing, I was laughing like a dragon, and breathing fire when I read it. And, if I see one more "word verification" on this site, to post a comment or post a blog in the blogosphere, I'm going to commit a felony.