Sometimes the universe’s greatest mysteries can be found in some of the most mundane things.
Many meditation disciplines across a multitude of different approaches get the practitioner to concentrate on the breath. Most practitioners find this very frustrating early on, as they don’t understand how something so basic can be the key to advancement. How can the keys to understanding the universe and reality come from concentrating on the breath?
The breath is a perfect representation of the universe. Just like the breath, the universe is never stagnant. In the universe, nothing ever is; things are always arising or passing away, becoming or ceasing to become. The breath is also always arising and passing away. Inhaling always leads to exhaling and exhaling always to inhaling. To have one without the other is impossible. An inhalation contains the seed, the potential for an exhalation and an exhalation contains the seed, the potential for an inhalation. This principle is represented by the Yin Yang symbol, the ever-revolving dual forces each containing the seed of its opposite.
Contemplating the breath in a skilful way helps the practitioner to understand the truth that all things are impermanent. Thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes are not permanent. They arise and they eventually pass away. Our bodies, our health, and our looks arise and eventually pass away.
Imagine breathing in and enjoying the in-breath so much that we want to breathe in forever. When we eventually have to breathe out all that we have inhaled, we get upset and suffer because we thought we could keep breathing in forever. This may seem ludicrous, but that’s how most people live their lives. They do not understand that everything will pass away. To attach to happiness today means we will suffer when it swings the other way, as it eventually will.
The solution to this can be found in the meditation on the breath. Just as we observe the inhalation and exhalation without judging or attaching to either, that’s how we should treat the thoughts and feelings that arise in us. We can stay equanimous, be balanced observers in the midst of our thoughts. This is all we can do until the day comes when our contemplation penetrates a deeper mystery: when we begin to observe the emptiness that the breath resides in.
Until that happens all we can do is just breathe.
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!