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First Breath / Last Breath Meditation

June 7, 2011

THE GLASS IS ALREADY BROKEN

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

– Mark Epstein Thoughts Without a Thinker

The above story by Mark Epstein was a terrific find for me when I came across it on www.zenhabits.net. Though I have been fairly good about valuing the present state of things, and “rolling with the punches” that occur each day, this was the most poignant way to illustrate the concept of impermanence I have read.

It was only after this story that I focused exclusively on impermanence in my meditation sessions. To know that all things come to an end, on the surface, seems quite sad. Pointing out the inevitable loss or death of anything is not the goal of Epstein’s story. What I enjoy most about it is the use of impermanence to focus on the greatness found in the present. “When I understand that the glass is already broken, ever moment with it is precious.”

This one line reminds me that my life, family, and friends are all healthy and happy right at this moment, and I should bask in it.

To use the term loosely, this ‘mantra’ was the driving force behind the development of a meditation technique designed to train me to focus on the present.

MY OWN INVENTION

Having practiced meditation for only a couple of years now, I would not be surprised if a version of this exists already. I’d actually be quite pleased so that I could develop my practice more deeply. Regardless, the results I’ve experienced have been quite pleasant, and I’d like to share the process with you.

I call the method “First Breath / Last Breath Meditation,” and it is an extension of breath following.

During the meditation session, after having successfully worked through both breath counting and breath following, I then begin to reflect on each inhalation and exhalation. Each time a breath in, I attempt to feel like it is my first breath. The day I was born, I had to inhale for the very first time, and I remind myself of that.

Each time I breathe out, I pretend that it is the last breath of my life. I think about lying in bed, many years from now, ready and at peace, to finish my last exhalation. This seems rather dark, but the effect is anything but.

I first found the process very exhilarating. With each breath in, I feel alive, almost reborn. With each breath out, I feel at peace, happy with the moment, and trifle worries aren’t even trifle any longer. Each complete inhale/exhale takes on a complete life of its own. The breath is born; it lives during the brief lull, and then serenely dies on exhalation. I may have a seemingly countless number of breaths in my life, but there certainly is going to be a final count in the end. So each breath is unique, one of its kind, and not to be wasted. I would like to live each one of them with as much peace and happiness that I can manage. This takes me to the various values I find in practicing this method:

  • Each breath in my day to day life becomes more meaningful and mindful
  • Problems in my life are in perspective, and lack the stress they once had
  • I believe I’ll be less fearful when I take my last breath

A LITTLE BUDDHIST METAPHYSICS (just for fun)

While in meditation, I came up with this entertaining concept in regards to the rebirth process that many Buddhists believe in. If each complete breath could be seen as a simile of one of our lives, complete with rebirth and death.

With each inhale and exhale we live and die, and become a little more enlightened. Until finally, we breathe for the last time, and with any luck, find ourselves fully at peace.

I think this ties in relatively well with the concept of karma. In this lives final breathe, we likely are not ready to escape the cycle of rebirth. So even though we have just exhaled, our karma, and new breath will be passed on to the next life.

FUTURE POST

I plan to do a post on the “none-self/no soul” concept, and the confusion it causes with the concept of rebirth. I.e. how can I be reborn, if I have no unique self, or ‘soul.’

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