THE AIR ABOUT YOU

Not everything we call meditation requires you to sit still or take time out for 20 or 30 minutes. Obviously when people do one of our 8-week mindfulness courses, that's one of the things we teach. But actually meditation can be brought into every moment of your day. And I mean every moment.

The principal practice in this mindfulness tradition of ours is the simple awareness of the breath. There is good reason for this; nothing is as immediate and accessible as our own breath. Always there, always reliable, the experience of the body taking in the air around us and expelling it again provides the steady rhythm of our lives. The first thing we ever do when we are born is to take a deep lungful of air and our last ever act on this earth will be a sigh. I once had this startling revelation while meditating: I had a powerful sense of sharing every breath I took with everyone else in the room. I then had a vivid awareness of having shared every breath with every living thing that had ever walked the Earth. The air about me was my connection with the whole of creation over the whole of time. Wow! That was some revelation. But I think it could be literally true. Molecules of oxygen entering your body right now could have been breathed in by an Egyptian pharaoh or a woolly mammoth or Dick van Dyke.

OK, so interesting though that might be, it is not the practice I want to suggest for this week. For that all you need to do is to stop what you are doing right now – yes RIGHT NOW – and examine the quality of the air about you. Take your eyes away from your computer or ‘phone and rest in this sense of being bathed in the air. Notice its temperature, texture, movement on your skin; watch it as it moves from being the air about you to being the breath within you. That’s it. Try to do this often and be really, really attentive to it. Don’t expect anything dramatic to happen, by the way. Just gently incorporate it into your informal mindfulness training for no better reason than it is probably the best use of your time at that moment.

P.S. I am aware that some people do have a problem with the breath. If you suffer from breathlessness or asthma, the breath is not an emotionally neutral phenomenon. But even if this is the case for you, it should still be possible to bring attention to the sensations associated with the movement of air on the skin. You may even find that, over time, if you gently turn towards it, the breath becomes less problematic. But don't do this exercise if it causes you too much anxiety. There are plenty of other things you can do.

Donald MurrayComment