The word mysticism refers to an alive investigation of mystical insight—an exploration of ultimate or deeper truth. Mysticism is not a system of beliefs, religious dogma, or a way of thinking. Rather it is interactive, highly personal, requiring me to suspend fixed views about everything. These spiritual explorations access expanded inner states of awareness, where my thinking and believing give way to embodied wisdom rooted deep inside. When encountered as direct experiences and practices, these mystical insights influence human transformation and the awakening of innate, individuated awareness.
Mystical insight is latent within everything. Our sciences, new streams of thought, and changing views of what we call reality support this statement. What was once perceived as quite ordinary is in fact imbued with great mystery. My breath is no exception. Yet rarely do I pay attention to the rising and falling of my breath, unless it is restricted or taken away. Although ancient wisdom traditions taught initiates to investigate the breath as a gateway to inner wakefulness, today’s students rarely penetrate beyond conceptualizing its significance. Thus, turning the breath into another object of thought, rather than embracing it as a living teaching on a path to full awakening.
Why not pause right now and consider the mystical quality of your own breath? For one moment, pay attention to its rising and receding.
Mysticism of the breath is an advanced practice for placing my full attention on my rising / falling breath, allowing the breath to inform me (through its rhythm or disturbance) of my untended emotions and thoughts. I return to my breath, diagnose if it is out of rhythm, and use my cultivated spiritual insight and skills to restore a refined breathing pattern. Without dropping into story, I free my breath of its ailments.
Perhaps you have noticed that emotions and thoughts disturb the rhythm of your breath, leaving it shallow, or reluctant at the bottom of an exhale or top of an inhale. When left unchecked, these thoughts and emotions groove echoes deep into the emotional and psychological bodies, triggering inner disharmony that calcifies into repeated, reactive responses (my karma). Meditating on my breath opens my awareness, breaking the chain reaction of emotional and thought elaboration. Like a metaphysician, I can recognize that my breath is always informing me of my inner countenance, while simultaneously providing me with the antidote to disturbances in my emotions, thoughts, and physical wellbeing.
Mysticism of the breath is an ancient, and appropriately timeless, tool of healing and spiritual realization. It is a training for learning to live fully awake in each breath. It’s like carrying my meditation cushion everywhere. Wherever I am, I can sit on the meditation cushion of my breath—in places of chaos and concern, uncertainty, even boredom. I can sit my full attention on my rising and receding breath, reestablishing inner wakefulness and a sense of peace. Cultivating and living in a refined breath opens an acute embodied awareness. This awareness is a gateway to freedom.
Wisdom traditions teach that a refined breath, free of impurities, is powerful medicine. It’s a breath liberated from my fixed ways of seeing, believing, and being. The inhale and exhale of a refined breath are easy and without interruptions. There is no stutter in its pattern because it is free of obstructions caused by repeated karmic thoughts and judgments. A refined breath is free of my history and reactivity. My refined breath is alive. It is in the moment, easy, and complete.
Turn toward your breath like a trusted friend. Breathe yourself beyond reactive thought and deed. Then walk that clarity into plain view. —Deborah Jones
If the meditation cushion of my breath is always with me, why do I rush by it instead of simply pausing and falling back “home” into awareness ... into grace. Why wouldn't I train to attune to my breath as an instrument of spiritual investigation and healing?
Take a moment right now to breathe! In fact, pause for a moment and take three-conscious breaths without trying to change your breath in any way. Just allow your breath to be as it is, with your full attention on your rising breath, falling breath, body. Make a felt-sense note of its flow, of its rhythm. Just by putting your attention on your breath, something inside your bodies shifts. Bring awareness to those shifts.
Now take another breath. What does the in-breath offer to you? You might say, it brings in life. It provides nourishment and nurturance. It offers a sense of renewal. It fills me up. Now, experience your exhale. What does your out-breath offer to you? Again, you might say, it allows me to let go of what I don’t need. It detoxes my body. I experience release. My body seems to relax. I empty. Bring embodied awareness to your in-breath and out-breath.
When experienced from an awakened state, the breath can be embraced as a high tantric practice of filling and emptying. A practice of opening to receive, without the need to cling or push away.
When my breath’s rhythm is disturbed, I can train like a metaphysician to recognize the disruption, then use my breath as a diagnostic tool. I can learn to write my own prescription and shift the rhythm of my breath as the antidote to its disturbance. Rather than activating more thinking and emotions trying to figure out “why” my inner state is uneasy, I can train to place my attention on my breath, apply the medicine by restoring a refined rhythmic pattern of ease and spaciousness. This is the spiritual practice of Mysticism of the Breath.