zen and mindfulness: breathing


This is the second in a series of topics from the seminal book on Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I’m going chapter by chapter and offering my thoughts on the subject Suzuki addresses. You should definitely check out Suzuki’s book to see what this very influential Zen master had to say. 

Our easiest reminder that are indeed part of a world constantly in flux is our breath. You breathe in the world and it becomes a part of you. You exhale and return a bit from whence you came.

Profound contemplation of this can itself be one of the most powerful things you ever do in your life.

Sit and breathe and shut up. For many Zen practitioners, that could very well be their mantra, and it’s served them very well for a very long time. Many of those incredibly content people I know are Zen practitioners. But some people want more out of their spirituality than that. Is it wrong to want that? In some ways that question is so loaded as to be unanswerable or beyond the point, at least according to someone who follows Zen.

Enough on that. Let’s think some more about breathing. We acknowledge that we breathe in and out, and that this transience as to the whole of our being (assuming the breath that comes in and out s part of our being) is a part of existence. Now who breathes in and out?

It’s you, of course. You’re just always in flux. What constitutes you? Certainly your body is constantly recycling, though not always fast as the air that temporarily constitutes a part of your transport system. Your mind is constantly changing and reforming (check out brain plasticity to find how deep this goes). You might say your soul, but the nature of the soul is of course very complicated to understand. So again, what is you?

It’s difficult to define “you” or really anything of permanence. When you embrace the transience of the world, and more than that, revel in it, in its beauty and complexity and elegance, you really move forward in your life. This, too, is a part of mindfulness. In fact, it’s something you cannot help but experience when you are living a mindful life. When you begin to really contemplate the ramifications of this world view, it becomes scary. You want to ignore it. Gradually, you accept it. And then, I promise you, everything is more beautiful.

Related posts:

  1. zen and mindfulness: posture
This entry was posted in mindfulness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.