“I’ve got that math exam later today and I hope I will do well. What’s that quadratic equation again … ??? … something squared … ??? … and then there is that isosceles triangle equation … that’s the one that has two equal sides … and the area of a pentagon is ½ times the base times the height time five … and … the surface area of a sphere is four times pie times the radius squared and ………….
Oh, where is my mantra …
Oh my God, I’m not breathing anymore!”
Bjorn was sitting with his eyes closed and meditating in his favorite room. His attention shifted to his breathing and he just got startled. For a second (which seemed to be hours) he noticed not a single breath was taken.
But in actuality he was still breathing, albeit at a more refined and subtle level. That naturally happens during meditation.
Bjorn took a deep breath. Oh yes, now he remembered his meditation instructor talking about the “sudden deep breath.” You’re always breathing. But sometimes the breath becomes so soft that when your attention shifts back to it, it momentarily seems like you are not breathing at all. But, that’s just another normal experience in meditation. We just take it as it comes, with no anticipation, preconception or judgment.
The Ericsson’s live in Kiruna Sweden. It’s a northern city situated above the Arctic Circle. That means that residents in that city experience a day and a night longer that 24-hours. In Kiruna the suns shines from June 2nd until July 7th without ever setting; constant daylight. And the sun goes down on December 4th and does not return above the horizon into the sky again until January 7th.
It’s a different type of life here but that is all Bjorn and his family had ever known.
One of the most notable effects of meditation is the softening of breath. That feature is easily observable.
Reduction of breath signifies a profound state of physiological rest. During meditation we breathe less, simply because our bodies require less oxygen as we are in a refined metabolic state.
There are meditation practices that purposely control the breath, others that use passive observation, and some that do not intentionally observe or manipulate the breath at all:
* Breath control techniques, such as Pranayama
* Breath awareness techniques, such as Mindfulness Meditation
* Natural reduction of breath, such as Transcendental Meditation
Why is there so much emphasis on breath control/observation within meditation and philosophical circles?
Prana is the life source of the universe. It is responsible for the animation of all thought and action. The human ego was born and individuality became a concrete reality due to its functioning. Without its counterpart on the physical level of creation, which is human breath, this world would cease to be for us.
Breath is an important path toward Self Realization and Enlightenment. Watching the breath allows the mind to disengage from distractive thoughts (its normal practice) which as a byproduct influences the functioning of the mind.
The mind distracted from other activities becomes engaged in watching the breath…
… and that controls the breath
… and in its turn the mind is controlled.
Breath and mind (thought) are intimately related. Influencing one manipulates the other.
As we engage in meditation our breath becomes more refined, and our thoughts becomes more subtle and intelligent. A natural expansion of our individual awareness (self) to the level of universal cosmic awareness (Self) takes place. Our ego grows in stature, confidence and fearlessness, until it recognizes itself (merges) with the universal unbounded reality.
What is the ego?
The ego is our identity and individuality. It is who we believe ourselves to be. It is our reference point from which we observe and act in the world. It perpetuates the illusion of separateness from everyone and everything else.
If the human ego is born through the play of Prana, where can it be located and how can we break the bounds of egoism?
Where is the ego?
1) The ego identifies with the subtle mind.
2) Dream perceptions are subtle.
3) But in sleep there are no perceptions. Is there no ego?
4) Unless it was, there cannot be the memory of having slept.
5) Who was it that slept? You did not say in your sleep that you slept. You say it now in your wakeful state.
6) The ego therefore is the same in wakefulness, dream and sleep.
Trace the ego to its source and reach that undifferentiated happy state which is sleepless sleep.
The ego is referred to the small self. The realized ego in enlightenment is referred to the large Self.
The Self is and always has been. Nothing has been lost and there is nothing to gain. Only the illusion of separateness (ignorance) needs to be dispelled.
Ignorance of the Self causes misery. The removal of that ignorance leads to eternal bliss.
Virtually every religion, philosophy and world teacher has recognized that it’s the small personal ego that needs to be overcome – transformed into the Self:
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
“The wise man who, by means of concentration on the Self, realizes that ancient, effulgent One, who is hard to be seen, unmanifest, hidden and who dwells in the buddhi and rests in the body—he, indeed, leaves joy and sorrow far behind.”
(Chapter 2, Katha Upanishad)
“The knowing Self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from it. Birthless, eternal, everlasting and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.”
(Chapter 2, Katha Upanishad)
“One wielding royal authority from egoism acts; like the parrot bound in illusion of the trap is he too bound.”
“From egoism and avarice arise caste arrogance, violent wrath and pride.”
“This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan — the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside.”
“Urwan (ego, soul), bearing the responsibility of all the deeds done on earth. Urwan is the reincarnating constituent of man (though immortal, yet immature in wisdom). Fravashi does not incarnate, but remains as a Guiding Angel on a higher spiritual level.”
“In Ch’an Buddhism the idea of ego revolves around the idea of attachment or clinging. The ego originally does not exist. It is created as a result of attachment to the body and attachment to one’s ideas or one’s own viewpoint. But because both the body and the mind are impermanent and constantly changing over time, our attachments to them are always changing as well. And as these attachments change, the ego also changes. So from the perspective of Ch’an, the ego does not exist in the sense of being a permanent, unchanging entity. The ego does not exist independent of one’s changing attachments to one’s body and one’s ideas.”
“The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in both the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.”
(Kendra Cherry, on Psychology)
“At the feast of ego, everyone leaves hungry.”
“It is the nature of the ego to take, and the nature of the spirit to share.”
“Big egos are big shields for lots of empty space.”
“Give up all bad qualities in you, banish the ego and develop the spirit of surrender. You will then experience Bliss.”
(Sri Sathya Sai Baba)
“The foundation of the Buddha’s teachings lies in compassion, and the reason for practicing the teachings is to wipe out the persistence of ego, the number-one enemy of compassion.”
(Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama)
“Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.”
“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires… The church needs to withstand the tides of trends and the latest novelties…. We must become mature in this adult faith, we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith.”
(Pope Benedict XVI)
“The ego is not master in its own house.”
“You proceed from a false assumption: I have no ego to bruise”
“Goals must never be from your ego, but problems that cry for a solution”
(Robert H. Schuller)
“The world is burning in the fire of desire, in greed, arrogance and excessive ego.”
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib)
“The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some superhuman accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being.”
There are hundreds of research papers and studies that document reduction in breathing and other benefits of meditation. I would urge you to investigate this further on your own.
* Long pranayama breathing caused a statistically significant lowering (19%) of the oxygen consumption (and metabolic rate).
* Oxygen consumption decreased by 19.3 percent below baseline values after Cyclic Meditation stimulating’ and ‘calming’ practices, based on a statement in ancient yoga texts.
(Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana, http://svyasa.org/research_papers/)
* We have measured forearm oxygen consumption and blood flow changes during two wakeful rest behaviors. We have observed acute reduction of forearm respiration (28%) during an acute stylized rest state (TM) and a non significant small decline (11%) during unstylized ordinary eyes-closed rest. These changes were not associated with significant change of forearm blood flow or glycolytic metabolism. Hence, forearm oxygen consumption decline was due almost solely to decreased rate of oxygen extraction.
(National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6869572)
* The study evaluated three key indicators of relaxation and found that meditation provides a far deeper state of relaxation than does simple eyes-closed rest. The research showed that breath rate and plasma lactate decrease, the basal skin resistance increases, significantly more during meditation than during eyes-closed rest. Interestingly, immediately prior to the meditation sessions, meditating subjects had lower levels of breath rate, plasma lactate, spontaneous skin conductance, and heart rate than did the controls. This deeper level of relaxation before starting the practice suggests that reduced physiological stress through meditation is cumulative.
(American Psychologist, 42: 879-881, 1987).
A central theme of meditation is allowing the mind to point inward and to pursuit its natural quest for more and more.
By opening up our awareness to more subtle fields of thought, the mind becomes more gratified. We can employ practices that utilize breathing and/or thinking techniques. There are also a host of other avenues available (i.e., yoga, Kundalini, Shaktipat, etc.) but those will be discussed at another time.
The ego leads us into believing that man/women are the thinker and doer. But that is a mistake. It is the higher powers of creation (the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas) buoyed by the Self, which thinks and acts. We are but the tool. If we realize that, we are free from troubles; otherwise we continue to court them.