A student asked Kabir: “Tell me, what is God?” “He is the breath inside the breath”.
I like to go on hiking trips and I specially enjoy it when the going gets tough as when climbing a steep hill, for example. As the effort increases I find it harder to keep a conversation and I become silent concentrating on every step, aware of the aching muscles, the heart beat and the breath. This is the moment to face the discomfort of moving out of my comfort zone. Up to this moment my walking was unconscious, talk or thoughts occupying my mind, but now every step requires my attention, my effort. I hear my breath within me as my step and my breath become synchronized. This is the magic moment that opens up another zone, the zone of the now. The struggle eases and there is just walking, one step at the time.
I am told Marathon runners call this experience “going through the wall”, when the running becomes rhythmic and effortless. Lately, I’ve also heard about a new hiking fad called “Afghan walking”, inspired by Afghanis walking very long distances in the desert without getting tired. Every step is synchronized with the breath by counting equally during the inhale and the exhale. In Yoga, the exhalation is very important and it is said that in order to control the breath one has to control the exhalation. After all, it is in the exhale that we get rid of carbon dioxide and toxins. So by taking time consciously to exhale we make space for the next inhale charged with energy or prana until eventually the breath becomes regulated.
So by holding on to my breath, one breath at the time, I finally reach the goal. Sometimes the goal is just getting through the day as we all encounter many difficulties in our everyday life. At that time I remember to pace myself, just as in climbing a mountain, and to take one day at the time. And when one day is too long a stretch and the problems still look insurmountable, I take one breath at the time, a few seconds at the time, which is all I can handle at that moment.
The breath then becomes an anchor to stay in the present moment, where there is no thought of what’s left behind or what’s ahead of us. In that present moment there is space for being instead of doing and slowly I distance myself from narrow and repetitive trains of thought that keep me bound to an idea or an emotion.
The very elusive present is then accessible through the breath and yet it’s surprising how little we use this mindfulness tool. After all, the breath is always here, right under our noses. The task is simple although the practice is difficult. Simple because we don’t have to force our breath, or feel anything special, or wonder if we are doing it right. We don’t even have to think we are breathing. It’s just a bare bones awareness of the breath, in and out of our nostrils. It doesn’t have to last a specific amount of time. Just the fact of becoming aware of the next breath, over and over again, shifts our attention to the present. This is the practice.