The Art of Meditation 4:
Continue from your “counting the breaths” meditation. Imagine that as you inhale, you inhale through your whole body. Every part of your body, every limb, every pore in your skin inhales the “in” breath.
When you exhale – you exhale in the same way – through your whole body.
Continue this cycle of inhaling and exhaling through your whole body for five minutes. (Still count each breath). This can be extended as you extend your practice.
In the first breathing exercise, we placed our consciousness on our nostrils. In this exercise we extend our consciousness so that it now embraces the whole body. The meditation is called “World Breathing” because we now experience ourselves as beings who are part of the whole world. As we begin more and more strongly to perceive the breath as entering our whole being from the world, we will gradually begin to see that something from our being leaves us and enters into the world also.
We may experience that breathing brings a subtle process of expansion to the human being. As we inhale, one portion of our subtle being actually expands. In the Western tradition, this part of our being is called the “astral body”. As it expands, so it becomes looser, less rigid. It begins to be able to “melt” into the world. The astral body expresses our emotions, our fears, our animal instincts. As we pursue this simple breathing meditation, the astral begins to lose its grip on the “fear mechanism”. We become less fearful, less reactive and more responsive. We begin to experience the world as a wonderful adventure. Our emotions become more pure, more positive.
On the other hand, as we exhale, the astral now contracts, but another part of our being, expands in its turn. In our tradition, this is termed the “etheric body”. The etheric contains the life force of the human being. It is the “energy blueprint” which manifests in the physical body. By entering into an awareness of the etheric through the breathing meditation, we re-energise our physical body. The etheric also contains our memories. Not just from this life, but from all our past incarnations. When we expand the etheric through conscious meditation, then old memories are released, releasing us from forces which worked through our subconscious and created patterns in the etheric body, and patterns in the etheric body later express themselves as illness within the physical body.
Often people embark on a meditation practice hoping for wonderful visions, mystical experiences, psychic awakenings. It is unfortunate that sometimes such phenomena do occur in meditation. I say, “unfortunate”, for such experiences are not the purpose of meditation. “Well,” you may ask, “what then is the purpose of meditation?” This is the fundamental question. The purpose of meditation is that we become more truly who we are. The great spiritual teachers have always turned their students away from the “side-effects” of spiritual practice. In spiritual
tradition, the phenomena which accompany spiritual practice are often referred to as “distractions”. Indeed, they are worse than this – if we pursue, for example, psychic abilities, then we allow ourselves to be tempted away from the real spiritual path, which is the path of “self-knowledge”.
We have said that the purpose of meditation is to become “who we really are”. We have said that the spiritual path is one of ‘self-knowledge”. Who are we in reality?
Philip Jose Farmer, the SF author, wrote a book called “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”. This phrase sums up the human situation. We inhabit not just a single physical body, but layers of bodies. Each body pertaining to a different level of consciousness. But we are “scattered” into these bodies. We have no way of “collecting” ourselves in normal consciousness because of this primal scattering. When our consciousness is scattered, then we have no knowledge. We don’t remember where we came from; we have no idea of why we are here; our relationships, our work, our life and death are a puzzle.
Meditation is the process of gradually “gathering” the “scattered bodies”. As we establish a meditation “practice”, then we discover that certain things belong to us as human beings, whilst other elements do not. We discover that hate, anger, apathy are not part of us; we discover that tolerance, understanding, communication are part of us. Because we begin to gain an inner coherence, our outer life (which is just a reflection of our inner life) begins to “make sense”. We discover that there is an order, in our lives. There is a reason why certain things happen to us. Eventually, meditation will allow us to reach a core within self where we discover that we are beings of love. And since “God is Love”, we too are divine beings.
The exercise of “World Breathing” seems so simple, that one would pass it by in order to attempt more convoluted exercises which promise more. Certain spiritual traditions (especially those in the East) have esteemed this exercise very highly and have even called it a “road to enlightenment”. There is a great Mystery at the centre of this exercise. It is the Mystery of identity. Through this exercise we come to understand that our inner life and our outer life are one and the same. Without an inner life, there is no outer life. The boundaries which appear to be in place between “inner” and “outer” are put in position by the human ego – in order that the ego might not be attacked. This is necessary for most parts of our existence. It is only when the message, “time to change”, comes to an individual that we begin to consciously pursue the spiritual path. And there is a stage on this path where we say with John the Baptist, “I (the ego) must decrease so that he (the Real Self) might increase”. This is the path opened to us by the practice of Meditation, and particularly the practice of “World Breathing”.