36. (Eng.) Breath Consciousness I

Breathing is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing that stops when we die. Breathing is essential to living, yet we hardly ever talk about it. It happens so naturally that we don’t actually perceive that we are doing it.

A human being can live without food for a long time, without water for a much shorter time, but can hardly survive more than a few minutes without oxygen. We keep ourselves busy with our meals and drinks every day, because we have to take care of that ourselves. However, we do not pay attention to whether or not we breathe enough, because inhaling and exhaling air is so automatic that we do not give it a second thought. Unless … we exercise intensively, have a lung disease or suffer the effects of living in a place where the air is polluted … but those are other subjects.

In any case, breathing is something extraordinary. This is how I experienced it when I began practising yoga on my own in my teens. Encouraged by the founder of yoga in the Netherlands, Dr. Rama Polderman, whose first book on the subject I read with great interest, I began to practice ásanas (= yoga poses).
He also gave instructions for various breathing exercises called pranayama [‘ayama’=extending and ‘prana’=vital energy]. Prana is what (yogic) breathing is all about, prana you breathe in and out. It is life energy: that universal or cosmic energy, which we also know by the Chinese term Chi.

Fragment of a stained-glass church window, designed by Marc Mulders in 2016, for the Sint-Janskerk in Gouda, the Netherlands. Photo Wim Ridder

In my early yoga years – I was about 16 or 17 years old – I learned to experience conscious breathing as beneficial. For the first time I was spiritually touched . This was possible partly because I had the time and space to do so. In all honesty, I will tell you that in later years, that skill of conscious breathing slipped away from me again.

But the sweet memory remained. Over the course of my life, I delved into multiple breathing systems. Fascinating books about the breath came out, books that all had something to offer. Sometimes I practiced according to the instructions in such a book. Yet I am still in search of those truly enlightening breath experiences.

I recently decided to tackle this, developing an approach in which I distinguish four phases of breath awareness. Firstly, becoming aware of when your breath is inadequate; secondly, consciously doing certain exercises in response to this awareness; thirdly, noticing the benefits of performing these exercises; fourthly, coming closer to your essence. As you become more aware of your breath, you return to the first phase.

I have illustrated this in a diagram: a circle with a horizontal and vertical axis. If you look closely, you’ll see that there is an interaction between your physical and psychological aspects. In the first and third phase you are focused on experiencing your body, in the second and fourth phase it is mainly your mind that plays a role.

1.         When does your breathing fail? Too many distractions, one after the other, or at the same time, make a person hold their breath. This leads to irregular breathing, tension in the muscles of your respiratory system, as well as tension in your diaphragm and abdomen.

2.         When you consciously focus – by whatever method – on regular, relaxed breathing, your mind calms down, you are less bothered by ‘mind-chatter’, and distractions have less of a hold on you.

3.         This has an effect on your whole body, which will respond to the exercises as a whole. A part of the nervous system takes over and will amplify the effects: you may be touched by an unexpected sense of well-being.

4.         At such moments you can better feel and experience who you really are. You may reach what is permanent in you, your essence. This experience encourages you to continue with the exercises in order to perceive your essence again and again.

There is much more to be said about the breath, but I’ll save that for another time.

For now, I would like to draw your attention to a recently (2020) published book titled ‘Breath’, by James Nestor. It is exciting to read, goes into exhaustive detail about numerous aspects of breathing, and provides a whole series of breathing exercises in the appendix.

34. (Eng.) Inner Peace

In my latest blog I wrote about experiencing unity consciousness. Now I ‘d like to talk about what can help you in this quest. The answer is inner peace. But this is something that doesn’t just fall into your lap. You have to desire it and be willing to do something for it.

Inner peace has to do with what you feel deep inside. It is not about obvious emotions that occupy you. It is about an underlying inner certainty. It does not impose itself and is only there that you tune into it and align with it. Nor is it a standard experience: your inner self is agile and will surprise you again and again.

Because inner peace is invisible yet experiential, you can think about it in terms of energy, of vibration. Seeking and experiencing inner peace is a very subtle process. You may calmly spend time on it. This pays off, because you start to realize what inner peace is all about. And you can be sure that your stillness contributes to the much-desired peace on Earth.

For this blog, I found inspiration in Karen Noë’s book, “We Consciousness : 33 Profound Truths for Inner and Outer Peace” (2018). Karen Noë is an experienced medium who channels messages from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, the American spiritual coach and author of several bestselling books who passed away in 2015. Since then, he has been working with Noë from Beyond, to continue to spread his messages of peace to humanity.

In my view, it is very special that someone who inspired so many in life, continues after his death – along with kindred spirits like Francis of Assisi – to spread this essential passion for love, optimism, and peace. In doing so, he introduces people to the idea of ‘spiritual immortality’ (my term). “You are an ever-living soul with a temporary body on Earth,” rather than “you are only a body that ceases to exist when it dies.”

If you are willing to open yourself up to the consequences of spiritual immortality – which for Wayne Dyer and Karen Noë  is a truth beyond any doubt – a phase begins in which new horizons will appear before you. To come this far, everything in your life matters right now: the ways in which you think, feel, and act, as well as how you express the qualities of your inner self.

Picture made by Wim

I hear some people say, “yes, in principle I do believe or know, but there are so many things that hold me back – bad experiences from the past, the ‘stamps’ that burden me, Corona issues, the opportunities I have missed, my responsibilities, my physical ailments, etc. How does ‘spiritual immortality’ have anything at all to do with my life at this moment?”

EVERYTHING. If you are convinced of – or hope for – spiritual immortality, begin to own this potential truth, for example by affirming, ‘My soul has always been here and will always be here. I will live on after my body has died.’ Give this statement ample loving attention, and there’s a good chance you’ll begin to feel more at peace internally.

Help yourself by incorporating a daily moment of introspection: breathing exercises, energy exercises, yoga, meditation, etc. Feel what works best for you. This is the case when an exercise helps you raise or refine your vibration. You will naturally begin to sense when that is happening, because higher and finer vibrations allow you to rest within yourself and evoke sensations of unconditional love, peace, and joy.

Do not, however, simply expect peak experience to occur during your practice routine – it can happen, but it does not have to. It is about preparing your body, your nervous system, and your energy pathways for the opening of deeper layers within yourself. Then, special experiences may present themselves at any time. Such experiences just happen to you, you cannot call them up yourself.

You can indeed be happy when a new balance presents itself, a balance proving that you are on the right track. Openness to what is happening around you and within you leads to a dynamic balance in your person and fosters inner peace. Best of luck!