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Archive for February, 2018

Breath

When our ancient ancestor first slithered onto a Silurian beachhead, it wasn’t breathing in and out.  Water flowed through evolving gill slits in a continuous flow.  The practice of breathing in and out was an adaptation, rudimentary at best, a compromise that resolved its embarrassment at being caught without a reliable source of oxygen.  Now we are committed to a silly batch process to get our fix of ambient O2.  In-and-out is a fitful start-and-stop that never really gets going.  With two spots in the cycle where nothing absolutely nothing happens, we are caught in a rat-a-tat of top-dead-center hiccoughs.  With no timing light, what are we to do?

 

Every Industrial Engineer knows and is glad to tell you that inline process is superior to batch.  Henry Ford was famous for inventing the automobile, but it was his genius concept of the assembly line that cemented the magic of his place in history.  If only air could flow through us in an uninterrupted stream like the flow of intelligent thought, we would be happier and healthier.  Eventually as we morph into the cyborgs we will become, we will correct that ancient error.  Until that time when we will no longer need to take a deep breath to express relief, we will have to make do.

 

In the march of the ages, Silurian moved into Carboniferous as giant forests held sway, raising their lofty crowns in competition for sunlight and air.  Oxygen content climbed to a 35% high in the raging explosion of photosynthesis.  What better time for water life to find the land?  Our present 21% level gasps in comparison.  It was that intensity of oxygen that lured our primitive ancestor onto that ancient beach turning the tide of evolution toward the modern era and man.

 

What does that early action say to my present dilemma?  I must continue to breathe at all costs.  I must be consumed with the need to claim air for myself, suck it of its life and dump it.  There is no respite.  No timeout for rest.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  I do it at the necessary rate.  No more.  No less.  The amount of oxygen must be titrated to the level of energy expended in order to maintain balance.  All this is done without me even thinking about it.  In fact, if I do think about it, the action doesn’t work as well.  It is a parasympathetic task, best accomplished by muscle memory, not mind.

 

The alternate horn of that dilemma presents as the reality of meditation.  We have a history of tinkering with breath.  Fact: Paying attention to breath is the hallmark of Buddhist meditation.  Can the tail wag the dog?  It can.  It does.  But it is not a natural activity.  No three-year-old takes kindly to assuming the lotus position and focusing on in-breaths and out-breaths.  Play is a preferred choice.  But I concede that meditation does its best to make the best of a bad situation.

 

A recent psychotherapeutic encounter introduced the suggestion that I undertake the practice of meditation a-la Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I stiff-armed that approach.  Who wants to just sit and breathe?  Not me.  Boring.  I don’t do mindfulness well.  Just-do-it is the superior approach.  I-know-better is of course a slammed door to other-good.  It’s so easy to become one’s own all-time-best enemy.  I resurrect the book, unread, spine resolutely pristine.  I open it.  It falls open to the chapter on stress-reactivity.  A smarter person would have read this when it was suggested, several years ago.  I waited until I was desperate for this new and better truth.

 

Now I am a treed creature, terrified, clutching the armpit of fractal branching I have attained.  I don’t sleep.  I respond to gentle stimuli as assaults.  My I-phone dings a text, and my chest accepts the sound as a blow, adrenaline an impact, a kick to the heart.  Life has become one continuous anxiety attack.  I lie in bed counting auricular/ventricular beat.  Too fast, too fast, too fast.  I breathe too fast.  Way too fast.  Way too fast.  It’s time to read Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.”

 

Not later.  Now.

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